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Dec 6

Merry X-Men Holiday Special

Posted on Thursday, December 6, 2018 by Paul in x-axis

You don’t get much further into completist-only territory than an X-Men Christmas special.  Sometimes that can lead to issues with a distinct “that’ll do” feel to them.  Not so here – whatever else you might say about the Merry X-Men Holiday Special, it’s certainly trying something different, with contributors ranging from the usual suspects to the unexpected.

It’s part jam issue, part advent calendar, with each day featuring a single page by a different creative team.  Jam issues are often a frustrating mess, but this one avoids that problem by not even pretending to have a single story continuing between the pages.  For the most part, it’s just a range of creative teams, asked to pick an X-Man and do a one-page, December-themed vignette.

Holding it together is a ten page Jubilee story by a single creative team – writers Chris Sims and Chad Bowers, and artist Marco Failla – which shows up on days 1, 6, 11, 20 and 25, then gets five more uninterrupted pages at the end.  It’s pretty throwaway; Jubilee and Shogo are off on holiday when they get kidnapped and trapped in a murderous mock shopping mall for several weeks, which Jubilee proceeds to run rings around until it turns out to be a scheme of precisely who you thought it was.  The gag is that Arcade has seen Black Friday and figures that clearly there’s a market for a mildly lethal shopping experience if he can just pitch it at the right level of survivability.

What’s cleverer, though, is that the opening five pages actually use the device of being scattered throughout the “advent calendar” pages to play up the passage of time and the idea that we’re dropping in on a longer story.  You could do it with “Day 6” captions in a regular story, sure, but it really does take advantage of the gimmick instead of just working around it.

Predictably, the other individual pages are something of a mixed bag.  There are contributions from some of the X-regulars.  Charles Soule writes a Wolverine page which is basically a gag strip parodying his own Return of Wolverine story; it’s mildly amusing at best.  Sina Grace and Cory Smith contribute a page of Iceman organising a present exchange for the kids, where the gag is basically the mundanity of the presents.  Kelly Thompson and David Lopez provide a page of Rogue and Gambit trying to give medicine to their cat – it really has no festive content at all beyond the set dressing, but Rogue and Gambit being domestic is always fun.  Old Man Logan‘s Ed Brisson writes a silent page (drawn by Pere Perez) of his favourite supporting character Glob Herman optimistically nailing up the mistletoe; it’s a good execution of a simple idea.  Cullen Bunn writes a fairly generic Magneto page about Hanukkah; Roland Boschi’s art is lovely but suggests some confusion about whether this is meant to be present day Warsaw of the 1940s.  And Matthew Rosenberg and Andy McDonald do a last-minute Christmas shopping joke with Madrox that plays out nicely in nine panels (even if it needs to cheat and spill over to the next morning).

Chris Claremont is there, with a Kitty Pryde page drawn by the Dodsons.  It amounts to a dialogued pin-up, and suggests he may have been at cross-purposes with the remit, since everyone else delivers an actual scene.  It shows Kitty commemorating the dead of Genosha at Hannukah, and it’s one of those pages where there’s an awkward sense of Claremont trying to reassert the direction he would have taken the X-Men in – not only do we get a namecheck of Wicked from the Genoshan Excalibur series, but Kitty is calling herself Kate and, randomly, declaring her determination to be President.  It all feels a bit parallel universe.

What else?  We have the bittersweet ones.  Nature Girl doesn’t like Christmas trees, which seems fair enough, though Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler don’t really capture the voice which the character had in Generation X.  Old Man Logan gets a sweet Chip Zdarsky scene where Kurt reminds him of happier Christmases of yore.  Al Ewing does a Cannonball-in-space story (picking up from his Avengers status quo) which is basically a 2000 AD gag strip about the “war on Christmas”, but a funny one.  Anthony Piper’s Domino page is beautiful but not especially Christmassy, and plays her a bit too callously to match her usual portrayals these days.  Leah Williams and Marcio Takara check in on the precocious Braddock girl from the X-Men Gold Annual, and reunite Brian and Betsy, which is more of a gesture in the direction of a wider scene, but kind of works on that level anyway.  Vita Ayala’s Honey Badger page where she tries to guess her secret Santa is a nice riff on X-23 stories, though won’t make much sense if you haven’t read them.  Hope is brooding over Cable’s recent death; Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka deliver a lovely page of Hank overhearing his parents talking about him when he goes home to visit.

There are also some celebrity writers, some of whom seem to struggle with what you can do in a page.  Musician Jean Grae writes a Jean Grey/Deadpool scene that feels like a snippet from a story that needed to be longer; Styles P and Poobs, whose page feels like the set-up for a standard Christmas Gambit story that we don’t actually get to see. Charlemagne Tha God, who I’m going to assume I would have heard of if I was American, does a twelve-panel Storm scene which is self-contained but doesn’t do anything especially interesting; Alitha Martinez’s art is pretty solid, though.  Rapper Esoteric writes a generic Nightcrawler page which isn’t helped by some dodgy colouring that actually fails to make Nightcrawler blue in two panels.  And randomly, wrestler Christopher Daniels writes a Beast / Dr Nemesis gag strip for Rey-Anthony Height and Lebeau Underwood, which is genuinely funny, even if it seems completely out of left field given that Nemesis has barely appeared in years.

Still, not bad at all – it’s a throwaway, but the right kind of throwaway, where it feels like people had fun making it.  It’s still basically for the completists, but it’s giving them something a little unusual.

Bring on the comments

  1. Nu-D says:

    “Claremont trying to reassert the direction he would have taken the X-Men in – not only do we get a namecheck of Wicked from the Genoshan Excalibur series, but Kitty is calling herself Kate and, randomly, declaring her determination to be President. “

    Oh Chris, I love you but you’ve gone off the rails.

  2. Moo says:

    Pretty ballsy of him to reference the Genoshan Excalibur series.

  3. Chris V says:

    I was surprised to see a Claremont back-up strip in the epilogue to that X-cross-over that Marvel seems to have forgotten to finish.
    It was quite a good story, reminding me a lot of the Classic X-Men vignettes.
    This was just one page. It’s not like the creators had much to work with, and you know how wordy Claremont tends to be, so what could you expect.
    Although….yeah….ever mentioning Wicked again, I guess “ballsy” is the word for it…

    I would probably have to say that the Al Ewing Cannonball story was the best of the stories in this collection.
    It seemed to have a bit more substance than most of the stories.

    I was disappointed to see that the creators (outside of the Jubilee story) were only given one page.
    I bought it in the hopes of geting a quality Claremont Kitty Pryde story, or Cullen Bunn Magneto story. Only to find that each was only one page.
    It was an ok book though. I’d have to agree with this review.

  4. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    I loved the Rainbow Rowell/Kris Anka Beast ‘story’. Short, bittersweet, just great.

  5. mark coale says:

    If you’re going to have a wrestler write a script, better Daniels than the guy from Talking Dead.

  6. Chris V says:

    Oh, the Beast story was really good too. I liked how it played off of the Silver Age stories, and how much Hank has changed (appearance wise, for one) since that time.
    That one would rank second place, for mine.

  7. Brian says:

    There are few truer signs of the urban millennial insularity of the NYC-LA-Portland axis of modern comics editorial offices like repeatedly trying to hire rappers to write for books…

  8. Voord 99 says:

    There’s something bizarrely recursive about Claremont trying to drag the X-line sideways to what it should be by referencing a comic where he was already doing that.

    Still, reading this review reminded me of our host’s original response to Wicked: ”Is her mutant power that she’s from 1985?”

    Which I remember much better after all these years than I do anything else about that comic.

  9. Omar Karindu says:

    There are few truer signs of the urban millennial insularity of the NYC-LA-Portland axis of modern comics editorial offices like repeatedly trying to hire rappers to write for books…

    In fairness:

    1) Rap has a long history of using superhero imagery, both lyrically and visually, more so than most other popular music genres.

    2) Comics offices also hire airport novelists like Brad Meltzer, indie directors like Kevin Smith, and wrestlers like CM Punk and the fellows represented in this very comic. Comics editorial offices have been trying to get PR by hiring non-comics writers for special projects for years.

  10. mark coale says:

    the first (generaly credited) rap song has a whole section about Lois Lane and her boyfriend.

  11. ASV says:

    “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues” was the first rap song? I had no idea!

  12. Si says:

    I’m positive there’s a lot of material for an ongoing story featuring Cannonball in space. But, he’s back in X-Men so the fact that he has a wife and kid on another planet will no doubt be completely forgotten.

  13. Chris says:

    As an American this is the first I’ve heard of Charlemagne da God

  14. Will Cooling says:

    Christopher Daniels is a huge comics fan. I remember I did a joke article about a comics-wrestling crossover, and his publicist actually got in touch with me about doing an interview on comics.

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