By Andy Frisk
Dec 11, 2010 - 23:46
Desire of The Endless from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman grants an aging satyr one last spring fling midst the depth of winter before succumbing to the winter of his life. John Constantine delivers a heart felt holiday message from beyond the grave to a young widow and battles a plague demon summoned on Christmas Day with a baby Jesus statue stolen from a nativity scene. Death, also of The Endless, meditates upon life during a stroll through the winter woods. Cain, Able, and Merv from The Dreaming share (to the extent that their natures allow) a holiday tradition, and Tefe, daughter of the Swamp Thing and his human love Abigail helps a distraught father find a sort of peace…and these are just some of the Christmas and winter tales collected in Vertigo Resurrected: Winter’s Edge. For those of you not in the know, Vertigo is one of the best imprint publishing lines in operation right now in the world of mainstream sequential art. Since the early 1990s, DC Comics has banded together its macabre, horror, mature reader, controversial, and quite simply, their most intelligent books under the banner of the Vertigo imprint. A holiday offering from such a line of publications might seem a bit oxymoronic, but as the talented writers and their various Vertigo penned series demonstrate, nearly anything goes within this imprint, and nearly everything works. Winter’s Edge, originally published over the course of three years as seasonal specials, is a collection of holiday and winter tales for the more intelligent and discerning reader, that are just simply too interesting and good to go uncollected. They are uncollected no longer.
Most of the tales are easily accessible to the uninitiated reader with only the most rudimentary knowledge of their parent Vertigo series needed, but there are a few that even I, a seasoned Vertigo reader, had either never heard of or never read much of. The tale involving Tim Hunter from The Books of Magic (a series about a young boy with glasses who is destined to be the most powerful mage in world—a series that many argue J.K. Rowling stole her idea for the Harry Potter series from—even though Tim Hunter’s creator Neil Gaiman has graciously argued that she didn’t), is esoteric enough that even though the reader can figure out what’s going on, it obviously takes place mid plot of the original The Books of Magic series. Why Tim Hunter is hiding out disguised as a girl (another plot very similar to the disguising of Potter in The Deathly Hallows) isn’t explained. The tale did jog fond memories of the late Books of Magic series and make me want to go back and re-read it in full. Perhaps the time is right for Tim Hunter as a character to experience a resurrection of his own. Another tale titled “Stories,” which is fully self contained but involves an even lesser known Vertigo character and title, The Minx, and is written by Peter Milligan (Hellblazer, Greek Street) is oddly much more accessible than the Tim Hunter tale. It involves a young Jewish man and his quest to garner the cash he needs from his grandmother to settle some bad debts with some very bad people and is steeped in holiday time magic. The character of The Minx herself is, if not of little consequence to the tale, only peripherally engaged in it.
The two absolute best holiday tales collected in the series star the longest running Vertigo title’s anti-hero, John Constantine. “Another Bloody Christmas,” written and illustrated by Dave Gibbons and presented in prose form with scant illustration is classic Constantine. Constantine has to head out on Christmas Day, not because he is visiting family or engaging in any Yuletide festivities, but because he’s out of his favorite cigarettes. While trudging through the snow he catches a whiff of Brimstone…someone’s been tinkering with supernatural forces and accidentally raised a plague demon. Constantine, being the good soul that he is, tracks down and destroys the demon with the help of a baby Jesus he borrows from a nativity scene. It seems that fake baby Jesus statues work on demons kinda like crosses work on classic vampires. Gibbons captures Constantine’s attitude and Brit accent magnificently, and his illustrations aren’t too shabby either. The other Constantine tale, and hands down the best tale collected in the volume, is “Tell Me.” Not only is it a touching Christmas ghost story, it’s an example of the type of tale that Vertigo is renowned for. It’s the story of two young lovers who meet while working at record company. They’re opposites, but opposites attract. The young couple marries, but when the young man is diagnosed with, and ends up succumbing to, brain cancer, their time together comes to an end. Alone, the young widow is forced to face her first Christmas without her husband, but he is still very much alive in spirit, literally. Constantine, who’s hiding out in a bar to get away from the holiday craziness in his girlfriend’s family’s home, hears the tale of the young lovers from a mysterious soul at the bar, and ends up delivering one final holiday greeting to the young widow that brings her to bittersweet tears of joy… Again, this is classic Constantine. He’s a mage who ends up engaging in the sprit world around him sometimes unwittingly, but always poignantly. He delivers a message to the young widow from her deceased husband…”don’t feel bad.”
The way that writer Paul Jenkins lays out the story, forcing the reader to get lost in the reality and heartache of the young lovers’ story is powerfully done. One doesn’t become aware of what is happening or with whom Constantine is conversing with until near the end of the narrative. Jenkins takes a very realistic story and adds a slight, yet magical, touch of the supernatural to it and ends up delivering a tale that even the coldest or most cynical anti-holiday elitist can appreciate. The story is nothing new, popular and touching Christmas ghost stories have been around since at least the 19th century when Dickens penned A Christmas Carol, but Jenkins prose and Paul Pope’s pencils and layouts communicate this familiar type of Christmas ghost story both playfully and solemnly as only a sequential art story can.
So after all, a Vertigo Christmas/winter collection of magical tales of ghosts and fantastical creatures isn’t necessarily oxymoronic. The Christmas/winter/solstice/Hanukah/whatever you celebrate time of year is one full of magic and magical tales. For a line of comic books that deal with magical themes, it seems that the holiday season and tales of the sort that Vertigo publishes were made to go hand in hand. The tales in Winter’s Edge testify to the truth of this match made in the spirit of winter wonder.
Rating: 9 /10