Remember those DC Holiday ‘grab bags’ which gave us lots of Christmas stories, the odd Chanukah tale and general winter fun? This isn’t that. ‘Tis the Season to be Freezin’ #1 is the comic that came in from the cold. Christmas gets the odd mention, but like that Nuclear Winter giant of a couple of years ago, this is tightly themed fare which barely nods to the holidays.
The cover by David Nakayamai is very nicely done, a whimsical wintry scene, though distinctly false advertising in that none of DC’s Big Three are featured inside.
Harley Quinn does get a story, teaming up with the Blue Snowman – a wacky Golden Age Wonder Woman villain who’s been weirdly popular with young DC writers of late, likely due to her baked-in trans appeal – to save an ailing Poison Ivy. Ignoring the fact that the massively popular Ivy has been shown to be capable of naturally creating all kinds of curatives, Tara Roberts’ tale is warm-hearted, amusing and springs a surprise Justice Leaguer on us. Eric Battle’s fight scenes are, appropriately enough, excellent, and the whole story has a fun dynamism.
The book opens with more Batman-adjacent action as animated Robin faces off against Mr Freeze in a predictable story whose payoff requires knowledge of the TV show; I had to look it up. Still, Paul Dini and Jordan Gibson provide plenty of incidental pleasures. It’s a shame that it isn’t obvious to me just how Robin foils Mr Freeze by having him chill a carousel.
Take Vixen, the Penguin and mix with the Legion of Super-Pets and what do you get? An illustrated lecture on self-care, courtesy of writer Tee Franklin and artist Yancy Labat. Here the Penguin is a super-scientist, Vixen is uncharacteristically self-obsessed and the Super-Pets are just useless. Like Dini, Franklin assumes we’ve been watching DC TV – this is apparently a sequel to an episode of the Krypto cartoon. Many points go to Labat, though, for the splash page’s spectacularly disgruntled parrot, the only moment of joy on a page of upsettingly miserable animals.
And wait until you see what Penguin did to cute sidekick Waddles, it’ll put you right off your egg nog.
The Hardest Working Writer of the Issue award goes to Amedeo Turturro, for Bizarro V Seasonal Depression: Dawn of Climate Change. Forget odd nuggets of dialogue, pretty much any part of a sentence that could be reversed is made negative or positive, making for a very tough read. I tried three times to get past the third page, but finally skim-read the words against Jason Howard’s cute art, hoping to fall into a zen state that would just let the story seep into my brain. It didn’t quite work, but again, full marks for effort, and the take on a bunch of DC cold-based villains (and Chemo, unless I’m wrong) is really rather good. Oh, and there’s another lesson in self-love.
Sweet clarity comes with a Firestorm story by Jeff Trammell and Justin Mason, in which Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch join forces for Christmas Eve Justice League monitor duty. Ronnie’s super keen, as Wonder Woman is also on the rota. Unfortunately for him, she’s swapped with his old enemy Killer Frost, who’s been going straight of late. Jason’s all for giving her the benefit of the doubt but Ronnie doesn’t believe a word of it and what emerges is the best story in the book, a character comedy that taps right into the spirit of Christmas.
Legion of Super-Heroes members Polar Boy and Comet Queen are seen for, I think, the first time since the end of DC’s New 52 phase in a story that reminds us that Christmas comes in many forms. They’re on a date when ice sculptures made by Polar Boy spring into threatening life. Cue delight, courtesy of writer Rich Bernatovech, penciller Travis Mercer and inker Norm Rapmund. I’m not sure about Polar Boy’s new costume, though – so many leg straps, and why the holster?
There’s a problem with this comic in that the creators seem to have been told to really lean into the title, meaning that rather than use it as a general pointer towards holiday-themed tales, it’s ice, ice baby. Villains and themes recur, with only the approaches keeping a certain tedium at bay. By the time the Flash strip arrives, we’re on our third version of Captain Cold – happily, this is the original and best. Writer Bobby Moynihan and artist Pop Mhan gives us a fun caper involving an unseasonably hot Central City – global warming is another recurring motif – a trunkful of toys and an absentee ice rink. I could have done without Captain Cold calling the Flash – or rather, A Flash, we aren’t told if this is Wally or Barry – ‘Karen’ a couple of times, but otherwise this is Hallmark all the way, and it’s all the better for that.
They debuted in the DC Pride anthology awhile back, and here’s JLQ again, as in Justice League Queer. Or maybe ‘Quota’ as it’s very much a box ticking concept on paper. There’s more heart to the idea in Andrew Wheeler’s story, as New Guardians joke turned plausible hero Extrano opens his home to non-straight young heroes. As with last time, the focus is very much on trainee magician Sylvan, and while his POV is a tad too earnest for me, it’s nice to check in with the likes of Traci 13, Tremor and the tragically named Bunker. It does seem that Wheeler or artist Meghan Hetrick are confused about which hero has an engineer boyfriend – it’s the Ray, not Bunker, as of that very same Justice League series which saw Killer Frost became less than lethal – but I doubt many people will notice, and fewer care. If Bunker’s chap, Gabriel, has become an engineer off-panel, profuse apologies, but I’m pretty sure Wheeler is thinking of Xenos. Anyway, this is lots of fun, with the return of an ill-treated heroine, the issue’s second Minister Blizzard appearance (OK, the first was Baron Blister, but still…) and yet another pep talk about self-acceptance and striving. Hetrick’s art is, as always, terrific, and I hope she and Wheeler bring us more JLQ soon, perhaps with a story entitled ‘Bunker gets a non-rubbish name’.
If you have a deep knowledge of DC doings, and really, really love icy metahumans, you’ll find things to enjoy here. Anyone else will likely be scratching their heads and wondering who everyone this side of Robin, Mr Freeze and Penguin is – if you don’t know what Vixen’s deal is, for example, good luck. (I still don’t know why she’s channelling a squid, or maybe an octopus, at one point – are they super-empathetic?)
Mind, points to Rich Bernatovech for using the patented Encyclopaedia Galactica format to introduce Comet Queen and Polar Boy. Overall, though, this issue needs a page or two introducing the dramatis personae, a couple of lines giving name, powers and background. The stories don’t even find room for tiny logos.
My apologies for not singling out the many colourists and letterers who contribute to this issue – a big ‘well done and thanks’ to one and all (the poor letterers have no luck; the contents page credits a few as ‘TBD’ – happily, they’re on the strips, but it seems the editors had too much on their plate to finesse this publication).
If you’ve $9.99 or local equivalent to spare, pick this up, it’s a decent read. It won’t make your holiday season, but it should bring some cold comfort.