Yes, "the twelve days of comic-mas" isn't moving along nearly as fast as the actually holiday season is, but I've been distracted by another holiday countdown: my twelve nights of consecutive karaoke. I'm determined to finish these reviews, though, and I've given myself until New Year's Day to do so. Heck, if you follow some religious traditions, Christmas doesn't technically end until January 6, dubbed Little Christmas, which honors the arrival of the Wise Men. I hope it doesn't come to that, but if so thank the Catholics for their thorough celebrations. Moving on . . .
For children and geeks alike, toys are a critical part of the Christmas holiday. When I was a child, I anxiously awaited the army of action figures that waited for me under the tree, and some twenty-five years later, my wish list hasn't changed a bit: Green Lantern, Aquaman, He-Man, Beast-Man. The figures have changed quite a bit, though -- from the old, practically-bound-by-rubber bands Masters of the Universe guys to the new, finely sculpted and articulated Matty Collector line, or from the old "squeeze my legs" Super Powers to the new DC Universe Classics. Also, the rite of acquisition has changed; my mother doesn't comb department store aisles for these figure anymore, but opts to give the cash and the deed to that hunt, which is just as well, considering the Target or Wal-Mart exclusivity of these toys. Now, rather than run downstairs to the Christmas tree, I'm running to the toy aisle at Target, but that eager feeling is just the same.
So, ACG's Christmas Horror special resonates more so than usual, as its cover depicts a creepy Santa unloading severed heads from his sack, and its contents feature four stories of creepy toys. Children often dream of intercepting Santa, and this cover image twists it to represent an issue of harrowing potential. Thankfully, the stories don't disappoint, though I am confused as to whether the material is new or reprinted, since its production quality is relatively low, rife with muddied lettering and/or shading. Either way, if the effect is intended to mimic pre-Comics Code horror, or if these tales were dug up from genuinely classic anthologies, bravo. I'm sure a brief Internet search would reveal the truth, but the mystery is just as enjoyable -- which is what keeps most kids from spying on Santa in the first place.
I should also note that many of these tales reminded me of the classic Twilight Zone episode "Living Doll" starring Teddy Savalas. It's definitely one of the series' best; look it up if you haven't seen it.
To sum up these terrifying tales of holiday horror: The first features a kid that thwarts an airplane hijacking by bringing his action figures to life. In what seems like The Indian and the Cupboard on acid, the terrorists are picked off by the likes of an incarnated pirate, caveman, knight, and the like. In the end, the child is revealed as death itself -- a cop out of a twist, but it isn't the end of this story the reader is meant to enjoy, but the means.
In "Terrible Teddy," a bank robber accidentally runs over and kills a boy on his pursuit from the police, but before the fuzz can catch him, the child's tattered teddy bear does the burglar in, first by way of the crook's own paranoia, then with fangs, claws, and good old fashioned revenge-fueled malling. Where was "My Buddy" when those kids picked on me in elementary school, eh?
"The Thing Some Kids Dream Up!" is the most ambitious and elusive of the issue's stories, since the cause of its fright isn't rightly explained, if only through the motivations of the supernatural. Instead, this is the simply a story of a child's nightmares made manifest, then of his own bravery in defeating them when his father steps into the crossfire. Its illustrations were also different than the others, the line work more crisp and less characteristic of a traditional classic.
Finally, the last of the four stories also stars a teddy bear, one direly devoted to its childish master. In this case, the teddy becomes the presumably imaginary friend to the neglected child of wealthy parents, and when the butlers implements the girl's abduction and attempted ransom, the bear strikes! In her sudden absence, the parents also realize their faults and vow to become better parents, and the bear . . . well, it finds another child to "save." The open-ended nature of this tale is the best way to end the issue overall.
Interestingly, only that last yarn has an element of Christmas in it; the others simply boasts influential, haunted toys. Again, though, it's the cover that ties it all together, transporting the mind back to that first moment under the Christmas tree. Heck, think about the way you approached those gifts, eager to rip open the wrapping . . . filling the room with the sounds of that tearing, then casting one gift aside with a hungry drive to get to the next . . . those precious childhood Christmas mornings are just as savage and violent as the stuff of a horror story! That the beast still dwells inside some of us, and prowls unsuspected department store aisles . . . beware those that stand between me and the DC Universe Classics Batman Beyond . . .!
Christmas Horror was published by Avalon Communications in 1999 and features the talents of Mike Zeck, Joe Molloy, Joe Gill, Pat Boyette, Nicola Cutti, Jack Abel, and others.