“Mad Love,” by Paul Dini and Pat Cadigan, follows the story of Harley Quinn: from a young girl to the very start of her legendary criminal career as Gotham’s most notorious supervillain.
Little miss Harleen Quinzel was born and raised in Brooklyn by her mobster father and and stressed yet shockingly supportive mother, followed by three younger brothers. To say her childhood was a circus, would be an understatement. Her little brothers were always crying or stirring up trouble while her parents were always fighting about her father’s criminal lifestyle. There was never any peace.
The most impressionable moment of her childhood was her daddy-daughter day at Coney Island: full of rollercoaster rides, Nathan’s famous hotdogs, soft ice cream, and lots of laughter! They wrap up their day at a ’50s diner, where little Harley is mesmerized at the waitress’s tough-Brooklyn-cookie accents and fierce attitude, and the way they use pet names for their customers such as “hun” and “puddin’.”
Things take a violent turn after dark, when little Harley’s daddy is caught and beaten by thugs. When she grabs the police for help, she ends up watching her daddy get handcuffed, being told by the policemen that he’s the bad guy. At a young age, Harley quickly sees the corruption of the world and how “good guys” are perceived as bad, meanwhile “bad guys” are seen as good.
Escaping from the police station and finding herself in the Coney Island Fun House after dark, Harley is chased by the same men who targeted her daddy. This is when her dark side comes out for the very first time. She captures the energy of the diner waitresses by imitating their tough-Brooklyn-cookie accents, and finds humor to be a useful weapon against her enemies.
Harleen’s natural talent as a gymnast earns her a full scholarship for college, where she studies psychology, and then medical school to become a psychiatrist. The workload is debilitating, but Harleen persists: eager to get inside of a broken system so that way she can fix it. During this time, Harleen works as an animal caretaker at a research lab, where she enjoys feeding and playing with the rodents.
Moving to Gotham City, Harleen discovers how brainwashed everyone is with Batman. To her, Batman is a hypocrite, a man who is just as evil as the villains he fights — with the exception of the policemen being on his side, somehow. Memories of her father’s injustice push her even harder to climb the latter and make things right.
Dr. Harleen Quinzel makes it as a psychiatrist, successfully earning her degree and immediately landing a prestigious position at Arkham Asylum. She swiftly proves herself in many ways, such as throwing a fire extinguisher at an escaped patient, saving her boss, Dr. Joan Leland’s life. Although she earns a reputation as a badass, she is still seen as a puppy-dog — naive with much to learn — in authority’s eyes. Dr. Harleen Quinzel has so many fresh ideas that none of the elder staff want to hear.
Arkham Asylum is no ordinary mad house: the patients are not just criminally insane, but most posses abnormal powers. One patient includes Pamela Isley, AKA Poison Ivy, best known for her devotion to the environment. The most infamous patient at Arkham Asylum: The Joker, master escape artist, who resides in the sub-sub-sub-sub-basement.
The doctors at Arkham Asylum have absolutely no hope for their patients and seem disinterested in trying to cure them, especially the Joker — he’s a complete lost cause. However, in Harley’s bright eyes, she believes anything is possible with enough perseverance. With enough stubborn determination, Dr. Harleen Quinzel’s boss allows her to work directly and solely with the Joker, implying that he might just have a chance.
Of course the Joker sees Dr. Harleen Quinzel’s fascination and adoration of him as the perfect way to escape Arkham Asylum for good. The two form a bond, and Dr. Harleen Quinzel slowly loses her mind. After his plan works and he disappears, Harley’s job is not only on the line but she may meet her father’s fate and end up in jail. And then it finally happens — Dr. Harleen Quinzel, M.D. transforms into Harley Quinn, the harlequin.
The Joker & Harley Quinn have a passionate connection, but the Joker just can’t stand it when Harley calls him “puddin’,” or when she makes him look weak and mushy in front of the other bad guys, or most of all when she stands in the way of his plans to take down Batman. Although their hatred for Batman is equal, the Joker refuses to share the spotlight. Harley makes him feel powerless and dependent. She is there to support and propel his dreams, yet his dream is to succeed on his own.
The ending takes an unexpected turn when Harley Quinn leaves the Joker behind and kicks him to the curb. And in the concluding scene, she tracks down the last man from that Coney Island fiasco and gets her final revenge!
“Mad Love” is a cute and fun story, also filled with a rush of excitement and thrill. Harley Quinn’s fierce ambition is prevalent throughout the entire book. She exhausted herself into fixing a broken system, only to realize that the true fix is breaking away from the system. As the Joker brainwashed her into falling in love with him, she woke up from the brainwashing of society. He gave her the bravery to become her true self, who can stand on her own. As for whether or not Harley and the Joker will get back together, I think it’s possible…