Every issue is someone's first, but it can also be their last if they pick up a comic and have no idea what's going on. That's one of the reasons why I appreciate "Harley Quinn" #15; even when I'm a few issues behind, Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, Chad Hardin and John Timms make sure that new readers as well as seasoned fans find Harley's latest adventures entertaining.
Conner and Palmiotti dive quickly into the first big event of the issue, with Harley helping people escape a burning building while fighting a suitably ridiculous bad guy named Tinderbox. What's nice is that this sequence is more than enough to satisfy new readers; it has some action, it shows Harley's slightly unorthodox personality and methods and it gives an idea of the overall tone of the title. At the same time, those who have read for a while will see references to ongoing plots as they move forward, like Harley trying to make amends after standing up a potential date. It's a careful balance; there's not so much backstory crammed into each issue that new readers are scared off, but there are still storylines that stretch beyond each issue so that there's an incentive for readers to want to pick up the next issue.
What's also nice is that, when older storylines and characters do appear, Conner and Palmiotti handle them in a way that's easy to understand for those new readers. For example, when I went back and read the last few "Harley Quinn" issues after finishing #15, I had no problem following what happened when Mason appeared. Even if someone is new to the character of Harley, it's easy to figure out her relationship with Poison Ivy; Conner and Palmiotti write it with that mixture of friendship and love so perfectly that you can feel the emotional tension just swelling off of the page, even as they tease the boundaries of just where Harley and Ivy's relationship stops.
Hardin draws the majority of the issue, and he's as good as always. His characters are cleanly drawn, and I like that he's able to make Harley slightly curvy without being ridiculously voluptuous. The only character whose proportions are truly inflated is Mason, and it's a pleasant change to have it be the male supporting character who's all beefcake. His version of Harley follows the current character design that he was handed, but I appreciate that she comes across slightly more grounded here; sure, it's a red-and-black jester-patterned outfit, but here it's much more along the lines of pants, jacket and bustier rather than a costume. Alex Sinclair contributes along those lines, too, with the coloring around her eyes coming across more like eye shadow than face paint. Hardin's also good at the physical comedy aspect of the book; watching Harley hurl people out of a burning building could look grim, but there's such a good-natured look to the sequence that you can't help but chuckle. Timms tackles pages involving a character whose life is no doubt about to intersect with that of Harley's, and his style matches Hardin's well; it's another clean, expressive look, and I appreciate that -- if someone needs to pitch in for four pages -- it's done so in a way that doesn't shift the art (even slightly) mid-scene.
Add in Harley's manic, impulsive nature with a mixture of insanity and a desire to "fix" everything and you end up with a fun book that's easy to come back to month after month. In many ways, that's why it's easy to fall behind -- because you know that it'll be waiting for you with a series of strong comics when you catch back up, for Conner, Palmiotti and Hardin are remarkably consistent. "Harley Quinn" #15 continues in that vein, and it's a pleasure to see a well-crafted book succeeding in today's marketplace.