Dr. Quinzel to the rescue.
Stjepan Šejić sets out to give us a Year One-style Harley Quinn story. We learn a tremendous amount about Harley in this first book. We are treated to a lot of Dr. Harleen Quinzel, a very welcome departure from the normal insane Harley Quinn we see nowadays. It’s often mentioned as a throwaway line that she used to be a doctor, so rarely do we get to see her engaged in these skills. From the very first page, we are brought into her POV and we are keyed into how this is a story about her and the Joker. While we have some interactions with her and the Joker, this issue isn’t dominated by him. It is squarely focused on her and her journey to their eventual sessions in Arkham, where this issue ends.
This is probably the best Harley story I have read in a long time. For me, Harley gets played up as either too wacky, a sex pot, or just a bit too insane for insane’s sake. I don’t know where along the line she morphed into all of that from her beginning in Batman: The Animated Series, where there was a certain level of grounding/seriousness to her character. I feel we get a bit of that back in this issue from the lengthy amount of time we spend with a non-insane Dr. Harleen Quinzel. We get a lot of solid core character building that I’ve not seen in years.
There is quite a bit of exposition where Harley is narrating through the issue. This isn’t a detraction, as it well paced and moves the story along, and goes well with Šejić’s art. I am a fan of Šejić’s art. He has a style that is quite gorgeous with a talent for faces, expressions, and colors/lightening techniques. However, the art is inconsistent. There were many panels where you can see what had a lot of time spent on it and where there was a lot of rush line work. This feels like something that is the result of being pushed for a deadline. If the whole book had that rushed line work, then one could argue that it was stylistic choice. However, the inconsistencies show that isn’t the case. This isn’t something that I would say should lead to not reading the book. The art overall is strong and the story is very engaging. I definitely look forward to book two.