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‘Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass’ is another excellent coming-of-age story from DC INK

‘Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass’ is another excellent coming-of-age story from DC INK

‘Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass’ is another excellent coming-of-age story from DC INK
October 03
21:35 2019

Teenage Harleen Quinzel teams up with activists and drag queens against gentrification, bigotry, and injustice in a superb coming-of-age tale from writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Steven Pugh.

DC Ink has had an uphill mission for an imprint of the Big Two since day one: appealing to a new audience. In this case, their plan is this: deliver standalone tales for beloved characters that don’t have that infamous obstacle of continuity that stretches back decades.

Fortunately, it seems this strategy seems to be succeeding, with titles receiving much acclaim that has translated to massive success on the sales charts.  “Catwoman: Under the Moon” and the terrific “Teen Titans: Raven” were both heavy hitters with critics and audiences.

Which brings us “Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass,” written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Steven Pugh.

Tamaki has made a name for herself in the YA graphic novel market, with previous darlings such as “That One Summer” and “Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me,” while a quick read of Steven Pugh’s bibliography casts him mostly as a work-for-hire. Both are at the top of their game here.

Mariko Tamaki keeps Harley’s monologuing lively and frenetic here, giving an almost stream of consciousness quality to the monologues. Those little narrative boxes ooze with Harley’s excited and off-kilter energy, balancing the quirky party gal with her considerably more melancholic flashbacks.

Further props to Tamaki for knowing when to restrain Harley’s cheerful persona during these moments while making to sure to avoid eliminating it altogether. Harley may be a cheerful little gal, but she can also gloomy and worried for her future, friends, and family. She is not one-note here; neither is her supporting cast.

The supporting cast of “Breaking Glass” is well-rounded, for the most part,  in their own right: ecoterrorist Poison Ivy’s reinvention into the social justice-oriented, fiery Ivy Du-Barry is an interesting character in her own right, with a well-defined history and naturally-developing friendship with Harley.

The various queens, such as Mama and Mia Culpa, also get sufficient characterization. Then there’s this work’s incarnation of the Joker.

No spoilers, I did enjoy Tamaki and Pugh’s new Joker: the often unintentionally edgy clown prince of crime is transformed into an anti-corporate anarchist. His depths aren’t especially gaping, but he gets the job done and

Tamaki delivers a new spin on the Joker-Harley relationship that will please those sick of the abusive relationship that normally between the two.

While some will find him shallow and cringe-inspiring, especially when DC’s twitter unveiled him, how he fits into the story and his motivations further the themes of economic inequality and societal apathy for the poor.

As for the overarching themes and narrative, Tamaki’s mastery of the craft is in full display. She expertly weights themes of economic injustice, systemic bigotry, and rage against the economically advantages vs. Harley’s considerably nuanced lunacy and the tender moments of a young woman finding her way through society and high school drama. Rather than clash with the goofier moments, the reflective flashbacks and pangs of the real world in Harley’s life are made all the more poignant.

The city is unfair to Harley, yes, but neither she nor the story let it destroy her.

Perhaps the description of Steven Pugh as a work-for-hire was a disservice. He is anything but that in “Breaking Glass.” The skill here is staggering, with a vast portfolio of varied body types, faces, clothes, etc all creating distinguishable characters.

Even the background extras that have no story contribution are distinct and I got a kick out of recognizing unimportant faces pop back up now-and-then. All of this is supported by a strong color palette, that goes from monotone, cold blue to an explosive orange to a menacing red sky.

While my pet peeve of monotonous single- color palettes reels it’s ugly head, it isn’t particularly distracting here, and Pugh’s art never fails to pop.

As for Pugh’s new take on Harley’s iconic jester outfit, I have to resist giving it it’s own paragraph on simply why I think it’s the best yet.

There’s not much to really critique here. If you’re not in the mood for a focus on social justice warriors or queer punk, I don’t think there could be bright enough neon sign screeching, “Stay away!”

Either way, “Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass” is not only another excellent notch on DC Ink’s belt, but quite possibly the best Harley Quinn story yet.

My rating: 4/5

Featured Image: Courtesy Facebook

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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