It was the last deranged straw in a night gone stark raving mad. Harleen burst out laughing – Paul Dini & Pat Cadigan.
Harley Quinn is one of those characters that causes a stirring of intrigue due to the sheer complexities and mayhem of her personality, her undivided obsession with her puddin’ and how she climbed the career ladder with such deft to make it crash and burn in the pursuit of a life of crime. And yet, everybody loves this supervillain, perhaps even more than the Bat himself. My love for her certainly began with Margot Robbie’s portrayal of her in Suicide Squad and it continues (with a little bit of uncertainty) in Mad Love.
The story doesn’t begin when Harley Quinn and The Joker meet. Instead, it takes us to a crucial moment in Harleen Quinzel’s life when she is just seven years old, on a day out with her daddy at Coney Island. It becomes a place that she adores for the rest of her life because of this day out and one that saves her in a time of need from the bad, bad men that are being mean to her. It is a time that we don’t revisit until the very end of the novel, but there are certainly threads of this seven year old that have tightened around Harleen as a young woman, keeping her as insecure, “crazy” and confident as the child who laughed in glee at something that should have (and probably has) traumatized her to the core.
Harleen grows up to be successful at university, in her internships and her new methods to improve the lives of those who are deemed insane. She lands her first job at the darkest of mental institutes: Arkham Asylum. She is intelligent, quick-witted, kind and strong. She never gives up which might just be why The Joker sees her as his biggest challenge yet.
I adored Harleen and Harley simultaneously (because she is referred to as both characters), but I can’t help but feel that Harleen was far smarter to fall for the pretend mad love of a man who enjoys killing for the fun of it. It is the classic I’ll be the one to change him story and a story that she loses. Or does she? A part of me thinks that Harleen could have been the woman who would go on to save lives, write books and become something more – I sound like her mother or something – but then she has always had the Tough Brooklyn Cookie attitude inside of her, coming out at times when she feels defensive and weak. The Brooklyn side of her makes her stronger, almost invincible and that is the Harley Quinn who we know and love. She may be crazy, she may make a lot of jokes, but she can look a fire in the eye, shrug her shoulders, pop her gum and defeat it with toys stuffed with stones. Harley Quinn is far smarter than The Joker and any nemesis give her credit for which I adore about her.
The complexities that Mad Love covers is wide and I am not somebody who can truly comment on it in terms of mental health because I don’t have the knowledge about psychosis or the effects that trauma has. What I can see plainly is her need to be a character that she has been given by The Joker, almost like she is one of his favourite toys that has come to life, for him to discard her in pursuit of a brand new toy that is bigger and shinier aka Gotham City.
On one scale, Mad Love is a really fun and easy read that will have you hooked immediately, especially if you have a soft spot for Harley Quinn. On the other, it is a dark narrative that brings to light how anything from your past can haunt you and be so ingrained in the depths of your mind that it completely transforms you into somebody who you either knew was inside of you all along, or somebody who you never knew at all – as though everything you did until that very moment was a lie.
If you love Harley Quinn, I definitely recommend this book. I feel as though I haven’t given it enough justice. In summary, it is very well written with comical value that is hysterical and dark as well as a deeper look into one of the most notorious supervillain characters ever created.
Love, Faye xo