The holidays are upon us, and we all know what that means… A holiday special! DC is keeping with their “Year of the Villain” trend by spotlighting villains for this year’s special. Now, if you’re like me, then you may have been a little turned off by this. I want to have positive, happy thoughts for the holidays, so the thought of focusing on villains and “evil” leading into Christmas seemed counterproductive. But fear not, despite starring some of the worst of the worst, there’s plenty of heart and good vibes to be found here.
The first story in the collection features the Joker, and that shouldn’t surprise anyone. He’s arguably one of the best villains of all time, and on the coattails of the hit film, it was a no brainer that DC would include him, much less launch the book with him. The interesting thing about the story, is that I wouldn’t necessarily consider him the “star.” Instead, the standout of the issue is a guy named Steve. No, Steve isn’t particularly interesting, but he does create an entertaining scenario by stealing the Joker’s schtick.
Taking place on New Year’s Eve, a man is found dead right before Gotham rings in the new year. Poisoned by Joker toxin, the entire city square breaks into a panic as they try to escape the toxin to prevent the same fate. With such a public and dramatic attack, the news quickly covers the story, placing blame on the Joker… The only problem is that the Joker isn’t behind this attack. He’s elsewhere terrorizing a private party, so you can only imagine his reaction once he discovers that someone is impersonating him.
The remainder of the story is an absolute blast as Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko unpack hilarious scene after hilarious scene as Joker tries to come to terms with someone one-upping him. The two have a solid grasp on Joker, and there were multiple instances where I “heard” Mark Hamill’s voice reading the dialogue.
The script is accompanied by solid artwork from Gabriel Hardman (pencils) and Matt Hollingsworth (colors), and the entire creative team balances the drastically different tones of the story quite well. And, honestly, the story itself is just ok, but the representation of the Joker is done so well that it’s hard not to enjoy this little gem!
The second story features Toyman, and is written by Kenny Porter, with art by Ramon Villalobos and Tamra Bonvillain. It’s with this story that we get our first conundrum of New Year’s Evil. Now, if I’m being honest, “Slaybells Ring” isn’t terrible, but it isn’t great either. It’s just ok. What else would you expect from a story where Toyman is the focus?
We kick things off with Lois and Clark waiting in line to buy the newest, latest, and greatest laptop that’s hit the market. Before the couple can even make it into the store, the city is attacked by a series of toys – each one of them a reimagining of Justice League heroes. This reveal delivers the most exciting moment of the story – for me anyway – since one of the toys is none other than… Electric Superman.
But seriously, as much as this story tries to be fun, it gets too bogged down by heavy-handed writing. Porter attempts to create a commentary on today’s kids, their interests, and the reality the kids are becoming more and more addicted to technology. Now, while this theme is approached from both sides, I couldn’t help but think, “Someone is showing their age.” And even then, when presenting the “benefits” of kids being more tech-savvy, it just feels so forced and laid on so thick that I wasn’t a fan.
I’m not going to say that you should skip this story because there’s a chance you’ll find it entertaining, but it’s definitely not my favorite.
Delivering the first story with a moving message, “Bright and Terrible” by Phillip Kennedy Johnson, features Sinestro returning to a planet that used to be in his jurisdiction during his time with the Green Lantern Corps. After learning that there have been explosions on the planet, Sinestro’s curiosity pushes him to investigate. What he finds isn’t an act of war or some type of coup, but instead, a celebration… for him.
Since saving the planet years ago, its inhabitants have worshiped him as a sky savior, and seeing this forces Sinestro to reflect on the good he’s done in the world. And that’s what makes this story great. While Sinestro is nowhere near redemption or becoming good, he does look back on some memories fondly, and almost with a hint of regret that he’s left that life behind. Still, not everything is as it seems. There’s more to this mere celebration, and it doesn’t exactly please Sinestro. He may be evil, but he takes pride in his accomplishments – both good and bad – and won’t let what’s taking place on this planet stand. For one final time, Sinestro will interfere, but is it for good or evil?
The story is illustrated brilliantly by Sumit Kumar with colors by Romulo Fajardo Jr. The two accent the script perfectly and work well to bring the story to life. The transitions from present to past, and the shifting tones of the narrative are executed seamlessly. When all is said and done, this is what you should hope for when presented with short stories that expand on your favorite characters and universe.
Poison Ivy’s story, “Auld Lang Ivy,” written by Jim Krieg is a little heavy-handed, but still quite a bit of fun. Ivy decides she needs to be a little more personable and involve herself in society, so she braces herself and hits up the local dive bar that caters to villains. If you ever dread social events – especially those around the holidays – then you’ll probably connect with this story.
With it being New Year’s Eve, everyone is sharing their resolutions, and considering Ivy doesn’t really care for people, I’m sure you can imagine how this goes. But, Ivy’s resolution is to be more empathetic, so she decides to help her fellow villains. You have the likes of Eraser Man (YES!), Grace, Penguin, and Abacus, all sharing their resolutions. Acting on her own resolution, Ivy decides to use some pheromones to help her fellow rogues become successful with the changes they’re seeking to make in their life. The outcome is rather funny, especially with one character in particular. I’m not exactly a fan of how Ivy handles the character when all is said and done – I think she goes a little too far – but everything leading up to the final panels is entertaining and worth your attention.
Aneke delivers the art for this issue, with Hi-Fi on colors. The art is clean, crisp, and easy to follow, but the overall aesthetic looks as though its for a young-reader line, despite some gore and gruesome images. There’s nothing particularly distinct in the artwork that helps the book stand out, but it does the job well enough. I did, however, enjoy Wes Abbott’s letters! Now, I’m not one to usually speak to the lettering in comics – it’s definitely one of my faults – but I thought Abbott managed to infuse some fun personality and energy into panels. I mean, just look at the panel where the clock finally strikes midnight!
Domestic troubles? That’s essentially what you get in “Winter Root” by Dan Waters (writer), Alessandro Vitti (art), and Adriano Lucas (colors). The story features Ares and Wonder Woman, with most of the page count filled with action between the two characters. As you can probably assume, the heavy action takes away from the plot in what’s an already short story. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t any plot, just that it’s a thin one that doesn’t carry much weight.
There is a “reveal” at the end that touches on Ares’ past, as well as a romantic entanglement he had, but I found the entire thing forgettable. Even the weird twist at the end. Yep, forgettable. No, really, I had to go back and re-read this story because I didn’t remember anything from it. That’s not to say that this is bad, just that it’s not very impactful.
The art, however, is pretty good. The action makes the story as engaging as possible, but it’s ultimately mindless entertainment. There are some inconsistencies concerning proportions that are quite noticeable – notice how Ares’ sword changes in size from panel to panel during some action sequences – but that’s the main complaint I have concerning the book’s visuals.
When you think of Black Adam, you probably don’t think of words like “sweet,” “kind,” or “endearing” to describe him, but “A Coal in My Stocking” will make you do exactly that. In what is probably my favorite story of the entire collection, Ram V delivers a heartfelt narrative that genuinely captures the spirit of the holidays.
So, what happens in the issue? A young girl living in Kandaq reminisces on what Christmas was like in the United States when Santa Clause would come visit, leaving gifts for Christmas morning. As she explains the tradition, Black Adam tries to understand, and once he does, he sets out to give the young girl the Christmas that he feels she deserves.
If there’s one thing that I don’t care for here, it’s Anthony Spay’s art. All of the visual elements are just average at best. The character presentations are decent, but others aren’t great, especially the aliens. The real letdown as far as the art is concerned, are the backgrounds. Bland. Bland. Bland.
Overall, though, the story is cute and has a lot of heart, but don’t let that fool you, there’s still plenty of action within the confines of this story. Action, heart, humor, and a full sense of the holiday spirit? What else could you ask for?
Calendar Man is a character that does anything but excite me. Typically, I see he’s in a story and I expect the worst. Now, that may sound like a bad thing – and, yes, in many ways it is – but it also means that I have little to no expectations heading into these stories. So, if it ends up being a decent read, I find it that much more impactful. For example, the story featured here, “New Year, New You.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Christos Gage wrote this story because it’s one of the better-crafted narratives in the entire collection. In fact, rather than feeling like a story that was thrown together, this feels more like a subplot that ran through issues of Suicide Squad and was pulled for this collection. I could actually see this story being part of main continuity.
Gage does some interesting, yet predictable, things with Calendar Man, and as intriguing as he is, the addition of the Suicide Squad are what really make this issue entertaining. If you’re looking for some positive holiday vibes though, you won’t find them here. As I said, this feels more like a story that was pulled from a main title. The only connection to the holidays is that it takes place on/around New Year’s Day.
The script isn’t the only win here though. Karl Mostert’s art is fantastic. There’s a creepiness to the way he draws characters, and if I’m being honest, I’ve never taken Calendar Man so seriously – both because of his actions and his mere presence. For the first time ever, I can say that I found Calendar Man intimidating. Luis Guerrero’s colors also do a lot for the story. His use of shadows and shading, specifically, help enhance the tone created by both Gage and Mostert. I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing these three work together on a regular schedule because they appear to be a winning team!
And for the most depressing story of New Year’s Evil, the award goes to… “Father Christmas” by Dave Wielgosz, Cian Tormey, and Dave McCaig! Yay!
Ok, in all seriousness, this is a rather depressing story, but it’s quite good of you don’t mind the heavy nature of the narrative. The story is quite bleak, but there’s some great character work with Chronos that I wouldn’t mind seeing someone explore a little further. I know I’ve read various stories featuring Chronos, but I’m not overly familiar with him, nor has anything I’ve ever read actually made me interested in him, until now.
There’s a lot to unpack here, and it’s a holiday story that ultimately feels all too real because I know too many people who are or were in similar situations. The essential gist of the story is that Chronos keeps going back in time to a certain night to try and change the course of certain events, but no matter what he does or how he interferes, nothing changes. The gripping aspect is the reason Chronos is doing this. And let me tell you, it’s heartbreaking.
This is easily my least-favorite story of the entire lot. For me, there was nothing worthwhile or entertaining, and while reading it, I just wanted it to end. The selling point of this story relies on the twist at the end, but if you genuinely don’t care about any aspect of the narrative by the time you get to that point, then the twist will simply fall flat… Which it does.
Dale Eaglesham’s art is quite good, but I’m not fond of the way he draws Prankster. In fact, I think the Prankster’s creepy smile actually played heavily in my dislike of the book. Everything else concerning Eaglesham’s art is terrific, but I look at Prankster and think, “I hate you.” Is it petty? Yes, but I own it. Anyway, this story is skippable, so do yourself a favor and just skip right past it.
You know, DC’s been toying with the concept of turning Harley good for years now, and although they play with the idea, but never actually commit to it. They’re trying to have their cake and eat it too as far as Harley is concerned, and that’s not going to create lasting longevity for her because it doesn’t allow for character growth. If they really want to pull her from the villain world, they need to commit to it, and this issue serves as a great way to initiate that transition.
In “Little Christmas Tree,” by Vita Ayala and Elena Casagrande, Harley is wrongfully arrested for a crime that she didn’t commit. Montoya decides to work some unpaid overtime to ensure Harley is released for the holidays, and as a thank you, Harley tries to find ways to repay the favor. Now, we all know Harley isn’t completely right in the head, so you can imagine how she might try to repay Renee. We also know that Renee doesn’t necessarily have a high tolerance for nonsense, so I’m sure you know how this will end.
Despite being a bit predictable, it’s still an engaging read, and both characters come off incredibly likable. There’s also a nice, albeit brief, commentary about relationships, second chances, mental health, and even depression. It’s great way to end this collection, and a story worth revisiting for many holidays to come!
Overall: As far as holiday specials go, this is probably one of the best ones I’ve read from DC in a while. There’s a range of tones and themes here – some heartfelt and others heartbreaking – that aren’t necessarily what you would expect from a bunch of villains. There are multiple stories that are worth your time, and if you skipped this book on Wednesday – or just haven’t given it a chance yet, I strongly encourage that you pick it up and give it a read.