“The Batman Adventures: Mad Love” is the (one-sided) love affair between Harley Quinn and her puddin’ (the clown prince of crime himself, the Joker) that’s exquisitely told through minimalist story and art, which aids in the expression of pure emotion and characterization. Maybe it’s because both writer Paul Dini and artist Bruce Timm work in animation (they created the classic “Batman: The Animated Series”), but they are able to say so much with so little declared in dialogue and depicted through art. This minimalism aids in the genius of how the story is expressed to the reader. This work, which rightly won an Eisner award, is truly a modern masterpiece and one of the greatest Batman-related stories and comic books ever told by an artistic team that will go down in history as influential to the comic book (and animation) medium. They understand the relationships between the three characters of the Joker, Harley, and Batman and the dysfunction that exists between all of them. The Joker needs Batman, Harley needs the Joker, and Batman needs the Joker, leading to a very twisted and psychotic “love” affair between all three.
This one-shot comic book is not a conventional, by-the-numbers origin story. The reader experiences the pathos and personality of the character of Harley Quinn that makes one feel sympathetic for and drawn toward her. In one two-page sequence, the reader watches as the psychiatrist Harleen Quinzel transforms into the villainous Harley Quinn. When Batman brings in the Joker after apprehending him, Harley’s tears of agony are so potent and gut-wrenching, which leads her to instantly become a woman literally red with anger on a mission to defend a man that she has grown to love despite his manipulative way of insinuating himself into her psyche. Her facial expressions convey so much and is an example of how writer and artist can be co-storytellers in a medium that demands great work from both the script and art in order for a comic book to be expertly crafted into a work of beauty.
One of the many artistic highlights that brought much to the characterization of the three main protagonists and their relationships with each other was the use of only three splash pages in the entire duration of the story. All three pages mirror each other and bring a resonance that I have not seen written of before in any other review or article about this story. In the splash page between the Joker and Harley, the Joker bursts through the doors and screams Harley’s name, which is shown is gigantic letters with multiple exclamation points. The exaggeration of the Joker’s entrance and booming voice demonstrates the control he has over her. He psychologically has Harely in his grasp and knows he has complete and utter power over her. The look in her eyes is one of a child caught doing something naughty, with her hand close to her face in childish fear. In contrast to this scene, the other splash pages have Batman submitting the Joker. The relationship between Batman and the Joker is a complete reversal to the one between the Joker and Harley because Batman has control over the Joker’s psyche in their particular relationship. In the first splash page with them, a bruised and bloodied Batman has brought an injured Joker once again to Arkham Asylum. In the other splash page Batman is shown powerfully punching the Joker clear across the page with the huge sound effect of “BAM” prominently displayed. The Joker is clearly dominated by Batman. The Joker needs Batman in order to feel a sense of purpose. He even tells Harley that if anyone is going to kill Batman, it’s going to be HIM, not her. The relationship between these three characters is a fight over who holds dominion over the other, with submission over each other being each character’s ultimate goal. In the guise of gorgeous, cartoony (in a complimentary way) art, a story of great psychological depth is being told in this simply told story.
From the very beginning of the book, Harley is shown through flashback using her amorous ways to gain a passing grade from a professor in order to graduate college and become a therapist. After transforming into Harley Quinn, she attempts to use her sexuality to once again manipulate, but this time the Joker is not taking the bait. In one (of many) humorous scenes throughout the book, Harley is shown attempting to woo her puddin’ by dressing in a negligee and singing, “I feel pretty, oh, so pretty…” while the Joker works furiously on ways to defeat his nemesis, Batman. She crawls on the table and says, “Ah, c’mon, puddin’…don’t you wanna rev up your Harley?” while miming riding a motorcycle. The Joker’s multiple looks through the ensuing panels are priceless and detailed, expressing the anger and annoyance he feels toward his supposed love. He would rather obsess over his other “love”, Batman, instead of embracing a love from someone who actually wants to share requited love. Batman is keeping Harley from her puddin’ and she, in a private soliloquy, says “It’s always been Batman!!…coming between me and my puddin’ from the very beginning.”
Abusive relationships define this book, with sadomasochism between the characters and humor aiding in characterization and the creation of a story that truly is a tale of “mad”, unhealthy love. Harley is a masochist, subjecting herself willingly to the Joker, knowing that he’ll always be obsessed with Batman. Both men ignore her, focusing on each other and continuing a cycle of physical and psychological violence against each other that will never end in their sadomasochistic relationship between each other. In a humorous nod to his “rival” for the Joker’s affections, Batman calls the Joker “puddin'” derisively with a sly smile on his face, which turns the Joker’s face into one with homicidal rage coursing through it. Through witty dialogue and art, body language, humor, and pathos, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm have created a story that evokes expert characterization and complex relationships that truly do not bring to mind the word “love.” At least not the “normal” kind of love. Up until the very end, the cycle of “mad” love that Harley has entrenched herself within is shown to be a neverending one.
The Batman Adventures: Mad Love
Script and plot by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm
Art by Bruce Timm
Colors by Bruce Timm and Rick Taylor
Letters by Tim Harkins
Published by DC Comics
Originally published in 1994