Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Festive Fables

DC Holiday Special 2017 (DC, February 2018, $9.99)
Thank you, DC, for publishing this. Once major comics publishers stopped running backup stories (or tryout books) as a matter of course, annuals and one shots like this used to be the most effective tryout opportunities we had for new artists and writers looking to break into the Big Two. Now that even annuals and one shots are few and far between, books like this are a surprise. And this one—despite the mixed quality occasionally resulting from tryout opportunities—is solid and impressive.

Framed by a bookend piece written by Jeff Lemire and drawn by Giuseppi Camuncoli—and featuring John Constantine and Superman, of all people—this holiday special includes nine "festive fables" featuring a mix of popular and promising characters, including Batman, Green Arrow and Black Canary, Sgt. Rock, the Flash, Deathstroke, the Atomic Knights, the Teen Titans, Swamp Thing, Wonder Woman and Batman. The book also includes a reprint of "The Silent Night of the Batman," pairing Neal Adams and Dick Giordano artistically from Batman #219 in February 1970.

The special also includes a mix of well-known and less-established creators, as well—which helps result in the even-balanced context of the stories. Among the highlights of the issue are the moody Batman story written by Denny O'Neil and drawn by Steve Epting; the amazing, largely muted-colored Sgt. Rock piece offered by Tom King and Francesco Francavilla (by far the best thing in the special—and perhaps a sign that the time has come for a Sgt. Rock return); and the Atomic Knights story from Dan DiDio and Matthew Clark (the Knights continue to intrigue and impress me; I wonder how well they do with other readers?).

Two pieces really surprised me. Joshua Williamson and Neil Googe's Flash item, while not sporting the kind of artwork I am usually drawn to, really affected me emotionally. And the Deathstroke item by Priest and Tom Grummett suggests that perhaps DC should just drop the silly costume and retool Deathstroke as a Quarry-like hit man or gun for hire.

Well done, DC. Thank you for continuing to give the gift of your comics. May 2018 bring only the best and brightest.

Availability: You can buy this issue online. The Batman reprint was also collected in Batman: Illustrated by Neal Adams Vol. 2.

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