Criminal Sanity explained by writer Kami Garcia

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There is such an embarrassment of riches to be found every week in comic book stores, it’s easy to overlook the titles that are worth our attention and our dollars. Not just new issues coming out every month, but collections of stories that we may have missed for a number of reasons. It’s a first world problem for sure, but it’s still a problem. There are simply too many good comics for a fan to know them all.

On top of that, there’s such a focus on the release date that often all of the media coverage for a new comic is built around that first release date, and then, poof! Once it drops in stores it disappears completely from the map and we move on to the next upcoming version.

That’s why this week’s Behind the Panel column is about a book that debuted several weeks ago. The Joker / Harley: the criminal reason hardcover collects the complete limited series of eight issues for DC Black Label by New York Times Best-selling author Kami Garcia and featured artists Mico Suayan, Jason Badower and Mike Mayhew. It’s just too good to drop the radar without preaching the proverbial gospel about it.

Like almost everyone, I’m a fan of Batman and the entire Gotham ecosystem, especially Harley Quinn. But I always liked Quinn more on her own, so at first I didn’t have much interest in reading this story. Then I read the first issue and was instantly hooked on the entire series. Garcia and artists Suayan, Badower, and Mayhew have found a way to tell a Joker / Harley story we’ve never seen before, which is an incredible accomplishment considering how ubiquitous these characters are. This is a procedural crime drama, not a superhero comic book. It puts these characters in a story as plausibly realistic as any Joker story we’ve ever seen before. It will delight you and disturb you at the same time.

A big reason for the stellar “creep factor” in the story is that Garcia has done extensive research on this. After speaking with Dr Ed Kurz, a forensic profiler Garcia had used as a consultant for his book X-Files Origins: Agent of Chaos, she saw a way to understand how the mind of a serial killer like the Joker could be formed. “If you start reading serial killer novels and watching documentaries,” Garcia explains in a phone conversation with SYFY WIRE, “One of the first things that becomes clear is that the most difficult killers, the more calculated and intelligent, who were the hardest to catch in real life, weren’t crazy. They were depraved, but they were totally sane. “

Taking this approach brought her to a very different version of The Joker. He’s not the clown prince of crime, he’s a brilliant young man whose murderous tendencies were forged by his torturous upbringing. He’s a performance artist, and his art is death (with apologies to Christopher Walken from Man on fire). “I wanted to show the scariest version of the Joker possible,” Garcia says.

Joker / Harley: Criminal Common Sense was supposed to be a monthly release, but an unprecedented combination of issues, like a global pandemic and DC Comics’ distributor change, interfered with the release and pushed it to bi-monthly. This is one of the reasons Garcia and Badower were happy to take a break from the other deadlines to talk about the collected edition. As well as being loaded with Suayan’s character designs and all the different variant covers, it gives readers a chance to understand the whole story at once. Replaying it in the hardcover version is incredibly intense, almost like watching a serial killer TV series, which is sort of what the creative team were looking for. Garcia would have preferred to release the series on a monthly basis, but given the time-consuming nature of a series like this, it became impossible.

“This project literally took almost three years. Obviously, being able to get an issue every week or every two weeks would have been best in a perfect world,” she says. “But I also think it’s super fun to binge on the collected format, because not only can you read it entirely, but you have the luxury of having it in a binder so you can easily go back to previous pages and watch. at other crime scenes without having the eight problems in front of you. “

Badower, however, admits that the collected edition has a major drawback. “I think Kami’s cliffhangers are absolutely spectacular. Living in the tension between them is so much fun,” notes the artist. “And while I absolutely love the Collected Edition, I think that’s the only thing she loses, because you get everything in one place.”

It was a pretty unique situation on this book, with three artists working on it. While Suayan worked in the traditional format with copic markers on board for his pages, Badower worked almost exclusively in digital, as it gave him more time to work on the intricate layouts that fill each issue. “Me, having the extra time I needed for layouts was huge. Otherwise, [trying to] doing it by hand would have been like trying to answer all of your emails in handwritten form, ”Badower says. “It just didn’t seem feasible. I thought I could use that extra time to put in all of these details and the incredible amount of forensic details Kami gave me was phenomenal. It was so inspiring, but also like a big hill to climb on every page. “

The sparse use of color in the story was a choice made to play on Suayan’s strengths after Garcia spoke with DC editor Jim Lee, who is certainly the right person to ask about such things. .

“One of the first things I did when Nico said he would do the project and we were looking for our other artists was, I went to Third Eye Comics, my local store and I said, ‘I want to see everything he’s ever drawn. “I didn’t tell them why. And I studied his art,” she says. “And one of the things I found really interesting is that he has a series of tiered covers. gray. And I just felt like this job was so gritty and real. And when I was chatting with [then DC co-publisher] Dan DiDio and Jim Lee and Bob Harras on how we’re going to differentiate the show, they said sometimes people do black and white and color. “

All along Joker / Harley, we see the current story in harsh black and white, while the flashbacks are presented in vivid colors reminiscent of more traditional comics. It’s a shocking change that’s incredibly effective in keeping the reader on the lookout, mainly because Annette Kwok’s artists’ line art and colors are so vivid.

Badower says flashback scenes weren’t always meant to be so bright and colorful. “I had envisioned the flashback sequence to be really desaturated, but Kami had the good idea to make them really colorful,” he says. “It’s a subversive color scheme. I think it kind of offsets the horror of what’s going on and makes the book a lot less visually oppressive. But Kami could see it all as an entire plate where we had our veggies. and we had our dessert, we had our protein, and it was a visual balanced meal there. “

Something very important for Garcia was to present a Harley Quinn that was not the same as the one we have seen in recent years. Not just as a profiler who is the secret weapon of the GCPD – and in particular James Gordon – but also as a character whose personal baggage comes from a different place than we expected. From the comics to the movies and even his HBO Max animated series, we’ve been treated to several different Harleys. One consistent element in these portrayals is that she was abused by the Joker. Garcia wanted his Harley Quinn to still have his scars, but instead, the character is traumatized by his relationship with an abusive mother.

“One of the things I decided early on was that I wanted to keep the core of who Harley Quinn is the same, because she is a touchstone for a lot of women who have survived abuse. And I do. have been a victim of relationship violence so I know how important it is to feel that you have the power to control your destiny and to reinvent yourself and your story, ”Garcia said. “But instead of making her a victim of relationship abuse, I made her a victim of parental abuse. She’s got a lot of damage from her mother. I think it allows her to have more. those scars, but not having been in love with her patient. “

Badower says the portrayal of Harley Quinn in Criminal mental health and the city of Gotham in which she lives and works – a city where Batman is not a factor in the story at all – shows the depth of the characters in the DC Universe. It also reinforces the idea that the only limits to storytelling are the imagination of the creators involved. “We’re all big fans of the DC Universe, but Kami said,“ I want these characters to exist in a real world. “And we’ve found that we can still keep the heart of who these characters are, but using huge amounts of research and consulting and everything in between to get these characters through in a way that we always recognize, that’s is … I love it. “

Before we concluded our conversation, I asked Garcia if she had another Black Label story in her. After all, his biggest hits so far have been in the YA sphere (and if you haven’t read it Teen Titans: Raven and Beast Boy graphic novels, rectify this as soon as possible). But she’s ready to tell another dark and mature Harley Quinn story.

“I would love to see Batman and this version of Harley interact,” she says. “But there are some characters that I wouldn’t want to see gloomy. Since I feel like Superman and Wonder Woman, part of what I love about them is purity, purity of heart, so these are the characters that I love about them. I wouldn’t wanna play with it. But I also like baddies, very layered villains. I like Deathstroke, I think he’s a super fun character. And Birds of Prey. I like Huntress. If I did. Birds of Prey, I would like to do a more realistic take where we see Harley and Huntress together. “

Joker / Harley: the criminal reason is available now in the Complete Hardcover Collection.


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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY or NBCUniversal.



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