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I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. I’m a sucker for comic book holiday issues. Part of it is the unabashedly naked attempts to pull on the reader’s heartstrings. And another part is surely the fact that a lot of super-hero comic character really don’t lend themselves to heartwarming holiday stories of good cheer. The best moments in the DC Holiday Special #1 are the ones that either most successfully tug at your heart or acknowledge in the meta-textual way the absurdity of a Holiday issue.
That latter element is provided by the fun and clever framing device for the story, namely an insanely implausible holiday party featuring most of the DCU where Harley Quinn is our mistress of ceremonies. Writer Paul Dini and artist Elsa Charretier use their overarching story to highlight just how silly and inconsequential the whole idea of this issue is, making it way easier to sit back, top up your eggnog and take the book for what it is. But Dini and Charretier take advantage of the opportunity to sneak in a ton of absurdity, meta jokes and general wackiness to the proceedings that really make their sections a hoot. If you can’t find the idea of Superman playing the Auld Lang Syne on the piano while Gorilla Grodd sings along funny, well, then you’re just not having enough fun in snow business. These sections inject a Looney Tunes vibe into the proceedings that work because it’s both warm-hearted and knowing.
The individual stories that make up the rest of the anthology are more of a mixed bag. None of them are bad per se, but there’s a few, particularly once the issue passes the half-way point that begin to feel more and more inconsequential. There are even some stories that are just a single page long, and I just couldn’t shake the feeling that either the space would have been better served allowing one of the other tales more room to breathe, or reducing the page count and dropping the price of the issue.
But the stories that work, work really well, and tend to be loaded at the front of the issue. Tim Seely and Ian Churchill deliver as heartwarming story that finds Superman and Batman trying to locate an impossible-to-find hot Xmas gift for Superman’s son. I found the issue enjoyable mostly because it so sharply illustrates how much easier it is to be invested in this new Superman/Batman dynamic in the Rebirth era as opposed to the New 52 version. Even with less time invested in their relationship, there’s a warmth and ease and fun to their byplay, and that of their respective sons, that just works. Churchill depicts the Kents all in cheesy Xmas sweaters, for instance, while Bruce and Damian are in suits. It’s a simple, but perfect detail.
Next up is a charming little story from Eric Esquivel, Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund that sees Superman and Jon try to find a gift for Krypto. And though of course it’s slight, it’s still a story about a kid trying to find a present for his dog, so come on, you’d have to be a damn robot not to kind of like it. And it’s well done, warmhearted and earnest without being too schmaltzy. From there we get a funny and weird team-up between Detective Chimp and Batman by Heath Corson and Gustavo Duarte, and part of me is just glad that DC is now okay with the idea of having Batman team up with a primate in trousers to solve a Xmas crime. That’s a level of fun and ease that’s been missing for a while.
The next solid story was “A Flash Christmas Carol” by James Tynion IV and Robbi Rodriguez. While the story does kind of have the vibe of a “Very Special Episode”, Tynion anchors the story of Flash trying to keep one foster kid’s Xmas magical in a personal connection between the boy and former foster kid Barry Allen. There’s also a nice moment between Flash and Captain Cold that explains why the Speedster and the Rogues have a truce on the holidays. The final story I liked was a Green Lanterns story by Steve Orlando, Vita Ayala and V. Ken Marion that eschews your typical holiday story for an effective story examining the characters of Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz, two characters that I don’t know terribly well, but felt I knew better at the story’s conclusion, not to mention knowing more about the holiday Three Kings Day.
The other stories in DC Holiday Special #1 come off less well. I will say that none of them struck me as bad, but a few felt slight or run of the mill, missing a spark. I’m not sure the book as a whole wouldn’t have been better with less content rather than the slew of stuff we get here that feels more like filler. However, the stories that do work are effective and enjoyable, even occasionally illuminating. I wouldn’t call any of them classics, though. To me the most enjoyable part of the issue was most definitely the Harley Quinn framing story, so if you are a fan of the character or just sharp writing, then that’s good reason to pick up the book, though perhaps not enough on its own to justify the 10 dollar price tag. 6.5/10