Harleen Book One Review

by Olivier Roth on September 25, 2019

Story and Art: Stjepan Šejić

Letters: Gabriela Downie

Published by: DC Black Label


Retelling origin stories in comic books is a tale as old as the medium itself. Retelling an origin story with a more mature bend to it? Nothing new either. However, Harleen by Stjepan Šejić published under DC’s mature imprint Black Label, is probably one of my favorite retelling of an origin in quite some time. 


First and foremost, I have to applaud Šejić for an incredible job on completing a 60 ish page comic almost entirely by himself (with Gabriela Downie contributing to the lettering). He has been an artist that I’ve enjoyed over the past 5 to 7 years and seeing him on a major book like Harleen is amazing. What I wasn’t ready for, and quite frankly, was blown away by, is his excellent use of the written word. His prose throughout book one not only contributed immensely to the plot of the issue, but also helps establish the tone of the book. 


And what is that tone? Quite simply, it is the exploration of Dr. Harleen Quinzel’s descent into the Batman villain known as Harley Quinn, not only how she became that way as we know it, but utilizing key moments in her life that were contributing factors to her, what I gather is, a deteriorating state. 


What is clever is that this is all foreshadowed by Šejić throughout the book. Without going into too much detail, dreams, Harleen’s work, and a chance encounter are contributing factors throughout. 


I could quote this book to no end, but probably my favorite line throughout, said by the Joker and encompassing exactly his essence is when he tells Harleen: “I prefer the lies, illusions. A bit of makeup and a whole lot of theatricality.” Such a great line!


The only small little detail in the writing that popped out to me is that, being a Black Label book, some swearing was censored (albeit, only two words), but that same word wasn’t censored at other points in the book. Weird little quirk I guess.  


Šejić’s art, if you haven’t already seen it in the past, has always had two aspects I truly enjoy: a fluidity of movement and very expressive characters. In Harleen, he really gets to go wild and both of these aspects that I love so much are omnipresent. One aspect that I had not yet encountered as often, as I’ve only seen him pull double-duty on his Deviantart quick panel drawings, is how he matches up really well visually some of the subtext of his writing. Some of it may sometimes seem on the nose, but in general, it creates a beautiful melding of writing and art. 


In the end, this is a book that I cannot recommend enough. Too often retellings have a tendency to try and shock the reader instead of providing a coherent story. In Harleen, Stjepan Šejić successfully takes the original material and adds to it.

Our Score:


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