Quick Rating: Good
A sampling of Image’s top creators with tales for the holidays.
Writers: Erik Larsen, Scott Kurtz, Eric Stephenson, Mark Smith, Chris Giarrusso, B. Clayton Moore, Jim Valentino, Benito Cereno, Brian Haberlin, Joe Casey, Jay Faerber, Glen Brunswick, Chris Eliopoulos, Robert Kirkman
Art: Erik Larsen, Scott Kurtz, Tim Seeley, Sunder Raj, Steve Seeley, Dan Hipp, Chris Giarrusso, Shawn Crystal, Greg Thompson, Jason Latour, Jim Valentino, John Wycough, Nate Bellegarde, Brian Haberlin, Gabe Bridwell, Cully Hamner, Tom Scioli, Richard Starkings, Jose Ladronn, Chris Eliopoulos, Charlie Adlard
Colors: Bob Pedroza, Jacob Blaake, Nick Filardi, Gabe Bridwell, Brett Evans
Letters: Jim Keplinger, Jimmy Betancourt, Cliff Rathburn, Ray Dillon
Cover Art: Frank Cho
Publisher: Image Comics
I’m a big fan of big, fat Christmas specials, and I love when a comic book company puts together a jam issue of their top creators and characters in such a book. Like any anthology, of course, the final products vary in quality, but overall the 96-page monster Image Holiday Special 2005 was a very satisfying book.
Most of my favorite Image titles were represented well. Scott Kurtz provided a great PVP story about the gang getting invited to the Image Christmas party – and gave us a chance to see the gang in color for once. Chris Giarrusso’s G-Man dug in his heels to combat the menace of the Christmas Tree of Doom (unaware that his foe has a softer side). Jim Valentino gave us a ShadowHawk tale about the young superhero and his father facing their second Christmas without the woman of their lives, the lost wife and mother. Jay Faerber’s Noble Causes provides a very amusing spotlight on the outcast of the book, Frost, who finds time to make a new friend. The Gray Area returns with a story that… well… doesn’t really have anything to do with Christmas, it just happens to take place on Christmas. (I’m not big on such stories – c’mon, if you’re in a Holiday special, give me some cheer.) Chris Eliopoulous’s Buddy Henson gives us a great, funny tale of the boy secret agent, and Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard give us a Walking Dead tale that shows us the first Christmas in a world overrun with zombies.
Other comics are also represented – The Amazing Joy Buzzards, Spawn, Mr. Glum and a Godland story that, frankly, kinda turned me off on the concept of the book.(Santa puffing on a hookah? That just doesn’t work for me.)
Finally, Eric Stephenson, Tim Seeley, Sunder Raj and Steve Seeley sprinkle the book with “Scenes From a Bar on Christmas Eve,” a series of one-pagers that show… well… scenes from a bar. The artwork here specifically is wonderful, and the stories are nice, good little snippets that satisfy quite well.
Your own enjoyment of this issue will vary, of course, depending on how big a fan you are of the creators and comics represented, but overall, I think it’s a pretty good collection. It’s a shame they didn’t do it again this year.
Quick Rating: Great
A victim of Element Lad’s rampage has come to take his revenge, and only one Legionnaire has what they want.
Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Pencils: Chris Batista
Inks: Chip Wallace & Jay Leisten
Colors: Sno Cone
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Stephen Wacker
Cover Art: Eric Wight
Publisher: DC Comics
Legion continues to be one of the best comics you’re not reading month after month – although if you haven’t been reading this isn’t a great place to jump on. Back in the Legion Worlds miniseries, the hero named Element Lad lost his mind and nearly laid waste to an entire universe. Founding member Live Wire seemingly gave his life to defeat his former teammate, but was recently reborn in Element Lad’s body. This issue, an army of survivors of Element Lad’s rampage come to the Legion’s territory, giving a good thrashing to Mon-El in the process. Since he’s potentially more powerful than Superboy, this is something that makes our heroes kind of nervous.
Ever since his return, Live Wire as been forced to sit on the sidelines. He finally gets a spotlight this issue, showing what makes him a real hero in the faces of some very heavy odds. The rest of the team isn’t ignored either – Kid Quantum and Superboy each get many good moments… just none as good as Live Wire.
Chris Batista is one of the finest artists in Legion history. He is a fantastic artist, giving each character distinctive faces so that even without their trademark costumes you could pick each of them out easily. He does the costumes well, though, as well as the costumes of our villains. He has to share credit with our ink and color team, though, as Live Wire’s crystalline form looks really impressive – cold, crystalline but human all at the same time.
I love this title, month in and month out. The Legion is one of the longest-running teams in comics, and if you can’t tell why by reading this issue, you just aren’t paying attention.
Spider-Man: Blue (Marvel Comics)
by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale have built a well-deserved reputation as chroniclers of early chapters in the lives of iconic superheroes. Their two Batman volumes, The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, are mystery masterworks. Superman For All Seasons was so good that Loeb got hired to write for the Smallville TV show.
Their work for Marvel hasn’t been as eye-popping, though. Daredevil: Yellow was pretty good, but for the most part, Spider-Man: Blue left me stale, and I think I know why. Gwen Stacy.
So many of todays comic pros grew up in the days when Gwen Stacy was the it girl, Spider-Mans’s girlfriend, the woman he was meant to be with. Then, in a stunning act for comics of the 1970s, she was killed off. As those readers became the creators, a wave of Gwen nostalgia was kicked into high gear.
Problem is, I’m a child of the 80s, by which time there was a new “it” girl, Mary Jane Watson. She was the love of Spider-Man’s life. She was the woman he wound up marrying. But over and over again, the writers at Marvel seem to keep churning out these long, aching love letters to Gwen Stacy. I can appreciate her place as a character and as an important chapter in Spider-Man’s history, but she’s not a character I’ve ever really felt for.
Out of all these love letters, Spider-Man: Blue is probably the best done. It’s written well and Sale’s artwork, as always, is beautiful. Any one of the covers in this series has poster potential. But for all that, it’s just not for me. Gwen Stacy fans, this one is for you. As for the rest of us, I’m waiting for the days when Spidey fans who grew up with Mary Jane start writing the stories.
(2010 note: Boy. Freaking. AM I.)
Quick Rating: Good
Title: Holiday Rush and other stories
It’s another Christmas with Archie and the gang!
Writer: Mike Pellowski & others
Pencils: Tim Kennedy & others
Inks: Rich Koslowski & others
Colors: Barry Grossman & others
Letters: Jack Morelli & others
Editor: Nelson Ribeiro & Victor Gorelick
Cover Art: Fernando Ruiz & Jon D’Agostino
Publisher: Archie Comics
It’s the 11th annual edition of Archie’s Holiday Fun Digest, and this year’s package gives us the usual satisfying mixture of new treats and reprinted fare. It’s hard to say for sure (especially since Archie rarely prints credits past the first story in a digest for some reason), but this year it looks like the new content greatly outweighs the reprinted material, which is something even longtime Archie fans will be able to appreciate.
“Holiday Rush,” by Pellowski, Kennedy and Koslowski, is the lead story this year. Betty and Veronica take a quick tour of Riverdale in December, commenting on the meaning of Christmas and the commercialization of it. This short lead is actually one of the weakest stories in the book – high on commentary, low on plot. Fortunately, some of the stuff that comes up later makes up for it. The two-part “Santa’s Helper,” for instance, is a fun little story about Archie getting a job as a shopping mall Santa Claus. The job doesn’t go as planned, though, and the kids reject his rendition of Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick. But some words of advice from an old hand at the game may turn things around. The “twist” ending is as predictable as Christmas stories come, but it’s still cute and the sort of thing you frankly want to see from Archie.
“Decoration Daze” by Pellowski and Ruiz is next, and one of the more interesting stories in the volume. The school board declares “holiday decorations” inappropriate, and against his wishes, Mr. Weatherbee has to order them taken down. Archie and the gang find a clever way out of the dilemma. It’s a clever riff on the rampant political correctness that seems to grip too many people this time of year, and a bit unusual for an Archie comic. It’s slightly ironic, then, that at no point in this story about political correctness does anyone use the word “Christmas.” Even when Reggie shows up wearing a Christmas tree shirt, that word never slips out, making it even more conspicuous by its absence. Then again, maybe that was the point.
There are a lot more stories in this book, including the return of Sugar Plum the Fairy and Jingles the Brownie, stories about trying to get Jughead in the Christmas spirit, the trials of trying to find a gift for Reggie, a nice tale putting Veronica in her place, and a rare Moose/Chuck co-starring story in which they attempt to find Christmas presents for their respective girlfriends.
There’s a lot of fun stuff in here, and at $2.49 for 96 pages of comics, there’s still nothing on the rack that gives you more for your money than an Archie digest. This would be the perfect comic for Santa to slip inside the little ones’ stockings on Christmas morning.
Wondering what Somebody’s First Comic Book is all about? The explanation is on this page!
TITLE: Meeting Their Maker
Writer: Doug Moench
Penciller: Chris Hunter
Inks: John Lowe
Colors: Tom Luth
Letters: Dan Nakrosis
Editor: Kevin Dooley
Publisher: DC Comics
PRIOR KNOWLEDGE: Nothing at all – the cover says “grand finale,” though, so I’m going to assume this is the last part of the story. Probably not the best choice for the first comic book I’ve ever read, but whatevs…
IMPRESSIONS: This comic seems to be about a dorky guy, his hot girlfriend, and a group of superhero genies that are supposed to help him repel some sort of alien invasion. That’s the weirdest sentence anybody in history has ever written.
The story is pretty straightforward: we’ve got your good guys, we’ve got your bad guys, we’ve got the hero and the girl trying to decide what to do about their relationship. Despite the fact that this is the last issue, I didn’t really have any trouble following it, telling the players from one another, or figuring out what was going on. The problem is, even though the story is easy to follow, it’s still pretty good. Genie superheroes? Who evidently have assorted superpowers and don’t seem to have much to do with wishes? And the main character is really more of a blank slate than a would-be hero.
If the point of this is to find a comic book that a person can understand, this issue succeeds. If the point is to make me want to read another issue, it fails. So I’ll split the difference on the grade, and give it a C+. I got it. I just don’t really need any more. They didn’t make other issues with these guys, did they?
The Walking Dead #46 (Image Comics)
By Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard
Even on The Walking Dead it’s hard to find a comic that startles you to such a degree that you’re literally left with your jaw hanging open and your eyes bugging out. The Governor’s forces are lining up, preparing for their assault on the prison where our heroes are holed up. Many of them are preparing for battle, others are reaching out for some human comfort in what may be their final moments. In the enemy camp, Tyrese is being held captive, and one of the thugs reports the death of another one of “our” guys. This is a comic where you’ve come to expect that anything can happen, and because of that what happens in this issue isn’t really all that shocking. But how it happens… now that is a mind-blower. The big scene in this issue is so harsh, so brutal, and so gut-wrenching that even someone who’s been following this story from day one will be horrified, appalled, and absolutely engrossed. This is one of the most engaging chapters of The Walking Dead yet.
Quick Rating: Good
Title: Mickey’s Christmas Mix-Up and other stories
Mickey’s quest for the perfect Christmas present for Minnie lands them both in a heap of trouble!
Writers: Pat & Carol McGreal, Stefan Petrucha
Art: Don Gunn, Vicar, Noel Van Horn
Colors: Marie Javins, Egmont, Kneon Transitt, Barry Grossman
Letters: Jon Babcock, Anne Myerly
Cover Art: Giorgio Cavazzano
Publisher: Gemstone Publishing
It’s the last issue of Mickey Mouse and Friends, at least for the foreseeable future, and Gemstone is sending them out with a nice trio of Christmas tales. First is “Mickey’s Christmas Mix-Up,” a reprint from 1945’s Firestone Giveaway. Mickey thinks he’s found the perfect Christmas present for Minnie – until he founds out her Aunt Emma gave her the same thing. Now he’s got to rush to find a substitute by the holiday deadline. Meanwhile, Minne’s Christmas present to herself – an antique rocking chair, brings down a crook that wants a treasure hidden in the furniture. This is a nice enough Mickey/Minnie story, with Goofy poking in at the end to provide some needed comic relief, and it all concludes with a neat little twist at the end.
“The Christmas Eve Caper” is next, a Donald Duck story by Pat and Carol McGreal and Vicar. When Donald realizes his young nephews no longer believe in Santa Claus, he’s ready to go to great lengths to restore their faith – but fears of a Christmas Eve burglar is keeping the city locked down. This is a nice change from most Duck Christmas stories, which often involve the boys trying to teach Donald a lesson, or Donald and the nephews learning from each other. This time it’s clearly the boys who need a dose of holiday spirit, and it’s up to Donald to supply it.
“The Quest For Quasar,” by Stefan Petrucha and Noel Van Horn wraps up the issue. Mickey’s nephews, Morty and Ferdie, are wishing for nothing more than a new “Quasar” action figure this Christmas, but supplies are limited, and Mickey has to rush out into a crazed mob of eager parents and do battle with a crooked toy store owner to give the boys the Christmas they want. This story is a nice little parody, both of the “hot toy” mentality and of the sort of unscrupulous speculators who hoard toys and ruin the holidays.
This issue was a lot of good Disney fun, and certainly worth your time.