It's nearly Christmas, the time of year when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus by giving children the toys that the Christ child would have wanted instead of the precious metals, perfumes and medicines he was actually given by his Magi, which I'm going to assume from context is some ancient term for "grandparent." Three comics out this week examine the relationship between us and the toys and other objects we give such great importance during this time of year, including Zatanna
#8, and The Stuff of Legend
#3, and the Larfleeze Christmas Special
, which uses the greediest character in the DC Universe to give a different perspective on the celebration of Christmas until Larfleeze's own personal green-colored joy-stealer shows up to ruin his fun.
We've even got a bonus 5-page preview
, including a very special Orange Lantern cookie recipe
. SPOILERS ABOUT THESE BOOKS AND THE DARK SECRETS BEHIND CHRISTMAS FOLLOW.
Zatanna's latest story begins in a therapy session -- that is, a therapy sessions existing in a reality outside the boundaries of our own -- on the topic of how icy-tingles-up-your-spine-creepy puppets are. These innocent children's entertainers with their unblinking eyes and wide smiles have troubled Zatanna since her childhood, but with a little help from an embittered nightmare demon she's able to confront her worst fears. Which turn out to be quite justified, as puppets prove to be a very real threat to her, even as an adult.
Paul Dini continues to write a character whose story is enjoyable to follow, but the highlight for me with this one is new artist Cliff Chiang. Chiang's art is exactly what this series needed. I feel like I'm reading a comic and not a series of cheesecake pin-ups with accompanying text, something that's not easy to do with a character whose standard costume includes high-heeled black thigh high boots and fishnets. Zatanna's one of those characters I love to see done well because I enjoy the feats of imagination that are possible for both artist and writer with a good story set in the magical side of the DC Universe. At the same time, she's also a character whose creators can easily play up the sex appeal in a way that's not relevant to the story in order to boost sales, and whenever I see that it always causes me to question the amount of faith the creative team has in the underlying narrative. All the more reason to be happy Dini and Chiang are such an impressive team here.
While Zatanna's childhood toys are a source of fear, in The Stuff of Legend
they're a boy's last hope. A ragtag group of toys has ventured into "the Dark," a realm of abandoned toys where the Boogeyman has taken the young boy who owns them. In the Dark these toys take on more realistic forms, with tin soldiers and jack-in-the-boxes taking human-like shapes and stuffed animals becoming mighty beasts. And as of this issue that's causing something of a misunderstanding, as the tribe of abandoned animal toys that they encounter decides to to issue loyalty tests to the animal toys of the group and hunt the others for sport.
One of those abandoned toys is Monty, a fez-wearing, cymbal-banging monkey who was the first toy to set foot in the dark and serves to both flesh out the backstory of the world and to provide a fascinating examination of the concept of abandonment. It's a theme reminds me of how similar ideas have been explored well in Pixar's Toy Story
films, except that the version here has a darker and more mythic quality. Writers Mike Raicht and Brian Smith continue to build a great story and Charles Paul Wilson III's art is stunningly beautiful and so appropriate for this work that I could not imagine it existing without him. This is a book that's been easy to miss with its irregular release schedule, but don't let this one pass you by in the chaos of the holiday season.
At last I come to the book that demands all the attention, toys, and whatever else you might have around, the Larfleeze Christmas Special
by Geoff Johns and Brett Booth. I enjoy the concept of having an alien being whose primary motivating factor is greed amped up to 11 being exposed to the Earth holiday of Christmas, and consequently presenting Santa with a list of demands. The book is a lot of fun from the beginning up through Larfleeze's discovery that Santa's presents are no where to be seen and his subsequent decision to hunt down the white-bearded red-clothed one and demand what he feels he is owed. I have to admit that despite my feelings about Larfleeze being an over-simplification of a complex emotion that provides the opportunity for multiple nuanced interpretations, he is really growing on me as a character.
The problems start when Hal "buzzkill" Jordan shows up stop Larfleeze from laying waste to what I assume is the only part of the North Pole still covered with ice. Jordan stomps all over Larfleeze's whimsical rants and cuts straight to a "Santa is not real and the true meaning of Christmas is generosity" monologue with a jarring, straight-faced sincerity that drains the childlike glee from Christmas better than my father used to do when he announced every year on the night of December 24th that he was going up to the roof set up a guided missile system in preparation for Santa's arrival. It all ends up with a last page where Larfleeze, told by Jordan to focus on the things he really needs, is staring at the last item on his list, "My Family." And our whacky Christmas adventure story ends with our central character clutching a pillow tightly while curled up on the floor, thinking about his missing parents, presumably crying, while a plate of delicious looking cookies sits uneaten a few feet away.
On the plus side, though, there's a recipe for those cookies included, and they sound pretty good. Plus a maze and an ornament to cut out. And honestly, for the sense of joy and excitement about Christmas the book gives right up until the weird shift in tone at the end, I can't be that down on it.
If you haven't had a chance to pick it up, enjoy this five-page preview and Orange Lantern Cookie recipe as our gift to you:
(via The Source