It’s the season to be jolly hopeful that DC’s annual 80pp holiday giant will contain enough enjoyable short stories to justify the high cover price.
The first entry has lots of fun moments, as the Harley Quinn of Earth 0 – the regular DC world – finds herself in a multiversal version of It’s a Wonderful Life. Can her very own Christmas angel convince her there is joy to be found? With Jimmy Olsen’s Steve Lieber handling the visuals you can be sure of expressive art filled with cute gags, while writers Paul Scheer and Nick Giovanetti’s script is tight and bright. There’s also excellent colour work from Marissa Louise and letterer Carlos M Mangual… and wait until you see who Harley’s Clarence is. The only negative is unnecessary grisliness – I don’t want pools of blood in my Christmas comic. And there’s some unpleasant home invasion business… so yes, I enjoyed this but with definite reservations.
I’ve no qualms about the next story, a visit to the Gotham By Gaslight earth, designated 19, where a criminal Plastic Man tries to ruin a Christmas act of philanthropy and one of the regular Gotham gangsters gets in his way. Oh, and Batman is here too. John Layman’s script is as playful as it is measured, while the brilliant art team of illustrator Dani and colourist Mike Spicer bring the Mike Mignola vibe.
Earth 11 is the gender-swapped planet, and where we meet, for the first time, Klarienne the Witch Girl, Supergirl (Laurel Kent), Robin (Talia Kane), Kid Quick (Jess Chambers), Aquagirl (Jacqui Hyde) and… Donald Troy. Honestly, a Donald Troy gag alone pretty much justifies this eight-page diversion from writer Ivan Cohen and artist Eleonora Carlini, but it’s also full of fun character moments, dynamic layouts and characterisation, and a terrific take on Zatara.
President Superman has started a holiday on Earth 23, the Celebration of Rapport, two days of giving and receiving that don’t centre on faith and spending power. Who could not like this? Enter Bizarro. Gustavo Duarte’s delightful artwork has me grinning from ear to ear, while David F Walker’s script brings the awwwww factor. A shout-out, too, to colourist Marcelo Maiolo and letterer Wes Abbott, who partnered Duarte on the brilliant Dear Justice League book, and they’re a big part of the story’s success too.
On Earth-12 Terry McGuinness is under the sea, trying to rescue the old Bat-Sub, which was lost on its first outing years previously. A bash on the head, though, sends Terry into his own version of A Christmas Carol. We get a couple of Scrooge-tastic vignettes, but they don’t add up to much. The ending, though, when we learn what Terry has got Bruce for Christmas, is nice. Points to writers Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen for a nod to one of the first Batman reprints I ever read, The Voyage of the First Batmarine. The art by Nguyen and colourist John Kalisz, meanwhile, is eye-catching.
On unlucky Earth-13, the League of Shadows – Annataz, Superdemon, Hellblazer, Fate, Swamp Man, Witchboy, Deadman, Enchantress and Ragman must save Saturnalia. Again – Mother Destruction and the Lord of Misrule seem to make a habit of threatening it. Writer Sholly Fisch gives us a second story strand, the origin of one of the heroes, in a far distant land and time. He also spins some of the most impressively elaborate Etrigan rhymes ever, in a tale of action and atonement. The splendidly intense scratchy art comes from Vanessa del Rey, with colours by Tamra Bonvillain, while letterer Ferran Delgado has enormous fun with fonts – wait until you see Witchboy’s spellcasting.
Bizarro is back and on home turf for Have Yourself a Bizarro Little Christmas, as No1, having learnt about giving, bids to make his fellow residents of Earth 29 feel ‘cold and rotten inside’. He gets a taste of his own medicine when the Intergalactic Santa Corps show up to ensure everyone accepts the gift of cheer – or else. From the first page, which recalls the old Tales of the Bizarro World stories in Adventure Comics, to the finale, a lovely moment between Mr & Mrs Bizarro Superman, this is wonderful. The script by Thomas E Sniegoski is extremely silly, while the art by Justin Mason comprises clever cartooning, with festive colours by Chris O’Halloran. While every panel is a treat, keep an eye out for those with the Bizarro Hawkman and Flash, they’re a hoot.
It’s off to Planet Krypton next… the restaurant, not the doomed world. It looks like the eatery might be doomed, though, when a fightin’ mad Max Lord crashes the Christmas party, intending to take down former pal Booster Gold – the eatery’s owner – once and for all. But unexpected allies save the day in this cute, surprisingly poignant number from writer Brittany Holzherr and artist Todd Nauck. Holzherr has Booster down pat, while Nauck’s work is stronger than ever, and full of fun Easter Eggs, such as a sweet Chocos display.
It’s showtime on Earth 47, where members of the Love Syndicate of Dreamworld headline Prez Rickard’s Magical Sci-Fi Desolate Souls’ Club Holiday Special. It’s a lot of throwaway gags courtesy of writer Jay Baruschel and artist Dominike Stanton, but most land – anyone who can explain Pandar the Fallen and the Captain Carrot gag, please do.
I’d like to apologise to letterer Rob Steen – halfway through the final story, A Very Lobo Hanukkah, I stopped looking at most of his nicely rendered work. Thing is, it’s writer Tom King in quote mode yet again – we’ve had poems in Heroes in Crisis, songs in Batman… and it’s a device that never works for me – just give me your words, Mr Writer, if I wanted to read the other stuff I’d be reading it. A good comic story is enough, I don’t need earlier works to add extra texture or import or whatever the point is meant to be. I tried, I really tried, to appreciate how passages from the biblical book of the Maccabees inform this story of Lobo fighting back an invasion by the Dominators to defend – what else? – space dolphins. It’s terribly tiresome, so I stuck with the dialogue, enjoyed the art by Scott Koblish and wished this wasn’t the final story in what’s generally a very fun comic.
Nightmarish Captain Carrot apart, the cover by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Hi-Fi is suitably seasonal, and the production design – as well the great logo there are neat contents and end credits pages – by Kenny Lopez is top notch.
As 80pp giants go, this is a pretty great package, a stocking stuffed with holiday fun. My favourites are the Gotham by Gaslight and Bizarro stories – both of them – but there’s nothing here that’s actively bad… even the Lobo story will likely find fans. As Christmas baubles go, this is pretty polished.