So I had the distinct pleasure of getting my hands on an early copy of Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass at Dr. Comics & Mr. Games here in Oakland, CA. Where I also had the privilege to meet writer Mariko Tamaki. I wanted to gush, I did not. I had a million questions, I did not ask. I did snap out of my sense of shy and awe to ask one question as she signed my copy of the book though. And honestly it was the only question that would matter as I devoured the pages of the book mere minutes after purchase. That question was "what inspired this book". And the answer was simple, Drag Queens & Gentrification. Now, I'm paraphrasing here, but that was the jist of it and it couldn't be more in your face than it is in this book...
This book is straight up about a young Harley Quinn and how she's affected by the gentrification of, dare I say, ghetto Gotham. Mariko Tamaki, who is an Eisner award winning writer does two things exceptionally well with this book. The first is that in an over the top way, she truly captures the villain that is big business and the rich. I say over the top because none of these things could happen in the manner of which they happen in this book in real life, however, things like what happens in this book DOES happen. Just look at Oakland, every time I turn around there is a new high rise going up. There's a Petes and/or Starbucks on every corner. Meanwhile people are being displaced left and right as the rents get higher and higher. I was looking at an apartment in one of these new buildings, and $3000+ for a one bedroom. Just ridiculous...Anyway, I digress, Tamaki nails the vision of what a gentrified Gotham would begin to look like. And with this book there are almost 3 stories being told. The one about Harley, one about friend Ivy, and the one about the lovable queen, mama. And they all touch you in different ways.
The second thing Tamaki does well here is, she effectively gives Harley a backstory that fans will love. See, she keeps all the things that make Harley Quinn who she is while removing all the things that made the character, problematic. Essentially, removing all the misogyny from the character. Which I can say was a great move. You can tell that she not only has a respect for the character, but respect for how the character is portrayed as well. In fact, someone with Mariko at the time of the book signing even commented something to the affect that "there's this great character with Harley Quinn and then they had to dress her up like a sex toy." Which I couldn't agree more with. I believe I even touched on this while reviewing issues of The White Knight. So like with that, Breaking Glass is not apart main DC Universe continuity, so that allowed Tamaki to do what she wanted with the character. Like we learn that Harley's always been a little off, since childhood. We see that she gains the alter-ego of Harley Quinn from a group of Drag Queens she hangs out with. It is truly an awesome thing.
Even after meeting this book's version of the Joker, Harley remains very much her own woman. My initial thoughts were that that level of infatuation was going to raise it's ugly head. And I honestly should have known better. In fact, my favorite part of the book, or one of them (because there are many), is when Joker sends her a skimpy cheerleader costume to wear. She goes, how am I even supposed to put this on. There after opting out of wearing it and instead, makes her own outfit, clearly being inspired by the drag queens she'd been hanging out with. It's really an epic thing to see.
Another thing done here was that they made Ivy mixed. Black and Asian I believe. And I love it. It's a reminder that when a lot of these characters were
created, the world was very, how do you say, STRAIGHT WHITE MALE! Therefore it was extremely difficult to find characters you could see yourself in culturally. Well it's 2019 and in Tamaki's world Ivy is black, Harley is inspired by a badass group of drag queens, and the Joker is [SPOILER], so I won't say it. But that was a cool little thing she did with him too.
In fact, what Breaking Glass does with the Joker is great-tastic! It depicts him as someone who's all about that "life"! An agent provocateur if you please. Even upon meeting Harley for the first time he says, "I am the new justice. The New World Order. I am chaos." His whole story makes so much sense from beginning to end. That maybe there is more to him than meets the eye and that perhaps his motives aren't as plain as they appear. As a Joker fan I was pleased with what she did with him.
So it's safe to assume at this point that the writing is great, the way the story is told is terrific, and how it unfolds is pure genius. However, I'm sure you're wondering about that art. How do the pages look turn after turn. And let me tell you. What Steve Pugh does here is nothing short of amazing. Every page is just a sight to behold. The comic is pretty much Black & White which really adds to the small pops of color you get throughout the book. From the lines to the coloring. This is just a perfectly drawn book. Surprisingly, the part of the art that stands out the most to me were the eyes. All of the characters in Breaking Glass have such distinct eyes. Especially Harley. I don't know much of Pugh's work...honestly I know none of it, but this was a great introduction.
So basically this is a MUST READ for anyone whom is a fan of Art, Literature, Politics, Comic Books, Harley Quinn, Joker, and/or all of the aforementioned. Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass paints a new picture of Gotham. And reimagines a lot of our favorite characters origins for new audiences without compromising what makes those characters our favorites to begin with. And by making the Joker Harley's foe and not her lover, the story showcases what their relationship really is. All of this is done while showcasing the more admirable aspects of Harley. So you can tell that Tamaki is a true fan of the character, writing for true fans of the character.