While initially looking like a must-have title, Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity #1 proves a mixed bag, with distracting art and some questionable creative decisions.
Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity is a DC Black Label oversized series from writer Kami Garcia and artist team Mico Suayan and Mike Mayhew. Like the title suggests, the story focuses on Harleen Quinzel, before she becomes DC’s female Deadpool. Here Harleen is a profiler, and with a maniac serial killer on the loose in Gotham, and Batman nowhere in sight, Harleen must do her best to educate the GCPD on the finer points of all things psychopathic.
There’s also a dip into the horrible death of a friend of Harleen from 5 years ago, with all fingers pointing at The Joker, and the whole affair has been left to go cold, with The Joker going to ground afterward.
As far as Black label issues from DC go, Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity #1 really embraces the format well. There is plenty of disturbing imagery, bad language, and adult themes, which I think is one of the reasons this imprint was created in the first place. The story unfolds like a detective procedural and gives us plenty to get our teeth into.
The writer also takes plenty of time to give us all the gory details about real-life serial killers including Ed Gein and Richard Case. It’s an oddly jarring segment in the book, as it implies that these maniacs exist in this particular DC Universe. There is also a slightly strange tone in the writing as Harleen explains the history of these killers; it comes across as more of a shock tactic than furthering the story and seems to relish the chance of showing and telling us these nightmarish facts. Even in a Black label comic, it seems to forget this is a Universe where a man dressed as a bat faces villains such as Kite Man.
Art-wise, Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity #1 looks suitably edgy, with photo-realistic art and a mix of black and white and color pages. However, with a closer look, it often appears that the artistic team has traced over photographs, with people often looking odd and terribly posed. I suppose the idea was to give this series a more realistic look, but especially in the color sections, it just reminds me of those weird photo stories they used to do in magazines two decades ago. Call me old fashioned, but I would have preferred a painted book like Batman Damned for this type of subject matter. In a car crash sequence, it looks like the same shot of a car has been used twice, which is annoying for the reader, and lazy from the artists. A full-page scene of the cast at the cemetery has all kinds of problems, with perspective and texture.
All in all, Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity #1 is a mixed bag. It has a mystery at the heart of it, but I have to wonder about some of the directions it is taking. My biggest gripe is really with the art rather than the story; it is sometimes so distracting that I had to go back and re-read stuff as my attention was drawn to some strange angle in the art. I have no doubt the recent glut of Batman, Joker and Harley material is deliberately released to coincide with the Joker movie, and you can’t blame DC for doing what Marvel never really did in catching the wave of the movie counterparts, but this is just taking itself a bit too seriously, and though initially looking like a must-have, it left me feeling slightly dirty and depressed.