Batman: White Knight Puts Harley Quinn’s Heart and Mind to the Test

Batman: White Knight, the visionary DC Black Label series first introduced by writer and artist Sean Murphy in 2017, has given readers one of the more unique takes on the Dark Knight mythos that we’ve seen in quite some time. It’s offered up new perspectives on the Bat-Family and iconic villains like Mister Freeze and Azrael, brought an added, modern-day complexity to Batman’s war on crime and boldly shaken up the status quo, even going so far as to end its most recent miniseries by sending its hero to jail. But one thing that doesn’t get discussed much is that more than any other series, Batman: White Knight has given us all a clear idea of what Harley Quinn saw in the Joker that made her fall in love with him.

We suspect a lot more people will be talking about it after Batman: White Knight Presents Harley Quinn, the new White Knight miniseries which debuted earlier this week, finishes its six-issue run. Scripted by novelist (and Murphy’s wife) Katana Collins from a story she cowrote with Murphy and drawn by artist Matteo Scalera, Harley Quinn is both a bold new step for the White Knight saga and what feels like its natural evolution.

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“I know Sean’s always had a fondness for Harley,” says Collins. “I think he always knew that she was going to be an integral part of the story, and I believe it sort of blossomed from there, especially now that she’s carrying Joker’s twins. There’s just so much meat to that. How can you not make Harley her own story? And that’s kind of always been the beauty about Harley Quinn, right? When she first premiered on the animated series, she just immediately caught people. I don’t even know if they intended for her to become what she is today, but I think that’s just the nature of Harley. She tends to make things her own.”

But as the debut issue makes clear, what exactly that means can be surprising. Far from the fourth wall-breaking hijinks typically associated with Harley Quinn in comics, Batman: White Knight Presents Harley Quinn is a relationship-driven mystery that finds Harley hunting down a murderer who seems to be taking his or her cues from the Joker’s past crimes. It’s a psychologically driven detective story.

“When Sean created this version of Harley, who was now a single mother, it was kind of this natural progression that she would be trying to integrate herself into what she thinks a typical mother should be,” explains Collins. “Also, we were watching a lot of Mindhunter at the time, and I was like, ‘I love this show! I feel like Harley Quinn should be the next Mindhunter!’ And that was sort of the birth of Detective Harley. It makes so much sense for Gotham. I mean, we kind of already have a Batman detective comic, so we’re taking a little bit of that but keeping her fun, playful Harleyisms. I think that there are some ways that maybe Harley has never really known who she is. She’s kind of bounced back and forth between a lot of personalities and between being a doctor and being a harlequin with a jester hat. Now Harley is a mom. She’s nothing if not adaptable.”

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Unlettered page from Batman: White Knight Presents Harley Quinn #2

That approach to telling a Harley tale is a far cry from the wisecracking, mallet-bashing mayhem that’s typically associated with Harley, but Scalera for one is relishing the chance to tell a different kind of story with the character.

“I think my hope for this book is that people will really enjoy its special rhythm,” he shares. “It’s something that, especially nowadays, we’re not that used to. In TV or movies or whatever, even in comic books, we’re used to a really super-fast pace with, you know, a thousand flashy things happening here and there. You always have to catch the attention of the reader, otherwise they’ll get super distracted, so you’re constantly bam, bam, bam, bam! This one has its own rhythm. I’m a fan of Mindhunter too, so when Katana said Mindhunter, I immediately understood it. It was like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s something I can definitely see in the story.’”

Scalera is only the second artist to draw a White Knight story other than Murphy, and the first to draw a multi-issue miniseries. Yet, it’s hard to think of an artist who’s better suited for it. A big fan and close friend of Murphy’s for many years, he describes working with Murphy and Collins as working with family, and regularly references Murphy’s work when drawing Harley Quinn.

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Unlettered page from Batman: White Knight Presents Harley Quinn #2

“He’s always been one of my main inspirations,” Scalera shares. “This story in particular needs a lot of details in the settings and environments and in every specific thing. I tried to use some of Sean’s camera angles and the way he uses perspective. I’m trying to do that combined with my style. I don’t know if it’s going to be visible on the actual pages, but when I watched some of my friends look at them, they told me they could see that I studied some of Sean’s panels to create this specific effect or to have this specific camera angle.”

While Harley Quinn is a mystery, it’s certainly not without its share of romance and drama. One of the things that Collins sought out to do was to shake up the beginning of Harley’s relationship with Jack. In the White Knight universe, she meets him before he becomes the Joker.

“We decided that they didn’t meet at Arkham,” she explains. “That was one of the earliest decisions that Sean and I made together. Jack and Harley did not meet as Joker and Harleen. They met as Jack and Harley. I really loved the idea of building that romance world for them and starting it even before she was a doctor. I absolutely wanted to go in that direction.”

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Unlettered page from Batman: White Knight Presents Harley Quinn #2

“The heart of this story is all about the people,” adds Scalera. “Basically, the whole story is a big mix of human interaction and emotions. So, we wanted to deliver that, especially in the Harley and Jack love story, which is something that hasn’t been explored so far because it didn’t exist before. So, we wanted to focus on not the two super-villains partnering up, but when they were just Jack and Harleen—just two young people that fell in love.”

Of course, that’s not to say the book’s light on action. As you can see from the pages released from issue #2, the next chapter features Harley facing off against Neo-Joker—Jack’s second Harley Quinn who was introduced in the first White Knight series. Collins also is quick to tease the book’s new villains, Starlet and the Producer, who we’ll be meeting in issue #2 as well.

“There’s a lot of mirroring certainly of Starlet’s relationship with the Producer and how it helps shed light on Harley coming to terms with her own past and why her own life unfolded as it did,” Collins promises.

Along with Harley Quinn’s new characters, there were many established characters that Collins wanted to work into the story, including one that’s brand new to the world of White Knight.

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“We have Simon Trent, AKA Grey Ghost, pop in,” reveals Collins. “And he’s not just a cameo, he’s kind of an important part of the story and he comes back throughout the book. It made perfect sense because Starlet is this kind of Golden Age serial killer who’s targeting Golden Age actors and actresses past their prime, quote unquote. So, you could definitely see an argument that Simon Trent is one of those people who fits into that world.

“Also, I really wanted Ivy to make an appearance. So, Poison Ivy’s in there.”

But the one element that Collins insisted play a big part in Batman: White Knight Presents Harley Quinn from the jump are its heroine’s two beloved pets.

“I am a huge fan of dogs,” laughs Collins. “So those hyenas… I told Matteo at the very beginning, ‘I sure hope you like drawing dogs because these hyenas, they’re going to be everywhere.’”
 

Batman: White Knight Presents Harley Quinn #1 by Katana Collins, Sean Murphy, Matteo Scalera and Dave Stewart is now available in print and as a digital comic book. Look for issue #2 in stores and at digital retailers on November 24th.