It's Justin Timberlake! It's Tom Cruise! No, it's... The Joker? The latest reinvention of Batman's greatest enemy comes courtesy of Harleen, the newest comic book released as part of DC Black Label, the publisher's new, 'prestige' imprint intended for mature readers. Within its pages, Dr. Harleen Quinzel is having a new origin story told, explaining how she became the infamous Harley Quinn. But one change readers will notice has to do with the Joker--looking more like a heartthrob than a crazed criminal killer.
The Joker, often articulated as one of the most frightening villains in DC Comics, has seen many iterations and changes in appearance over the years. Some have been goofy (which makes sense, given the whole clown storyline) while others have been downright terrifying. No fan will ever forget the horrifying face of the Joker in the New 52's Batman: Death of the Family, when the villain removed his face entirely to wear it as a mask. But Harleen now asks: what fear could such a mask strike, that couldn't also be struck by the sweet smile of Joker's slightly-askew-but-styled frock of long, green hair?
Obviously, there is a reason for the Joker's change in good looks. The story is told from Harleen's perspective, so readers can assume the new design is a way of articulating her famous, and intoxicating attraction to him. Harley Quinn's origin story requires a sense of romance, and it has ever since the original telling of the twisted love story seen in Batman: Mad Love. The first issue of Harleen does include a few panels in which the Joker takes on his typical, genuinely frightening look, but only during Harleen's nightmares. when she wakes, the Joker's back to looking just fine.
Yet a majority of the book features a tall and slender-but-trim Joker with a perfect smile, only slightly tinted red lips, and unthreatening green eyes. He can be seen more than a few times smirking--and, dare we say, softly chuckling with hand behind head, as if pulled directly from the cover of Teen Vogue or Seventeen magazine. To cap off the look, readers won't find any gimmicky or clown-like costuming when Joker makes his debut. Instead it's a sleek, black suit. Reminding fans and new readers that writer/artist Stjepan Šejić has a particular knack for drawing attractive characters, no matter their heroic or villainous alignment.
But readers should not dismiss the new story if they're only attracted to the scarier, more gruesome versions of the Joker. The comic looks to update Harleen Quinzel's origin in many powerful ways, allowing readers to enjoy her interviews with several other influential Gotham City villains before ever meeting the Joker. Once they meet, the dynamic between her and the Joker--hotness, sexual tension, and all--is filled with great dialogue and, since this is Harley Quinn we're talking about, a haunting urge to explore a relationship with someone so unstable. The sense of manipulation and madness is still alive and well in this version of the Joker; it just happens to be packaged in a form that might make readers think, "Can he sing?" or possibly even..."am I seriously kind of crushing on the Joker?"
Harleen #1 is available now from DC Black Label, available wherever comic books are sold.