Merry X-Men Holiday Special #1
Various Artists and Writers, VC’s Travis Lanham (Letterer)
December 5, 2018
“Hot claws roasting over an open fire, Iceman nipping at your nose…”
What’s your favorite holiday special? Does your family gather every year for A Charlie Brown Christmas, or A Rugrats Chanukah? Have you re-watched Christmas at Pee-Wee’s Playhouse lately? That shit is wild. What I’m getting at is, ‘tis the season for your favorite franchise’s obligatory holiday special, and if you’re looking for a new one, why not try the comic with a “Merry X-Mas” pun right in the title? The Merry X-Men Holiday Special arrives as a kind of illustrated Advent calendar, counting down the days to Christmas with one-page stories featuring a different X-Man, by creators ranging from Chris Claremont to Charlamagne Tha God.
“One page, one character, one creative team” is a big gimmick for the, um, one-shot, but it works remarkably well. The sheer number of characters and creators involved results in a comic that captures all the complex emotions December brings on a one-horse open sleigh. The X-Men open presents and spend time with their loved ones, but there are also awkward family visits, Secret Santas, and B-list supervillains to contend with. Even if all the stories don’t land, the fact that The Merry X-Men Holiday Special gives equal page time to Deadpool and Nature Girl means there’s something for every X-Fan here.
The stocking holding all these stuffers together is an overarching story by Chris Sims, Chad Bowers, and Marco Failla about Jubilee and her son Shogo trapped in a supervillain’s murder mall. The other “shoppers” make Black Friday look like Black Sunday; overall, it’s a cute, animated story that uses Jubilee’s mallrat origins to satirize the worst of the Christmas consumer culture.
Aside from that requisite bit of superhero action, the rest of the stories are slice-of-life (or in the case of Iceman’s white elephant party, ice-of-life) tales about Marvel’s merry mutants. These are mostly charming little snippets and character pieces that probably wouldn’t fit anywhere else, like hip hop artist Jean Grae finally getting to write about her namesake, or Chip Zdarsky using Nightcrawler and Old Man Logan to recreate a gag from 1980’s (!) King-Size X-Men Annual #4.
The best stories in The Merry X-Men Holiday Special are the most mundane, because they feel the most universal. “Christmas Cat-Astrophe!” by Kelly Thompson and David Lopez is a perfect encapsulation of why “Gambit and Rogue get married and get an apartment with some cats” is one of the best ideas Marvel’s had this decade. (And Lopez draws Rogue in a rockin’ hooded Christmas onesie.) The Runaways creative team of Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka show Beast returning to his childhood home in “Blue Christmas.” It’s a story that will probably strike a chord with anyone who’s spent a holiday visiting a family that didn’t understand them. Though Beast only says two words, his face conveys a much longer story.
But lest you worry that this is all fluff or filler, it does tie back to ongoing X-Men events; Leah Williams and Marcio Takara show Psylocke’s first reunion with her brother since getting her original body back, and Tini Howard and Brent Schoonover depict Hope Summers mourning Cable (after his death in Extermination) amid everyone else’s festivities. The book’s shifts in tone, however, are sometimes jarring. Chris Claremont’s contribution features Kitty Pryde lighting a Menorah in remembrance of the millions of people who died in Genosha. It’s a striking splash page as drawn by Terry and Rachel Dodson, but I question Marvel’s choice in sandwiching it between Jubilee’s Looney Tunes-y caper and a gag about Wolverine’s hot claws (#hotclaws) saving Hanukkah. I’m curious about how editorial put this issue together and arranged its many moving parts, if only for more insight into why creators were drawn to certain characters.
The Merry X-Men Holiday Special is a festive seasonal treat with as many characters and creators as there are nuts and spices in fruitcake. And like a fruitcake, the shifting tones and overall lack of action might not be to everyone’s tastes, but I’m glad I took a bite before Christmas.