Superhero Christmas stories are pretty much a subgenre unto themselves. There is a long tradition for this type of story, going almost as far back as the creation of Superman. Some of them are awful, most are passable, a few ascend to classic status. The golden age Sandman helping a department store Santa Claus working for the mob, Batman singing Christmas carols with the Gotham police, the Legion of Super-Heroes hunting for the Star of Bethlehem, or the Martian Manhunter trying to prove to Impulse that Santa Claus does not exist. All are stories I treasure.
This year, DC released a volume of Christmas stories with the Rebirth label. I can say, right off the bat, that none of the tales in this book give any hints as to how Rebirth might play out, but it does contain stories that feature some of the newer characters introduced since Rebirth began.
So which of the Rebirth Christmas stories will fade into obscurity, and which ones will show up years down the road, reprinted and repackaged in a DC Christmas tales collection? Let’s take a look.
Tim Seeley and Ian Churchill lead things off with a Superman/Batman story, which is really more of a preview of the upcoming Super Sons book. Superman does fight crime in this story, but is far more concerned with trying to find the exact present that his son Jon wants for Christmas, a popular game that is selling out everywhere. The story includes a cameo by a rare Batman villain, Joe Coyne, the one whose debut tale introduced the giant penny from the Batcave. But that’s hardly relevant. Damian scoops Superman on the present, and though he does this out of his usual Damian-assholishness, Superman does not mind at all. He would rather the two boys form a solid friendship. It’s a very strong and effective tale, even sort of heartwarming, and one that I am sure will be reprinted down the road.
The second tale, by Eric Esquival, Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund, suffers in comparison. It really doesn’t help that it once again features Superman and Jon Kent, making it almost impossible not to compare with the story that preceded it. Krypto is also part of the mix as the the three head to the Fortress of Solitude, and Jon finds the perfect present for his dog. It’s not a bad story, but hardly memorable.
There is not a doubt in my mind that the Batman/Detective Chimp team-up, but Heath Corson and Gustavo Duarte, will have a long life in reprints. It’s clever and funny, nicely Christmas themed. There is some very nice art on the tale. I particularly like the minimal but effective staircase that Alfred stands at the top of. Detective Chimp even manages to out-detective Batman in this tale. Fast and fun, good twists and a satisfying conclusion.
On the other side, the Wonder Woman/John Constantine story, by Mariko Tamaki and Matias Bergara, seems to take a very long time to get to its point. There are some good moments along the way, as the two deal with the spirits of women executed as witches, but the payoff is not as funny as it tries to be, certainly not after all the build up.
James Tynion IV and Robbi Rodriguez turn in a great Flash story. Well, a great Rogues story, in which the Flash happens to play the hero. The Trickster and Heat Wave are in the tale, but it really belongs to Captain Cold. It’s simple and straightforward, but all the more effective for it, showing that there is a warm heart in even the coldest opponent.
I have only one problem with the New Superman story in this volume, by Gene Luen Yang and Andrea Mutti. It’s too short. We briefly get to see the Chinese celebration of their ancestors as the nation’s equivalent to Christmas, and meet a new villain for them, Red Orchid, but then it’s done. I really would have enjoyed a few more pages of this one.
I wasn’t too fond of the Batwoman story. A lot of that has to do with the art, which makes Kate Kane look a little to Barbie doll for my tastes. It does improve a bit once she gets into costume, but aside from a couple of pages, this really doesn’t feel like a Batwoman tale. I did enjoy the dialogue about relating the wars of the Maccabees as a film pitch, but that came too late to change my feelings on this piece.
The Titans story, by James Asmus, Reilly Brown and Scott Hanna, is a real delight. The story does not contain the entire line-up. Nightwing, Donna Troy, Garth, Arsenal and Omen comprise the cast for this one, leaving Wally West out. Considering how he has overwhelmed their own book so far, I was not displeased at his absence. The story features two villains, Dong Dong Daddy, and Honeybun, who are both loosely based on villains the team fought back in the 1960s. A fast, fun and furious tale, this is another one I expect to see reprinted in years to come.
The Batgirl/Nightwing piece is also very short, and it was a wise move by Bill Freiberger and Thomas Pitilli to open it as a continuation of the Titans tale. There isn’t much to it, but it does confirm that the long time romance between Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon is part of the new reality.
The last story belongs to Steve Orlando, Vita Ayala, V. Ken Marion and Mick Gray, and deal with Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz, the Green Lanterns. While I really like the art on this one, and the conception isn’t bad, the story really did not grab me. Simon joins Jessica as her family celebrates Three Kings Day, and then three alien “kings” show up to submit the two Green Lanterns to challenges, in which they must prove themselves. It’s all well and good, but it feels like I have read this again and again with this pair, always needing to prove their worth as Green Lanterns, to themselves and others.
Now, I said that was the final story in the issue, and that’s true, but I did save the best for last. The Harley Quinn framing sequence, of a huge party for the various DC characters, is funny and wild, very creative, and is what puts this volume over the top as a truly great Christmas special. Written by Paul Dini, with art by Elsa Charetier, my favourite moments include Black Canary and Zatanna’s performance of the Twelve Days of Christmas, Flash and his villains carolling around the piano, and Menor-antlers.