Recent Reads: Mad Love

Length: 279 pages

Author: Paul Dini & Pat Cadigan

Star Rating: 4/5

Genre: Action (Superhero)

Series: DC's Prose Novels

The image of the Harlequin clown has been hijacked and revamped into an icon revered by many comic fans. (and even by some who have never picked up a comic!) From her very first appearance in the 90's animated cartoon, Harley Quinn has stolen the hearts of many, and has become one of the first Batman villains to debut onscreen rather than within the pages of a comic. Of course the iconic Joker/Harley duo did eventually move to the comics, and even later Harley Quinn began to have her own spin-off comic series. Most recently, the femme-fatale joined a crew of equally strong fighting ladies in the new movie Birds of Prey. As her exposure to audiences grew, so too did her character. The Harley Quinn in the cartoons was dim-witted and sloppy at executing her schemes. As we explore this character, we uncover a brilliant and misunderstood woman. It was only a matter of time before the Harleen Quinzel jigsaw was tied up together in a novelized bow. This book was a long time coming.

I've always had a fascination with Harley Quinn, which does make it rather difficult not to be too biased with this review. Arkham Asylum has always been portrayed as decrepit and corrupt. Any chance readers get to take a peak behind those doors are profound experiences. Harley's story is one of those chances. How does a well-rounded and motivated young woman become the lustful and flamboyant criminal we know and love?

I thought the authors handled Harley's character incredibly well. It's difficult to find a balance within her character. Most often, you experience either the airhead from the cartoons or more creative liberties are taken to create a character whose mind is more high-functioning and balanced like the Harley in Birds of Prey. In Mad Love the authors took care to respect Harleen Quinzel's obvious drive and brilliance, while also providing a nice dose of child-like innocence within her thoughts and actions. While we read the novel in the first person, this feels very natural and in character. If Harley didn't feel authentic, I'm not sure that I could enjoy the novel. That's the gamble you make when writing comic books, but it's even more of a gamble in a novel.

The overall plot of the novel closely follows the details DC Comics provides. The authors do not change any details. They do, however, fill in the gaps the comics leave empty with creative details that absolutely make chronological sense. Mad Love adds more depth to Harley Quinn than we've gotten to experience before. I loved to get to know the Clown Prince of Crime's leading lady from her childhood and collegiate years. It allows the reader to know Harley at a very fundamental level. Who were her parents? Why did she go to medical school? Where did she develop her sense of true love? Why does she hate the Batman?

This book delivers exactly what it advertises. I went into it expecting to experience some profound ending or new plot point in Harley's story. For many, this is exactly what they desire, and it was very enjoyable and comfortable. However, I was really looking for that special something that would reignite my passion for the uniqueness of Harley Quinn. Though it was perhaps an unfair expectation, this is why I could not award the novel the full 5 stars. It didn't end satisfyingly and didn't bring enough newness to the table at the end.

Slight disappointment aside, this was an extremely enjoyable read. I loved spending time in the mind of a character who's rather like a walking conundrum. I highly recommend this novel for all Batman fans, but for those who are especially transfixed by the delicacies that create profoundly unique origin stories especially. All Batman villains have absolutely intriguing origin stories, and I'd love for DC Prose to release similar novels for many other Batman villains.