DC Fans will get a whole new take on the Joker and Harley Quinn in DC's new Black Label series Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity, which puts Harley in the role of a detective chasing down a serial killer. That killer is none other than the Joker, but don't expect your typically sort of superhero adventure, as writer Kami Garcia has teamed up with Dr. Edward Kurz to provide a more authentic and real-world look at how this sort of case would play out. ComicBook.com had the chance to speak with Garcia and Kurz all about the new DC Black Label series, starting with how the whole idea came about, and all roads start with the Joker.
"Well for me, the story started out with Joker," Garcia said. "I was interested in what makes a regular boy or girl become a monster. If you're a psychopath, what makes you end up killing people versus becoming a brain surgeon, and I wrote a version of a Joker pitch for YA but I wanted it to be really accurate forensically and Ed helped me with that. We profiled the Joker so we could kind of reverse engineer him, but it became clear that to do a good job, it would not be appropriate for YA, and there was no Black Label that I knew of at the time. So I was kind like, well what do we do with this?"
Luckily Garcia already knew someone who would be as interested in this project as she was, and that is Dr. Edward Kurz, whose background in behavior analysis and psychiatry was a perfect fit for the story she wanted to tell.
"Ed and I had worked on X-Files together, and he was also up for this, and we had a lot of fun what-if conversations," Garcia said. "So we were batting around conversations about the Joker and what he would be like as an adult. I always wanted to also write an adult serial killer novel, so then it was like if I'm going to write an adult serial killer, I'd much rather write it about the Joker who's super terrifying. But then if you're going to have a serial killer, someone has to hunt them. Ed is a forensic psychiatrist and behavior analyst, so every time I think of one I think of him and his skillset and the work I know he does at the facilities he's working in and you have to be very, very experienced, very intelligent, and very perceptive."
"So if Harley is supposed to also be a psychiatrist in those kinds of places, I want her to have the skill set that she would need to really work in a real-world place like that. I want to see what that Harley would be like because I do think she's a badass and Ed thinks she's a badass," Garcia said. "So he was like, Let's just let her be a badass."
One of the things they knew early on was that the story of Harley falling for the Joker's schtick was out. "I'm like, just so you know, before you go any further, I really can't handle Harley being obsessed with the Joker," Kurz said. "That does not happen in my world. You're trained not to do that. You're trained not to get manipulated by a psychopath. We were on the same wavelength. She wanted to make Harley a super-strong character like, ala John Wick or Atomic Blonde, somebody that is unshakeable. Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, these type of very strong female characters rather than someone that blindly gets manipulated and follows along with the story that we've seen a million times."
While that part of the story was cut, Garcia didn't want to cut some of the things that come with that storyline, which have become important to Harley fans around the world.
"I wanted her to have her own story independent of him, and one of the things that was really tricky about this is that Harley has become a touchstone for a lot of abuse survivors," Garcia said. "A lot of women and girls who've been in physically abusive relationships or in that kind of a family situation, and I'm a survivor. I was stalked and I had a lot of relationship problems go on, and so it was very tricky because I also didn't want to take that away from those people because I feel like that's a really important thing when you are a survivor to have icons to look at."
The important tether became that core aspect of survival, regardless of what it was related to. "For me, I feel like regardless of what type of abuse, she is still a survivor," Garcia said. "The fact that it isn't the Joker she survived to me doesn't really matter because as a survivor, you want the essence of that character understanding what it's like to have to be in those situations and then like move on, go past them."
Another important element of Criminal Sanity is how it approaches the process of investigation, profiling, and forensic science, and that's in a much more grounded and realistic way than what we've become accustomed to.
"Hey, here's a forensic tip on CSI," Kurz said. "'Did you get the fingerprints off the rope?' Well, you can't get fingerprints from rope. When I'm going to court, the average juror that is testifying has a 10th-grade education. That's just statistics. That's not to be mean. And so they watch CSI and they're actually asking those questions and deciding someone's fate based on something they saw on CSI. I'm really glad because we're working with Kami that she trusts this vision. It's just the most realistic version as much as possible without outside interference. We go with that, and I'm really happy about the product because I can look at that and it feels real to me. It doesn't make me feel like watching one of these other shows."
Garcia and Kurz also devote several pages to breaking down what actually constitutes someone being psychotic or criminally insane as well as the rush at times for authorities to assign that label to people, and that was important for her to address.
"I mean for me the biggest misconception, which I said to Ed, is I know a lot because of researching and all of these conversations with Ed," Garcia said. "The average person doesn't know that, and so going in, I've had arguments with people online because I had a serial killer also in the X files and it's very difficult for people to understand that someone who could do these heinous things like Ted Bundy is sane. Like he's not doing them because he is hearing voices or seeing something that isn't there or feels threatened. He's doing it because of a compulsion or because he wants to do it."
"And to me, I suffer from anxiety and depression," Garcia said. "To me, someone who is hearing voices or something and who's afraid and who attacked someone or kills someone because of something that they see that isn't there, that is not as scary and in a way that's very heartbreaking. Especially if that person doesn't have the help that they need, but it's not as... Someone who does these things because they're a psychopath and they just wake up in the morning and they feel like doing it, that is much scarier than someone who is doing it because of a delusion or hallucination, and I think it's important because even cops, a lot of people do not understand the difference between being psychotic and being depraved."
"And they're calculated, and so is Joker," Kurz said. It's a DC comic. We had a canon to choose from to pick the versions that we wanted to keep flavors of, but, we really wanted it to be not the Joker that is always beaten up all the time and that can be pushed around but a true badass because in the world of prison, someone that commands that type of respect, that actually leads gangs and eventually becomes a crime boss is not somebody that anyone wants to try, that anyone wants to get near. They command respect from a distance just walking in the room."
"Even the criminals can sense that level of evil and all those intentions," Garcia said.
You might assume a Harley and Joker story would also have Batman, and while he is included in the story, this is far from a Batman story, and his presence here is merely to show he is in the world.
"This was really very much guided by Dan and Jim and Bob," Garcia said. "I never intended to have Batman. Like that wasn't a plan because I wanted it to be a Joker-focused story and a Harley story. But Jim, as someone who's worked so much on Batman, said: "Listen, if you have him in the first issue in a big, like any significant way, people will then think this is a Joker Batman story."
That's why Batman does play a part in the case Harley is working, but not in the way you expect, and in fact, he isn't even aware of the trail he's leaving behind.
"This is a younger Batman, so I also wanted to kind of show this is the beginning of his career," Garcia said. "There are accidents, other things happen while you're in pursuit of someone, but I wanted it to be clear that Batman exists and he is part of this world, but that he is not a person that we're going to be seeing a lot. As a writer, you set up reader expectations very early, and I don't like the idea of leading the reader astray and leading them to think like, 'Oh, there's a big Batman scene in this.'"0comments
"There are so many little references that we peppered throughout regarding the Batman universe so that you know where you are," Kurz said. "But we agreed with Jim and everyone else that it could be a distraction. We didn't want him overshadowing the story, which Batman does in everything he's in. You just want to see Batman."
You can check out the first issue of Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity right now, as issue #1 is in comic stores today, and let us know what you thought of the issue in the comments or hit me up on Twitter @MattAguilarCB for all things comics!