Friday, December 22, 2017

Comico Christmas Speical #1

Christmas 2017
Comico Christmas Speical #1

An anthology of Christmas tales from some talented hands

Administrative Director – Bob Schreck
Editor-in-chief – Diana Schutz
Art Director – Rick Taylor
December 1988

This is a strange little present that the Crapbox provided to me, something that has been covered extensively by other bloggers (as have most of the titles in this year’s Christmas overhaul). The Comico company toss out this little number in 1988. This was six years after Comic burst onto the scene, arriving as some johnny-come-lately to the big two, but with a power house of popular stand-alone titles, looked to be a big contender.

And JEEZE what a present it was: 40 pages…and me rushing Christmas deadlines means that this little book sent me way-way-way over on getting done with my reviews. But…here it is. Finally!

Comico’s meat and butter were Robotech, Jonny Quest, Grendel, and Mage: The Hero Discovered. They also gave us Evangeline from Chuck Dixon and the second version of Bill Willingham’s Elementals. I remember them for their Starblazers comic which would arrive sporadically at my local comic shop. The Crapbox knows them from Justice Machine (which arrive all in one bundle pack) and the aforementioned Robotech series.

But forget all about those titles as this anthology of Christmas tales features NO ongoing characters. Each is written by Doug M. Wheeler, the guy that inherited Swamp Thing for the two years after Rick Veitch quit over not being allowed to do a “Swamp Thing meets Jesus” time-travel story. To us Crapbox perusers, Wheeler holds the honor of being the writer behind Leonard Nimoy’s Primortals series, something I plan on getting to later.

But for now let’s take this one by the numbers and crack open that Dave Stevens (Yes, THAT Dave Stevens!) cover and take a peek at what we are getting this year. Is it the toy we wished for or a lump of coal….or maybe a little of both? 

"Living for Christmas”
Story – Douglas M. Wheeler
Art and Letters – Ken Holewczynski
Colors – Joe Matt
Editor – Diana Schutz

We begin with a tale of the future that will explore the true meaning of Christmas. It’s the year 2292 to be precise, when cryogenics is an actuality. People are frozen when their illness is too severe and hope for a cure may lie in the future. Our subject of this tale isn’t like the other “sleepers,” however. Mr. Altman has chosen to put himself to sleep on a schedule that leaves him awake only during Christmas time each year, then back into cryo-sleep he goes. Why? We’ll let him answer as he begins this year’s routine.

His driver asks the question on everyone’s minds…

That sounds reasonable, but you only have to look back to when this two hundred-and-eleven-year-old man (who appears to be no more than forty-one) began this journey to see what might have gotten left out of this rather saccharine version of events.

Well THAT certainly screws up my thoughts on this. It isn’t some neat trick to abandon your wife and child to live three-quarters of the year as a human popsicle.

And it appears Altman harbors some regrets over his decision to abandon family and home to this odd journey he’s on. This comes out when he tells his driver that a boy selling “Bisquits” looks very much like his son. And has the same name, by odd coincidence.

But alas, it can’t be his son, who died over a century ago.

Which doesn’t matter to Altman. He digs around in the youth’s past and finds out he is the only child of a single mother. His father passed after working himself to death trying to support his family. Altman has his personal assistance go out and buy the latest toys and invite the youth over to play…and oh, this is sounding much too Michael Jackson for me.

But Altman really just misses his own kid. As for Replacement-David, Altman’s odd lifestyle is cause for some confusion. Altman restates his prior answer a bit more in detail. It’s about that this is the only time of the year when people treat each other nice and all…

…before deflecting by taking David to a sporting event that I can only assume is blurnsball from Futurama. On the way back, David admits that he likes Altman in spite of all the presents he’s given him. Altman expresses his desire to have David come over on Christmas Day and open the presents he has for the lad.

Which causes David to quickly school the older man on one of the things that Christmas is truly about…

…and then counter-offer to have Altman join his family, which is resoundingly turned down as Altman would feel odd in a family of strangers. 

It is amazingly cool that we get David’s take on the reason behind why everyone is smiling at Christmas time, something that Altman has possibly discovered over the years, but not admitted to himself.

It is a realization that drains the color from Altman’s empty celebration of the season.

And Altman is forced to confront the mistake he made 200 years ago but can’t undo. The next morning, he bumps into David working as a street vendor. 

As they chat, it becomes apparent that Altman has finally figured out how he can make the rest of his life right, a move that involves staying awake all year round while maintaining the reason to always feel that Christmas cheer.

Wow! What a great start. The art is a bit retro-stylized and a few panels look crude when viewed individually, but the tone of the piece elevates the whole. What a great message too: Christmas is about Family, a message I couldn’t agree more with. While the David character does seem VERY on the nose, Wheeler hits the first one out of the park, tugging the heart strings without feeling overly manipulative.

"Too Many Santas”
Writer – Douglas M. Wheeler
Art – Bernie E. Mireault
Editor – Diana Schutz

Our next little ditty concerns that feeling most children have that Santa can’t be real due to the proliferation of “helpers” on each corner and each store. Let’s join Jason this Christmas Eve as he tries to figure out why there are too many Santas.

It begins with a shopping trip downtown, where the number of Santas literally makes Jason’s head spin apparently. I’m not as big a fan of the art in this one, but as in the prior, the story being told soon melds with the style of the pictures into a blended whole that “fits.” This is an odd story and the slightly weird graphics lend themselves to it.

This trip, by the way, cements in Jason’s mind that Santa isn’t real. So when his parents leave him alone for the night (on Christmas Eve? Really?) for a friend’s holiday party, Jason decides to defy common custom…

…and NOT go to bed like a good little boy, but instead stay up watching the Star Trek – The Next Generation marathon. Heck, I’d like to join him in that.

Meanwhile, the downtown donation Santas call it a night. We expect this one is headed home, but he ends up outside Jason’s house instead.

And in a very weird and criminal way, he appears to be casing the joint to break in. He checks to see the car is gone, and even though the TV is playing, he decides to break in via one of the windows.

He’s in for a bit of a surprise though…

…Little Jason has dad’s six shooter and he’s about to make Santa history if he moves. Santa-burglar begins to debate why Jason doesn’t believe in him anymore.

So Santa spins this wild yarn that he is just one of MANY Santa clones used to cover the planet on Christmas Eve delivering toys to good boys and girls, which Jason no longer is given the pointing a gun at Santa thing. 

I was about to root for Jason to shoot this obvious criminal, when the man in red says he’s notified the other Santas via their shared collective hive mind…

….and sure enough, several make their appearance.

They disarm Jason and then proceed to do some odd Santa magic that leads them to…

…meld together into a sort-of Super-Santa. Jason is freaked out completely by all this and along with the knowledge that he’s getting coal for Christmas next year, will need loads of therapy. Merry Christmas?

So if we folly that each of these is sort of a moral tale built around what Christmas is, then this story is about the importance of Belief, even if that belief is in something strange and magical. I’m on board still, these are getting odder, but somehow better. What’ next?

"The Stiflemix Diaries”
Writer – Douglas M. Wheeler
Art – Tim Sale
Letterer – L. Lois Buhalis
Colorist – Trishie Schutz
Editor – Michael Fury

Next up we have a surprise package that doesn’t seem like much until we realize that we are dealing with art by none other than Tim Sale, one of the more unique Batman artists, at a time before he paired with Jeff Loeb. And what a tale it is: In the near future the use of the word Christmas spoken out of season can get you in big, BIG trouble.

By now, we’ve become accustomed to Wheeler’s slightly less demented Black Mirror-type story setups and this one is a doozy. We turn to this lady’s fellow officemate, Darrin Stiflemix, who is secretly an agent for the Noel Liberation Brigade. He’s engaged in unlawful acts that promote Christmas cheer year round but dumb enough to keep a diary that details everything he’s doing.

Things such as attending these odd, KKK-like Christmas rallies lead by a guy called Kleinman. Kleinman, with all his Hitler Ho-Ho-Ho saluting, is our identifiable bad guy, someone willing to sacrifice anyone in his crowd just to win new converts to his cause. Right now he’s worried about it being June and people not recognizing their struggle.

He won’t get good ideas of what to do from this crowd as the suggestion range from wearing red and green all day long (like they did last year and no one noticed) to directly attacking police. Kleinman has something a little more insidious in mind. 

The mouthy young woman behind Stiflemix there is the subject of his crush, Loretta. She’s the one suggesting direct confrontation with the law, her being a violent sort. She does like the idea, but doesn’t like it that they will be receiving the decorations from the Merchants Association, the very entity that caused Christmas to be banned all those years ago.

However, this is too great an opportunity, even if it means picking up the ornaments means the three leads have to do so dressed as giant squirrels.

And secretly it appears that Kleinman may be ONLY in it for the cash given to him by the Merchant’s Association, willing to get everyone caught and cut his losses.

We get another indication of Loretta being very militant and of her apparent disgust at the weak-appearing Darrin Stiflemix.

By now we think we know how this will turn out, with Kleinman in custody and these two in each other’s arms. But this is Wheeler’s story and that … might not be the case.

Predictably Stiflemix is put in charge of the op, even though one of the decorators named Mrs. Astriction keeps tangling him up in the light strands so he ends up strapped to the tree. Kleinman has his fall guy. A fall guy who is dreaming of pandas, for some reason.

The day after the op, we have Stiflemix leading someone into his apartment in the dark, claiming that he can’t turn on the lights, but that should be fine as they always operate in the dark anyway. Then he records the details of the operation. They begin by jamming the “sky eyes” – floating ball mounted police cams - and unfurling their banners.

The tree decorating goes mostly as planned, although as in practice, the execution leaves a little to be desired. Stiflemix is strapped to the tree and the sky-eyes are not broadcasting an empty park, but instead are showing the cops a Christmas-themed porn movie.
This tips them off instantly and their cruisers arrive to disrupt things. From there it goes in a way that should be expected but probably isn’t…

…Loretta opens fire while Stiflemix…

…runs for cover, with two cops in slow pursuit. He’s cornered as they step over a bum to find him.

The bum wakes up just before they come across Stiflemix, and his distraction somehow causes them to lose our hero’s scent. When Stiflemix checks to see who did this…

…he makes a grand case of mistaken identity, which leads us back to his apartment where the bum and not Loretta is passed out on his floor. Stiflemix is being hunted but he doesn’t care. He has (or so he thinks) Santa Claus and he has plans for him. 

The art is the real draw here, covered up by really lousy coloring. The story his some bits of comedy that work and the unconventional ending make the ending a treat. In all, I’m still having fun with the book.

"One Winter Day”
Writer – Douglas M. Wheeler
Penciller – Bill Willingham
Inker – Chris Warner
Letterer – Bob Pinaha
Colorist – Rick Taylor
Editor – Diana Schutz

Bill Willingham’s Elementals was a solid hit for Comico and I picked it up right as the property changed companies and changed hands after Comico’s demise. I always loved the clean, clear detail that Willingham brought to the book and you can tell a bit of that in One Winter Day.

As for the story, I grew up in Texas and I really can’t relate. We begin with Michael Richard Edwards who his woken from a sound sleep by his slave driver of a mother who sends him outside to shovel the drive way…in the steady downfall of fresh snow.

Michael from the start knows what he’s in for while his father collects his brother, who is coming home for the holidays: shoveling and more shoveling. 

And he isn’t wrong. The more I read this, the happier I am to have NEVER have this be a part of my Winter experience. In Texas we have one day of snow/ice a year. It snows. Turns to ice because the ground is too warm and it melts as it hits. Then the freezing temps overnight turn in to ice. No one can go to work and everyone rushes to the grocery store to pick up bread and milk because they are “snowed in”. Car accidents ensue, meaning news reports tell people even more emphatically not to go out.

Then the next day it’s clear and 60 degrees. Every year. One year we did have three days of ice. People here LOST their MINDS!!! You’d think we were never going to see the end of it. That a place known for Summers at 101 would somehow suddenly have switched positions with the artic.

But Michael’s issues?...I’ve never had them.

This sounds increasingly crazy.

I think I would just let the white power bury me. Screw it.

And I’m sorry, this isn’t very neighborly of me, but he should just stay home too.

And speaking of home, Michael’s brother Rob is finally there. 

Michael tries a desperate gamble to stay inside…

…which works beautifully for him, but not so much for his brother who is forced outside to try and defend the house from falling snow.

So much of this tale must be nostalgia for readers up North, but for me this is so much nonsense. Give me days when the outside feels like a oven just starting to warm up over whatever this crap is three months out of the year.

"Traditions Everlasting”
Writer – Douglas M. Wheeler
Penciller – Steve Rude
Inker – Al Williamson
Letterer – Steve Hayne
Colorist – Steve Oliff
Editor – Michael Eury

For our final tale, the book pulls out Steve Rude and Al Williamson. The guy behind Nexus and one of the most talented inkers in the business give us plenty to be pleased with. The tale here begins in the ruins of an archeological dig site on Earth. The only thing is, the archeologists aren’t human.

Humanity wiped itself out, so our story follows these alien beings as they try to make it off our planet. First though, they spend the night of Christmas Eve outside, 800 years after we’ve destroyed ourselves, to experience some of the awe and hopelessness of what it must of felt like.

And while they know when it happened, none of them are quite sure why or how. One of the researchers has been studying an ancient text, but finding only about the legend of Santa Claus.

A rather tense back-and-forth ensues about the reality of Santa Claus, when the engineer breaks in with some bad news.

Looks like Mokerr has put his faith in something beyond what he can see and feel and touch. 

And it is a faith that is rewarded by a visit from old St. Nick himself.

And thus the spirit of giving, love, and belief in a universal ‘good’ beyond our own understanding saves these aliens and goes on to become the one enduring lesson humanity teaches the cosmos.

Well, these were great stories. Comico clearly had a quality stable of talent and the ability to bring them to market. It is a shame they didn’t make it, but I’m glad their works survive in the wilds of the Crapbox.

Because books like these are the best presents of all.

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