Harley Quinn and the Joker may be DC's most notorious couple, but the idea of a brilliant psychiatrist 'falling in love' with a twisted murderer has only gotten less interesting (forget believable). Thankfully, their obsessive bond is finally being re-imagined in Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity--the story of a monstrous serial killer stalking the streets of Gotham... and the brilliant forensic psychiatrist and profiler hellbent on bringing him to justice.
In an age when serial killer mysteries and docu-dramas are continually on the rise, writer Kami Garcia's Criminal Sanity is delivering the thriller fans of true crime and the DC Universe never knew they needed. The mature thriller is spinning a new version of Joker and Harley only DC Black Label would be able to tell, and the nine-issue series won't be pulling any punches when the first issue arrives this October. Screen Rant got the chance to speak with Garcia about the new origin she's cooked up with artists Mike Mayhew and Mico Suayan, beginning with the murder of Harley's roommate, and setting her on a path she's determined to see through to its end. Which means fans can hear which serial killers this Joker ISN'T inspired by, how Harley Quinn finally gets to be the brilliant profiler she should be, and why both may end up wishing their paths had never crossed...
The last time we spoke, it was focusing on Teen Titans: Raven. So... things have changed.
[Laughs] Yeah this one is really different.
Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity makes it clear pretty quickly that it's not intended for young readers. So where did this story begin for you? Was it a desire to write a different kind of Joker story, a Harley story, or a true crime story?
I'm a huge Joker fan, and a Harley fan, and originally I wanted to do Joker as YA. I really wanted to do the evolution of a monster. We're always fascinated with the idea of, how does a regular person--someone like Ted Bundy, who looks like us, and acts perfectly normal--how are they doing these atrocious things without anyone knowing? What drives them to do that? So I wanted to do the evolution of the Joker. And really from a true crime, forensic profiling standpoint. But it became clear really quickly that in order to do it right it would be much too dark for YA. I taught for a long time, I'm really well-versed in the genre, and I wouldn't have been comfortable handing it out as YA. So I literally didn't even--I told DC, 'There's no way we could do this YA.' And they agreed.
But what I loved was, I've always wanted to write an adult serial killer thriller. And while I was thinking about that, it was like the two ideas gelled in a way. Because what greater psychopathic killer is there than the Joker? Who's really more terrifying? So I was already on this train of presenting this to DC and having an idea of doing the Joker, and I was thinking, what if I did him as an adult? I could weave in the backstory of the evolution of the killer, within the framework of showing you where that killer ends up. It really started with the Joker, not with Harley. Then as I was thinking about it, obviously if I have a present day killer it's not interesting unless I have someone really formidable who is hunting that killer.
I've always loved Harley Quinn, and I have a friend who is my consultant on the project, Dr. Ed Kurz, who is a behavior analyst and forensic psychiatrist. He has worked, literally, in Baltimore's Arkham. I know the kind of training that it requires to work in a place like that, and how incredibly brilliant you have to be. And insightful, careful, calculating, strategic. That's the way I envision Harley. As a really strong, smart character who... you know how Batman and Joker are two sides of the same coin? She is Joker's equal in a different way. I thought if I want somebody hunting him, I want it to be her. Because it's also the flip: usually we see him seducing her. My consultant and I actually profiled the Joker, so everything goes back to his psychological profile. The thing that he is more than anything is a complete psychopathic narcissist. The idea of somebody studying and analyzing his murders, and trying to find him? He would love that. He would love that! He would want that person around.
So in a weird way, even though psychopaths aren't capable of love, he would be more obsessed with her. So it was really fun to start from there. The trick was, 'what was the vehicle?' Once I figured out that I wanted her to hunt him--and there were some twists I wanted to hide in there, that of course I can't tell you--then it became really, really fun. But I still hadn't pitched it to DC. I was just working on this and going back and forth with my consultant on ideas, and what he thinks sounded cool. Because I didn't know about Black Label at that time. I don't think any of the big Black Label things had even been announced. So in my mind there was nowhere to put this. It wasn't DCU, and it's not YA, so I was creating a thing I can't do anything with, but it was so cool and fun I thought, 'I'll just mess around with it and then after a certain amount of time I'll just move on.' But then the Black Label was established and they started talking abut out of continuity stories. So strangely, there seemed like there might be a place for it.
I still see the spirit of Harley in her, that fascination and obsession with the mystery or enigma of The Joker. But there is often a naivete there, as well. That seems to be almost the opposite in this story. Was that there from the beginning? Because it's clear from the first page that Harley is the main player of this story.
Yeah. Like I said I've always loved the character, but I do feel like someone with her training, who was allowed to work somewhere like Arkham... I really wanted this to feel real. I wanted it to feel like a super realistic take, where you go to bed feeling like the Joker is a real killer. A real person. Because to me he is such a scary figure, and he has gotten only more interesting over time. You know what I mean? He doesn't get stale. So I wanted to make him as real as possible. Psychologically he's already really terrifying, but the idea that he could be a real person is just even more terrifying. Since I knew I wasn't going to have Batman, it was not going to be a Batman/Joker story or a Batman series, I knew I needed someone formidable to go against him.
I knew I wanted Gordon to be a part of the picture because I love Gordon. But I wanted there to be someone who would really go toe-to-toe with him, who was his intellectual equal. Because he really is brilliant. I wanted him to have to go up against someone really brilliant. So that in a way, as you said, they're both challenging eachother. This is the hardest case she's ever worked on, and she's the only person who he believes has any shot at even figuring out what's going on. So in a way it's like they need eachother, because he really is the kind of killer who wants people to see his work. He wants people to find it.
The title alone points out that the one thing everybody knows about the Joker is 100% wrong. He's not crazy, he's not suffering from delusions. He decides to do everything he does. It almost speaks to The Dark Knight's version, when someone calls him crazy and he responds with a deadpan, 'No I'm not.' But when you open that door, I feel like there are infinite paths and stories to explore there. How did you decide on his characterization? You make mention of several serial killers in the book, but it doesn't seem like he's based around any of them.
No. No. He's actually much smarter than all of the ones mentioned in the book, and much more sophisticated. Ed and I talk about it, there actually hasn't been a serial killer like him. Ted Bundy had a high IQ, but Bundy was a lust killer. You know, he was killing for sexual gratification, so there was nothing really complex about the why. With this Joker, the why is complicated. That's part of what makes him hard to catch. I've always believed that the idea of the Joker being mentally ill, crazy--that's not as scary to me as a Joker who is sane. Bundy was not crazy, Bundy was not mentally ill, he could not plead criminal insanity. He was considered sane, he knew what he was doing was wrong, he was not suffering from delusions or hallucinations, he evaded the police. I think that's scarier: the concept of someone being able to do these heinous acts because they want to. I wanted the most psychologically scary version of the Joker that I could get. And to me, a sane Joker is much much scarier than an insane Joker. And also much more of a threat.
I also love that Heath Ledger take, when he says 'Why would I kill you?' The idea of being a psychopath and doing these horrible things is just fun. He just wakes up and feels like doing it. Ed and I discussed it a lot, the characteristics and the crime scenes that I envisioned, and what I wanted to talk to, and then from there you get a profile. Then once we had a working profile, the challenge became everything has to line up with that. Every single thing. So he's kind of the police, just like, 'Yeah that would never happen if we have a person with this profile.' Then it's back to the drawing board. But it's fun in the sense that it's really challenging. If you want it to be true crime, everything has to draw back to it.
Then I suppose you have to forget all of it so that Harley can start piecing it together by herself.
Yeah, that part is hard too. I just try to think of it as her seeing what you're seeing as the reader. She only has x number of pieces, and as she starts getting more puzzle pieces the picture becomes clearer. I definitely feel like I could do true crime, but I don't think I could do like an Agatha Christie 'who did it?' kind of murder on a train. That would be really hard for me. But this, I feel like I can see the way it unfolds. Also my stepdad was an undercover cop. That is in no way the same as a profiler, but when it comes to Gordon and the regular cops, I've spent a lot of time around cops. That made me comfortable. But my consultant is super knowledgeable. He worked with Fred Berlin who was Jeffrey Dahmer's defense psychiatrist, he's seen the worst of the worst. So there weren't many scenarios that I came up with that he couldn't come up with a reference point.
The timing of this story seems perfect as well. True Crime fans have always had endless TV shows--Forensic Files, The First 48--but now you have Making a Murderer, My Favorite Murder and true crime podcasts everywhere, most recently Mindhunter...
Yeah, so Mindhunter is based on two real FBI profilers, Ressler and Douglas, and the third guy who was really instrumental in creating the Behavioral Analysis Unit in the FBI was Roy Hazelwood, who trained my consultant, Ed. Ressler and Douglas came up with the classification system for serial killers. Which is how they create profiles. They did it just the way they show in the TV show, going prison to prison and interviewing all these guys. I think by the end there might've been one woman, but obviously there's a disproportionate number of male serial killers to women. So yeah, the Joker feels really relevant now. I feel like he would hate social media. There's so many things in society he would be disgusted with.
It does seems like general interest in true crime has taken a step out into the public eye. Having now surrounded yourself with that, and bringing a piece of the DC Universe into that genre, do you understand the fascination more, or differently?
I mean I definitely have greater insight, mostly because my consultant is such a pro and I check everything with him. If something is wrong or off he explains why. I'll say I want to do this, and he'll say, 'Well your Joker would never do that because...' you know, 'But he could this.' So a lot of it is double checking, and finding out if it's right. I've obviously done a lot of reading on this subject for a long time because I was considering writing an adult serial killer thriller, and I also had a serial killer in my X-Files book that I did. Ed and his partner Tom were both my consultants, so I had the two of them constantly digging into everything I was writing. So I think that for me, it's not necessarily a fascination, I think it's very sick. I think it's more fascinating with the Joker because he is just such an interesting character. I think he's much more interesting than the real serial killers. Most of them are a lot less sophisticated and brilliant than people think...
Or than they would want people to think.
Exactly! But I feel like the Joker is the kind of guy people would want to be in their interviewing. Because he would be fascinating. One of the things that was important to me was not to destroy the mystery. Not to tell people his real name, not to create a mundane guy that we know everything about. Because the mystery to me is part f what makes him so cool. So that was kind of a difficult line to walk, but the thing that makes it fun is that he's an unbreakable character. He can say and do things that we might think, 'He's doing this because of that.' Then the next issue he's like, 'Oh no I just felt like it.' Or he does something totally opposite that doesn't seem to fit. I think that's one of the cool things, that there is an unpredictability built into the character. Instead of revamping him and erasing the character, I wanted to play with those amazing things about him that other creators have already established.
I walked out of Comic-Con thinking my wife, the true crime lover, finally has a Harley and Joker story that is written specifically with her in mind...
Oh I love that!
So was that part of the goal? It really seems like this is written for fans of the true crime genre, and fans of these two DC characters, on their own.
Yes. I wanted to do the two things that I love the most. I love serial killer crime thrillers, and I love the Joker and Harley, so I'm going to put the chocolate and peanut butter together, you know? And make a Reese's. So definitely! I feel like if you're not a die-hard, Mindhunter true crime fan you can still just love it for the interactions and the characters. But if you aren't a die-hard Joker and Harley fan, you can also appreciate the true crime element, the psychological suspense. And trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle yourself. That's what I wanted to do, I wanted it to be able to be a good Joker/Harley story, but also a good serial killer mystery thriller for people.
Well now I'm even more excited for this. I'm also extremely excited for the Harley Quinn Murder on the Orient Express graphic novel you're going to tackle in a few years.
Yeah. I’d need Agatha Christie to hang out with me so she could teach me her tricks, but she died decades ago.
Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity #1 arrives in comic book shops on October 9th, 2019.
Kami Garcia is the #1 New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of eleven novels. Kami co-authored her first novel, Beautiful Creatures, on a dare from seven of her students. The Beautiful Creatures novels have been published in 50 countries and 38 languages and made into a major motion picture of the same name. Kami is also the author of five solo novels, including the Bram Stoker Award-nominated titles Unbreakable and Unmarked (The Legion series) and Broken Beautiful Hearts, a #metoo novel inspired by an incident she experienced in high school. Her first graphic novel TEEN TITANS: RAVEN, illustrated by artist Gabriel Picolo, is the first title in her Teen Titans series for DC’s YA line.
Dr. Edward Kurz M.D. is a forensic psychiatrist from Baltimore, MD who completed his residency at Johns Hopkins University. After residency, he pursued additional education in criminal investigative analysis (criminal profiling) and was personally trained by the late Roy Hazelwood, co-founder of VICAP, the FBI’s program to profile serial killers, and an original member of FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit (BSU). He also trained under and worked for Dr. Fred Berlin, Jeffrey Dahmer’s defense psychiatrist and is a consultant to domestic and international law enforcement. Dr. Kurz was the lead forensic consultant on the novel, X-Files Origins: Agent of Chaos by #1 New York Times best-selling author Kami Garcia, which details Agent Fox Mulder’s early days before joining the FBI, which is now deemed official X-Files canon by its creator, Chris Carter. He currently consults on JOKER/HARLEY: CRIMINAL SANITY a 9-issue series from DC Comics’ Black Label imprint.