Review – DC Holiday Special 2017 #1: Instant Classic Tales

Reading Time: 7 minutes

DC Holiday Special 2017, O'Neil, Lemire
DC Holiday Special #1 2017 cover

DC Holiday Special 2017 #1 – Jeff Lemire, Denny O’Neil, Mairghread Scott, Tom King, Joshua Williamson, Priest, Dan Didio, Shea Fontana, Scott Bryan Wilson, Greg Rucka, Writers; Steve Epting, Francesco Francavilla, Neil Googe, Matthew Clark, Otto Schmidt, Nic Klein, Bilquis Evely, Artists; Giuseppe Camuncoli, Phil Hester, Tom Grummett, Pencillers; Cam Smith, Ande Parks, Scott Hanna, Sean Parsons, Inkers; Tomeu Morey, Dave McGaig, Trish Mulvihill, Ivan Plascencia, Jeromy Cox, Rob Schwager, Romulo Fajardo Jr., Colorists. Bonus Story by Writer Mike Friedrich and Artists Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

Ratings:

Ray – 9/10

Happy Holiday Reading!!

WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW

Ray: Last year’s DC Holiday Special was one of the most entertaining reads of 2016, a strong collection of all-star stories featuring the DCU’s most popular characters and best creators. So how does 2017 stack up? Well, it’s certainly not slacking off in the talent department, bringing in stars from around the DCU ranging from the writer of Deathstroke to the writer of DC Superhero Girls. But the stories? Let’s read on and see.

The issue opens with Jeff Lemire’s official return to the DCU, as he writes the framing story, a melancholy but inspiring tale set at the Ace of Clubs, as bartender Bibbo keeps the faith and tells his patrons – a drunk Constantine and a depressed Clark Kent – that everything will be fine as long as Superman is watching over them. Good to see Bibbo again!

Corrina: And a nice use of all three characters, all disparate, but all needed in the DCU. We know why you were hanging out at the Ace of Clubs, John. You wanted to stare at Clark. 🙂

Bibbo, Clark Kent, DC Holiday Special 2017
Clark’s having some Christmas doubts. Image via DC Comics

Ray: The first story, by legendary writer Denny O’Neil and modern-day artist extraordinaire Steve Epting, casts a ghostly pall on the Christmas spirit with a tale that begins decades ago, with an elderly woman and her grandmother searching for shelter only to be turned away in the snow by a cruel party host. The boy survived, the grandmother didn’t. In the present day, Batman and Alfred head into the mountains to stop a hostage situation that may be spurred on by the ghost of that tragic incident. Whether the phantom in question is real or not is up for debate, but what isn’t is the gorgeous art and stark, haunting storytelling.

Corrina: I admit, I fangirl-squeed at seeing Denny O’Neil’s name in the credits. Why? Because O’Neil is largely responsible for the Batman of my childhood, not only as writer, but as editor of the Batman comics, and that includes the creation of many memorable stories but the one that immediately came to mind as I read this issue is “There Is No Hope In Crime Alley.” That’s the story that introduced Leslie Thompkins, who later was revised to be Dr. Leslie Thompkins. (And inspired an episode of Batman: The Animated Series.)

In that classic story, an older woman comforts Bruce. In this Christmas story, the older woman taking care of her grandson does not have Batman as protector, setting into motion a completely different set of chilling events. It’s a terrific story and should remind those unfamiliar with O’Neil why he’s so revered.

Ray: Iconic Green Arrow artist Phil Hester joins with writer Mairghread Scott to tell a holiday story of Black Canary and Green Arrow as they visit a Star City orphanage. This annual tradition of Green Arrow, where he dresses up as Santa (and roped Dinah into taking on the role of Mrs. Claus) is interrupted by a criminal who attempts to steal a toy-donation truck, leading to a quick battle. It ends with a heartwarming moment as the vigilantes get to play heroes to the kids. I’m not sure about Black Canary essentially being written into the Scrooge of the story at first – sure, she had a hard childhood, but it still seems out of character – but the ending brings the story home nicely.

Corrina: This dialogue annoyed me a little bit, as One-Percenter Ollie gets to lecture foster child Dinah about growing up poor. That seems, well, backward to say the least and definitely lowered my enjoyment of an otherwise good story, with a sweet ending for the kids.

Ray: Tom King and Francesco Francavilla’s Sgt. Rock Hanukkah story was undoubtedly the most anticipated segment of this issue, as these two have been responsible for some of the best comics in recent years. Sure enough, it’s brilliant, an incredibly haunting and eerie tale of the miracle of Hanukkah told through the filter of World War II. A Jewish-American Private and a high-ranking Nazi officer are trapped together after an explosion, the Jewish soldier suffering a mortal wound. However, he has the Nazi at gunpoint – and then he just doesn’t die, just like the flame doesn’t go out. The ensuing standoff between them is one of the best segments you’ll read in any comic this year, and a story we all could use in these times, I think.

Corrina: I hope that Joe Kubert would have been proud of this story because it seemed very much a homage to his Sgt. Rock, especially about the horrors of war, and the nobility that can be found within it. I do believe there might be an anti-Nazi statement in here somewhere as well. It’s a beautifully illustrated and haunting tale.

Ray: A few of these stories are just the writer on the regular book telling their holiday story in this format, and that’s the case for Williamson and Googe’s Flash story. These creators are on the main Flash book, and that gives this Flash story a very smooth, lived-in feel. It focuses on Barry and the older Wally, as Barry battles the Rainbow Raider, helps stranded fliers get home despite a snowstorm, and makes sure his time-lost protege isn’t alone for the holidays. It’s probably the most low-key story of the volume, but that adds to its charm.

Corrina: Despite the hoopla of Wally West’s return to the regular DCU, he’s been stuck in Titans with a less-than-enthralling storyline and has rarely appeared with Barry. So the holiday story is quite welcome.

Ray: On the opposite end of the spectrum is Priest and Grummett’s Deathstroke holiday story. Of all the characters you wouldn’t expect a heartwarming holiday tale from, it’s Deathstroke. And…we don’t get one! Instead, it’s a flashback tale taking place when Deathstroke was still semi-happily married. He’s currently skipping out on Christmas with his wife and sons to hold a guy in a Santa suit hostage with Wintergreen and get ahold of a stolen nuclear trigger. It’s the most hilariously dysfunctional story of the volume, and yet the perfect Deathstroke Christmas tale – complete with some great action, because nothing says Christmas like car chases and shoot-outs.

Corrina: It’s sort of like the superhero version of a Married With Children Christmas if the mom and dad were contract killers. The story manages to be hilarious without ever making any of these characters (save maybe young Joe or Wintergreen) warm and fuzzy. Comics needs more Priest stories of all kinds.

Ray: Dan Didio and Matthew Clark tell the oddest story of the volume, set in the distant future of the Atomic Knights. A classic story of opening one’s hearts to neighbors at the holiday, dressed up in post-apocalyptic retro sci-fi, this is the story of a clash between Atomic Knight Gardener and the corrupt Councilman Updooley. The latter wants to start a war with the Trefoils, peaceful plant-like beings that were previously exiled from the Knights’ kingdom along with a Knight who sided with them. The Trefoils are advancing on the gates, and Updooley assumes it’s an attack. The truth, of course, is anything but and provides the most surreal scenes of the issue. Somehow, Didio is most at home with these weird Kirby concepts.

Corrina: It’s a nice message of love and acceptance but lacks some of the emotion of the other tales.

Ray: Shae Fontana and Matthew Clark take on the Teen Titans, as Starfire observes the traditions of the holiday in the middle of battling against an army of shadow monsters. However, when the threat dissipates, Starfire finds herself alone – just in time to save a man from a supernaturally inspired suicide. Equal parts horror story and tribute to the works of Dickens, this is a compelling tale that drives home how the Titans are a family in their own right. I still have a hard time getting past the fact that Starfire really doesn’t belong on this team, but this is probably the best use of her since this roster was launched. Would not mind Fontana taking over the TT book in the future at all.

Corrina: The Starfire here is more reflective and less off-kilter than in her solo series but it’s still recognizably Starfire and gives her a more mature (grown-up) feel than any comic story in, well, decades, I believe. I love the imaginative use of the Ghost of Christmas Past as well.

Ray: Scott Bryan Wilson and Nic Klein’s Swamp Thing story is maybe the oddest theme for a holiday tale ever – nuclear annihilation and insanity. As a space station full of astronauts watches Earth push towards nuclear war below them and grapple with the idea that they might soon be the last humans left alive, one scientist starts to go insane – only to be pulled back from the brink when the mistletoe he brought on board suddenly comes to life. Nic Klein’s art is brilliant, and the story is alternately surreal and creepy and genuinely inspiring.

Corrina: Swamp Thing in space should never work. But it does because, oh, heck, it does.

Ray: Reuniting the team behind the iconic Wonder Woman run, “Solstice” brings Greg Rucka and Bilquis Evely to tell a story of how Batman and Wonder Woman help people during the holiday – with Batman operating in the dark and Wonder Woman in the light. The two characters don’t meet until the end, and there’s no central conflict, so it’s not the meatiest story in this volume, but the narration is strong and the art is gorgeous. It’s a good teaser for the upcoming Batman/Wonder Woman miniseries by Liam Sharp, showing how these two heroes differ and yet work towards the same goal.

Corrina: This is the second split-screen narrative Batman has this week, with the other being in the regular Batman issue. It’s an excellent narrative device to contrast the two heroes and show what they have in common as well.

Ray: The volume wraps up with the second part of Lemire’s framing story, where Clark gets his confidence back and heads out into the night, only to try to give a little bit of his own inner light to Constantine. It goes about as well as you’d expect, but Superman doesn’t give up easily, and it leads to the funniest moment of the issue. And then, as a little bonus, there’s the classic Batman story “The Silent Night of the Batman”. All in all, it’s just as strong a package as last year’s holiday special – a little more bizarre in places, but not a weak story in the bunch.

Corrina: Hahaha Superman. I think John has a crush on you. As for the classic Batman story? Ah, hey, these were the kind of tales that made me love DC Holiday Specials in the first place.

Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes. 

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