Anthology comics are like Christmas stockings - you're glad to have one but never expect to like everything in there. DC's recent New Talent Showcase, reviewed here a few weeks back, was a case in point. So it was with middling expectations that I opened this $9.99 monster, which comes with a cute cover by Jorge Jimenez and colourist Alejandro Sanchez, and credits page by Dustin Nguyen. By the time I closed it, I was grinning broadly. This is a winning book, comprising terrific short stories choc-full of holiday spirit created by talented craftsmen and women.
It's not uncommon for these issues to have throwaway bookends, pleasant but inconsequential baubles. The DC Rebirth Holiday Special raises the bar, though, by threading throughout the book a delightful DC heroes and villains Christmas party written by Paul Dini and drawn by Elsa Charretier. It's a wonderfully whimsical affair, with Harley Quinn as our guide and because Dini's behind the keyboard the character is spot on. Charretier's breezy storytelling is perfect for the script, in which Harley mainly hangs out with Zatanna and Black Canary, who are providing the seasonal entertainment. The pixieish look of the art reminds me of an earlier DC Christmas special, for which Stephen DeStefano and Larry Mahlstedt provided the cover.
Presumably, this story was created after the rest of the book was assembled, so neatly does it link in with the other tales.
As for said tales, we open with a corker as Tim Seeley as Ian Churchill give us Superman and Batman in The Last Minute, a superheroic take on Jingle All the Way. For Arnold Schwarzenegger, read Superman; for Turbo Man, read Monk-E-Monsters. Can the Man of Steel get his Super-Son the toy he really wants or will a smaller rival beat him to it? Seeley's script warms the heart without turning the stomach while Churchill's art, with wintry tones by Alex Sollazzo, is packed with detail and incident. It's fair to say the adorability factor is high.
There's more fun with Clark and Jon in For the Dog Who Has Everything, a tight two-pager by Eric Esquivel, Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund. Don't let the title worry you, this isn't Mongul attacking Krypto with space weeds, it's another step in Jon learning about his heritage. It's nice work all round, I'm especially happy to see Dan Jurgens - currently writing excellent scripts for Action Comics - providing the layouts for Rapmund's strong finishes.
Hands up who read the DC You Bizarro mini-series by Heath Corson and Gustavo Duarte? It was a hugely entertaining love letter to the odder corners of the DC Universe. The duo are back for Christmas with a team-up between Bobo the Detective Chimp and Batman. The Night We Saved Christmas is a splendid palate cleanser of a mystery in which, when it comes to solving puzzles, talking chimp Bobo owns Batman. The script, by Corson and Duarte, is a witty homage to hard-boiled detective fiction, while Duarte's art is a masterclass in witty cartooning. Colourist Marcello Maiolo and letterer Carlos M Mangual also deserve a nod for their elegant work. I'd love DC, on the back of this, to commission a Detective Chimp team-up mini-series - call it The Brave and the Bobo.
John Constantine and Wonder Woman meet at a winter solstice festival in Dreaming of a White Christmas. John is looking for a witch who's put a spell on him that brings bad dreams, Diana is looking for Dionysus. Writer Mariko Tamaki immediately gets points for setting the story in Lancaster, a nice change from the more obvious Stonehenge or Glastonbury. She also gets high marks for John's dialogue, which doesn't jar once. We could do with being told why Diana is looking for the Greek god of wine and carousing, but this is such a refreshing team-up that I don't much mind - the interaction between our leads feels right, with John presenting as cocky while Diana is all business, and the ending is great. The art by illustrator Matias Bergara and colourist J Nanjan is gorgeous, with the ethereal 'witches' having a touching sadness to them. And Bergara can do arresting action too...
Written by James Tynion IV, A Flash Christmas Carol sees our hero tell an orphan the story of a wintry fight with the Rogues that had lasting consequences. It's a straightforward number, nicely characterised but notable mainly for Roddy Rodriguez's artwork, which recalls the superb Karl Kerschl until we see his individual, imaginative take on super-speed. Dig those Flash flippers!
New Super-Man and the Justice League of China drop by for a one-page gag strip by Gene Luen Yang and Andrea Mutti. It's a nice gag, well presented.
Former Supergirl co-writer K Perkins makes a welcome return to DC with a Batwoman strip that, as with the heroine's last holiday anthology appearance, uses her Jewish heritage as its starting point. I like that Light in the Dark ties into recent events in Detective Comics, though its tech crimes plot didn't grab me, and we could do with some context for the hacker, Kit; is she an ex of Kate Kane, or simply an info-merchant I've not come across? I do, though, like Perkins' presentation of Kate as slightly less hard-nosed than is often the case, and the art by Paolo Pantolina is very likeable - and when he and colourist Arif Prianto go wild on a JH Williams-style spread, things really pop.
The Titans strip, What a Year For a New Year, ties directly into the overarching Rebirth mystery, as the gang's New Year gathering is interrupted by the return of Ding-Dong Daddy and Honey Bun. Speedy has personal reasons for wanting to hear the chimes at midnight, so takes on an unusual challenge to ensure he makes it. The story by James Asmus is sharp and fun, while the art by Reilly Brown is pure goodness. I particularly like this shot of Aqualad and Donna Troy racing from trouble to trouble.
The story segues into a one-page vignette of Nightwing and Barbara getting together. Which is nice. It's by Bill Freiberger and Thomas Pitilli and called I Don't Wanna Be Late, which sounds like a boyband song. It's not bad but what can you do in a page? It seems to be there just to get Batgirl into the comic.
The final story, The Epiphany, brings us the Nativity allegory these Christmas issues traditionally contain. Green Lanterns Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz meet Three (cosmic) Kings, but instead of a trio of gifts, they bring three challenges - and if the rookie heroes can't meet them, Earth is - all together now - doomed. The resolution is predictable but sweet, and Steve Orlando and Vita Ayala's script has some heartening character business along the way. V Ken Marion's pencils are pretty decent, with a nice sense of motion, and having Mick Gray as inker is a big plus. Tony Aviña does some heavy lifting with the colours, too, as backgrounds are often sparse.
So, not everyone a winner, but there's certainly enough quality work in this Special to warrant a purchase. I could easily see the Superman, Detective Chimp and Harley Quinn entries showing up in future Best of DC Christmas trade paperbacks, while most of the other stories are worth your time.
The DC Rebirth Christmas Special is the company's best anthology in years - Yule love it.