The Batman mythos certainly holds a special place in my heart. I daresay it’s one of my more favorite comics out there. Sadly, for a story about people suffering from various disorders, both mental and physical, Batman does a pretty shoddy job at actually portraying disabilities. In fact, it in many instances actively encourages violence against people with disorders, instead of delving into what those disorders actually are and how best to respond to mental illness.
I suppose this doesn’t surprise me. I highly doubt that Batman would be as enjoyable if it wasn’t about a violent vigilante and the various criminally insane rogues he fights. It leaves me feeling torn. On the one hand, I’m insulted by how the narrative handles mental disorders. On the other, I’m still in love with both the story and the characters.
Enter fanfiction. And a trigger warning for gore and self-mutilation under the cut.
Mad Friends, written by Lauralot, is the first fic in a series starring Jonathan Crane from the Nolan ‘verse. After being sprayed with his own toxin in Batman Begins, he unfortunately was never given an antidote in time, causing permanent brain damage. Though the Arkham staff has him taking antipsychotics to combat the hallucinations and nightmares he’s constantly plagued with, he is unfortunately going to need medication for the rest of his life.
Cut to the events after The Dark Knight, and Jonathan and the Joker are no longer the only rogues in Arkham. Also joining them are the Riddler, Poison Ivy, and the Mad Hatter. Like his fellow rogues, Jonathan is not receptive to any of his therapists and constantly scares them all away. However, when Harley Quinn gets a job at Arkham, the Joker immediately takes an interest in her—but the Arkham staff refuses to let her work with such a dangerous criminal unless she can first prove that she can handle someone else. As such, she is assigned to Jonathan’s case, and the Joker, in order to ensure that he’ll be able to have Harley as a therapist himself, threatens Jonathan into behaving for her.
Though Jonathan hates to cooperate at first, he discovers that he actually really likes Harley, and the two of them become friends. And though he’s suffered permanent brain damage due to the toxin, he even starts to improve under her care. But since the Joker is involved, of course shit eventually hits the fan.
Mad Friends chronicles Harley Quinn’s decent into madness, from Jonathan’s point of view. Not only does the story take adequate time to explore both their characters and their illnesses, while also developing a platonic love between the two, it also talks a lot about domestic abuse and perfectly captures just how messed up Harley’s relationship is with the Joker. The Joker is not someone Jonathan wants to cross, and for the most part, he can only watch helplessly as the Joker drives Harley closer and closer to insanity, even forcing her to take part in his killing sprees. At one point, he even makes Harley cut open people’s faces at the mouth, so they’ll “smile”.
“I—this—s-she’s still alive, Mistah J!” Harley pointed with her bloodstained knife at the woman sprawled on the backseat, blood oozing from her moaning mouth. “She’s still alive!”
“So?” Joker asked, and Scarecrow was inclined to agree with him, until he got a closer look at the victim. She was late twenties it seemed, with long blond hair and a…maternity shirt.
Oh Christ. And just like that, the joy of the moment was gone. Jonathan didn’t particularly care about the state of the woman’s uterus, but Harley…he couldn’t imagine what she must be thinking, face to face with a someone so like her in a predicament she could easily have been in.
“Just cut her,” said the Joker, his own knife flashing and spreading blood as he worked to fix the corpse’s ruined smile. “She hasn’t got long anyway.”
“B-but—but puddin’, I can’t—”
“Harley.” There was a note of warning in his voice now. The anger was subtle yet somehow still easily noticed, even over the woman’s wordless shrieks. “Finish it.”
“But I—I can’t—”
“I will,” Jonathan offered, taking a step forward, only to find the Joker’s knife in his face.
“No,” he and Harley said at once.
“I don’t want you getting’ involved in this Jonathan.” Harley’s voice was shaking, her expression of utter revulsion as she stared from the knife in her hand to the woman lying on the seats. “Mistah J, I can’t—”
“Cut her or I’ll cut ya,” he said simply.
Son of a bitch. Jonathan had never wanted to break his arrogant face more than at that moment, but he wasn’t stupid enough to try it with a blade half an inch from his face. He watched, helpless, as Harley stuck the knife, shaking as badly as she was, into the woman’s mouth, screaming over top of even the victim’s shrieks as she sliced through the flesh. First one side, and then the other, and then she flung the knife to the floor, sobbing.
This eventually culminates in Harley’s mind cracking and her committing self-mutilation.
“H-Harley?” He looked back down. She was still asleep.
Shaking, he knelt beside her, gently rolling her sleeve back. He almost cried out, staring in shock at the wound there, then rolled the sleeve up to her shoulder, still trembling. He closed his eyes and reopened them, but the words were still etching into the skin, legible even in the poor light.
ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
Sickened, but carrying on from concern for her, he checked the other sleeve.
ha ha ha ha hA HA HA HA
It was emblazoned across her legs as well, and her back and stomach, as far as he dared lift her shirt. None of the cuts seemed deep, nothing life threatening, but that didn’t stop his stomach from churning, nor his body from shaking as if in an epileptic fit. He knelt, shocked, staring at the words marring her skin, possibly forever.
HA HA HA HA HA HA Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha hA HA HA
Despite the dark turn this fic takes, I love that Mad Friends gives us both a male and a female lead, without making the two of them fall in love. Though Jonathan and Harley love each other by the time the story ends, their relationship is entirely platonic. And though Mad Friends doesn’t explore Jonathan’s sexuality all that much—although the sequels do—we find out that he’s asexual, which is also one of the reasons this fic and its sequels will always have a special place in my heart. The story is really rich, and you can check it out here.