Harley’s story is revamped to set her origin during her teen years, and by making this change, we get to enjoy her character without having to negotiate how she got to where she is. In Tamaki’s version, Harleen Quinn has always been something of an oddball and a screw-up with the best of intentions. Raised by a single mom, she takes on being the protector of her family sometimes, even if it lands her in juvie here and there. When she’s 16, her mom lands a job on a cruise line and decides to send Harleen to be raised by her grandmother in Gotham City. But instead, Harleen ends up shacking up with Mama, the maternal emcee of Gotham’s local drag joint. Mama and her queens love Harleen’s irrepressible personality, and she loves the spectacle and drama of drag. But while she feels at home with Mama, she’s still finding her way around school. She’s befriended a fierce young classmate named Ivy, who spends her time protesting the local film club for whitewashing all their film picks and maintaining the community garden with her activist parents. Harleen just sort of tiptoes around Ivy’s passions, though — until Mama’s joint is threatened by a flashy developer who doubles the rent and lays down their eviction notice. Harleen is determined to save the fate of the drag show, and she may find help from the cryptic masked clown who keeps popping up in her life, promising her mayhem and fireworks. But will she ever get out of the shadow of her larger-than-life peers and make her own mark on Gotham?
This is the first book in the new young DC line that I really loved! The artwork is GORGEOUS — Steve Pugh’s work has the polish of Adam Hughes but is very age-appropriate while still maintaining the fun of Harley’s story. Tamaki has nailed Harley’s voice and it definitely works for a teen-version of her (maybe even better than the adult version). And since she is an established sequential storyteller, she didn’t run into the issues her fellow DC Ink/DC Zoom writers have of translating poorly to the graphic format.
I love the character design in this, and the drag-setting is such a fun world for Harley to find her persona. I also love the Joker design (it seemed creative to me, but I haven’t really read much Joker). Ivy was revamped into a young woman of color and her activism goes beyond environmentalism (though it was very clear that she has strong ties to nature). I really really hope Tamaki and Pugh get to write the Poison Ivy title.
The secret identities were not particularly surprising, but to me that doesn’t matter in these established comics these days. The most important thing is that Tamaki and Pugh managed to capture Harley’s essence, her relationship with the Joker, and her bombastic lifestyle while also rescuing her from her abusive origin. This title leans more into YA than the others, with appropriate but mature language. That may be another reason I’ve enjoyed it the most so far. I highly recommend this one, and hope the imprint does well enough to continue this series.