THIS REVIEW OF ‘HARLEY QUINN: BREAKING GLASS’ OGN IS SPOILER-FREE.
by Arpad Okay. Breaking Glass sees Harley Quinn and Gotham City reimagined. If Wayne Enterprises is the last one standing against the fiscal corruption rampant in Gotham, this story is the lives upended when the affluent destroy communities. Who is there for the neighborhood? Who has one red combat boot and one black combat boot planted firmly on the ground? Who but a clown, a teen, a wild heart trying to do right?
Mariko Tamaki has taken a highly nuanced, intersectional approach to what in Gotham City relates intimately with the experience of the reader—the real world as we know it lives in this book. It is within that framework that Harley Quinn can be a hero. Quinn dons mask, gloves, and bells to jape a crooked system. Harley in real life is one of those remarkable people with the spark that drives them to excellence, making warts-and-all decisions, trying to protect the vulnerable.
It’s still Harley Quinn, though, so that excellence she drifts into involves baseball bats and, when the Joker gets involved, explosions and such. Breaking Glass has the escalation of an origin story, but Harley Quinn was already complete before the first panel. The costume comes about because of the conflict she faces in Gotham City, but it isn’t Gotham that makes her. Breaking Glass is a lesson by example on how to deal with the shit that is so much bigger than you are.
Tamaki’s Harley is an incredibly insightful and passionate person. A rough youth over fast in some ways and neverending in others, her heart steers and sometimes that means chaos. But she and her friends all stand up for what matters, no matter the circumstance or the status quo. No compromise to ego, privilege, or dollars.
Harley is in a Clint Barton Hawkguy situation. Urban superheroes facing urban threats: redlining, corruption, development. YA itself is tied to the struggle of urban resources. Taking Breaking Glass out of your school library? Not if all the local equity tax is given to developers building condominiums downtown.
Tamaki is pitch perfect with every resident of Gotham. The communities who are being pushed out are the ones whose diversity makes a city a cosmopolitan place worth living in. Ivy is a conduit for social awareness, a foil of logic and clarity to Harley’s reckless empathy, pining for justice from the city public garden. Joker is a megalomaniac hype beast who wants to be Tyler Durden. It’s all big time Nimona vibes, very real and relatable people in a fantastic, impossible world.
Breaking Glass is funny, tragic, and real. What Mariko Tamaki and Steve Pugh have done with Harley Quinn is what Anne Nocenti and John Romita did with Daredevil. Talky, ambitious, socially conscious, a street level hero lending power to the powerless, not behind a mask, living.
Pugh’s art is every bit as sophisticated as Tamaki’s script. His style is satin, vinyl, liquid eyeliner, and moonlight. It seals the Vertigo feel. A notebook portrait in blue ballpoint pen done by a trained classical artist. Dynamic poses more gesture drawing than splash page. Realism at its core but symbolist in layout and color. Pugh summons all the majesty of Alex Ross while staying true to contour illustration; he bends the rules of presentation like Black Orchid, blending together style, substance, and story.
Pugh and Tamaki’s look for Harley is iconic and authentic. One part hand-me-down, thrift store repurposing, Michelle Pfieffer going crazy on her sewing machine in Batman Returns. One part burlesque trunk with intimate knowledge of aged French passion plays. Modified vintage in a modern city. From checkerboard casual to streetwear jester to porcelain figurine acid nightmare, the meeting of history and flamboyant personality makes for striking costumes.
Breaking Glass recast Harley in the spirit of the original Harlequin. Following it back from camp to theater to the zanni. Harley Quinn, nimble trickster, cryptic wit, agent of chaos, emissary of the dispossessed. This book is as cool as it gets, with great potential to lift up the loyal and smash the skeptics. Harley Quinn forever and ever and ever some more.
DC Ink / DC / $16.99
Written by Mariko Tamaki.
Illustrated by Steve Pugh.
Lettered by Carlos M. Mangual.
9.5 out of 10