Quarterbin Follies #12: A Christmas Special

DC-HolidayYesterday, if you read it, I reviewed the first four issues of Generation X, Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo’s cultural superhero opus. The fourth issue – and the last before the ‘Age of Apocalypse’ event – was Christmas themed, but not a very good Christmas story. Well, last week, when Chris announced on Facebook that we IC folk were taking a pre-Christmas Vacation, he promised some seasonal fun for this week-of. After writing that review, it just didn’t feel “Christmas” enough, especially for someone who has been muttering “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Good King Wenceslas” for two weeks.

Fear not, beleaguered holiday travelers of the information super highway. My rediscovered pile-o’-comics offers a Christmas respite for each of us. And so, to steal some lines from Dylan Thomas, I plunge my hands into the snow, and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into those warm stacks of slowly moldering papers and Holiday memories that rest in arm chairs next to space heaters and wood burning stoves, and out comes the DC Universe Holiday Bash II.

It was in the late 1990s, in the few years before the turning of the century and millennium, and in Western Nebraska, a younger, less hairy Rhys was trying to learn how to deal with this thing called adulthood. I had left college and left the big city – where my parents both lived – and struck out on my own. Anyone who knows anything about that awkward time of life will surely attest that the number one enemy is loneliness. Well, I got by with a little help from my friends at DC Comics. And for three years – 1997, 1998, and 1999 – DC released the annual Holiday Bash, filled with seasonal stories of humor, hope, and heart. And, for me, it was a salve, a refuge. Oh, for a universe that embraced such hope.

For today, I have decided to dive into the 1998 special, which clocks in at 52 pages, plus a front and back “fun page” for making your own paper Bat-ornaments and Superman glider. The entire book offers eight stories within those pages, featuring work by Chuck Dixon, Tony Isabella, Devin Grayson, Ty Templeton, Brian Stelfreeze, and even Howard Chaykin! The stories bend between longer tales like the ten-page “Twas the Night before Kwanzaa” and shorter stories, like the two page “Present Tense,” and it would make for a boring article for me to pontificate on each of them. For some, I will be giving the Cliff’s Notes, and for others, you’ll get the low down.

In “The Present,” Writer Devin Grayson takes Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner, and Green Arrow, Connor Hawke, Christmas shopping in the middle of a Hostage crisis.

DC-Holiday2Chuck Dixon pens a Hanukkah story, wherein an old neighborhood synagogue, Beth Shalom, is robbed, and the thief not only steals the offering money, but spills the last of the lamp oil. As sunset nears on toward Sabbath, and the thief escapes, Batman hunts the crook, and another hero saves the day in a liturgical sense. It is drawn by Dave Taylor and Wayne Fauchner, and titled “House of Peace.”

In “Present Tense,” Ty Templeton treats us to a show-down between dastardly despotic Darksied and Santa Claus. It’s pretty-much like it sounds. Awesome.

Black Lightning, and his Italian-American police contact, help a former gang-banger rescue his family-held-hostage in “Twas the Night before Kwanzaa.” With a story by Black Lightning creator Tony Isabella and striking black and white, charcoal-style art by Eddie Newell, this is a pretty straight-forward action tale. Unmissable is the love Isabella has for his subject, and that makes something special in the end.

Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding treat us to a brief glimpse into Superman’s life, to remind us that parents never stop being parents. They call it “The Gift.”

Howard Chaykin takes us back to Gotham City on December 24, 1944 in a story called “I Left My Heart at the Justice Society Canteen.” Here, a young ensign on leave heads downtown to the Justice Society Canteen, a USO hall run by everyone’s favorite Golden Age heroes. This story was a stand out for me, and for three big reasons. First, I love the JSA, and seeing The Flash, Doc Fate, Liberty Belle and the Phantom Lady (and so many more) in the crowd was just more than great. Chaykin does a remarkable job intersecting the real world history and flavor of WW2 with the Golden Age of the DCU, and artist Rick Burchett‘s almost cartoony style is perfect. I mean, Wildcat as the bouncer and Ma Hunkel/the Red Tornado running roughshod over the kitchen and its staff – what’s not to love? Second, WW2 has always meant something to me, and while I am certain this is not the place to explore that, this story from the homefront tread softly on my heart. And third, it was not the heroes that saved the day. You see, in the midst of all the merry making and entertainment, Nazi saboteurs have snuck in to do dirty, but a lowly ensign is the one to out them! And don’t think this is the last time you’ll meet this fellow, either!

DC-Holiday3Only two tales left and they are both pretty short. Chuck Dixon again takes the reins, aided this time by Russ Heath, in “Sgt Rock in ‘A Christmas Carol.’” It’s Christmas 1944, and oddly a day after Chaykin‘s tale, and famed Sgt Rock of Easy Company has a vision of three spirits of war past, war present, and war future. The spirits take Rock to visit the trenches of WW1, the Nazi death camps, and Arlington National Cemetery. It may sound simple and contrived, but I am seriously tearing up to think of this story even now. Never forget, folks.

Ahem.

The last one is a little piece called “Old Lane Sign.” In it, Brian Stelfreeze and Devin Grayson co-plot a touching scene of friendship and reminiscence between Nightwing and Oracle. They do a great job demonstrating the closeness between these two characters and why they, to me, seem made for each other. On a final note, I have always loved how comfortable Stelfreeze seems to be with drawing figures that, while stylized, are certainly not idealized. His characters just seem very, very real.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this bit o’ holiday fun and cheer, and if you happen by a comic shop, drop a buck or two on this forgotten but of story and wonder. You won’t be sorry.

Merry Christmas!

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Mathew D. Rhys

Writer, Art Director, Continuity Supervisor and Ideal Comics co-founder, Mathew D. Rhys has been writing super-hero fiction since high school. A former staff writer for the fan-magazine, Fanzing, he wrote for the eight issues prior to the magazine’s cancellation. During that time, he acquired 17 separate by-lines on both articles and stories. In addition to this, he has completed five other short stories, numerous comic books scripts, and one novella. He is not as much a fan of brevity as it seems.
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