How excited do we get around here anytime there’s a new DC Icons book? Look, I’m not going to say I came to work dressed like Catwoman for the release of Soulstealer, but I’m not going to NOT say I did either. These books represent one of DC’s first forays into the world of YA fiction…which is pretty much the whole reason Ink Spots exist, so needless to say, we’re all pretty big fans.
As such, we’re counting down the days until the release of the latest book in the series, Harley Quinn: Reckoning by Rachael Allen (A Taxonomy of Love, The Summer of Impossibilities), which we’re told is going to kick off an all-new DC Icons trilogy. Promising a feminist spin on the always unpredictable character, Reckoning fills us in on Harley Quinn’s backstory, showing us what she was like as a teenager and how she ultimately becomes one of DC’s most iconic villains.
The DC Icons books offer their own unique spins on DC heroes and villains, so we know to expect the unexpected with this one…but that’s about all we know. At least, until right this moment! We’re pleased to be able to offer you an excerpt of the upcoming must-read, which you can check out below. Then make sure you pick up the book (or even better, pre-order it here) on April 26th.
I might already have a blue, white and red suit picked out for the day. Just sayin’…
I wonder if I could flick this paper clip into Trent’s mouth. If he doesn’t stop talking, I just might. Blah-blah, listen to me, all you peons, while I talk about my superior scientific intellect even though my western blots never work.
I should really stop making out with him in the darkroom.
“It sounds like things are going well,” says Dr. Nelson.
“Really well,” says Trent. “I’ve already started writing my senior thesis, even though it’s still two years away. I’ll probably be the lead author on at least three papers this year.”
My eyes meet Bernice’s across the table, and I make a face, I can’t help it. We both have to look down at our laps, quick, so we don’t start laughing.
Finally, FINALLY, Trent is finished, and then Kijoon gives an update, and then Bernice.
“How about you, Harleen?”
“Yeah, Dr. N, it’s going really well! I ran another batch of tests on the blood samples from the Arkham patients this week, and we’re seeing genetic differences in this one too.”
The Nelson Lab has blood samples from all the most dangerous criminals in Arkham, and I get to analyze them. Super badass, right? Interns don’t usually get to do cool stuff like that, but my grad student mentor, Oliver, totally trusts me.
“That’s fantastic news,” says Dr. Nelson.
“I KNOW!” I think about saying something else–I actually have this Big Scientific Idea I was hoping to run by him, but Trent’s got this annoying smirk plastered on his face that makes me want to wait for another time.
Dr. N opens a schedule on the electronic whiteboard. “Okay, gang, I’ve got meetings with Wayne Industries and Alston Pharmaceuticals next week. Alston just developed a new antidepressant. Does anyone have time to test it out in our models?”
It’s so cool that he meets with all the heavy hitters. And that he’s one of Gotham U’s youngest full professors, at thirty-eight. I’m already pretty strapped, but I think about volunteering. He’s the kind of person you want to say yes to.
Trent’s hand shoots up. “I’m on it!”
Of course he is.
“Excellent,” says Dr. N. “Who’s next?”
“Actually,” Michael says. “I’ve been meaning to bring up some trouble I’m having with my immunostaining. These brain sections should be lighting up like fireworks, but I’m just not seeing it.”
“Have you tried upping your concentrations?” asks Oliver.
“Did you test a positive control?” asks Bernice.
Michael nods on both counts.
“Is it possible you’re using too strong a detergent?” I say. “Like, if you switched to one that’s less stringent, maybe it wouldn’t damage the cell membranes so much, but it would still poke enough holes to allow the immunostaining to happen. Because what if the protein you’re trying to stain for is actually–”
“Have you tried embedding the brains in different ways before you make sections? Frozen versus wax?” asks a postdoc.
Michael shakes his head. “Yeah, I’ve tried everything.”
“What if your protein is in the cell membrane?” says Trent. He gets some funny looks and throws up his hands. “Hear me out. Because it keeps disappearing on you, so maybe it’s getting washed away during your detergent steps. Maybe if you used a weaker detergent . . .”
I wait for someone to gently break it to him that I proposed this plan fifteen seconds ago.
“A cell membrane protein. Interesting idea,” says Michael.
“Quick thinking,” says Dr. Nelson.
I smack my hand on the table, louder than I mean to. “I literally just said that.”
And . . . silence. Every head turns to look at me, and I can see the judgment written in their eyes.
“Harleen.” It’s all Dr. Nelson says. It’s all he has to say.
“Sorry,” I mutter.
After lab meeting, when Trent and I are in the darkroom, I accidentally on purpose bite him on the ear a little too hard.
“Come on, Bernice. We’re only in college once! Live a little.”
“Um, we don’t actually go to college here yet.”
“Exactly. How many of the other gap-year students got invited to a frat party with college boys?” I put my hands on Bernice’s shoulders, just grazing her strawberry-blond hair. She looks at me doubtfully through her black-rimmed glasses. “Your experiments will be here when you get back. I promise.”
“But I didn’t bring a costume.” Bernice eyes my jean skirt and lifeguard tank and the Frankenstein stitches and neck bolts I drew on with eyeliner.
“You can totally wear jeans to a haunted beach party! What do you have on under that sweater?”
“Perfect!” I make a puppy face. “Pleeeease?”
Bernice gives a tiny shrug. “Okay, but just for a little bit.”
“YAY!!!” I yell way too loudly for someone who is indoors. There’s a happy fizzing in my veins, and I want the party to start NOW. I grab Bernice by the hands and swing her around in a circle while a Bunsen burner flares in the background. Trent gives us a dirty look because he’s jealous AF.
Then Bernice and I skip across campus to the frat party of our dreams. I hope they play Lizzo.
“I’m so glad you came with me!” I tell her.
Bernice and I are both in the Gotham University Bridge Scholars program, wherein high school graduates who are outstanding in STEM (that’s us), especially ones who aren’t from the best neighborhoods or backgrounds (that’s also us), get paid to intern in labs across campus during a gap year between high school and college, thus changing our futures and someday the world. That’s the idea, anyway. I can’t wait to go to college. Well, assuming I can afford it. There’s a Gotham U Presidential Scholarship I applied for that could actually make it a possibility for me, but they don’t give it to many people.
“Won’t it be so cool when we actually go here?” says Bernice.
“Yeah.” I smile. “Hey, do you ever worry about how you’re going to pay for it? Gotham U, I mean?”
Bernice blushes. “I’m doing okay. I’ve been trying to save most of the money they pay us in the Bridge program, and also I, um, make one-of-a-kind, creepy stuffed animals and sell them on Etsy.”
“Wait. Seriously? Like what kind of stuff?”
She shrugs. “Like, gargoyles and zombie kittens and Cthulhu and stuff. Sometimes from scratch, but sometimes I repurpose things I find at estate sales. And now people know I do it, so I’m always getting a creepy old teddy bear that a friend’s cousin’s sister found in their dead grandma’s attic.”
That is . . . dark. But, like, cool dark? And delightfully unexpected.
“Okay, first of all, that is the weirdest thing ever. And second of all, you’re about two hundred percent more mysterious than you were five minutes ago.”
She blushes again. She’s one of those people who are physically incapable of taking a compliment without turning red. Then her face grows serious. “Are you worried about it?”
Now I’m the one feeling flustered. “Paying for Gotham U? Oh. Well–” I guess it should have occurred to me when I asked the question that I was also going to have to answer it. I don’t know why I feel the need to hide my poverty like a dark secret. Especially from Bernice. She wouldn’t be in the program if she weren’t poor like me, right? My high school is closer to Crime Alley, and hers is down by the docks, but it has just as bad a rep.
Bernice stops walking. “It’s okay if you are,” she says. Something about the firmness in her voice makes me stop walking too. “My stuffed-animal savings–it’ll only be enough if I get all the financial aid my school counselor thought they’ll give me. And even then, I’m not sure if it’s enough to fill in the gaps for the entire four years. Anyway, sometimes I say everything’s okay when really it’s not. Because I want this so badly that I’m going to do whatever it takes to make it okay.” She fixes me with eyes that can see right through me. “You know?”
My breath catches in my chest. Somehow I manage to choke out the word yes. Bernice waits like she can tell there’s more. I look around at the gleaming buildings that surround us, stretching to the sky, bursting with ideas and opportunities and things just out of reach. “I want this so much, the wanting feels like a fire that’s going to eat me alive.”
Bernice’s eyes flash, passion recognizing passion. “Yes.”
It feels like such a powerful word coming out of her mouth that I want to say it too.
I shiver and pull my coat tighter around me.
The spell breaks.
“Oh, gosh, you must be freezing. We should get to the party,” says Bernice.
“Right. The party.”
We start walking again. Double time, because wearing a jean skirt on an October night in Gotham City is no joke. We don’t say anything else, and I know we’re both lost in thoughts of the future and how we’ll get there.
But then we get to the party, and you can feel the bass from outside, and there are cute boys on the front porch sitting in rocking chairs, and I feel like the living embodiment of an exclamation point. I touch up my lip gloss, and then I put some on Bernice too because I’m a really good friend, and then we go inside.
I heard the haunted beach party was supposed to be the fraternity’s big event of the year–a Thursday-Friday-Saturday rager–but holy crap, I was not expecting this. There are a ton of people here. And sand. So much sand. They built an actual beach on the main floor of the frat house. With a tiki bar. And three hot tubs. Also: dudes drinking beer out of plastic cups, people doing body shots, and a guy in a T. rex costume who’s carrying a box of wine on his shoulder like a boom box and yelling that he’s about to complete the Tour de Franzia. But what I really want to do is dance.
I don’t have to dance by myself for long before a boy materializes in front of me. He’s doing that awkward I-only-dance-with-my-shoulders thing. He shuffles closer but tries to pretend that’s not what he’s doing until–oops, look at that–we’re dancing together.
He clearly wants to make out with me.
And, okay, maybe I want to make out with him too. He’s hot, ya know?
I brush my lips against his, and he’s actually a pretty good kisser for a boy wearing mid-thigh khaki shorts and boat shoes. The song ends, and he pulls away so we can catch our breath.
“Hey, I have to go check on something in my room. You wanna come with me?”
I give him an extremely suspicious look. “Um . . .”
But he just laughs. “A puppy. I have a puppy in my room.”
“OMG, are you serious?!” I. Love. Puppies. Well, all baby animals, really. Even (especially?) the ugly ones.
“Yep. She’s gonna be our house dog. I have to keep her in my room during parties for now because she gets scared of the loud music. You wanna meet her?”
I walk over to where Bernice is dancing and touch her elbow. “Be right back.”
I follow him upstairs.
“I haven’t seen you before,” he says. “Are you a freshman?”
“Nah. I don’t go here. Yet. I’m hoping to next year.”
He shrinks away from me. “Wait, are you in high school? How old are you?”
“Eighteen,” I say, standing taller, as if that’ll prove I’m not just some kid. “I’m doing a gap year right now. I live around here, though.”
He waggles his eyebrows. “A townie, huh? What part of the city are you from?”
I could lie. Say I live in Gotham Heights or the Fashion District. But–
“The East End.” It just kind of comes out.
“Oh.” His eyes flick up and down my body. Like I’m a different person now that he knows. But maybe I’m just imagining it, because in the next second, he throws on a smile and says, “Well, that’s cool.”
He opens the door to his room. It has a bar painted with his fraternity letters, and the walls display his questionable taste in posters (here’s hoping those belong to his roommate). Also: the most adorable German shepherd puppy I’ve ever seen is curled up on a blanket inside a crate.
“Oh my goodness, she’s perfect!” I squeal.
He laughs, and it almost covers the sound of him locking the door behind us. It’s amazing how such a small sound can make you feel as if someone has raised all your monsters from the dead.
My chest goes tight. My fists clench.
Door swinging shut. Pop-Tarts box on the towel rack.
But I take a deep breath and force my hands to open.
Then I tuck the dark thoughts back in so he can’t see them, and I walk over to the door and flip the lock. “I’d rather leave it unlocked,” I say brightly.
He gives me a boyish grin. “I’m sorry. I just wanted to kiss you some more, and I didn’t want anyone to walk in on us.”
He goes behind the crate and starts scratching the puppy behind the ears like it doesn’t matter to him either way. I bounce over so I can pet her too, and oh– She is so perfectly soft and snuggly.
“What’s her name?”
“Hi there. Hi, Jude.” I pet her some more, and then he stands up, and so do I.
“So, can I?” he says.
“Kiss you some more.”
“Ye-es.” I draw the word out and make it two syllables. Taste it on my tongue. Yes is a hot word.
He wraps one hand around the back of my neck and brings his lips to mine. And it’s not like I feel falling-in-love fireworks or something, but the boy really is a good kisser. I pull him closer, this college boy I am kissing at a college party. Just the thought of it feels exhilarating. He kisses a trail from my neck to my collarbone.
And then he grabs my jean skirt in one fluid motion.
I tense. “Hey, what–”
“Shh, c’mon.” His mouth is on my neck again, near my ear. “I already know you want to. Just let me–”
And then it’s all happening so fast.
Him, trying to pry my legs apart with his knee.
Me, kneeing him in the groin, yelling, “I freaking said no.”
Him, crumpling in half.
And I’m thinking, That’s it, threat neutralized.
And then WHAM.
A quick blur of motion.
So many stars.
And pain. First the tingly, surface kind, and then something deeper.
Harley Quinn: Reckoning by Rachael Allen will be available on April 26, 2022 in print and as an e-book.
Tim Beedle may work and live on Earth, but he prefers to spend his free time in the worlds created by Philip Pullman, Garth Nix and Philip Reeve. His favorite superhero is Batman, which he knows is everyone else’s favorite too, so he’s really trying hard to get into a slightly less popular one. Keep tabs on how it’s going by following him on Twitter at @Tim_Beedle.