In 2017, artist-writer Stjepan Sejic posted a series of "little storytelling practices", fanart/story snippets detailing Harleen Quinzel's fall to the Joker and the creation of Harley Quinn, their abusive relationship and a possible salvation aided by Poison Ivy. While the snippets were well received, ejić always insisted nothing more would come of them since the only place this story could be told well would be DC's Black Label which was a tier above him. In September 2019, DC's Black Label published the first issue of artist-writer ejić's Harleen.
The reimagined origin story of Harley Quinn starts with Dr. Harleen Quinzel as an up-and-coming psychologist with clever ideas on how to lower the horrific crime rates of Gotham City. According to her hypothesis, many criminals diminish their capacity for empathy through constant stress until singular events have them Jump Off The Slippery Slope. Find the ones in danger of such events, prioritize them for psychological treatment and the recidivism rates should go down. To test her ideas, she just needs to interview the supervillains of Arkham Asylum. What could go wrong?
See the books very own trailer here
The series provides examples of:
- Bi the Way: Ivy clearly already likes women as well as men. Although she'll eventually be Harley's Closet Key that won't happen for a while.
- Big Damn Villains: During the mass Breakout of Arkham, Ivy saves Harleen from Killer Croc before escaping.
- *Bleep*-dammit!: The series inconsistently flip flops between Symbol Swearing and uncensored cursing.
- Cardboard Prison: Harvey Dent points out, not without merit, that Arkham Asylum has a reputation as one. He is afraid that if Harleen doesn't stop her studies, legions of corrupt lawyers will use her work as they prepare an Insanity Defense for their clients, which would see them land in Arkham rather than Blackgate.
- Cerebus Retcon: "Harley" started out as a derogatory nickname for Harleen at university because of her exaggerated reputation for sleeping with faculty.
- The Con: The investigation Bruce launches into the mass breakout at the end of issue 3 brings this to light. It turns out that Joker got his hands on Harleen's research and used it to set himself up as the perfect patient for her theories. Falling in love with him and becomes his side kick was an unexpected bonus, but all of it was just him playing Harley to get himself set free.
- Costume Evolution: The brief flash-forwards to Harleen as Harley Quinn depict her both in her original harlequin costume, and in a more casual and revealing cropped halter top and leggings similar to some of her costumes in her post-Flashpoint solo series.
- Darker and Edgier: While not without humor, the series will not be sugarcoating the abusive nature of the relationship between Mister J and Harleen.
- Depraved Bisexual: Played with, Ivy asks if Harleen is attracted to her at one point (which she will be eventually). However, in spite of her evil, it's treated more as genuine curiosity than Ivy's usual use of sex to control her victims.
- Driven to Madness: It is Harley Quinn's origin story.
- Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: As is typical with Sejic's work, all the characters are beautiful, even the Joker, which makes a certain sense, as we're seeing him through Harley's eyes.
- Foreshadowing: Ivy asks if Harleen is attracted to her during their second interview. While the reader knows Harley will eventually fall in love with Ivy, this is years early for that so Harleen doesn't reply and leaves the room in a flustered state. The variant cover of issue 3 also does this
- Depicting the characters as playing cards, it has Joker as (well) a Joker but Harley and Ivy are both Queens, a small nod towards the far healthier relationship the two women will build in the years to come.
- I Can Change My Beloved: Nope, we all know her beloved will change her. But Harleen believes it to the core.
- In Love with the Mark: Discussed by Bruce and Alfred. Bruce thinks the Joker was just using Harleen and uses that fact that Joker had obviously read up on her research as proof. Alfred thinks there may be some mutual attraction between the two.
- Lower-Deck Episode: Harleen's first meeting with the Joker feels like this—she walks across the street when something explodes, the Joker almost murders her on the spot and Batman appears, with most of the combat seen in silhouette through his smoke bombs only. It's clear that the only things Harleen and two police officers can achieve are "stay alive" and "stay out of the way" as the titans fight.
- Mythology Gag: Harleen sleeping with her professor earned jokes about how he "rode his Harley." Which itself is a reference to an infamous Getting Crap Past the Radar joke from the Harley Quinn Origins Episode from The Batman Adventures adapted to the episode "Mad Love" from Batman: The Animated Series.
- In Issue 3 we get a look at Bruce Wayne in the Bat Cave where many of the trophies from Batman's famous fights from all mediums are prominently on display, including the iconic T-Rex and Giant Penny.
- Poisonous Friend: This starts low-grade with Shondra, Harleen's best friend who has a more cynical outlook. She tries to convince Harleen that to get grants, the first thing to establish is how her research will make her corporate sponsors tons of money. Then there's obviously the Joker, taking the trope Up to Eleven. The one who won't fit here (if the series goes on long enough) will be literal Poisonous Person Poison Ivy.
- Precision F-Strike: Harleen freely throws around "fuck" whenever it feels like it.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Dr. Mathews. She believes in Harleen, deduces that she can't have gotten her good grades unfairly because they're too spread out across professors, and helps her get the Wayne grant to finance her research. In her own words, everyone has a past and if she couldn't look past it, she would have made a bad psychologist.
- Right for the Wrong Reasons: Harvey Dent wants Harleen to stop with her work because he believes it will increase crime by bringing more people to Arkham rather than Blackgate where they can escape more easily. Not because, say, it will lead her to be influenced by a mass murderer and become his minion, racking up a body count of her own.
- Sense Loss Sadness: The chemicals that caused the Joker's appearance also caused irreparable nerve damage, leaving him unable to feel bodily sensations unless they're extreme.
- Sextra Credit: Played with. The first issue takes the old "Harley slept her way through college" origin and gives it a new twist: The brilliant Harleen had no need to enhance her grades. She slept with her professor simply because she likes older men. Unfortunately, someone saw it and she got the reputation anyway.
- Start of Darkness: Yup.
- There Are No Therapists: There obviously are therapists. Unfortunately, Harleen brushes off the question whether she sees one with a flippant "every morning when I brush my teeth".
- Vigilante Militia: The Executioners are a small militia of vigilantes who believe that Batman's no-kill policy is too soft and Arkham itself a Cardboard Prison full of monsters who the police are hilariously out of their depth in facing. Thus, they take it upon themselves to capture and kill criminals they deem to be Karma Houdinis. They're later revealed to be members of the GCPD who have snapped and gone rogue, later becoming Two-Face's Mooks.
- Villain of Another Story: In the first issue, Harleen comes into contact with Mr. Zsasz, Poison Ivy, the Riddler, Killer Croc, the Mad Hatter, Harvey Dent and the Joker. All but the last two of them merely serve as interview partners, giving a one-panel insight into their world view. Dent (who is still a few months away from becoming Two-Face) tries to get Harleen to abandon her work, and only the Joker has a major villainous role.