When YA writer Kami Garcia began exploring how a young Joker might evolve into a serial killer, she realized there was no way this story would fit into the YA format. Instead, Garcia’s story is being published under DC’s Black Label imprint for mature audiences, allowing her to also completely change Harley Quinn’s relationship with the Joker.
In Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity, Joker is the serial killer, but Harley Quinn is the profiler who’s hunting him.
To research the real-world dynamics of a psychopathic serial killer and his pursuer, Garcia turned to real-world forensic psychiatrist and profiler Dr. Edward Kurz to consult on the book. Working together, the two attempted to keep the story authentic to the realities of mental illness and the Mindhunter/profiling professional norms.
To illustrate the book, DC turned to artists Mike Mayhew and Mico Suayan, whose differences in style and color treatment indicate flashbacks versus current-day scenes.
With the nine-part Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity set to debut October, Newsarama spoke with both Garcia and Kurz about this unique approach to Harley Quinn and the Joker.
Newsarama: Kami, the fact that you wanted Dr. Kurz on the line tells me you really researched the criminal and psychological part of this story. How did you come at it, how did the whole project start, and why did it interest you?
Kami Garcia: I was interested doing the Joker for the YA line. I wanted to do, how does a boy who’s a psychopath become a killer? Because not every psychopath is a killer.
Ed and I had worked together on The X-Files, because I had a killer in that.
So when I was working on my ideas for the Joker story, it was very important to me to do an authentic version of a psychopath, and one that would be true to the Joker’s character.
As a teacher, I’m very sensitive to what I put out there for a 15-year-old to read. And as I was working on this story, it became very clear that if I was going to do a good job, it was not going to be YA appropriate.
I didn’t know about Black Label, so I wasn’t even sure I could even do this. But my editor loved the story and encouraged me to go ahead and play around with it.
So I contacted Ed and got him involved. We basically came up with a profile that Ed tirelessly edited and made sure was realistic. And once we had that, it just felt like I had to do something with it.
My agent and I had talked about me doing an adult serial killer thriller. And I was thinking in my head, "Well, this is, like, the best serial killer ever, so I could do a thriller about him."
And if you have a psychopathic killer in your story, it’s not that fun if there isn’t someone in pursuit of him. So I decided that was Harley.
Nrama: That’s a different approach for her. How did you come up with that role for Harley?
Garcia: I think Harley’s a bad-ass. I always have.
But one of the things that has always bothered me about Harley’s story was, when you know a forensic psychiatrist and you know someone who works in, like, an Arkham setting in the real world, you know that that person would never become obsessed or be manipulated by a psychopath.
So I decided that I wanted to write a Harley who has real skills, in like a real-world setting, and who gets her due. I wanted her to be portrayed as smart as she would have to be to do this job.
I want to see that Harley.
And when I first talked to Ed about this story, I could tell he wasn’t sure when I first mentioned Harley as a psychologist. But he allowed me to give him the pitch, and once I said Harley’s going to be a bad-assand it’s going to fall in love with the Joker, he said "OK, I’m in."
Dr. Edward Kurz: Yeah, I said, I can’t handle her being obsessed with her patient. But then, I suggested that if she’s going to be realistic, then she could get additional training and be a profiler. It’s something I have done, so I thought maybe Harley could have too.
Garcia: That was the most fun. We profiled everybody. It was like being in the FBI.
Kurz: But trying to marry that with the Batman universe was what really interested me - to marry the forensics with a world that is very, very well-known to other people, hopefully it can elevate this to a level of realism that hasn’t been done before.
Garcia: We should explain that Ed is not only a forensic psychiatrist but is also a DC comics buff and collector who knows a lot about comics.
Like, I asked him what older Teen Titans story I might read and he sent me a bibliography. I was like, “Ed, can you pick one?” But he just explained that each of them had something he thought was important.
I felt like I had my own personal DC encyclopedia.
Nrama: Tell me about the story of Joker/Harley. What’s Harley like when we meet her?
Garcia: At the beginning, we meet Harley. Very early on, we find out that she’s a consultant - a profiler for the GCPD.
You find out that the person she was closest to in the world, her best friend, was killed. And it changed Harley. That loss has informed everything about her after.
One of the things I wanted to preserve - because I have been someone who has experienced relationship violence - is that she has become kind of a touchstone for women who are survivors.
So in this story, even thought I didn’t want her survival to have been an abusive relationship with the Joker, I wanted there to be violence and a loss in her life that she’s had to overcome.
So we meet her, and she is not the typical Harley. She is a professional. She’s top of her game. She’s there to help the GCPD catch bad guys. She has a different skill set than they do, and we see that skill set early on.
And when a new rash of killings start happening, she is the person that they turn to.
Nrama: And the story itself is a realistic serial killer thriller? I mean, as real as you can be with Joker, I would assume.
Garcia: Yes. I wanted these characters to feel real and authentic - the killer to feel like an authentic psychopath, and her to feel like a professional and skilled forensic psychiatrist and profiler.
The Joker needed a real threat - someone formidable. And I wanted Harley to be that. She is smart. She is brilliant. She could catch this person.
I didn’t want it to seem like she could never catch him. I wanted it to really seem like a match of two brilliant equals.
Kurz: Harley can actually be more dangerous than the Joker because she doesn’t look dangerous necessarily. She can be underestimated.
But I love that Kami is making her a strong character who, as a forensic psychiatrist, can carry the series on her own.
Nrama: How was it working with the artists on this? You’ve got two different artists - what do they bring to the story? Did you pick them?
Garcia: Mico I got first. I saw his stuff online and I was particularly drawn to his black and white work. There was a lot of depth and grittiness to it that I knew I wanted for this. I just had a very strong instinct about him.
And then I was able to meet him at New York Comic Con last year and talk to him about the project. It felt like a perfect match.
But early on, I went to lunch with Jim Lee and we brainstormed about art and how to tell the origin backstory - and again, when I say origin, I mean it loosely. I’m not going to be removing the mystery from the Joker. But the story is going into his past.
I told Jim that I would really like the story to be in inks, with maybe just a splash of color, and I think Jim was the one who suggested that the other person could do color — someone really great with color.
When they gave me Mike’s name, I immediately started searching him online. And one of the first things I landed on was his pencils for Mary Jane and his colored art for young Jean Grey.
One of the things that is very, very difficult, a lot of artists have trouble drawing teenagers. Sometimes teens look like little adults. But Mike’s teenagers are remarkable. His adults are too. But I mean, like, he draws teens and young people spot on.
The other thing that I knew as that the Joker as a kid, and as he was a budding psychopath, a lot of what you’d see would be a subtle nuance - a look in his eye or an expression. And Mike does very, very detailed nuanced expressions really beautifully.
And then of course, he’s a master with color.
So the two of them, their pages together in this book - I love the juxtaposition of their work. They both can do hyper-realism. Jim Lee, Bob Harras, Dan DiDio and Mark Doyle - they all weighed in and thought it looked great to use them together.
Their art is what brings the story to life. They’ve done an amazing job. I’ve been blown away. They have gone above and beyond.
There are assets that are going to be shared eventually about the process of creating the visuals for the Joker, once we finally see him. I think it’s going to blow people away once they see what the art looks like.