There are of course a few notable exceptions, but on the whole, holiday-themed comics are a strange mixture of earnest and painful. Maybe that's why "Harley Quinn Holiday Special" #1 works so well; it's just fun from start to finish, with all three stories working out in ways to amuse readers of all kinds.
The lead story, "Bad Toy," works in no small part because of its freewheeling, A-leads-into-B structure. It begins with Harley trying to sneak puppies and kittens into people's bags around the holidays (guess who didn't manage to spay and neuter all of her animals after all?), and then transforms into a bizarre story where Harley is hired to be a little girl's toy, only to end up psychoanalyzing the child instead.
Any one of these story fragments has potential, but the flow from one piece to the next really works, perhaps because Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti don't give you time to stop and think. Throw away lines and inferences throughout this story (and the entire comic) are fast and furious, but Conner and Palmiotti never dwell on any for too long. A hint on the first page about a more sinister fate for the animals is just as quickly discarded (don't blink or you'll miss it), for instance, and Harley even takes a little time out for revenge when need be. But as the creative team zooms from one section to the next, it never feels frantic or too fast; instead it just moves along at a strong clip and the continual one-two punch works. Mauricet's art is a smart choice; cartoonish but not buffoonish, with a strong look for the characters. Freaked-out Harley is drawn just as well as studious Harley, and dangerous Harley has that edge that is so often missing from the character these days.
"Get Yer Cheer Outta My Ear" is a silly but enjoyable take on the earworm, with a literal creature setting up residence inside Harley's ear and humming holiday songs. The biggest attraction here has got to be Brandt Peters' art, which looks slightly superdeformed and alien, yet has a lovely airbrushed quality to it. It wouldn't work for a monthly "Harley Quinn" title, but for a short one-off, it fits along with the idea of a creature in Harley's ear humming merrily away.
Last up, Darwyn Cooke joins Conner and Palmiotti for a funny story about stalking Father Time in "Killin' Time." (I'm sure you can guess based on that title what Harley's planning on doing.) The story is suitably over the top in the way that Harley has become, with a fun conclusion and even an emotional coda that tugs at the heartstrings without being cloying. As New Year's miracles go, no complaints here. It doesn't hurt that Cooke's art is crisp and attractive as ever, with his characters wonderfully expressive.
The best part about "Harley Quinn Holiday Special" #1? The hope that in 12 months we'll get "Harley Quinn Holiday Special" #2 with a similarly strong line-up. For the casual comic fan, this is a perfect stocking stuffer to surprise and delight.