Mariko Tamaki

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass (2019)

Harley Quinn Breaking Glass  2019Harley 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.

It’s glorious.

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.

Tamaki and Valero-O’Connell’s Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me is another of these YA graphic novels without any chapters or natural narrative breaks. The first time I came across one, I realized it was going to be a trend and yep, it’s a trend. The difference is last time it didn’t work, this time it works out perfectly. Writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Rosemary Valero-O’Connell’s plotting works for a single sitting read. Tamaki has these narrative frames—the protagonist writing emails to an advice columnist—which provide a nice backdrop and structure. The protagonist not being particularly reliable also helps.

Not reliable like she might be dishonestly reporting to the advice columnist (and thereby the reader) but she’s not reliable. She messes up, just enough to stay actively hopeful she won’t mess something else up. Because at some point it just becomes her predicted behavior.

The protagonist, Freddy (short for Frederica), is dating the titular Laura Dean, a popular girl. Freddy’s got her core group of gay friends, while Laura Dean seems to be popular with everyone. It’s never explained why Laura Dean is popular—other than her mom frequently being out of town and there being booze and beds—but it’s also never explained exactly what Freddy sees in her. Presumably it’s some unquantifiable attraction thing but… Tamaki doesn’t give it enough attention. And Valero-O’Connell’s art doesn’t do implying of that nature. It implies other things; it has to imply a lot of other things, actually, because Freddy is frequently turned away from the panel or somehow obscured. We don’t get to see her reaction shots to how things play out around her.

There’s something non-committal about the book too—it’s aimed at a YA audience and there’s a certain age appropriateness. Or not being willing to not be age appropriate, which is fine but is definitely going to limit some potential.

It’s a solid read. Valero-O’Connell puts a lot into the panel layouts and compositions and it works.

I’m not a hundred percent on the coloring. At least every page something is pink. It’s a drab pink, kind of a mopey one. Or maybe the story’s just sad a lot. But it doesn’t add anything to the work.

Last thing—Tamaki has these talking stuffed animals, which is awesome, and not in it anywhere near enough.

Supergirl: Being Super 4 (August 2017)

Supergirl: Being Super #4Tamaki brings Being Super to its finish with a packed final issue. Even with some actual dramatic action moments, she still isn’t able to recover the series–and the epilogues seem like there’s a dictated roadmap for any Super origin story, even if it’s Elseworlds-y like this one. Kara’s got a lot of first person narration, probably too much, but the issue gets some last issue leeway. And Jones has a great issue as far as the art goes.

It should’ve been a whole lot better though.

CREDITS

Who I Am.; writer, Mariko Tamaki; artist, Joëlle Jones; colorist, Kelly Fitzpatrick; letterer, Saida Temofonte; editors, Paul Kaminski and Andrew Marino; publisher, DC Comics.

Supergirl: Being Super 3 (June 2017)

Supergirl: Being Super #3Being Super recovers with this issue. Not extraordinarily, but more than enough. Tamaki doesn’t go the obvious route–every time there’s a chance in the issue for something to go the obvious route, Tamaki takes a different turn. It works out pretty well, even if Kara’s a little longwinded in her observations of her life and newly remembered heritage. As always, nice art from Jones. Being Super’s probably not going to be earth-shattering (that ship has long sailed), but it should finish up nicely for a trade.

CREDITS

Who Are you?; writer, Mariko Tamaki; artist, Joëlle Jones; colorist, Kelly Fitzpatrick; letterer, Saida Temofonte; editors, Paul Kaminski and Andrew Marino; publisher, DC Comics.

Supergirl: Being Super 2 (April 2017)

Supergirl: Being Super #2There’s something a little off about this issue. Tamaki does “teenage Kryptonian on Earth in hiding” action tragedy and kind of runs away from Kara. She’s in every scene–save the ominous teaser cliffhanger–but she’s not present. Tamaki is more comfortable writing her thinking about other people than herself. There’s still a lot of good stuff–and excellent art–but the script meanders and avoids.

CREDITS

Hold On!; writer, Mariko Tamaki; penciller, Joëlle Jones; inker, Sandu Florea; colorist, Kelly Fitzpatrick; letterer, Saida Temofonte; editors, Paul Kaminski and Andrew Marino; publisher, DC Comics.

Supergirl: Being Super 1 (February 2017)

Supergirl: Being Super #1Being Super gets off to an excellent start. Mariko Tamaki’s script is slow to reveal the particulars of this version, instead focusing on the character experiencing high school and her sixteenth birthday. There’s also the great Joëlle Jones art and creates this wonderfully detailed Midvale high school world. It’s an awesome comic.

CREDITS

Where Do I Begin?; writer, Mariko Tamaki; penciller, Joëlle Jones; inker, Sandu Florea; colorist, Kelly Fitzpatrick; letterer, Saida Temofonte; editors, Paul Kaminski and Andrew Marino; publisher, DC Comics.

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