Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Twelfth Day of Comic-mas: Twelve DC Drummings

Finally! "The 12 Days of Comic-mas" is officially the most overdue holiday celebration ever (in writing, anyway), and I'm as eager for it to end as you are! We have a whole new year of graphic goodness to tackle, and with an upcoming President appearing in comic books as frequently as Wolverine guest-starred in every Marvel title from the '90s, we're on the verge of truly experiencing a comic a day in one way or another. Still, first things first: this season's DCU Holiday Special, which, ironically, coincidentally, or both, boasts twelve stories on its table of contents (excluding the beautiful cover by Frank Quitely, and crisp table of contents by letterer Travis Lanham. Since this is the most bountiful anthology I've ever reviewed (not necessarily in page length but in said titled content), I've decided that the most effective way of reviewing this issue is through a succinct "top 12" countdown, like the very twelve days of Christmas that inspired this snail's pace series of entries.

Here we go!

12. "Introduction" -- A splash page featuring the Kents: Ma and Clark greeting a dressed-as-Santa Supergirl at the front door, while in the background Lois and Lana pet Krypto by the tree. I assume writer Sterling Gates simply told artist Karl Kerschl what to draw, and that it didn't sound much different than, "A splash page featuring the Kents: Ma and Clark greeting a dressed-as-Santa Supergirl at the front door, while in the background Lois and Lana pet Krypto by the tree."

11. "The Man in Red" -- Beautifully illustrated by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado, this allegory likens Superman's origins to Santa's, from the powers of flight and "seeing when you are sleeping" via X-ray vision, to the benevolence of selfless do-gooding, to even the arctic hideaway, a parallel I hadn't considered before. Still, this ambitious tale is purely conceptual, and considering its beautiful renderings, I would've appreciated a little more linear substance, i.e. a story.

10. "Somewhere Beyond the Sea" -- Aquaman summons a huge octopus to vanquish some pirates that have tried to hijack a man and his pregnant wife at sea. A good old-fashioned Aquaman story like this would've been a gift in itself, but that the woman's unborn child is somehow royal, and that our hero inadvertently becomes one of the "three kings" paying respect to him, is a holiday twist that pulls off such allegory a little better than the previous tale.

9. "Good King Wenceslas" -- I'll never bad mouth Paul Dini. Ever. But this Batman-oriented fairy tale confused me. Dustin Nguyen's painted artwork is breath-taking, though -- a visual masterpiece that elevates the whole anthology.

8. "A Day Without Sirens" -- Joe Kelly has found another fan in me this year, between I Kill Giants and the potential of Four Eyes. In this short story, Gotham City Police actually experience an entire day without a single 911 call, an initiative advertised by a private party that pull off an emergency-free twenty-four hours. I won't spoil it only to say that the responsible party has a special interest in Gordon's and Batman's happiness. Consequently, I felt some, too.

7. "It's a Wonderful Night" is a cheesy Nightwing/Robin story that seemed a few years behind the times, if not for Tim's grief over the death of his father. Nightwing's Christmas gift for him is lame, something a new Robin would never really need and could frankly see in the Batcave anytime he wanted.

6. "Christmas with the Beetles" -- I've heard of a few comics coming out this year that spotlight or are told from the perspective of villains, and this story kicks off that trend effectively with one thug's family legacy of encountering the Blue Beetle legacy! It's a quaint tale of redemption and intervention, one that addresses the concept that, if heroes experience different incarnation and identities, so must even the lowest of goons. And change could be for the best.

5. "An Angel Told Me" -- In this Huntress story, her alter ego is the real hero. A high school teacher by day, the Huntress decides to guide a bully toward responsibility by taking down his abusive father and supervising his community service, which she swerves to actually serve him. By day, I work with children, too, so I was touched by this story's heart, and the acknowledgement that some heroics can be accomplished without fisticuffs, before nightfall, and after school.

4. "The Night Before Christmas" -- I haven't been following the Teen Titans latest series, let alone their latest roster, so this story, mired in their continuity, starred a bunch of strangers to me. Robin, Wonder Girl, Blue Beetle . . . sure, I know them, but I wonder how influential the Teen Titans relationships really are in comparison to these youngster's respectively solo tales. As apparently easy as it is for the entire DCU to fight a cosmic crisis, try getting something as simple as a romance to transcend a single writer's motivation.

3. "Party Animal" -- This current Justice League tale reads more like a classic Justice League International yarn, thanks in large part to Kevin Maguire's expressive art, but writer Alan Burnett spares no comical expense in detailing the Shaggy Man's happenstance participation in our heroes' annual Christmas party. Simple, fun.

2. "Let There Be Light" struck me as more of a pitch for a solo Dr. Light series than a contribution to a holiday anthology, and I wish it preceded the Justice League story rather than end this otherwise generally enjoyable issue. Not that the story wasn't good, but it wasn't good enough to wrap things up, nor was it comprehensive in spirit or scope. Rodolfo Migliari's photo-realistic art was muddy at times, too, seemingly incomplete at times -- actually pretty dark for a story about light, but that might've been the point I missed.

1. "Ending" -- This issue ends as it began, with a pin-up. From one lookout point in the orbiting Justice League satellite, Superman and Stargirl smile upon Green Lantern and Hawkman, in another wing of the Watchtower. Sans some hanging ribbon and DC's corporate good tidings, the scene is actually pretty creepy . . .

Yet perhaps this page is also indicative of the superhero holiday anthology phenomenon, and how the characters we know and love can only touch upon the spirit of Christmas, watch it from a safe distance, lest one of the two mired mythologies consume the other in a tale of imbalanced fantasy. Superman, Batman, and company are like any family that visit for the holidays; it's great to see them, but after awhile, you just can't wait for them to leave so you can really enjoy the yuletide. Even superheroes can only save the day . . . by flying away!

DCU Holiday Special was published for February 2009 by DC Comics and was written and illustrated by too many talented contributors to list here!

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