It’s December and that means a big, fat stocking stuffer from DC Comics. These 80pp giants are notoriously iffy so far as quality goes, but there’s usually a gem or two. Let’s take a look at the 2017 edition, which kicks off with a very merry cover from Andy Kubert and Brad Anderson.
The framing sequence by writer Jeff Lemire, artist Giuseppe Camuncoli and inker Cam Smith sees a doleful Clark Kent passing the time in Bibbo’s Ace o’Clubs, as he does every year around Christmas. But he’s not the most miserable guy this day.
It’s John Constantine! Bibbo tosses him out for spreading negativity and decides to cheer Clark up with a seasonal story... or several.
A few years ago, outside Gotham, grandmother and grandson make a sad pair. And all too soon, one is gone, claimed by the unforgiving winter.
In the present day, Batman races to the scene of a kidnap. Past informs present in a poignant ghost story for Christmas by legendary Batman author Denny O’Neil and Steve Epting, in the first DC work I’ve seen from him since his long-ago Aquaman run. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ is a splendid short, with O’Neil showing just how to use the minimum number of pages to craft an engaging episode. Epting’s style here is quieter, more contemplative than his recent Marvel work, it’s quite lovely. I do hope he’s returning to DC full time. Dave McCaig’s colours are the icing on the Christmas cake, just look at this image recalling, by accident or design, David Mazzucchilli’s classic Batman #405 cover.
Another old friend returns to the DC fold as Black Canary and Green Arrow star in ‘You better think twice’. It’s Phil Hester, who drew a popular GA run with Kevin Smith. His open, cheery linework is perfect for Mairghread Scott’s story, which sees our heroes dressing as Santa and Mrs Claus to dole out the Christmas cheer. Except one of them isn’t feeling it.
In Batman #36 this week Tom King plays a game of ‘compare and contrast’ with Superman and Batman. It’s clever stuff, but the conceit quickly becomes tiresome. His love of formula is on display again here in a Sgt Rock story that teams him with Franco Francavilla. You couldn’t get two hotter creators and they show their skill on every page of ‘Going Down Easy’. The set-up is that a member of the US’s Easy Company and a German prisoner are in a Mexican stand-off. For a week... We get a page for each night, featuring sharp dialogue and masterly art. My problem is that while the rhythm achieved, the building tension, is all very well, what about the days? It’s like these guys blip into being only at sundown. I love the humanity on display, and the final panels, but it’s more an interesting experiment than a satisfying whole.
Barry’s running fast and the sentiment’s running free as the aftermath of a sortie with the Rainbow Raider sees The Flash save Christmas for dozens of families. But what about Wally West, the other Flash, all alone in Titans Tower? Author Joshua Williamson, illustrator Neil Googe and colourist Ivan Plascencia serve up the perfect Christmas superhero short, sentimental but not sickly, even ending with a ‘Happy Holidays everyone’.
Deadshot and his family have long defined dysfunctional, so Priest’s tale of the Wilsons of Christmas past was never going to be boring. As drawn by Tom Grummett and Scott Hanna, it looks great, too. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry with this one.
The Atomic Knights starred in Strange Adventures in the early Silver Age, riding giant Dalmatians to defend the survivors of the Hydrogen War of 1986. When the Eighties actually arrived and we weren’t all fighting mutant plants the Trefoils, DC rather boringly ‘revealed’ that leader Gardner Grayle was actually dreaming the adventures... Well, the triffid wannabes are back in the unapologetic adventure entitled ‘Silent Night’. The splash page, mind, makes it seem like the title is the far cleverer ‘Silent Night, Atomic Knights’. Well done letterer Travis Lanham, I’m going with that one. And well done Dan DiDio, for a sci-fi short that perfectly captures the spirit of the season, with a callback to the early Sixties that works wonderfully well. I don’t know what DC editor Marie Javins makes of suddenly finding herself an Atomic Knight, but I’m sure she likes the art by Matthew Clark with inker Sean Parsons and colourist Rob Schwager as much as I do. There’s a wonderfully wintry quality to the visuals that makes the story stand out.
Starfire is unconvinced by Christmas in a tale of the Teen Titans but when she meets a ghost with a Dickens fetish, she changes her mind. It’s a swingin’ Christmas Carol from Shea Fontana and Otto Schmidt.
High above the earth, a team of space explorers find they may never be able to return home. But a piece of mistletoe offers hope in a sharp Swamp Thing fable from Scott Bryan Wilson and Nic Klein. The latter, like Otto Schmidt, provides full colour art and seriously impresses with his depiction of mounting paranoia. And when he gets to draw a spread...
Remember that ‘compare and contrast’ trick I mentioned earlier? Greg Rucka employs it in a Batman/Wonder Woman story which, let’s say, isn’t for me. I found it a bit depressing, which is likely the opposite effect Rucka wanted to elicit. I like the art from Bilquis Evely and colourist Romulo Fajardo Jr a lot, though.
Things are cheerier as we return to the Superman framing sequence, and Clark takes John Constantine home to meet the family. I wonder if son Jon noticed the resemblance to Manchester Black or if he was too busy being embarrassed by the tightness of his parents’ outfits.
It’s good to see Bibbo’s stories did the trick (boy, he knows a lot about what’s going on in the DCU...). Who wants a mopey Superman? While Superman is the last person in the DCU to need, as the title puts it, ‘The Reminder’ that life isn’t all bad - Diana actually makes that point in Rucka’s story, just before we rejoin the framing sequence - Clark obviously enjoyed the tales and so did I; this was a tasty meal, with nary a Brussels sprout in the bunch. And that cover boast about top creators? Editors Dave Wielgosz and Alex Antone weren’t kidding, there really are a lot of big names here, doing terrific work. My favourite? The Atomic Knights. But even when I don’t love the story, there’s always something to enjoy, or at least appreciate. Which makes this the best DC holiday special in years.
And as a Christmas bonus, after my initial download, a ComiXology update brought an extra story, the wacky classic ‘Silent Night of the Batman’, by Mike Friedrich, Neal Adams and Dick Giordano. Thanks Santa DC!
DC Holiday Special 2027 #1, DC Rebirth