Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass is a Young Adult graphic novel reimagining of Harley Quinn, set in high school, with Harley making friends and enemies while living with a delightfully supportive group of drag queens, fighting gentrification and 1% incels. It’s also almost two hundred pages of Steve Pugh art. It’s the new Mariko Tamaki too, bring real YA graphic novel cred to the project, but it’s two hundred pages of Steve Pugh art. It doesn’t get cancelled halfway through. We don’t have to wait three years for a third issue, it’s just… lots of Steve Pugh art. All at once.
And Pugh’s even able to keep a straight face in the denouement, which introduces all the possibilities of the future. See, Breaking Glass is realistic (enough). Ivy is a Black girl in a “progressive” White school, trying to force them to drop the quotation marks. Their nemesis, John Kane, is the rich White kid who runs the film club. He’s basically Ferris Bueller if Ferris got a car instead of a computer. He only shows White men—Tamaki gets in some great digs about film noir but I feel seen with the Kubrick—anyway, the first act of the book is the high school stuff. It’s overly dramatic but not soapy; Tamaki and Pugh both have this focusing style and it plays well in the high school environment. The scenes focus on conversations, Pugh focuses on the speakers. Tamaki and Pugh are most in sync when Harley’s with other normal people—Ivy, the drag queens—not when she’s with the Joker.
I forgot the denouement. Okay, so after pushing for some kind of realism throughout, the denouement turns it into a CW teen show. But checking in on the possible familiar face of Breaking Glass’s Gotham City. So kind of like a teen drama version of “Gotham,” next year on HBO Max. Though, in all seriousness, the comic companies ought to launch a monthly subscription reading club and center them around a single release (but with old stuff too). I got Breaking Glass from the library, read it on a whim, but definitely would’ve paid five to seven bucks to read it on my iPad. Getting to zoom in on the Pugh art? Homer Simpson drool. There’s not a lot of action–or it’s rushed action—but the level of mastery Pugh’s working at in Breaking Glass is stunning.
And it’s a good read. Tamaki’s narration is just the right amount of too cute without ever being cloying. It’s occasionally a little wordy, which has a fun resolution in the third act.
Not a fan of Ivy and Harley’s friendship getting shortchanged as far as page count—once Ivy brings up race, the comic runs away. Knowingly and responsibly, but it runs away. Into the Joker, who’s problematic. It’s fine. But pretending the Joker is the best mainstream comics can do has gotten exhausting. Tamaki also cops out on really showing Harley’s infatuation because the comic’s not willing to go that subjective. The Joker’s objectively a shit-heel, even viewed through a fifteen year-old’s lens, which also becomes a bit of a plot point.
Thankfully it’s not a Joker comic, it’s Harley’s and it’s good. She doesn’t get too annoying until just before the end, which is more about Tamaki’s hammering of the foreshadowing finale events. Or racing to get them.
But Breaking Glass is a good comics read. Finite. Successful without too many qualifications. Hundreds of Pugh panels.