By Jonathan Edwards
It’s December, so that means ‘tis the season for holiday specials like this one, and ‘tis the season for starting reviews off with the phrase “’tis the season.” In the wake of Rebirth last year, I was looking forward to DC’s DC Rebirth Holiday Special #1. It seemed like a great way to celebrate the season and the overall success of the relaunch. Unfortunately, if my LCS had gotten any copies (I didn’t ask, but I’m sure they did), they’d sold out of them before I got there. This was also before I started reviewing for Comic Bastards (if only barely), so I didn’t have access to any review copies. Oh well, I told myself, and I figured it maybe wouldn’t have turned out to be that good of a read anyway. In retrospect, that seems like an unnecessarily sour attitude to take during the most wonderful time of the year. And, the best way I can think of to make up for that is to take an optimistic look at DC Holiday Special 2017 #1.
Now, with over 80 pages dedicated to telling a total of eleven stories, this is a big book. And while they mostly share only a couple of basic themes, I do want to take a bit of a look at each story. So, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
“The Reminder” at the Ace O’ Clubs in Metropolis, where Bibbo Bibbowski is arguing with John Constantine about the latter’s curmudgeonly attitude. Clark Kent is also present, and after requesting another club soda, he expresses some dissatisfaction over Superman not being able to solve all the world’s problems. Bibbo, of course, takes issue with that, and insists that he’s heard “all kinds of stories” and that the state of the world “ain’t so bad.” From here, we learn that this first story is actually working as a framing narrative for nine of the others. That being said, I’m sure you can predict just as easily as I that the stories give Superman a little bit of perspective and the eponymous reminder of why he does what he does. Although, there is an extra dash of goodwill and humor thrown in at the end that ends up being the real heart of the story.
First within the framing narrative is “Twas The Night Before Christmas” which stars Batman. It’s… kind of weird and a strange choice for the first of “Bibbo’s” stories. In a flashback, we meet an old woman and her grandson who are seeking shelter from a house (and presumably not the first one) after hours of walking through the heavy snowfall of Gotham’s winter. The homeowner, of course, denies them, because it’s Gotham and people are assholes or whatever. With nowhere to go, the woman eventually freezes to death, and the police find her grandson. And then, in the squad car, her ghost appears to him and declares she’ll always be with him no matter what. Jumping back to the present, we learn that the now adult grandson has been compelled by his grandmother’s ghost to kidnap the also now adult children of the man who refused to let them into his house all those years ago. It no joke takes about six of the story’s eight pages to set all that up, as well as noting that they’re held up in “No-Man’s-Land,” there’s a blizzard going on, and Batman’s desire to be stealthy, only to have it suddenly and anticlimactically end two pages later. This feels like a story that really needed a full one-shot dedicated to it.
Next, we have “You Better Think Twice” starring Black Canary and Green Arrow. It’s a typical premise: Ollie, full of festive mirth, convinced Dinah to play Mrs. Claus to his Santa for a group of orphaned children, but she disagrees with the sentiment, stating “life’s hard and they need to learn to face that.” And then, a gang shows up to steal the “easily re-sold merchandise” from a truck full of donated toys. Okay, maybe that second part isn’t so typical. Either way, I liked this one a lot. It’s not breaking any new ground, but it does have some humor and charm. Plus, I think there’s always something to be said about showing a character realizing that perpetuating the lie of Santa Claus is one of the kindest things you can do for a kid.
After that is Tom King’s “Going Down Easy!” Sgt. Rock narrates, and this is probably the most bizarre inclusion out of the lot. Obviously, it takes place during World War II (because Sgt. Rock) in, I think, Germany. One of Rock’s men, Private Hammerman, finds himself alone with a Nazi officer they were transporting. They spend a hostile week waiting for someone to find them in the snow. Essentially, it’s a story about human perseverance that’s tangentially connected to the others by the winter setting and a brief and general conversation about faith. But, that’s sort of what I like about it. The message of the story is still meant to be a positive one even with the inherent grittiness that pervades pretty much everything King writes. And, I think he’s trusting the abilities of prospective readers to be able to discern that. In the end, it’s not what you’d expend to happen as part of a holiday special, and I don’t think anyone will argue that it’s how you should spend part of a holiday special. But, it’s not a bad way to spend part of a holiday special either.
Moving back to the much more traditional is “Hope for the Holidays.” And, this is another great one. A snowstorm has grounded all flights out of Central City, and Rainbow Raider has taken the opportunity to try and steal presents from them, because “if people really wanted their loved ones to get these pretty gifts they wouldn’t have waited till the last minute to send them.” Sure, it’s stupid and so blatant that it makes this story the polar opposite of the last one. But, you know what? I don’t care. Anyway, The Flash (that’s Barry Allen, though Wally West appears as well) makes quick work of him. The many civilians stuck at the airport due to the aforementioned snowstorm applaud his heroism, but Barry can’t help but feel bad for them. Where the story goes in its second half make is easily one of, if not the most heartfelt of the bunch. It’s perfect for Barry, and if “holiday special” wasn’t a good enough reason to just accept Rainbow Raider’s silly motivation, the payoff is.
“A Wilson Family Christmas” is about Deathstroke hijacking a full of donated toys with Wintergreen to find the detonator for a nuclear bomb that was hidden within one of said toys before it was donated. He’s also on the phone arguing with Adeline for most of it. I don’t have much to say about it other than that leans more toward the stranger side of the inclusions here, but the darker humor of it works and is on point for the character.
Speaking of that stranger side, “Silent Night” comes up next, and it features the Atomic Knights. I’m not sure what exactly inspired their sudden reappearance, but nothing about this makes it seem like the appropriate time or the place. Regardless, the story is fine if a bit middle of the road. Council Updooley calls for the citizens of Durvale to attack the horde of trefoils (walking sentient plants) that is slowly approaching the town. The Atomic Knights don’t want to do it, and in the end, it turns out it’s all just one big misunderstanding. I have to say, even with the familiar plot points used by some of the stories, this one is the least interesting. It suffers the same fate as “Twas The Night Before Christmas” by trying to set up too many dynamics for the relatively low page count. But, at least the anticlimax of that one was still surprising. The ending of this one is just predictable, and there’s no fun spin on it either.
“Holiday Spirit” has as typical and simple a premise as “You Better Think Twice” did. Starfire doesn’t understand the purpose of Earth’s winter celebrations. So, is there any question as to how it’s going to end? This one doesn’t put much of a spin on it either, but it functions a lot better than “Silent Night.” On the first page, the Teen Titans finish defeating a bunch of ghosts (or something). It’s Christmas Eve, so they all disperse to attend their respective celebrations. And then, Starfire discovers one of the ghosts is still around, calling itself the Ghost of Christmas Past, and making people relive the emotions of painful memories. So, the Teen Titans come back together to take it down and, ultimately, celebrate together. It may be simple, but it’s still a nice inclusion to have.
If I could take one story out of DC Holiday Special 2017 #1, it’d be “The Echo of the Abyss.” As far as I can tell, Space Station Archer and all six of its crew members have never appeared in anything before this story (but, do correct me if I’m wrong). That makes the only recognizable character Swamp Thing, and he doesn’t get much to do or characterization. Plus, the whole scenario is just dour. There’s a news broadcast talking about an imminent nuclear war, and then Ciampo, who’s ostensibly supposed to be our protagonist, goes to look for a way to kill them all quickly so they won’t suffer. Swamp Thing stops him and… somehow changes his outlook on life, and then he wants to celebrate the holidays. Except, that doesn’t change what the broadcast said about the nuclear war, does it? I think maybe writer Scott Bryan Wilson was going for the idea that things are looking worse than they truly are, but if so, this is such a massive misstep. Was the point instead to, perhaps, say you really should do what Monty Python suggests, and “always look on the bright side of life”? Either way, nuclear war frankly shouldn’t be brought up so offhandedly, especially in the full-on apocalypse scenario given here. I ask you, who is going to want to see that brought up in a holiday special? I mean, at least “Going Down Easy!” ended on the note that good can’t easily be overcome by evil and the implication that, even when overcome, it’d still be at the peril of evil. There’s no way, at least that I can conceive of, to declare nuclear war “inevitable” and still have a happy ending. At least, not without someone or something deescalating that situation first. And, maybe there’d be merit in that if it wasn’t a holiday special.
Wrapping up the stories within the framing narrative is “Solstice” by Greg Rucka. The whole story jumps back and forth between Wonder Woman “working in the light” and Batman “working in the dark” with parallel narration from the both of them. Essentially, Rucka spends seven pages musing on and comparing the nature of their heroism before spending the last page more or less showing, or maybe just implying, why specifically they were juxtaposed. It makes for an interesting read punctuated by the implementation of its title metaphor.
Finally, after the second half of “The Reminder” we find the eleventh and final story is, in fact, a reprinting of the Silver Age Batman story “The Silent Night of Batman.” If you’re not familiar with it, the conceit is that Commissioner Gordon convinces Batman to Christmas Eve off to enjoy some caroling with Gotham’s finest. After some initial reservation, the Caped Crusader agrees, and while he sings some Christmas Classics, we see the ripple effect his existence has brought to Gotham and her citizens even when he’s not around. Everything about it is classic in the best possible way. So much so that I’m pretty sure that one of the stories in Batman Annual #1 from around this time last year was a flat-out homage to it.
You may have noticed that I didn’t at all touch on the art of each story, and that’s because I would’ve said pretty much the same thing. The art here is all great. Each style is a perfect fit for its respective. As much as I didn’t like “The Echo of the Abyss” for its writing, every panel on every page looks great. If I had to my favorites, “Going Down Easy!” and “Twas the Night Before Christmas” are tied for the dramatic stories, and “You Better Think Twice” and “Hope for the Holidays” are tied for the lighthearted story, with special mention going on to the Silver Age goodness of “The Silent Night of Batman.”
And, there you have it: DC Holiday Special 2017#1. It was something of a mixed bag, but it was still a treat to read and review. In some ways, I think I might’ve enjoyed it more because of how much of a mixed back it was. And because of that, I’m going to recommend it. It’s not a hard recommendation, mainly because it’s difficult to justify ten bucks for a single issue of any book that isn’t a collector’s item. However, if you can spare it, I encourage you to get into the spirit of the season and partake in this bittersweet holiday treat.
DC Holiday Special 2017 #1