I’ve always been far more of a DC girl than a Marvel one, so I was really excited to hear about the new DC Ink line, which offers alternate teen origin stories for old familiar characters…
Book: Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass by Mariko Tamaki, with art by Steve Pugh
Read before: No
Ownership: Proof copy sent free of charge from Penguin Random House. All opinions my own.
This is a fun story that really goes off-piste with Harley’s canon backstory – I’ve seen some people complaining about the changes made, but I really enjoyed this glimpse into how things might have been once canon is thrown out of the window. Breaking Glass offers a look at a Harley who hasn’t yet met the Joker, who is more hero than villain, and who is dealing with the kind of bad guys so many of us have seen in the world. Despite the changes, she’s still recognisable, and I really enjoyed her story!
This Harley is fifteen years old, and a bit of a drifter, so when she ends up living with drag queen Mama and experiencing the hostile gentrification of her home, she takes matters into her own hands to try to save Mama’s livelihood. She befriends Ivy, an African-American girl with an affinity for plants who stands up against injustice, and becomes entangled with the mysterious J, who seems to offer a more direct route to revenge… The story is one with some deep messages about inequality and prejudice, and feels perfectly pitched to capture that teenage anger and frustration at a world that seems stacked against you – whether on a personal scale or, as here, a wider system of oppression. The story tiptoes on the line of preachy, but to be honest, I think it works. I think a lot of teens will find it easy to identify with Harley and Ivy, and might well be inspired to do some good in the world as a result.
The art style is punchy and dynamic, and the limited colour palette (mostly black and white with pops of red) is really striking. The story shifts between quieter moments with less colour and squarer panels, and action scenes with great splashes of red and slashing, diagonal panels that feel energetic – I thought this was particularly well-used in Harley’s flashbacks to past events, where you get to see glimpses of the anger she’s always sitting on. It’s a really interesting way to play with colour and definitely helps to build emotion and get you invested!
There’s a lot to love here – you get a story with a lot of heart, and I think despite the changes to Harley’s traditional backstory, it would be a great introduction to make you fall in love with her character. I would possibly have liked a little more nuance and depth to the peaceful protest vs blowing things up debates, but I appreciate that’s hard to do in such a short space, and I think it works really well as it is for the tone of the story. Four out of five cats!