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Deck the Hall(s) of Justice – Christmas with the Super-Heroes #2

November 29, 2010

Now that Black Friday has passed us by, with its Yuletide opening round traditions of Wal-Mart tramplings and Best Buy fisticuffs and Drudge Report articles about people getting stabbed over cheap video game consoles, why don’t we settle in with a cup of eggnog and start our end-of-year celebrations with some DC icons? How about it?

This is the second Christmas compendium that DC published at the end of the 80’s. The first issue from the previous year was all reprints of earlier stories, but this one, as the little banner says on the cover, is all new. I was expecting some saccharin infused fluff, but I was quite taken with a few of the stories within.

The first, entitled “Ex Machina,” is darker than you might expect, especially considering its star, the sunshine-and-warm-puppies Superman. Written and drawn by Paul Chadwick with inks from John Nyber, it opens with an elderly motorist stranded and alone on a lonely highway. It’s a bitterly cold night, and he can’t get anyone to stop and help him. When he just can’t take it anymore, he pulls a gun out of the glove compartment, pens a suicide note, and puts the barrel of the gun under his chin.

Then there’s a tap at the window. It’s Superman.

The man lowers the gun and Superman gets inside. He uses his heat vision to thaw the guy out, and starts de-icing the battery while he’s at it. Then Supes asks the question that’s on all of our minds:

It turns out that the driver, who remains nameless throughout, wasn’t simply cold. He’s estranged from his wife, has a degenerative disease, and hasn’t spoken to his daughter in years. That’s a trifecta of misery if there ever was one. Superman suggests that he get in touch with his daughter, adding “I’d like to think I didn’t stop here for nothing.”

The man agrees. Hard to argue with the superpowered guy that saved your life, I guess.

Then Superman gets out of the car and has one last thing to offer:

That he writes the directions on the back of the suicide note is a powerful storytelling flourish, don’t you think? And, in case there’s any doubt as to the identity of that “older couple”:

A nice Batman story follows, which is dialogue free and focuses on the passage of time in the setting of the Batcave, from the start of the Caped Crusader’s career through things like Christmas with Dick and Alfred. A Wonder Woman entry is next — she and a female pastor help each other rediscover their respective faiths while they both visit the Kapetilis household over the holidays.

Then there’s an Enemy Ace tale, “Silent Night,” which might be the best in the bunch. Written and pencilled by John Byrne with inking by Andy Kubert, it’s a completely silent (who would have guessed) issue. I’d like to give you some scans, because Byrne’s and Kubert’s respective styles combine wonderfully, but it’s hard to post a lot without “giving away the store.” Let me just say this: it’s an excellent, piercing little story, that depicts the brotherhood of men and the unbridgeable gap of war. Great stuff.

Then there’s a rather glib Green Lantern/Flash short that I wasn’t overly fond of, but the collection is finished by a Deadman story from writer Alan Brennert and the recently passed Dick Giordano. It has a nice twist. In “Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot,” Deadman tries to recapture some of the joys of Christmas and the pleasures of flesh by possessing the bodies of various people. It doesn’t work out, though, because doing so makes him feel like an interloper and a thief. Then, while moping about and wallowing in his misery, he has a strange visitor:

Hmmm. Magic allergy?

This anonymous blonde gives Deadman a lecture about why heroes do what they do:

Biiiiiiig hint.

And as she’s about to leave:

That makes this kind of cool — an appearance by the pre-Crisis Supergirl, who (at this point in the history of the DC Universe) nobody realized ever lived and whose ultimate sacrifice is utterly forgotten.

A lot of short but sweet material in this little book, and the weight of the good more than balances out the weaker chaff. If you see this one in a dollar bin, maybe it’s worth a read. And, if you’re curious, you can find the Enemy Ace story reprinted in a trade called A DC Universe Christmas. Might be worth a look, though some of the other reprints in that particular collection are absolutely dreadful. You’ve been warned.

Enjoy your Cyber Monday.

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