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Archie’s Classic Christmas Stories Vol. 1

December 24, 2011 Leave a comment

December 23, 2011

Compilation Editor: Paul Castiglia
Publisher:
Archie Comics

Archie Comics routinely reprints their classic stories in their digest format, but it’s nice to see that they give some of their stories a more permanent home as well. This paperback from 2002 collects several Christmas stories from over the years. Unfortunately, there are no credits provided, which isn’t that big a surprise as a lot of those old stories never ran with credits at all.

Along the way se wee a lot of the classic Archie tropes – his clashes with Mr. Lodge as he tries to get in good with his girlfriend’s family, for example. We see Archie and Reggie get in trouble trying to play Santa Claus, and we even see the first two appearances of Jingles, one of Santa’s helpers who has become an almost-annual visitor to Riverdale over the years.

Some of the stories do tend to repeat themselves, however. There are no less than three stories about Reggie trying to use the Christmas season as an excuse to make time with Big Moose’s girl, Midge, and two of those are focused on Moose’s lack of understanding of how Mistletoe works. It wasn’t such a big deal when the comics were originally produces, I suppose, coming out years apart from one another. Seeing them in the same collection does kind of drive home the idea that Archie has a history of recycling ideas. Fortunately, they’ve gotten a lot better about that in recent years, doing some new things and bringing in new characters and situations to spice up life in Riverdale. I hear tell there’s a new Archie Christmas paperback available this year. I haven’t been able to find a copy yet, but if I can get one by next Christmas, I’ll be sure to share my thoughts on that one with you.

Rating: 8/10

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Marvel Treasury Edition #8

December 24, 2011 Leave a comment

December 23, 2011

This is one of two “Giant Superhero Holiday Grab-Bag” editions of the Marvel Treasury series. Both issues were full of reprints wrapped in a Christmas cover, but at least some of the interior content was holiday-related. I was fortunate enough to snag them both a few weeks ago, so let’s take a look at them, shall we?

Title: Twas the Night Before Christmas (Reprinted from Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #10)

Writer: Gary Friedrich
Pencils:
Frank Springer
Inks:
Johnny Craig
Letterer:
Artie Simek
Editor:
Stan Lee
Publisher:
Marvel Comics

On Christmas Eve, Nick Fury is summoned to stop the Hate-Monger, a nasty Nazi remnant who has a plan to cleanse the Earth of “inferior” races, unless Nick can stop him. Fury being very much a World War II holdover himself, this sort of story was par for the course for him at this time period. The story itself was fine, but I wasn’t terribly impressed with Gary Friedrich’s script – clunky dialogue like “Save the sobs, sister! I ain’t dead yet!” permeate the story. The artwork isn’t the best either – odd poses and weak faces throughout. But at least this was a Christmas story… not the case with the next one.

Title: Spider-Man Goes Mad (Reprinted from Amazing Spider-Man #24)

Writer: Stan Lee
Art:
Steve Ditko
Letterer:
Sam Rosen
Publisher:
Marvel Comics

In this early Spider-Man tale, J. Jonah Jameson gets the idea to start running anti-Spider-Man testimony from the man on the street, thus removing himself from the equation and making his paper’s bias against the webslinger seem more legitimate. (It just goes to show you the media hasn’t really changed that much in the last 45 years.) When the stories appear, a psychiatrist offers Jameson a medical analysis that says Spider-Man is going mad… and to make matters worse, Spidey starts to believe it. Nice, classic tale from the Lee/Ditko era, fun to read, if not one of the greatest.

Title: Jingle Bombs (Reprinted from Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #7)

Writer: Steve Englehart
Art:
George Tuska & Billy Graham
Letterer:
John Costanza
Colors:
David Hunt
Editor:
Roy Thomas
Publisher:
Marvel Comics

Set in the days before he partnered up with Iron Fist, on Christmas Eve Luke cage runs into a trio of odd types with a pretty violent vision of Christmas. When Cage stands up to each of them, he discovers a different kind of villain is really behind the whole thing. The story is pretty good here – it’s a different kind of story, not just another Christmas Carol redux, as it seemed it would be. As he often did, though, Steve Englehart got a little preachy with the message of the story. Overall, though, it wasn’t bad, and it was a decent fit for Cage.

Title: Heaven is a Very Small Place (Reprinted from Incredible Hulk #147)

Writer: Roy Thomas
Art:
Herb Trimpe
Inks:
John Severin
Letterer:
Sam Rosen
Editor:
Stan Lee
Publisher:
Marvel Comics

This story, on the other hand, is just… weird. On one of his many self-imposed exiles in an effort to be just left alone, the Hulk sees a strange little town appear out of the ether. At first, it seems like a paradise, like a place where he could finally be treated like everyone else, but as he continues his journey through the town, things turn out to not be what they seem. It sounds like the set-up for a Christmas story but it isn’t, it’s just plain confusing. Some very nice Herb Trimpe artwork helps, but this is definitely not one of the best efforts from the great Roy Thomas.

Title: Eternity! Eternity! (Reprinted from Doctor Strange #180)

Writer: Roy Thomas
Art:
Gene Colan
Inks:
Tom Palmer
Letterer:
Sam Rosen
Editor:
Stan Lee
Publisher:
Marvel Comics

This is a much better Thomas story. On New Year’s Eve, Stephen Strange has a strange vision of Eternity, embodiment of the universe, locked in battle against the maniacal entity called Nightmare. He shrugs it off and tries to ring in the new year with Clea, but it soon becomes apparent that his dream was much more than that. It’s a good story with great art, but it ends on a cliffhanger. Considering the stories in this book that had nothing to do with the holidays, one really has to wonder why Marvel didn’t cut those and finish this story.

Overall it’s not a bad little collection, but it could have been better.

Rating: 7/10

Sensational She-Hulk #8

December 23, 2011 Leave a comment

December 17, 2011

Title: The World’s Greatest Detective

Writer: John Bryne
Pencils:
John Byrne
Inks:
Bob Wiacek
Colorist:
Glynis Oliver
Letterer:
Jim Novak
Cover Artist:
John Byrne
Editor:
Bobbie Chase
Publisher:
Marvel Comics

In his run on Sensational She-Hulk, writer/artist John Byrne did a wonderfully funny, irreverent version of the character that fully was aware of the fact that she was in a comic book. She’d frequently converse with the creative team, use the conventions of the art form to her advantage, and otherwise have way more fun than most mainstream comics think they’re allowed to have these days. This early issue actually came out in the summer, but it’s got a distinct Christmasy tinge to it.

She-Hulk, alias prosecuting attorney Jennifer Walkers when she’s not busy saving the world, is called upon to handle the case against a man who is accused of seven murders. Although everybody – even his public defender – believes him to be guilty, there’s no concrete evidence of his guilt. Jennifer gets a call from a tiny elf of a man who calls himself Nick St. Christopher – the world’s greatest detective – who believes he can help her on the case.

Although the story plays a little coy with Nick’s true identity, if you haven’t figured it out simply by the picture of him on the cover, something is seriously wrong with you. Byrne follows the two of them with a trail of evidence just in case you missed it – Nick leaving snow in his wake, entering a building via the chimney, and informing Jen that he always knows who has been naughty and nice among them. The book, as it always was at this time period, was really funny, but also managed to balance itself against the relatively serious moments of Jennifer working as a prosecutor. These elements combined to make a unique kind of comic book that I loved back then and just wish still existed today.

On a side-note, the book includes a scene where Nick gives Jen a gift and warns her not to open it until Christmas. Byrne clearly was setting something up here, but he left the book with the next issue. Fortunately for us all, he returned to it a few years later, and in issue #36 he finally picked up on this thread. I’ve got to find a copy of that one and add it to the ol’ Christmas review pile.

Rating: 8/10

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #12

December 23, 2011 Leave a comment

December 23, 2009

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #12 (DC Comics/Johnny DC)
By Landry Q. Walker & Eric Jones

Batman is looking forward to a nice, relaxing Christmas of busting the Calendar Man in comission of his latest goofy plot, but the destruction of the world has a way of ruining a hero’s yuletide plans. Batman is whisked away from Earth to Rann where he has to join forces with Adam Strange to save not just Earth, but the entire universe from a mad Psion. Walker and Jones have, as usual, put together a highly entertaining comic. The story and art are sharp, they’ve got some of the most entertaining sound effects I’ve ever seen, and the climax of the story is rather surprising. They manage to work in a rather unusual Christmas twist that works pretty well in the context of the “Brave and the Bold” universe. This issue was an awful lot of fun.
Rating: 8/10

Gift of the Magi HC

December 22, 2011 Leave a comment

December 5, 2009

The Gift of the Magi (HarperCollins/It Books)
By O. Henry & Joel Priddy

The O. Henry classic is adapted into a graphic novel by Joel Priddy. The story, which has been adapted or lampooned more than any Christmas tale outside of A Christmas Carol itself, features a young woman with long, luxurious hair, who decides to sell it to buy a Christmas gift for her husband. Pretty much everyone knows the twist at the end of this story (it’s been done in every TV show this side of Sesame Street), but this is a wonderfully faithful retelling. Priddy uses the text of the short story almost verbatim, basically just illustrating O. Henry‘s words. His artwork, while slightly cartoonish, is a perfect fit for the story. The only possible knock against this book is that so much of it is made up of full-page panels (any of them with very few or no words at all) that it’s a very fast read. It’s a short story, after all, and there isn’t much he could have done that wouldn’t have amounted to needless padding. If you’ve got a yen for some really original Christmas graphic novels this year, this is a good one.
Rating: 8/10

Action Comics (1938 Series) #517

December 21, 2011 Leave a comment

December 17, 2011

Title: The War For Peace

Writer: Gerry Conway
Pencils:
Curt Swan
Inks:
Dave Hunt
Colorist:
Gene D’Angelo
Letterer:
Ben Oda             
Cover Artist:
Ross Andru
Editor:
Julius Schwartz
Publisher:
DC Comics

The cover of Action Comics #517 bills the issue as “the strangest Christmas story ever told.” I don’t know if I’d go quite that far, but it is rather out of the ordinary. Superman is called away from the Daily Planet Christmas Party when he spots an out-of-control alien spacecraft about to plunge into Earth’s atmosphere. Saving the alien, it begs Superman’s help in recovering a strange artifact called the Grayl, an ancient religious totem stolen from his people by another alien race who seeks it for its monetary value. Superman gets caught up in a strange sort of holy war in space.

This is not, to be frank, a subtle comic book. Gerry Conway really lays on the story thick, without shying away from the real-world parallels to the middle east. In the end, it may go a little too far, with any specific Christmas message being lost in an overall plea for Peace on Ea… well, peace in the universe. It’s an okay story, but it strays from its claim of being a Christmas story early and never really comes back.

There’s also a back-up story here that has nothing to do with Christmas, but what the heck, let’s look at it anyway.

Title: Brother Rat

Writer: J.M. DeMatteis
Art:
Don Heck
Colorist:
Jerry Serpe
Letterer:
Ben Oda
Editor:
Len Wein

This second tale stars Aquaman, in a desperate battle against his old foe Black Manta… or so he thought. Turns out this Manta was merely a robot. Aquaman and Mera set off for New York to investigate the corporation that was supposedly behind Manta’s efforts, only to find an even more unexpected foe – Aquaman’s half-brother, the Ocean Master.

The story is perfectly serviceable, but it doesn’t really grab me. Aquaman is a character who gets too much crap from the mainstream, but he’s also one that doesn’t work except with certain writers. As well as he’s being handled right now, this book reminds us that it wasn’t always that way.

All in all, this comic really could have been better.

Rating: 6/10

Uncle Scrooge #360

December 20, 2011 Leave a comment

December 9, 2006

Quick Rating: Very Good
Title: Being Good For Goodness Sake and other stories

Who has the most Christmas spirit: Scrooge or Donald?

Writers: Carlo Chendi, Carl Barks, S. & U. Printz-Pahlson, Donald D. Markstein, Kirsten DeGraaf, Tony Isabella, Kristian Hojsteen, John Clark
Art: Romano Scarpa, Carl Barks, Vicar, Mau Heymans, Daniel Branca
Colors: Scott Rockwell, Rick Keene, Egmont, Kneon Transitt, Marie Javins, Michael Kraiger
Letters: Todd Klein, Willie Schubert, Susie Lee, Jon Babcock, John Clark
Editor: Leonard (John) Clark
Cover Art: Marco Rota & Susan Daigle-Leach
Publisher: Gemstone Publishing

This year’s Christmas offering from Uncle Scrooge is well worth your money – lots of good stories and not a weak one in the bunch.

“Being Good For Goodness Sake” is first. Carlo Chendi and Romano Scarpa give us this lengthy tale, in which the Mayor of Duckburg offers a $10,000 prize to the citizen who demonstrates the most Christmas spirit. Donald and Scrooge, in an effort to win the money, begin dumping as much cheer as they can on a hapless individual they suspect of being one of the secret judges. Meanwhile, the Beagle Boys take advantage of Scrooge’s distraction to break out of prison and plan their latest heist.

Just when you’ve thought they found every way to twist around the Duck Christmas story, Vhendi and Scarpa have given us something utterly unique. Usually you have one or the other ducks trying to teach the others a lesson, but here the ducks are both squarely in the wrong, and even the nefarious Beagle Boys show more true Christmas spirit than they do. The gags are funny, and the twist put on the end of this story is really original – something I never thought I’d see in a Disney comic, but which nonetheless fits the story perfectly.

Carl Barks’ 1963 Gyro Gearloose story, “Snow Duster,” is the next offering in this issue. Gyro has invented a formula that can rapidly evaporate snow from driveways and sidewalks. When the owners of the local football stadium find out about it, they hire him to take a crop duster and clear out the stadium in time for the big game. Gyro’s power turns out only to be good at short-range, though, and it looks as though the experiment – and Gyro’s reputation – will be ruined, until his Little Helper comes up with a plan. This is a rare story in which Helper actually has dialogue (even if Gyro can’t understand him), and it works pretty well, even if it isn’t something I would want to see on a regular basis.

“Return of the Terror” is a sequel to issue #358’s “The Terror From Outer Space,” in which an alien from a planet of criminals was thwarted in his attempt to pull off the heist of a lifetime – stealing Scrooge’s money bin. This time, the insidious Tachyon Farflung returns, planning to ambush Scrooge as he takes advantage of a major light bulb sale. (Yeah, Scrooge is that cheap.) The ducks wind up doing battle with the alien in the midst of a crowded-to-bursting shopping center, which provides plenty of gags throughout the story.

“Trapdoor Trick” is a great one-pager where the nephews take advantage of Scrooge’s security measures to get the best of him. This is quickly followed by “Operation Vesuvius.” Magica DeSpell interrupts the ducks as they’re in the middle of their Christmas shopping, but she gets snagged. Scrooge knows the authorities won’t be able to hold her for long, so he takes advantage of her temporary incapacity to rush to her workshop on Mount Vesuvius to destroy her magical paraphernalia. The resultant battle royale is pretty good, but not quite a home run. Finally there’s another one-page, “Snow Intention to Pay,” in which Scrooge’s shrewd business acumen comes up with a way to get the path to his Money Bin shoveled for free.

Not a bad little collection, with a really good opening story to propel it along.

Rating: 8/10