Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Eleventh Day of Comic-mas: Christmas Pays the Piper!

Christmas is definitely the neediest of holidays. It always needs saving! Threats from thieving grinches or embittered Scrooges plague Christmas almost as much as tidings of comfort and joy! So, when I saw the title to Archibald Saves Christmas, I predicted that the issue would follow the usual formula: villain tries to vanquish the holidays, underdog hero stands against him, villain caves to the overwhelming feelings of good cheer around him. Boy, was I wrong.

Archibald Saves Christmas is actually the first of now several one-shots starring Archibald Aardvark, a down-and-out cartoon star from the earliest days of American animation, when Micky was still a dot-eyed tugboat captain. Archibald was accused of killing his brother/co-star, and as his other co-stars were mysteriously slain, he was driven nuts by the suspicions and apparent conspiracy against him. In this issue, the studio signs Archibald to a new picture with Santa Claus, who rightfully fears for his life but also takes pity on the wayward aardvark. Santa's always been a softy that way.

Archibald is rife with paradox, from its dynamic visuals to the very context of its story. First of all, its plot is at heart a murder mystery and spares no expense in exposing the blood and guts that come with a crime scene. At the same time, its characters are all cutesy cartoons, hailed from the glory days of Disney, Warner Brothers, or Fleischer Studios, complete with a charcoal-style shading indicative of old black-and-white film. Further, despite the title, Archibald is barely lucid enough to save his own career, let alone Christmas. Spoiler alert: Santa dies, and although Archie apparently catches the real killer that has been tormenting his career, Christmas is inexplicably left in the wind. Understandably, the holiday season is just a backdrop for the story and a gimmick to attract readership, no doubt, but I'm still concerned. What person ruled by their inner child wouldn't want to know about the potentially fatal fate of Christmas?

Finally, I feel compelled to keep the culmination of this issue's story a secret, in case folks that haven't read the Archibald series decide to take it on, but I'm genuinely confused by the final panels' "twist." It actually doesn't leave me in any kind of suspense at all, but rather ties things up quite nicely, yet the dialogue implies more to the mystery. Gah, it's hard to explain -- chalk it up to another of the issue's many paradoxes. If someone can shoot me a comment to clarify, I'd appreciate it. You'd save my Christmas, at the very least.

Overall, Archibald Saves Christmas is a fun issue that kicks off an undoubtedly fun series of one-shots, and you haven't seen cartoon characters this "real" since Top Shelf's Three Fingers, which in tone is practically a companion piece. In spite of my inner child's old flights of fancy, I'm glad old cartoon characters like these don't inhabit our world. TMZ has already proven we can barely contain human celebrities! An aardvark with a murder rap stumbling out of the Ivy? That would just beat all, folks.

Archibald Saves Christmas was published in December 2007 by Image Comics and was written by Dwight L. MacPherson, illustrated by Grant Bond, and lettered by Jason Hanley.

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