Certain Poor Shepherds

Gale-force winds have been blowing for days. After the computer-game marathon movie, Hobbit 2 and a long day in sleety Aberdeen hunting for comics, I want to spend the next two days sleeping, eating and watching Basil Rathbone as wartime Sherlock Holmes . Before that, however, today’s post looks at two festive comics, one from the present and the other from the past.

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DC’s Super -Star Holiday Special was a Dollar Comic cover-dated April 1980. That suggest it was on sale in January of that year but probably not in this country. It’s the first all-new Xmas story collection I can remember from DC, all linked by the theme of a Christmas star. It also indicates that the war and “mystery” books were still strong sellers by the end of the 70s. Curiously, aside from Tomb of Dracula, Marvel never really made its mark in either genre. Conversely, Claw, Stalker, Richard Dragon and Karate Kid were mayflies whereas Conan became a phenomenon and Shang Chi outlived the chop socky boom.

The Fawn and The Star: Jonah Hex, hunting down asome varmints, saves a baby deer from being shot. In the process, he recalls a Xmas meal where his Ma and Pa cooked and served his foundling raccoon, Roy. Michael Fleisher’s story of the monstrous bounty hunter is darkly humorous and pencilled by the venerable Dan Adkins.

Wanted: Santa Claus, Dead or Alive: I think this is Frank Miller’s first Batman work and I see a Marshall Rogers influence. Denny O’Neil’s pulpy hands are all over the humdrum script, with the patsy Santa “Boomer Katz” and Batman’s comical reference to his “mental mug file”.

The House of Mystery: an untitled segment by Bob Rozakis and Adkins again/ Some Xmas-themed Twilght Zone tales from horror hosts Cain, Abel, the Three Witches and the robed, aloof Destiny. His Cosmic Log struck me as unintentionally funny.

The Longest Night: a Sgt Rock story by Kanigher and the venerable Dick Ayers, this time. A corny, predictable war tale with religious overtones.

Star Light, Star Bright, Farthest Star I See Tonight: characteristically unwieldy Levitz title but gorgeous Garcia Lopez/Giordano art. Superboy leads a Legion squad on a quest to find the Star of Bethlehem and in the process, they unite three races in survival on an alien world. An in-continuity tale sees the LSH tower being rebuilt after the onslaught of Omega and perhaps the first reference to Colossal Boy’s Jewish faith. I miss the Legion already.

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The comic contains  an ad for Adventure Comics with Ditko’s Starman ( a rather festive fellow but surely an “homage” to Starlin’s Mar-Vell) . The back cover depicts the beginning of the “Human Adventure” with Star Trek the Motion Picture.

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I had already read the Batman and Legion stories in issue 3, volume 2 of the beautifully- painted, b/w mag The Super Heroes back in December 1981.

It strikes me that two modern Marvel writers could revive the LSH: the first is Jason Aaron who assembled a sprawling cast of mutant teens in Wolverine and the X-Men. With mordant humour, he also revived absurd Marvel menaces like Krakoa and Master Pandemonium. Aaron would be at home with the more wacko elements of Legion Lore like Matter-Eater Lad or Evillo.

The other contender is Jonathan Hickman, who in the last year has delivered a widescreen hard sci-fi iteration of the Avengers, featuring LSH parodies, the Shi’ar Imperial Guard. Hickman is not behind the wheel for the festive Avengers Annual 2014 however.

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Kathryn Immonen and David LaFuente present the ungrammatical “The Most Loneliest Time of the Year”, which is charming but somewhat hard to follow. Captain America spends Xmas in Avengers Tower with trespassing teen Zamira, who manifests the “voices in her head” like Bizarro-Avengers. I wish this had actually been the new Muslim Ms. Marvel’s debut.

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If Thor and Hawkeye had been included, this would be the movie line-up- which is as it should be.  MY Avengers, with Jan, Wanda and Vizh, have been defunct since the Busiek/Davis days, about a decade ago. This is an amusing Chistmas comic but wilfully impenetrable to moviegoers.

Hope you have a peaceful Xmas and New Year. See you back here in around a week’s time for a DC Xmas Tabloid; then a Batman 100-page Super-Spec and then, finally, the long-mooted 80 page giants of the 60s.

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Christmas on Infinite Earths

Today’s post continues a short series of Yuletide comic reviews and looks at the DCU Infinite Holiday Special from Feb 2007.

I don’t remember this comic at the time- Xmas 2006 was my second in Cumbernauld Road and about a month away from my interview for teacher training. It was the first Xmas I shopped on Amazon ( for the Cyberman box set of Doctor Who Series Two). It was also ( I think ) the year I spent Hogmanay with Gary and Lucy in the former GPO Building on George Square. Certainly it was after an unhappy time in King Lear, where I was miscast as Kent; and after the MediaWorks debacle ( the alleged mismanagement of that project and others is curently the focus of the 100 Promises Campaign)

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A Hector Hammond Christmas: John Byrne’s classical style is wasted on what is essentially a seedy  Lector/Starling scene between Hammond and Hal Jordan. Derivative and predictable.

Christmas Spirits: A playful Bill Willingham story in which the Shadowpact play a prank on Santa. Phantom Stranger is lampooned quite mercilessly. Good fun but quite an adult tone.

All I Want for Christmas: Joe Kelly ‘s Supergril- the faintly slutty “Britney” version- reunites a family at Xmas. Manipulative but characterful vignette for a young heroine who should have far more status in the DCU

Gift of the Magi: Deeply obscure episode of the Trials of Shazam. The Elders, in human form, foil a human sacrifice in a Hellfire Club-type institution.Tony Bedard makes an inappropriate joke about The 40-year-Old Virgin which says a lot about DC’s demographic.

Father Christmas: Flash- Bart Allen, formerly Impulse and Kid Flash, is snapped out of a Yuletide funk by first Flash, Jay Garrick. A sentimental but effective short.

Lights: A wordy Greg Rucka story about the Jewish faith of lesbian Batwoman. Kate Kane strikes me a flinty, modern reimagining of the 60s/70s Batgirl but she does have presence.

Yes, Tyrone, there is a Santa Claus: Kelley Puckett writes an amusing satire of the early Silver Age World’s Finest. Beginning with a classic, corny Daily Planet set-up, this short concludes with a farcical scene featuring Bat-Santa.

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This is better than the 2010 special featured last week but it still has a rather, snarky adolescent tone.

Coming soon: a DC Xmas Treasury Seventies special

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Bleak Midwinter

Continuing a series of posts on festive comics from yesteryear. Last week, I looked at Marvel’s Xmas offering for 2010. The DCU Holiday Special 2010 is an altogether darker affair.

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Sometimes the Bear: a charming adventure about Xmas miracles starring Howie Post’s caveboy Anthro. Joey Cavalieri draws on Beau Geste for a central gimmick. By far the most satisfying story in the entire collection.

Guiding Light: Jonah Hex avenges the murder of a Jewish boy’s father at the hands of robber twins, Larry and Barry. The use of “bastard”, “sh-” and imagery of prostitution seems weirdly dissonant in a Xmas comic. Seth Albano dedicates his story to John Albano Sr. and Jr. ( the former being Hex’s creator). 

Holy Day: it’s been traditional for Green Lantern to present  heavy-handed stories with a message since the early 70s. John Stewart narrates  an ugly tale about ritual martyrdom and warfare, employing imagery from Manila and Baghdad. Avoid.

Hero of Heroes: poorly-drawn metafiction in which a kid disfigured by fire wins a bravery award at the Thanksgiving Day Parade. A shallow, saccharine tale that fails to earn the pathos of the ending. There’s a leaden joke about Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern vehicle. Superman claims to be no good at speeches for half a page. Terrible.

The Gift: ghost stories at Xmas are a tradition evoking Dickens and MR James. Here, the Crispus Allen goateed Spectre visits retribution on some muggers in Tehran. This bleak tale rather misses the point of the holiday “spirit”, as it were.

Holiday: Brainiac 5 learns the value of taking a break when the Science Police A.I. generates false emergencies. Nice though it is to see the LSH again-after the demise of their own series this year, thanks to bland art and glacial plotting- Abnett and Lanning produce a dull tech story. The 2000AD-style use of “sprock” is overdone and irritating.

This was not a particularly enjoyable read- the Anthro story aside. It accurately captures the flavour of anomie and Goth-gloom I currently associate with DC  but that hardly recommends it. I was surprised arch-miserabilist Psycho Batman was not on hand to lend some grisly Gotham horror. It was a stark contrast to the wit and playfulness of its Marvel contemporary. The only thing in this comic’s favour was the absence of fussy Jim Lee New 52 costume designs.

Next: DCU: Infinite Christmas

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Yule Only Live Twice

Yet again, I serve notice that a series on Batman and Robin stories from the 50s will now commence after Xmas! That’s when I’ll review the last 1oo page “Batman” Super-Spec of the 70s and  kicking off a number of posts looking at 80 page Giants.

Now however, it’s just after midday: I’ve bought a panto ticket and had a mince pie at a feeder primary Xmas Fayre. So, for the next couple of posts, I’m looking at Christmas comic books of yesteryear.

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The first entry is pretty recent actually; the Marvel Holiday Magazine 2010. This big, glossy publication opens with a Bronze Age reprint. It’s “Tis the Season”- the framing sequence from Marvel Treasury 13 (1976). It’s an odd choice, since it’s a series of vignettes designed to introduce reprints we don’t get to read! However, there’s a glimpse of the mainstays of the Avengers in the Shooter/Perez era; the late-70s period when I bought a Marvel a day, more or less.  Real trad “House of Ideas” comfort food comics from Stern, Tuska and Perlin.

“I’ll Be Doom For Xmas” by Scott Lobdell and John Byrne is a parody of “Twas the Night Before Christmas”. It’s witty and charming and hails from What The? 1991.  Cameos for Marvel’s Green Lantern, Quasar and Ditko’s teen hero Speedball seem to speak of a gentler, more innocent time at Marvel.

On the other hand, “GLX-Mas” from 2005, is a series of macabre gags from Dan Slott and a plethora of artists including England’s Paul Grist ( a bleakly ironic tale for Doorman, the nebbish avatar of death). The star is wacky Squirrel Girl but the butt of the joke is Blue Beetle Jaime-parody, Grasshopper, killed off in a couple of pages.  John Byrne’s Great Lakes misfits are  vehicles for superhero satire with a blackly comic tone.

The remainder of the mag is given over to new material: short stories with a holiday theme.

“Rock of Ages” is a Kirby pastiche by Nick Dragotta with a sadly stilted script by Stan the Man. It focuses on the Thing’s Jewish heritage with a broadly comic ( but rather unsophisticated) plot.

“Holiday Heat” , a Marvel Divas story apes Sex and the City and revolves around the festive device of Firestar’s breast cancer. More engaging characters like Black Cat and Hellcat have little to do when skaters at iconic Rockerfeller Plaza are endangered. An all-female creative team does little to lift this  soapy television rip-off.

“Merry Freakin’ Christmas” is a short with Rob Liefeld’s bafflingly-popular Deadpool: the comedy version of Deathstroke. This is a laboured parody of mindless violence which takes a swipe at Rankin Bass tv specials. Whatever they are.

“X-Mas” by Jay Faerber sees Nightcrawler employed quite literally as an elf in a shopping mall and becoming involved in a kidnapping. It’s nice to see the classic All-New X-Men line-up circa 1980 – unfotunately sans Kitty Pryde. The story is however  rather lacklustre.

The mag closes with a two-page gag feature “The Hairy Ho-Ho-Hosts of Hoggoth”: a Top Ten of Marvel’s Greatest Beards. Reaaally reaching for the gag there.

Leaving aside both the unconvincing, soapy melodrama and morbid teen comedy, this is a mildly entertaining collection.

However, it’s not quite Xmassy enough so the next posts will look at DC holiday specials from the last decade…

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