Over the years I’ve come to expect that these Holiday Specials will likely have a couple of really great stories, a couple of pretty good ones, and at least one outright stinker. They went with a different formula this time around, and I think I liked it better: 10 shorter stories (some of them literally vignettes) and a Holiday Party framework that isn’t really a story, but it’s fun nevertheless. This way of approaching the special means more variety in the stories, a greater representation of DC characters, and also just more inclusivity in terms of the holiday itself (this covers Christmas Eve, Christmas, Hannukah, New Years, and even the Epiphany).
Interestingly Batman shares his one story with Detective Chimp (and is consequently outshined as a result). He also appears in one tale that’s mostly about Superman. Otherwise, there are plenty of other Bat-related characters: most notably Nightwing and Batwoman. Meanwhile, we get stories of the Green Lanterns, Flash, and in a surprise team-up Wonder Woman and John Constantine (betcha didn’t see that coming!).
Here’s the breakdown:
“A Very Harley Holiday”
Harley opens with a three-page introduction that doesn’t actually seem to go anywhere. Zatanna pulls “12 Days of Christmas” out of her hat, but only manages to get through three French hens before Harley dismisses us since it’s going to take a while. Paul Dini scripted this and Elsa Charretier does well enough with the art, though I feel like the panels are a bit spare for what you would expect ought to be a gaudy Harley extravaganza. One first read, this felt rather flat, but you quickly realize this is just the first of regular interludes between the other stories.
Throughout the book, Harley tours many of our traditions and holiday mainstays (in her own warped way), and interacts with a variety of other heroes (and some villains). If you’re sick of Harley this is totally skippable, but it’s not intrusive or overbearing and some of it is kind of amusing. I like the idea of Harley as the Holiday “Crypt Keeper” and since she had a whole Harley Holiday Special all to herself last year, this was a nice way of including her without making a big thing of it. 7.5/10
“The Last Minute”
A Batman/Superman action-packed monster mash with a creature from Cotopaxi in Ecuador. Bats and Supes make quick work of the beast, but when Batman reminds the Man of Steel that it’s Nochebueno (or the night before Christmas), Superman realizes he’s failed to acquire a high-demand video game gift for Jon (Superboy). Superman is off in a flash to get his shopping done. Meanwhile Jon and Damian are on the phone: Jon snug at home while Damian’s out battling “brightly colored cretins”. Jon laments that they aren’t like “normal” boys.
Superman tears up the country looking for Jon’s gift and losing out to other shoppers while having to battle other threats (like Winter Wasp). He winds up in Gotham (of course!) and has to deal with the Penny Plunderer before missing out on the absolute last video game, beaten by a very smug Damian Wayne. You might think you know where this one is going, but the ending manages a little twist. I think there’s a missed opportunity for the final shot (should have been Superman and Batman building snowmen or something), but otherwise this is a fun little tale. Ian Churchill’s art is very nice and he does some fun things with the paneling (I love Penny Plunderer being inside Superman’s ear). 7/10
“For the Dog Who Has Everything”
The inclusion of Krypto in this book tells me that they are definitely courting a younger audience (do we have any “serious” books in which Krypto features regularly?). Anyway, Eric Esquivel gives a story that’s rather dense on exposition, but basically features Superman and Jon picking out a Christmas present for a dog by taking a tour of the Fortress of Solitude. The story turns out to be less about the dog than the idea of the lonely life of aliens on earth. It feels kind of heavy and definitely message-heavy in a way that doesn’t quite push my buttons in the right sequence. For those of you who like Golden Age comics, this may resonate, but otherwise it feels more dated than nostalgic. Dan Jurgens provides art that’s one the nose for a traditional tale. Not much action, so nice composition is essential for pushing this one along–on that score, Jurgens handled this very well. 6.5/10
“The Night We Saved Christmas”
Bobo and a Dark Knight-inspired Batman are on the case! I’ve never been a fan of Detective Chimp, but here we’ve got a story about him and Bats tailing a thief who knocked off a Mall Santa–and stole Santa’s dog.
The fact that there is a tongue-in-cheek quality to this noir tale from Heath Corson and Gustave Duarte saves it a little. If we were meant to take this at all seriously, I don’t think I could have made it through without rolling my eyeballs right out of my head. Duarte does double-duty on art and though it’s not my favorite style in the book (cartoonish and blocky), it was just right for the tone of the tale. Alfred makes a brief appearance and that was welcome.
This one has a very heavy holiday theme that’s actually quite delightful. The Mall Santa and the dog in question hearkens an old family classic Rankin and Bass puppetmation movie about a certain reindeer who gets thrown into the dog pound when Jingle and Jangle the elves are irresponsible enough to lose him in the city. Yes, this is essentially that story, but with a theft, a chimp, and Batman. Make of it what you will. 9/10
“Dreaming of a White Christmas”
Constantine and Wonder Woman team up to track down an errant god and a rogue witch. It’s an uncommon pairing and Diana isn’t exactly thrilled to be working with the Hellblazer, but this story manages to crowbar lots of character, action, and humor into a tight tale in which we get a little bit of Wonder Woman’s fantasy world alongside the usual supernatural schlock we love to expect our brawling Brit. Mariko Tamaki gives us something that’s not quite a holiday story (with the exception of Constantine’s dream, which drives some of the action), but it fits right into the book despite its weirdness.
Not a huge fan of Matias Bergara’s art style for this one, but it’s actually a sound match for the Hellblazer legacy and Wonder Woman looks fabulous even though I did have to wonder why she would need to wear a winter cloak. Do superheroes–particularly goddesses–get cold? 7/10
“A Flash Christmas Carol”
Pretty standard fare for a Christmas story: Flash encounters the Rogues who are screwing up things for orphans and the two sides come to a heartwarming armistice for the good of disenfranchised children in Central City. I know you’re probably thinking that I’m saying all that with black cynicism in my heart, but honestly, I just straight-up liked this for its simplicity–both in terms of the story and the art, frankly. James Tynion IV didn’t get fancy with the dialogue or heavy handed with the “message”. It’s one of the more spare stories for the number of pages it occupies. And Robbi Rodriguez supplies clean bright art that allows for an emphasis on the colors (by Alejandro Sanchez). Strangely special for it’s lack of flair. 8.5/10
“Day of Returning”
New Superman and his friends in a single page combat to victory sequence that reads almost like one of those back of the book Hostess ads (I’m showing my age again, I know). It even has saccharin ending worthy of such. But hey, this kind of thing makes me smile–particularly around the holidays, so kudos to Gene Luen Yang and Andrea Mutti for pulling off something this tight and complete–it neither feels like a mere vignette nor leaves you hanging. Perhaps the strangest thing about it is the choice of characters, but it’s a welcome diversity as far as I’m concerned. 8/10
“Light in the Dark”
This is my favorite piece in the whole book. It’s got a nice solid story from K. Perkins rendered quite gorgeously by Paulo Pantalena (who evokes J. H. Williams in the best way possible). Some of the narrative is a bit heavy (and the panels in the opening sequence are a tad confusing), but the action sequences more than make up for it.
Batwoman is Jewish don’t expect a heavy Christian (or even secular) holiday theme here, though Hannukah is touched on toward the end. But the snowy environment and the warm diner and the gathering of friends is universal. 8.5/10
“What a Year for a New Year”
The Titans take on New Years in this story from James Asmus. Roy Harper is the focal character for the most part and the emotional center of the story revolves around his reflection on what the new year means–a chance of starting over. As an addict this has particular resonance for him. But really, the story feels more like an excuse to smash up a lot of vehicles (this is the most explody of all the stories, so if that’s your bag, this is a bonanza).
Scott Hanna (inks) and Reilly Brown (pencils) give this their all–very nice characterizations, lots of complex environments, and thumbs up too for letterer Carlos M. Mangual for lots of great SFX, signs, and more. The ending for this one is cheesy enough that I must have rolled my eyes, but then again, in the spirit of the holidays, anything goes. 7.5/10
“I Don’t Wanna Be Late”
Batgirl and Nightwing get a page to themselves to ring in the New Year in this moment from Bill Freiberger and Thomas Pitilli. Maybe a single page non-story such as this puts some readers around the bend, but I love it. The fact that it sort of ties into the previous story with the Titans makes it all the sweeter, too. And then there’s just the fact of Dick and Babs together overlooking a romantic winter vista as the fireworks ring in the new year. Can’t really ask for more than that. 9/10
Probably the most touching of the stories in this collection: it’s neither too sentimental nor too heavy despite some mature themes. Steve Orlando and Vita Ayala write a story about The Kings Day (or the Epiphany), which is the final holiday of the Christian Christmas cycle (and the most important one in many Latin American cultures since it represents the actual gift-giving day).
Ken Marion (pencils) and Mick Gray (inks) bring Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz to face off against the Reckx (play on the word Rex=King) through three trials to save Earth from judgment: a trial of suffering, of sincerity, and of integrity.
Catch is, both Lanterns are pitched against each other. How they deal with this trial determines the fate of all mankind. For a short story, this is cohesive, interesting, emotionally impactful, and has a little cameo from Hal there at the end. A nice way to wrap up the book (aside from Harley’s closing holiday wishes). 9/10
- You like variety! Both in terms of storytelling and art!
- You’re in the Holiday Spirit and want some superhero friends to share it with!
- You like a big fat comic to read on an airplane for your holiday travels.
The million dollar question, of course, is whether this is worth the $9.99 price tag. Here’s my thought: ten bucks is a lot of scratch for a comic book. I’d feel a lot better at a $7.99 price point for this and if they’re gonna charge more there ought to be a charity cut ($1 goes to support Toys for Tots or something). I’d feel good about that. Unfortunately, all ten bucks is just going into DC’s pockets for the holiday. On the bright side, it’s a solid book overall. There are no real stinkers here (which has been the case in “specials” past. Are the stories worth a dollar each? You’ll have to judge for yourself, but at 80+ pages it’s the size of four regular comics–and a good cozy read for the season with something for everyone.
Get yourself a cup of spiced cider, eggnog, cocoa, an Irish whiskey, or any other favorite warm drink of choice, and curl up in a big chair with this one. A motley assortment of characters and art styles pack this book with spirit-filled stories that skirt the line between sentimental and fuzzy warm. Book leans heavily on favorite characters like Superman and Batman, but also includes some interesting other guests like Detective Chimp, John Constantine, and Krypto the superdog. The holiday is covered from Christmas Eve through the Epiphany and from a variety of cultural and religious perspectives. Something that will be fun to read this year and again in future years too, I’d wager.