Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass
Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass is a coming-of-age story about choices, consequences, justice, fairness, and progress and how a weird kid from Gotham's poorest part of town goes about defining her world for herself. From Eisner Award and Caldecott Honor-winning author Mariko Tamaki (This One Summer, Supergirl: Being Super).
Harleen is a tough, outspoken, rebellious kid who lives in a ramshackle apartment above a karaoke cabaret owned by a drag queen named MAMA. Ever since Harleen's parents split, MAMA has been her only family. When the cabaret becomes the next victim in the wave of gentrification that's taking over the neighborhood, Harleen gets mad.
When Harleen decides to turn her anger into action, she is faced with two choices: join Ivy, who's campaigning to make the neighborhood a better place to live, or join The Joker, who plans to take down Gotham one corporation at a time.
Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass is at once a tale of the classic Harley readers know and love, and a heartfelt story about the choices teenagers make and how they can define--or destroy--their lives.
Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass is a graphic novel of substance, depth of character and remarkable artistic execution, making it truly a worthwhile addition to any comic fan’s library. Although I am admittedly quite a fan of Harley Quinn as a character, even I was a bit hesitant about a teenage vision of her mixing it up with kids her age in a grounded street level approach. It doesn’t take long to see that this story is so much more than that though.
Described as a coming-of-age story about a weird kid from Gotham’s poorest part of town, the story puts readers in the shoes of Harley in a way I’ve never seen before and builds a vision of society around her. We see the heart of community through the introduction of Mama, a fabulous drag queen who opens their home in Harley’s time of need. The push for progress with the involvement of Ivy, a brilliant black girl who is an acutely aware activist for the disenfranchised. And we see the impact of twisted minds as agents of chaos in society when the Joker begins to make himself known. Tamaki fleshes out an intricate worldview through these different dynamics, and many more, which gives the story depth and relatability. However, its true success is in how Harley navigates an increasingly complicated world. She doesn’t have all the answers and she doesn’t pretend to. But she takes inspiration from those around her that she cares about and does what she feels is right, taking control of what little aspects of her life that she can.
The journey Harley undertakes in Breaking Glass defines it as a true coming-of-age story. It’s even visualized in the evolution of her costumes starting from a modern interpretation of the classic jester suit and finishing with what could easily be a new iconic look for her. We know the story of Harley is a tragic one, with her origins oftentimes inexplicably tied to the Joker in some way, and Breaking Glass doesn’t shy away from that tragedy. Gentrification condemning the community she’s come to love and social classes bearing down on her expression of identity give weight and social relevance to the story, but her descent into chaos and forceful recognition of her wrongdoings remains steadfast. It’s familiar in the themes of her origins, but told in a way that brings out the important issues woven into the narrative. In this, we find Harley’s whimsical approach to life perfectly aligning with the pursuit for progress in a way that is original and, despite my previous apprehensions, remarkably entertaining.
The writing is topical and filled with subtext that helps to give nuance to the story, but it really couldn’t have worked on this level without such strong art from Steve Pugh and letters from Carlos M. Mangual. The ink style with limited colors is a dynamic visual approach that gives some distinctiveness to the story, though it may take some getting used to. The character depictions are just incredible though. Facial expressions and body language translate so well, providing strong character beats with real emotion. Yes, it’s set in high school and the consequences aren’t nearly as expansive as some of the other Harley Quinn stories available. Some of the designs are a bit questionable and I’m very likely not the target audience of a book like this. But none of that diminishes the quality of storytelling that we find in Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass.
As we see Harley go through ups and downs with Ivy, struggle with her individuality while fighting for her community, a tale of deception unfolds right before her eyes. While there are many different commentaries on social issues, none make such an impact as the concept so perfectly described by Harley as boogers. These are people who will hurt anyone just to get what they want, caring not for others, and only interested in selfishness despite the destruction it causes. This concept is made real through the personification of the Joker, and the biggest shocker of the book is the unmasking of the notorious villain after his dastardly plans fail. Pulling back the curtains and revealing the face behind the madness to give an identity to those who seek to do evil is a loud announcement that boogers can be exposed and defeated. The strength of community presented through strong LGBT+ representation, the urge to action from minority organizations and Harley’s own introspection pave the way for a path forward not just for herself, but for society as well.
It’s easy to see why Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass was nominated for the Eisner Awards for Best Publication for Teens, Best Writer (Tamaki) and Best Penciller/Inker (Pugh). The story can pull in any reader with its powerful characterizations and the visuals will keep them excited to see what comes next. There are twists you may see coming and plenty you won’t, but the end result is a book that is likely to be considered one of the better Harley Quinn stories available for quite some time.
Go buy this book.
Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass is a graphic novel of substance, depth of character and remarkable artistic execution, utilizing a grounded approach to Harley to confront socially relevant issues directly with tact and emotion. Go buy this book.
Comic Watch Pride: Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass: The Problem With Most Fairy Tales Is...
Writing - 9.5/109.5/10
Storyline - 10/1010/10
Art - 9.5/109.5/10
Color - 10/1010/10
Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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