52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work. Paul Dini is in the spotlight this week, with today taking a glimpse at the work he has done with Bruce Timm.
Paul Dini and Bruce Timm are two of the brilliant minds behind bringing Batman: The Animated Series to life. Dini was often a writer on the series whilst Timm was responsible for much of the animation. Together the two men created one of Batman’s most beloved enemies, Harley Quinn. A lovestruck jokester, Harley Quinn became to the Joker what Robin is to Batman. A quirky new sidekick for the Clown Prince of Crime, Harley was a hit amongst critics and fans, having now become so popular that she has her own comic series and is set to be a leading character in the upcoming Suicide Squad film.
Batman: Mad Love and Other Stories
Batman: Mad Love and Other Stories is a collection of stories written by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm as well as illustrated by Timm and a handful of other artists. The stories all are set in the world of Batman: The Animated Series and tell a multitude of different tales. Mad Love follows Harley Quinn’s attempts to win the affection of the Joker by finally killing the Batman. The other stories follow Batman in his adventures as well as provide glimpses at several members of his rogues gallery
The first story in this collection, The Batman Adventures: Mad Love, is easily the most important one. Written by Dini and Timm with Timm also doing the illustrations, this story gives the most personal look you’ll ever see of Harley Quinn, establishing the origin story of the character introduced in the Animated Series. Harleen Quinzel is a psychiatrist who begins working at Arkham Asylum in hopes of writing one of those tell all books that go on to sell millions of copies. Quinn’s eyes catch the ever enigmatic Joker and she tries to crack into why he is the way he is. The two crazies form a bond during their many sessions, resulting in Harleen falling madly in love with the Joker. The rest, as they say, is history as Harley gives up her job as a psychiatrist to take up a life of crime with the Joker.
Although this story is a comedy, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm manage to tell a fascinating tale about how dangerous love can be. As Dini describes it in the introduction, everyone has experienced that one person they fall head over heels in love for that is just awfully wrong for them. You put up with the abuse of being in a relationship that is harmful to you because of how strongly you may feel while the other person might lack those feelings. It can be dangerous and even crippling in some instances. It’s this exact idea that inspired the character of Harley Quinn, making her peculiar for loving Joker but taking it to a state of tragedy because of the fact that she was his therapist as well.
I found the entire relationship between Joker and Harley to be punctuated by a single line in the story, that comes after a moment that is chilling and defines the type of character that the Joker really is. After Harley frustrates the Joker, she is shoved out of a window by him and falls into the streets below. When the police find an injured Harley laying in the street she replies “My fault…I didn’t…get the joke…”, which is a terrifying display of how people do actually begin to feel when they are in an abusive relationship they can’t escape. Dini and Timm angle a serious subject like spousal abuse and adapt it into a comic that is meant for fans of a cartoon. It’s fascinating, brilliant and disturbing how delicately Dini balances out this subject while keeping the comic in a light tone.
The Mad Love story is hands down the reason you should buy this trade as it’s just an all around solid glimpse into the character of Harley Quinn but also functions well as a tale of how dangerous love can be. Mad Love may be worth the price of admission, but the extra stories that come with this collection just sweeten the pot. No, not all of these stories are anything to write home about and they don’t even necessarily have any connectivity beyond the fact that Dini wrote most of them but they’re still fun stories set in the Animated Series universe. Whether it’s the tales of Ra’s Al Ghul going up against the demon, Etrigan, or Barbara Gordon having a run in with a particularly elusive Bat-villain, everything here is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Collects: The Batman Adventures: Mad Love, The Batman Adventures #3, The Batman Adventures: Annuals #1-2, Dangerous Dames and Demons, Holiday Special, Batman Black and White #1, Batgirl Adventures #1, Batman Gotham Adventures #10, Adventures In The DC Universe #3
Best Character: Harley Quinn
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “aw c’mon puddin’…don’t ya wanna to rev up your Harley?” – Harley Quinn
Best Scene/Moment: Batman gets inside of Harley’s head – The Batman Adventures: Mad Love
Best Issue: The Batman Adventures: Mad Love. After everything I’ve said in this article it should be no surprise that I’d consider the titular comic the best of the collection. You get a fun origin story, some serious subject matter handled tastefully, and plenty of Batman: The Animated Series related fun. It’s a challenge to sit and read that issue without hearing Mark Hamill’s voice as the Joker creeping into every speech bubble that The Joker says. That in and of itself is a testament to how well Dini has characterized this entire cast.
Why You Should Read It: Come for the Harley origin, stay for the plenty of fun that comes after it. Dini does a phenomenal job from one issue to the next in keeping the reader locked in with fun, high flying stories. The characters are all so unique and highlighting the difference in everyone’s personalities is yet another area in which Dini excels. Mad Love by itself is clever, brilliant and tragic all in one fell swoop. It’s no surprise that Dini and Timm won an Eisner award for their work on that issue because of the reasons I stated above. Mad Love is so good it’ll drive you mad.