Love is a very complicated emotion. It can make you look a fool and cause you to do things you never thought you could do to another human being. For Harleen Frances Quinzel, the first time she felt love was when she was in the arms of her father. The constant warm embrace got her through the toughest of nights. Nights that left her parents screaming at each others throats, nights that resulted in her father going to prison and nights that forever changed a young Quinzel as she ran for her life trying to escape a child sex trafficking ring in an amusement park in Brooklyn, NY.
When the cops came to arrest her father (again) one fateful, the feeling of love was forever replaced by revenge and a hate for the one they call Batman. A mysterious man who was able to act without any regards for law. He was no different from other criminals, he just happened to be on the side of the GCPD.
As Harleen grew older and entered college, she gained more control of her life. No longer Harleen, she was now Harley and determined to surpass her mother as the best psychiatrist in all of Gotham. Using the same wits that helped her escape a life sex trafficking, after earning her PhD in Psychology at Gotham University Quinn becomes focused and determined to help rehabilitate the many criminals of Gotham’s infamous Arkham Asylum, including the intoxicating Poison Ivy. However, it isn’t until one fateful night when she is summoned by The Joker, does her life and career path take an unexpected journey.
Embedded in psychology, the complications of love and remorse, Harley Quinn: Mad Love is not just about the story of The Joker and Quinn but the struggles of an abusive relationship, the emotional rollercoaster of independence and the act of revenge. Originally created by Paul Dini, based on the original Mad Love story, first published in Batman Adventures comic book, and later being adapted into an episode for Batman: The Animated Series, this extended novelization, presents a back story about what happened before their fateful meeting and gives Quinn a fresh new voice.
Dini has managed to breathe life into a character that dates back to 1992 for a 30-minute arc, while improving on well established and new characters who feel fully incorporated into the DC brand. While these new additions are a pleasant surprise to readers familiar to Arkham Asylum, the expansion and relations they have with our anti-hero is where the story becomes captivating, bringing realism and heart to the complexities of living in Gotham.
To fully appreciate Mad Love is appreciate the many layers of psychology and love. Told through minimal dialogue and actions sequences, the reader is inside the head of Quinn as she goes through the emotions of a child from a broken home who clings to the love of her father while wanted to replace her mother to wanting to be a caretaker to those who come from the same background. Seeing how the system harshly treated her father (despite him being a known criminal), she is determined to forge a new path in psychology with the help of her boss and he chief psychiatrist in Arkham Asylum, Dr. Leland, who is hesitant to allow her new staff member to treat harden criminals.
Quinn, filled with anxiety and passion feels her efforts are fruitless until she encounters the downtrodden Joker, whose stay at Arkham has turned him into a shell of his former self. Despite running in fear, she sees her father, a misunderstood man who just wants to make the world laugh despite his pain. Filled with a lifetime of abuse from his father (much like Quinn’s broke home) she is able to relate and sympathize with him, working day and night to find a way for him to work through his trauma. The love and desperation for Quinn to make Joker rehabilitated comes at the price of her other patients, as well as her own self-care.
Despite knowing The Joker is playing her from beginning, Dini creates scenes between the two that feel genuine. Quinn and Joker pour out their souls to each other and as Quinn harden exterior begins to crack it’s easy to why she falls in love with her patient (something The Joker uses to his advantage). As Quinn falls deeper in love; it’s hard not to become frustrated with her actions, especially when The Joker’s abuse begins to rain down on Quinn but by then it’s too late, he becomes her father. Essentially “dumbing down” for Joker, Quinn loses herself and allows the madness to overtake her.
While this is a story about Quinn’s transformation, it’s easy to see the similarities between The Joker and Batman: both characters are birthed from the same tragedy that results in them hiding behind a mask—The Joker’s being more permanent.
Despite the many moments that make Mad Love a standout, it is unfortunately an elongated version of the Mad Love episode and becomes ridiculously cartoonish at times. However, it never wavers from its message of female independence as Quinn attempts to claw her way out of a relationship from a man who is insecure and fearful of a woman smarter than him. Transforming multiple times, Quinn is able to sheds her figurative skin, always keeping the reader in awe.
There’s no true explanation for the abuse Quinn allows herself to endure, and Mad Love offers more questions than answers. Despite this—it always drills into the reader’s head that abuse is full of complicated emotions; like love, anger, guilt and regret. Overall, Mad Love is an exciting read that reveals how two men create one of the ultimate anti-heroes.