I’ve mentioned this in the past, but I am a total sucker when it comes to holiday-themed superhero stories. I’ve been very much looking forward to this year’s anthology offering from DC, so let’s dive into these stories!
“It’s A Horrible Life!” kicks things off with a story that feels weirdly poignant in 2020. Harley’s feeling down in the dumps, so an angel shows her how differently her life has gone in other universes. It’s A Wonderful Life riffs have been done to death over the years, but Paul Scheer and Nick Giovanetti’s clever script makes this one feel totally worthwhile. This story explores the effects of seasonal depression in a way that only this character could, delivering plenty of anarchic comedy and fun nods to past and present DC continuity. Even in the dead of winter in Gotham City, there’s a warmth to the artwork and coloring from Steve Lieber and Marissa Louise, which really sells the sweet side of this odd little tale.
Written by John Layman, “Christmas By Gaslight” is a fun Dickensian take on Gotham City that melds Gotham By Gaslight with a dash of Oliver Twist. Dani’s artwork and Aditya Bidikar’s lettering go a long way towards bridging this slightly wackier story with the grounded and classical feel of the original Gaslight stories, while Mike Spicer’s colors give readers some fun clues as to where Eel O’Brien will pop up next.
“To Stop the Star-Conqueress!” features a few fun meta references to other DC stories, but so much of the script is bogged down in a confusing fight scene and heavy exposition. This story feels like it’s so focused on introducing a number of characters and providing exposition for their backstories and abilities, to the point where the story itself feels very slight. It also hardly ties into the theme of the anthology, other than taking place on New Year’s Eve. Still, the artwork is a lot of fun, with Eleanora Carlini providing some neat character designs and Becca Carey’s lettering making some of the sound effects and spell-casting stand out.
David F. Walker’s “Bizarro Love Holiday!” is a lovely little Grinch-esque tale that features some wildly expressive and colorful artwork from the team of Gustavo Duarte and Marcelo Maiolo. In just a few short pages, it builds up a compelling and hopeful mythology, then unleashes Bizarro into the middle of it. This story is full of warm, fuzzy feelings, making it one of the highlights of the collection.
“Holidays Beyond” has an interesting concept, with Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen placing Terry McGinnis into a type of Christmas Carol/It’s A Wonderful Life hybrid narrative. It is always a pleasure to see Nguyen draw Batman Beyond, and the nods to DC Animated Universe continuity are well done. However, the story as a whole doesn’t quite hold together — there’s a bit of a rushed explanation for Terry’s visions that doesn’t feel properly explored. Still, the final panel is a lovely moment.
With “Night of the Magi,” Sholly Fisch tells a really interesting backstory for the Earth-13 version of Ragman, one that is deeply rooted in religion. It’s so compelling that one wishes it was the main focus of the story. However, much of the page count is taken up by a battle featuring the other heroes of Earth-13, the League of Shadows. While it’s cool to see these characters again (especially if you’re a fan of the mystical side of the DCU), the fight sequence can be a bit difficult to follow. Still, the artwork from Vanesa Del Rey looks fantastic, with plenty of show-stopping moments in the wild battle sequence, and the rusty and dark colors from Tamra Bonvillain give the flashback sequences a clear separation from the main action of the present-day story. This is a cool, short tale, but it actually feels like it could have benefitted from having a bit more room to breathe.
“Have Yourself A Bizarro Little Christmas” has a few jokes that are genuinely hilarious. I usually get a kick out of Bizarro stories, and Tom Sniegoski’s script nails a few of the idiosyncrasies of the character that I really appreciate. The gag with the carolers made me actually laugh out loud, and the artwork from Justin Mason gives everything a kind of cartoonish, Mad magazine griminess that suits the story well. Also, Carlos M. Mangual’s letters sell the harsh tones of the Bizarro characters perfectly.
I love me some Booster Gold, but even though I mostly enjoyed “‘Twas the Night”, it didn’t entirely work. Set in the Kingdom Come Universe of East-22, this feels like it has a bit more in common with the heyday of Justice League International. As such, the best bits of the story are the ones that tickle the funny bone and go for the heartstrings. The wrap-up of the story doesn’t make a ton of sense and feels a bit rushed, but Brittany Holzerr’s script and the expressive faces and body language of Todd Nauck’s art sold the more warm and fuzzy side of this quirky tale.
I generally try to note the positives in every book I review, but I struggle to find anything good to say about “Prez Rickard’s Magical Sci-Fi Desolate Souls Club Holiday Special,” written by Jay Baruchel. There’s a chance that this one just isn’t my cup of tea, but the script spins wildly from one non-sequitur to the next, making zero sense and barely tying into the holiday. It also commits the cardinal sin of completely wasting the character of Prez, who acts as something of a variety host in this story, and could have been swapped out for literally anybody else here. There are some fun character designs from Dominike Stanton and Bryan Valenza’s colors make the wacky imagery pop off the page, but the “story” itself is a disaster.
“A Very Lobo Hannukah” is another story that doesn’t quite gel for me, but I like what it’s aiming for. Tom King makes an interesting choice of threading Bible verses through the narrative, which sees Lobo giving his own spin on the holidays. With the Main Man, it’s all about finding a personal reason for the season, which in this case involves plenty of fighting in the name of the ones he cares about. Scott Koblish and Hi-Fi deliver some flashy cosmic beat-em-ups, while Rob Steen does some fun things in lettering the speech patterns of the different alien races in the story.
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