The latest in DC’s new line of Young Adult graphic novels—Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass—is in bookstores this week. Written by Mariko Tamaki with art by Steve Pugh, Breaking Glass is a gritty new story featuring everyone’s favorite super smart, crazy pants villain-turned-antihero: Harleen Quinzel, a.k.a. Harley Quinn.
Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass follows Harley, a new student at Gotham High, as she attempts to navigate the city of Gotham and the injustices her friends are facing at the hands of Millennium Enterprises and the mega-rich (and mega-uncaring) Kane family. Harley finds herself pulled in two different directions: toward the “right way” of fighting back with fellow-student Ivy Du-Barry or toward the apparent anarchy of a mysterious man called the Joker who likes to watch the world burn.
Let’s break it down, shall we?
Unlike the other covers in DC’s YA line, the cover of Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass focuses less on the art, choosing instead to highlight the title. Like every good plan of action, however, it’s super effective: It’s loud and in your face and maybe just a little crazy. (Basically, it’s Harley personified.) The image of her on the cover is absolutely gleeful, looking like she’s just busted up the second half of the title. And then there’s classic black, white and red color scheme. A round of applause for all involved, folks.
Tell Me a Story:
When she was first introduced to Batman fans in Batman: The Animated Series, Harley was Joker’s sidekick and eventual love interest—just another crazy clown who did his bidding, few questions asked. Since then, Harley’s become a strong leading woman in her own right, and the Harley in Breaking Glass definitely leans more toward the latter. At the start of the book, Harley’s new in Gotham, having arrived to find the grandmother she was supposed to stay with has passed away. She gets this news from the building manager, a drag queen who goes by “Mama.” Mama gives Harley a place to live, provided that Harley goes to school. There, at Gotham High, Harley makes friends with a young activist named Ivy.
Outside of school, Harley finds herself in the middle of a gentrification war between a company owned by the uber-rich Kane family and the people who live in the neighborhood, Mama and Ivy included. While retaliating for an attack on Mama’s, Harley has a run-in with a (seriously, seriously creepy) masked man who calls himself “the Joker.” Harley’s entranced by both Ivy and the Joker, but the two have extremely disparate ideas on how best to fight the Man. And Harley can’t quite figure out which side she would rather be on—or if there’s a side all her own.
Let’s Talk Art:
Pugh’s art is, to be honest, a bit unsettling—but in a really good way. Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass is filled with bright, almost garish colors that change drastically from scene to scene. There’s so much going on in each panel, and the shading gives the book a watercolor-like feel. Pugh has a serious talent for faces—the Kanes are pinched and slightly off, which adds to their “evilness,” while Harley’s always extremely cute, even when her eyes are narrowed in suspicion or she’s up to no good. And then there’s the Joker. His strange, mixed-up mask is probably the most frightening iteration of the character I’ve ever seen.
Much like Harley’s thought processes are all over the place, so is the writing in Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass. The book is narrated by Harley, and the little asides are full of flavor and Harley’s very unique personality, from the phrasing to the actual words she uses. For example: every villain, to Harley, is a “booger.” It’s a perfectly Harley term that fits both her and the bad guys to a T.
It was a smart choice on Tamaki’s part to lean so heavily into Harley’s particular brand of crazy. Instead of reading a story about Harley, which wouldn’t be as accurate to the character, reading Harley’s story through her own filter really makes the whole package come together.
Voted Most Likely:
In the Gotham High senior yearbook, Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass would be voted Most Likely to Do Big Things…and Most Likely to End Up in Arkham. Harley has the gumption needed to make massive change in Gotham, but the way she goes about it might not exactly be on the right side of the law. The rules aren’t gonna stop Harley, however. And she can totally pull off an orange jumpsuit.
One Perfect Panel:
There are a lot of powerful panels throughout Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass, but the one that makes the most impact is actually the last page of the book. It’s a page that packs a powerful punch, and although it’s at the end of the story, it feels more like a beginning. It’s also powerful in the statement Harley’s making—no spoilers, but she’s not going to let anyone get away with duping her ever again.
Also, her pigtails, heavy eye makeup, and the bat slung so nonchalantly over her shoulder are perfect. Even if you came across this panel completely on its own, you’d know the woman smirking at you from the page was Harley, no question.
The Final Word:
Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass isn’t a story about a good guy. It’s a book about a complex and nuanced gray character who’s struggling with her place in the world, who she wants to be, and who she can trust. Harley might be more than a little “off,” and the people she finds herself torn between might be extreme versions of “normal” folk, but what she goes through in Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass—learning where to draw the line, when to stand up for what’s right, when it’s necessary to break the rules—are the kind of life lessons everyone finds themselves muddling through at some point. It’s a coming of age tale couched in a circus-like exterior that asks readers to take a close look at what they know about Harley…and what they know about themselves.
When Mandy Curtis isn’t reading books by Leigh Bardugo or Sarah J. Maas, she’s dreaming of busting bad guys with Wonder Woman—if Steve Trevor’s there, too, she won’t complain—and writing about YA fiction and pop culture at Forever Young Adult. Follow her on Twitter at @mandyannecurtis.
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