Friday, December 26, 2008

The Fifth Day of Comic-mas: Five Gory Things

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.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Fourth Day of Comic-mas: The Fantastic Four Calling

Now that we know how the Punisher's Christmas went (in a word, badly), how does the rest of the Marvel Universe celebrate this merriest of holidays? Well, if the 2005 Marvel Holiday Special is any indication, they celebrate it together; after all, before any civil wars or Skrull invasions, the Marvel Universe began with a family, the Fantastic Four. Appropriately, the Storms star in two of the three tales in this issue, sandwiching a New Avengers story that boasts more heart than necessary. But every issue begins with its cover, and I just have to say . . .

Stuart Immonen offers a crisp, festive image of Spider-man and the Fantastic Four decorating a Christmas tree, the Thing hoisting it up, and Reed stretching to its top with a luminous star . . . but Johnny is garnishing the shrub with . . . flame? Uhm, most folks do their darnedest to avoid setting their trees on fire! His sister is adorning the branches with . . . invisible ornaments? Er, sure -- the next time I bring a tree home, I'm going to leave it be and tell everyone to enjoy my decor courtesy the Baxter building. Of course, Spidey is stringing up with patented web-balls (oh, grow up people), which is fine considering the source, but generally a web-covered tree isn't one you want, unless the nursery offers a pre-purchase bug extermination. So, long story short, while the illustration definitely captures the Christmas spirit, it practices very little practicality. Of course, superheroes are used to crises, so what's a scorched tree compared to, say, a city-wide Santa-napping epidemic?

Such is the plight of Marvel's first family, as the Mole Man's Moloids kidnap mall Santas around the city in an attempt to find their missing master, who uttered St. Nick's name before his sudden disappearance. While Reed, Sue, and Johnny are content tracking down the Moloids' lair for a good old fashioned Christmas clobbering, Ben embraces the spirit of the season and pursues a more civil solution. His detective work uncovers the Mole Man's grandmother, who reveals that the villain's grandfather dressed as Santa during the holidays -- a grandfather with distinctly arched, Namor-like eyebrows. The Thing recruits the sea king to help him appease the Moloids, assuring peace on earth for all above and below the earth . . . but what of Mole Man himself? The catalyst of this tale rests on a splash page gag that fell flat with me, since Christmas comics are usually throw-away one-shots anyway.

The following story, a New Avengers story, embodies the other side of that coin, as a wayward Stark Industries scientist uses an old Ultron husk to create a real-life Santa -- a Santron -- with dangerous results. Before the fight before Christmas, the Avengers banter with ongoing gags about kissing Spider-Woman under the mistletoe and refusing B-listers like Gravity their invitation to the party, then Santron comes down the chimney. Spidey and Ant-Man concoct an awesome scheme to trick the Kringle-bot into submission, and its memory banks reveal its creator -- enter the overwhelming, unnecessary holiday-infused origin, in which that Stark scientist scorns Santa's falsehood and invests her own tangible alternative. What the story took a page to explore, a single caption of emotional inner monologue would've accomplished just as effectively. Ah, well, if the holidays are about anything else, it's overindulgence.

Which explains the third story, which uses a more traditional storytelling technique, namely the rhyming scheme of a carol or nursery rhyme, to tell the same tale we'd just read two times already -- the villainous act justified by the holiday spirit, thus excused by the superheroes that made everything okay. In this case, the Fantastic Four thwart their old, presumably reformed foe the Hurricane in the midst of his stealing toys for his poor kids; again, the Thing asserts compassion, but the tale makes little effort to offer that any of the heroes actually compensated the store for the few items that caught the eye of the Hurricane. Now, that's one way to beat the Black Friday crowd: just break in to your local department store on Christmas Eve!

Of course, these criticisms are intended with as much good humor as these yarns themselves; watching our favorite superheroes celebrate the holidays humanizes these icons. Whereas we geeks fantasize what it's like to be like them, in this case we get to watch them act like us, stressed about shopping and Christmas parties, frustrated by the plights of those less fortunate, generally wishing the best tidings for all around us. If only everyone had family that could make themselves invisible from time to time . . .!

Marvel Holiday Special #7 was published for February 2006 by Marvel Comics and is by Mike Carey, Mike Perkins, Laura Martin, Dave Lanphear, Jeff Parker, Reilly Brown, Pat Davidson, Christina Strain, Shaenon Garrity, Roger Langridge, Al Gordon, and Sotocolor's J. Brown.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Third Day of Comic-mas: Three Franks Hence

The release of The Punisher Xmas Special two weeks ago and Punisher: War Zone in theaters that Friday definitely put the red back in the red and green decor of the Christmas season, and I'm just talking about all the blood spatter. Punisher: War Zone didn't even make the top five movies of the weekend, and as an opening movie, that's sadly disheartening. Now, it's become the third least grossing Marvel film, behind Howard the Duck and Elektra. I saw War Zone at its first midnight showing, which I try to do for every mainstream cinematic comic book adaptation, so my initial impression was clouded by fatigue. Awake and aware now, I confess that I really liked the flick . . . and apparently I'm in the minority.

Back up. Punisher: War Zone suffers from the recently dubbed "requel" syndrome -- it expands an established franchise without acknowledgement of, and makes a subtle effort to redo, previously established material. Batman Begins did this, The Incredible Hulk did this, and this film does, too, all with good reason. Regarding Batman and the Hulk, both characters had experienced so many different on-screen incarnations that screenwriters and directors, like Tim Burton and Ang Lee, felt little reservation for putting their own spin on their adaptations. While the result is a movie that best captures the director's style, it also becomes a dated representation of the character, like all the rest. However, the Punisher benefits from a little discontinuity between films, because he is essentially an one-dimensional character. He shoots bad guys. The end. Why have three Punisher films to date if the story is basically the same, if not to allow different directors their take at the anti-hero?

Now, I've never seen the Dolph Lundgren Punisher, but I've heard things. Personally, I had my fill of Dolph in Masters of the Universe, and my inner child, as disappointed as even he was in that movie, can't accept He-Man playing Frank Castle. So, the Thomas Jane vehicle of a few years ago was my first on-screen Punisher, and, while I wasn't disappointed, I did find a few fanboy-nagging flaws with the film. I was grateful for the mining of Garth Ennis' Welcome Back, Frank, but I couldn't swallow the tropical Florida setting. Also, Jane's Punisher suffered from B-list actor syndrome -- when a better established actor is cast as the villain. (Nicholson's Joker is the classic example; on the 1989 Batman movie posters, his name trumps Keaton's, and Keaton is the hero, the title character!) While we see familiar faces like the Russian and Spacker Dave, they take a backseat to the Punisher's foe, whose familiar face is, well, John Travolta, which disconnected me from the film every time he appeared on screen. Finally, the Punisher uses a bow and arrow. I know his arsenal is extensive, but when that shot was one of the movie's first promo stills, I was ill at ease. Call me shallow.

Enter Punisher: War Zone, which I think became a requel when Jane pulled out of the project, and all the better at least for my little qualms with its predecessor. In this incarnations, we're spared the origin story and instead see the Castles' killings via flashback -- thankfully, in Central Park where it belongs. Yes, welcome back, Frank, indeed . . . to New York, to supporting characters like Microchip and Detective Soap, to a familiar nemesis like Jigsaw. Sure, the violence was campy, but I don't know why fans of films like From Dust 'Til Dawn wouldn't dig it. Sure, Dominic West's performance was over the top (the best comparison I read on a message board likened West's Jigsaw to Tommy Lee Jones' Two-Face), but the things he says are comparable with any funnybook foe on a vengeful tirade. I'm truly perplexed why War Zone didn't have a similar opening weekend to the likes of Daredevil or Ghost Rider? While all Marvel movies are not equal in quality and storytelling ability, aren't all Marvel fans at least willing to give them an equal chance?

Of course, the most beloved incarnation of Frank Castle remains in his native comics, yet even that original Punisher has experienced experimentation for popularity's sake. Remember when Punny died and came back as a spirit of vengeance? Consider Hollywood's challenge, sifting through decades' worth of material to create ninety minutes that both consolidate the character's essence for longtime fans yet capture a new audience with a fresh appeal, too. I can imagine a similar challenge for the one writing Punisher's annual Christmas special, since the holiday one-shot appeals to holiday-spirited fanboys like me, vaguely familiar with Castle's roots, along with those regular readers. At this point, I suppose the Punisher Max Xmas Special has been categorically more successful than the film that followed. By way of body count, Frank is the gift that keeps on giving.

I actually anticipated the Punisher Max Xmas Special some weeks ago when I saw preview pages up at Comic Book Resources. Roland Boschi's art is gritty and energetic, and when I read the story's synopsis, I had high hopes for its potential for allegory. My wishes were fulfilled, as Punisher strives to deliver a baby in the crosshairs of a gang war, in a Herod-like attempt to eradicate the son of a premiere crime family. Of course the Punisher takes the expectant parents to a manger (in a race track, but still), where, despite (or because of) the birth of their innocent baby, they get their just desserts, too. It's a fast-paced tale rife with violence and holiday symbolism -- in other words, it's the most wonderful time of the year.

Not so much for Marvel cinema. MSN has an article about the future of comic book adaptations, and whether or not the future is bright. Please. The Punisher has killed a lot of things, but comic book film adaptations aren't one of them -- in any incarnation.

Punisher MAX Christmas Special was published by Marvel Comics for February 2009 and was written by Jason Aaron, illustrated by Roland Boschi, colored by Daniel Brown, and lettered by VC's Cory Petit.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Second Day of Comic-mas: Two Turtles’ Woes

By 1990, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles easily usurped the Masters of the Universe as my action figure line of choice. As toy packages often demand, I scrambled to “collect them all!” Christmas was a pivotal time of year to achieve this goal, as long as my parents and grandparents understood where to find a “Mutagen Man.” Of course, fellow fanboys recognize the early ‘90s as the Golden Age of TMNT mania, with the live action film, beloved cartoon series, and all avenues of franchising thrusting our heroes out of their shell and into America’s hearts. To think, it all started as an independent comic book . . .

This detail from 1991's Marvel Holiday Special (soon to be reviewed right here!) satirizes the Turtles' popularity at the time.

Flipping through Mirage Studios’ Michelangelo Christmas Special, I’m amazed that Eastman and Laird retained their series’ original look, when I’m sure they could’ve easily sold out and gone mainstream with the most premiere publishing trends of the day. The beginnings of computerized lettering and coloring, higher-end paper stock and cover gimmicks -- these were all at their disposal, but instead this issue, published in ’90 and at a time of years when parents and kids alike are Ninja Turtle fishing, is so meek, it’s almost beneath notice! A minimalist exterior, and all gray-tone interiors . . . You know, for their own safety, the Turtles lived underground, out of sight. Did Eastman and Laird hope to preserve their original creative process by producing comics the same way?

Ironically, in this issue, Michelangelo dons a civilian costume, blends in with the hustling and bustling of the shopping Christmas crowd, and enjoys a day above ground, where he adopts a stray cat and indulges himself in a toy store. Of course, he discovers a ring of toy thieves that has intercepted a truck intended for the local orphanage, so Mickey and his brothers eventually make sure the “Li’l Orphan Alien” dolls make their way to the kids, at the risk of their own exposure. It’s a fun, heart-warming tale with plenty of action, that, in the context of the Turtles’ own popularity as coveted toys, boasts a satirical subtlety, whether or not overtly intentional by its authors.

The back-up yarn starring my favorite Turtle, Raphael, is a bit more baffling, however. Like many other Christmas comics, writer/artist Jim Lawson (second only to Eastman and Laird as the definitive Turtles storyteller) adapts Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” for one of our heroes, revealing a plethora of proverbial “elseworlds” that result from his outlook on the holidays, and, really, on life. As anticipated, Raph isn’t one for Christmas, he decides to ditch decorating the tree at April’s, and three imposing spirits take him on a walk through time. The first ghost takes Raph (and the readers) to the first Turtles’ tale, when the Foot crashed April’s antique store and nearly killed Leonardo. The second spirit reveals that the guys have resigned to their embittered brother’s disappearances, and the Ghost of Christmas Future prophesizes a bestial Raph living alone in a swamp. Interestingly, in the end, Raphael doesn’t join his brothers merrily, but remains alone in thought -- as if the lesson took but didn’t really persuade. Those shells sure are thick!

What I didn’t like about this tale is how rushed it felt. Lawson told the bare minimum to make “The Christmas Carol” connection, but with thirteen pages, his page layout and the story’s pacing seemed cramped and rushed, respectively. Remember, Raphael is my favorite of the foursome, so maybe I’d just hoped to see more of him. Yet, considering his character is the most dynamic in contrast to the generally joyful holiday season, he offers more of a conflict to explore. I’m sure the eighteen years between this issue and today’s Turtles have explored this dynamic more, if I wasn’t so distracted by toys and movies to actually read the half-shell heroes’ comics!

On the subject of toys, I would like to take this opportunity to talk about some of my Christmas indulgences, especially in light of some recent developments in the action figure collecting community. First of all, the Masters of the Universe franchise is in the midst of its second renaissance in the last ten years; back in 2000, Mattel, with the help of accomplished sculptors the Four Horsemen, modernized He-Man, Skeletor, and Eternia’s supporting cast in the hopes of appealing to old and new fans alike. Unfortunately, despite an engrossing new animated series on Cartoon Network, the toys suffered from the trapping of collectability, with mismatched ratio distributions (i.e. one Mer-Man for every five Skeletors, or something like that) and overwhelming variant editions. Kids were turned off and adult fans were broke and embittered pretty quickly -- especially if you’re still an Evil-Lynn away from completion, like me. Also, while these updated character designs looked great, I thought the figures themselves lacked a certain “playability” in contrast to other, better articulated lines. So, in its sophomore effort, the Masters failed to master their market.

Now, Mattel has decided that the adult collector has the power and has developed an exclusive on-line community featuring better articulated, finely sculpted incarnations of the classic line -- much to my complete delight. I’ve already scored this month’s inaugural He-Man and Beast-Man offerings, with a new figure promised monthly. (A special thanks to my brother for monitoring the Internet the instant the figures became available! I had to work, which goes to show that the responsibilities of adulthood too often trump the persistent delights of youth.) Now, the question is, do I open these figures and play with them, or keep them in their packages to display? I could just as easily open and display them, but if I never touch them, engage them in interactive adventure . . . What’s the point?

I wouldn’t have guessed it, but I’ve recently read some criticism about this direction, that on-line sales threaten to prohibit the line’s success, that reverting to the classic design is a step backward. I’m going on the record here and begging to differ -- Mattel has finally found He-Man’s post ‘80s niche. Simply put, kids aren’t interested in barbarians with ray guns anymore. Consider the more popular franchises of today’s youth -- Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, World of Warcraft. In these worlds, the heroes are passive participants, calling upon other creatures and weaponry to save the day for them. Children can relate to this inability to fight the good fight themselves, and by playing the games affiliated with these new mythologies, become as active in the lore as the very protagonists therein. So, if He-Man is to succeed today, the kids that originally sought him are still his core audience, just grown up into “exclusive collectors.” Now, we have the power!

My pic of the Masters of the Universe Classics He-Man prototype at 2007 San Diego Comic Con.

Yet, He-Man isn’t the only toy-based controversy that has been dancing in my head this holiday season. The latest Justice League Unlimited action figure six-packs are on sale at Target this week, and on Sunday I scoured four local branches for the “Secret Society,” “Apokalips Now,” and “Legends of the League” sets. I found them, but not before I found their boxes -- packed with other figures. Interestingly, the most coveted figures were replaced with previously available ones, with similar features, to boot; for example, the Atomic Skull was replaced with Waverider, who also boasts a translucent flaming head. KGBeast was replaced with the Elongated Man, both of whom have arm accessories. Fortunately, I was keen enough not to buy figures I already own, but the potential origins for this mishap are disturbing. Either collectors are purchasing these sets, pulling the new figures and replacing them with common extras, then returning the sets to Target for their money back, or Mattel is deliberating mis-packaging these boxes to make the new figures more collectible. Either thought is despicable to a simple fan like me, merely interested in having one of every available character. How many sharp kids will be disappointed this Christmas when parents buy the “Secret Society” pack they asked for -- and find a Copperhead where Shadow Thief should be?

Finally, the release of that “Apokalips Now” pack, specifically its inclusion of the character Mantis, has encouraged me to embrace the whims of my inner child and find contemporary counterparts to the action figures I had as a kid. The latest Masters of the Universe line helps, but I also had scattered DC Super Powers and Marvel Secret Wars figures purchased by my folks. Core characters like the Justice League and the Avengers are easy to come by, but baddies like Mantis or Kang are a bit more obscure. Fortunately, Hasbro’s latest Marvel Legends line includes a Kang, so I’m just a modern Magneto short of achieving a renewed version of my childhood collection.

What’s the point, you ask? What’s the point of indulging in comics in the first place? Originally targeting a younger audience, as much as the medium has grown up with its readership, its roots in fantasy and science fiction still appeals to the child in all of us. After all, childhood is in essence the journey to adulthood, the road to becoming something bigger than we already are. Superhero comics replace that need for adults -- having achieved the whole growing up thing -- the need to become something better. Like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles dwelling in the sewers, sometimes the inner child like to dress up like a man and come out to play for awhile. I’ve learned not to toy with his emotions.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The First Day of Comic-mas: A Dragon in a Pair o' Bandages

Most contemporary Christmas stories pivot around one or more of three well-established dynamics: (1.) exploring Santa Claus mythology, (2.) converting an anti-Christmas rascal, and (3.) saving Christmas itself from impending doom. Consider Fred Claus, the latest Vince Vaughn opus released on DVD. Regarding Santa lore, Fred Claus answers the heretofore unasked question, "What if Santa Claus had a brother?" Variations of this inquiry common in contemporary storytelling include, "What if Santa Claus had a child," "What if Santa Claus needed a successor," and "What if Santa Claus was institutionalized for claiming he was, well, Santa Claus?" Further, Kevin Spacey plays an efficiency expert determined to end Christmas -- like the Grinch that tried to steal it, or the Scrooge that tried to ignore it. I don't envy Christmas its rogues gallery. Fortunately, in Fred Claus' case, an ailing Santa still fulfills Spacey's childhood wish (which is, ironically, a Superman cape) and fills him with the Christmas spirit . . . and not a moment too soon, as Spacey's plans to halt the holiday are nearly fulfilled, if not for a last minute miracle.

Sound familiar? That's what I mean. Every secular Christmas story retains at least one of those characteristics. Heck, if it didn't, audiences would be reduced to watching happy people celebrate a peaceful holiday. We can't have that, can we?

Christmas comic books are no exception to these rules. In fact, the comic book, a medium dependent on visual iconography and conflict-driven storytelling, is the perfect forum for a contemporary Christmas story. (I've mentioned this before.) The comparisons are palpable -- Christmas has its make-believe heroes, complete with magical origins and supernatural abilities, determined to deliver good will to the world. That Santa delivers toys and doesn't battle mad scientists is just a footnote. Rudolph's red nose is just a turn on the color wheel from being a magic green ring.

So, for the next twelve reviews, I'm going to take a look at some of these comics and see how they hold up to tradition and expectation. In true A Comic A Day fashion, I've never read these comic books before; like a child on Christmas morning, I really don't know what to expect.

Which is why I've decided to begin, like everything else in my comic book collecting career, with Erik Larsen, with his beloved Savage Dragon. Contrary to what my blog might lead you to believe, I haven't read every issue of Savage Dragon; in fact, I have a few significant holes in my Dragon collection. Sometimes, at three bucks a pop, one just has to discriminate when staring at the new release shelf week after week. Also, despite my love for his work, I've acknowledged, like many fans, that Larsen's work has been inconsistent in recent years, thanks in large part to his role as publisher for Image Comics. Fortunately, this holiday issue of Savage Dragon predates that erratic work and reflects the best of post issue #100 Dragon -- featuring Dragon and his family battling Chicago's freakish underground. Specifically, in this issue, Dragon's former fellow cop Rita is missing; coincidentally, Santa has disappeared, too, and some of his elves have offered their services on the hunt for Rita if the finned-one can save Christmas. While practice-flying the sleigh, the villainous, jet-sled riding Seeker arrives, and as Dragon defeats him, his friends find Rita and finish off her captors. It's a happy ending, albeit a bit typical for Dragon, what with both of his hands blown off.

Don't worry. They'll grow back.

That's the thing about Savage Dragon -- the outrageous is totally normal, and with Larsen's recent foray into cutting edge Presidential politics, in every way, from Rita's long-standing struggle with side effects from a Martian shrinking ray, to Barack Obama congratulating Dragon on his return to the police force. Interestingly, Larsen doesn't actually show Santa in this issue (browse through some Dragon back issues for the only Santa appearance that suits the series), and in fact Saint Nick's abduction is reduced to a fleeting, tongue-in-cheek caption on the last page, but this dismissive tone is satirical to the very point I posed in the beginning. When Santa's helper first appeared, Dragon expressed his disbelief. Then, with Christmas in peril, the reader gets a sneak peak at the North Pole, a glimpse at how some of "the magic" works. Then, finally, Christmas is saved.

Sound familiar?

I confess, I haven't seen A Miracle on 34th Street in its entirety. I haven't read A Christmas Carol. But I remember that time the gray Hulk battled Rhino as a mall Santa Claus. I remember when a Scarecrow-gas victim dressed as Santa and went on a killing spree in Gotham City just for the fun of it. I remember the first episode of The Simpsons, and every Christmas episode since. While literature and film have established the traditions of holiday storytelling, one need not indulge them considering the strength of the Christmas spirit. From Ebenezer Scrooge to the Savage Dragon . . . the essence of selflessness is the gift that keeps on giving.

Savage Dragon #106 was published in December 2002 and is by Erik Larsen, with lettering by Chris Eliopoulos and coloring by Reuben Rude.