Mad Love is a Batman spinoff novel based on Paul Dini’s comic book story of the same name. It’s the detailed ‘origin story’ of everyone’s favourite clown queen of crime, Harley Quinn, starting from her difficult childhood and ending with her fall into madness at the hands of The Joker. Dini, of course, invented the character for Batman: The Animated Series, and what was intended as a throwaway villain developed a life of its own. This novelisation has been adapted by the exceptionally skilled and highly regarded Pat Cadigan. Their prolific career includes the novelisation of Jason X, Lost In Space tie-in novels, and the Hugo-winning novella The Girl-Thing Who Went Out For Sushi. Or to put it another way, we couldn’t imagine a safer pair of hands.
The relationship between The Joker and Harley Quinn is one the most misunderstood stories since Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare’s tragic tale of teenage suicide is often seen as a story about true love, and Paul Dini’s pop culture invention of a monster turning a brilliant woman into a reflection of herself is similarly misunderstood. Mad Love is not a romantic story - it’s a thriller, a tragedy and a tale of psychological horror. It’s dark, though not as dark as could have been.
Cadigan handles the material very well. The opening chapters detail Harleen Quinzel’s formative years, beginning with a taut and strong tale of pre-teen Harleen’s worst and best ever day. The story does have its flaws - despite various high points in the character’s development, this is still a tale of a talented person who falls into darkness. Cadigan writes The Joker splendidly here, getting his arrogance, narcissism and misanthropy spot on. The author has a healthy amount of contempt for The Joker and the male gaze in general. This keeps the bulk of the focus on Harley, which is as it should be. The character, though tragic, is a victim of her own choices.
Mad Love is an entertaining read, but the material does underline some of the flaws in the Batman mythology. We are reminded regularly exactly how broken Gotham is and how many shades of grey are involved. Though the book never quite crosses the line, it’s hard to forget that Batman’s main job is beating up mentally unstable people. This is a strong story about a popular character, created by masters of the field. It’s not the story you may be expecting, but it’s worth a look if you’re a Bat-Fan.
MAD LOVE: A BATMAN STORY / AUTHOR: PAUL DINI, BRUCE TIMM / PUBLISHER: DC COMICS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW