Overview: Rip Hunter tells a series of post-apocalyptic holiday tales set in the DC Universe.
Editor’s Note: Due to the anthology nature of this collection, we will feature a synopsis and analysis for each short story, rather than breaking up the synopsis and analysis. Spoilers are sure to be revealed.
Story #1: Rip Hunter in “The Nuclear Winter Special” by writer Mark Russell and artist Mike Norton
Synopsis: Rip Hunter is trapped in a post-apocalyptic Mid-21st Century and finds himself under attack by a gang of marauding “Oogle” employees who threaten to eat the Time Master. Rip needs to buy some time while his time sphere recharges and stalls the cannibals with stories about the heroes of the DC Universe surviving the apocalypse which leads into the other stories in this book. Rip manages to charge his Time Sphere and escape, throwing a grateful cannibal a bologna sandwich as a consolation prize.
Analysis: This story acts as a framing sequence for the other stories in the book. I like the editorial decision to use this story to structure the book around. This is a high concept book and it helps to have something tying the stories together which keeps the book seeming a bit more cohesive from start to end. I like that at the end of the book Rip pretty much admits to the puzzled cannibals that there was really no reason for these stories other than as entertainment and honestly, the same can be said about the odd choice to make this year’s Holiday Special about heroes surviving the apocalypse. As for the story itself, its serviceable enough. I can’t say I’m particularity interested in Rip Hunter on the best of days and I found the “Oogle” cannibals to be a bit too winky of a satire of Google and corporate culture, but that’s more of a matter of personal taste so your mileage will vary.
Story #2: Batman 666 in “Warmth” by writers Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing and artist Giuseppe Camuncoli
Synopsis: Batman 666, (the made a deal with the devil, adult Damian Wayne as Batman) walks through a snowed in and decaying Gotham Bridge. As Batman cooks a meal by a fire, he remembers his father at Christmas. Batman is then attacked by a skeletal Ra’s al Ghul, who Batman battles and defeats. Ra’s begs Batman to kill him and as Batman refuses, Ra’s stabs Batman in the chest. Batman falls and then rises, removing the sword from his chest and the two proceed to sit by the fire, with Batman wishing his grandfather a Merry Christmas.
Analysis: Damian has always been a character that has grappled with being raised by a death cult to murder his enemies and his desire to live up to his father’s legacy, so I get the desire to tell a story where he has to be reminded of where he stands. I feel like this is a topic that has been explored time and time again and this short story doesn’t really have anything new to say about the topic. I think that if they were set on telling a story with his version of Batman, they have been better suited to not try to cover so much of Damian’s backstory and should have tried to streamline things more. I’d also like a moratorium on Damian vs Ra’s al Ghul as it is a well that I think creators tend to go back to with Damian far too often.
From an aesthetic part, Giuseppe Camuncoli’s pencils handle the story well but I would have liked to see this version of Ra’s al Ghul look a bit more monstrous like the Lazarus Pits are just barely able to reanimate his body and keep him going. I also don’t really care for the bat-fur skin Batman is wearing in the story as I don’t think it meshes with how clean looking the rest of his costume looks and I think that if they wanted to dress this Batman in animal skins, they should have picked a lane and just went for an entire look as opposed to just taking the character as is and adding this element to the design.
Story #3: Superman One Million in “Memory Hearth” by writer Steve Orlando and artist Brad Walker
Synopsis: Superman One Million goes to the Mars of the 853rd Century and visits with J’onn J’onzz on the Martian Holiday of “Memory Hearth”. In this future, J’onn has become a living desert and his head forms out of a sand dune. The story then cuts to Superman battling a villain named “Kosmos” and inadvertently traveling through a wormhole to Kansas in the 21st century, where a young Clark Kent is helping a mechanic named Joshua Johnstone work on a tractor. Joshua excuses himself and its revealed that he is, in fact, J’onn in disguise, who appears to quickly take out Kosmos. Superman witnesses J’onn turn back into Joshua and then reads his thoughts as he has a quiet moment on this Martian holiday remembering a time with his child. Superman appears to J’onn and thanks him for protecting his ancestor offering to spend the Martian Holiday with him. In the future, Superman explains that he wiped his mind to preserve the timeline and returns to him the memory of that incident and of his child to remind him that he has never really been alone.
Analysis: There’s something automatically fitting about pairing Superman and Martian Manhunter. They are both lone survivors on an alien planet, but Superman is able to integrate, and in the case of this story, start a family with descendants that extend for centuries, where J’onn feels more isolated and tragic, a parent that has outlived his children. I think it’s interesting the Superman One Million, a Grant Morrison creation from a writer that typically writes very hard sci-fi and tends to lean away from more emotional stories. Brad Walker’s art is very reminiscent of frequent Morrison collaborator Frank Quietly and does a good job of fitting the cosmic tone of the story and capturing the more emotional moments of the story.
Story #4: Flash in “Once and Future” by writer Jeff Loveness and artist Christian Duce
Synopsis: The Flash is trapped in a poisoned Speed Force, having witnessed Vandal Savage, Brainiac, Reverse Flash, and other villains defeat his fellow members of the Justice League. The Flash is tortured by images of his wife Iris sad and alone and unable to do anything about it. Barry learns to accept the fact that he can’t escape his fate, and sees images of Wally West taking his place in the Justice League and his wife remarrying. The story ends with Barry running further into the Speed Force, running towards whatever life will now bring.
Analysis: This is a very simple and straightforward story. What I like about it is it feels like the old Crisis on Infinite Earth Storyline’s fate for Barry Allen, but told from his perspective. Barry is trapped in an unwinnable situation but instead of giving up, he changes the perspective and embraces the unknown and I think that’s very true to a character that I think is just as much a scientist as he is a hero. I really liked the art by Christian Duce and think it was a good match for the Flash and I think he does an admiral job with staging the small action sequence in the story.
Story #5: Aquaman in “Where The Light Cannot Reach” by writer Mairghread Scott and artist Dexter Soy
Synopsis: After a nuclear holocaust, a pair of scientists enlist a reluctant Aquaman to collect a rare microbe from the ocean that could be the solution to cleaning the radiation from the atmosphere. Aquaman descends into an abyss off the coast of Greenland and finds mindless, mutated horrors like a mutated shark. Aquaman fights off the monster and descends further into the deep, where he finds not only a sample of the microbe but a shark not affected by the radiation. The story ends with Aquaman returning to the surface, now full of hope.
Analysis: I really enjoyed this story and I think it’s a shame that the story was only eight pages long. I would have loved to see this as sort of a Dark Knight Returns style Aquaman story. I like how the story gives Aquaman a short but effective character arc and setting the story in the deep of the Ocean gives a lot of opportunity for all kind of crazy creatures. For the purposes of this story the Two-Headed Shark was great, but given more time, I feel like there was a real opportunity to really go crazy with the creatures in this world. As for the art, I am becoming more and more a huge fan of Dexter Soy’s work and I think that this is an artist that is worthy of an A-list title or project.
Story #6: Supergirl in “Last Daughters” by writer Tom Taylor and artist Yasmine Putri
Synopsis: In a desolate future, Supergirl comes across a toddler and adopts her as her own daughter. Over the course of two years, the two travel to the top of the highest mountain in North America, where Supergirl is able to get a small dose of sunlight which restores her powers. Supergirl flies her daughter to the Fortress of Solitude where she intends to send her daughter off in the rocket that brought Superman to Earth. Supergirl tries to send the girl into space in the rocket, only to decide that she should be by her daughter’s side and the two blast off into space together.
Analysis: I love that the story is a slow burn to the reveal that this is a Supergirl story and it’s a great moment when this strong and determined woman makes it to the sun, through the poisonous air to reveal the “S” on her chest. I also really enjoyed that this story takes the classic Superman origin story and flips it on its ear. Let’s be honest, as much as I like Superman, writers always need to bend over backward to explain why two loving parents would shoot their only son in the cold reaches of space. Its one of those things were the answer is because the story says so and not because it actually makes sense and I like that this story makes a point of saying that a loving parent wouldn’t make that decision. Yasmine Putri’s art is gorgeous and is a standout of this story.
Story #7: Firestorm in “Last Christmas” by writer Paul Dini and artist Jerry Ordway
Synopsis: Firestorm investigates a radioactive signature at a decaying amusement park only to find the Nuclear Family, who manage to take Firestorm prisoner. The Nuclear Family is slowly dying and decide to use the last of their energy to detonate Firestorm. Firestorm manages to free himself by tricking “Mom” into malfunctioning and Firestorm convinces the Nuclear Family to have one last family toast, during which time the family shuts down, freezing them in their last family moment.
Analysis: When I read this story, there was something that felt a little too familiar. Then I realized that I have essentially seen this faceoff between Firestorm and the Nuclear Family before, on an animated episode of Justice League Action, which funnily enough was also written by Paul Dini. There something that feels a little too repetitive about reading this having seen that episode and I have a hard time separating the two stories. The story itself works well enough. I don’t know if this was intentional, but veteran artist Jerry Ordway seems to be embracing a more retro style in this story. The aesthetic of this story feels like it was inspired by 60s shows like “Thunderbirds”.
Story #8: Kamandi in “Northern Lights” written and drawn by Phil Hester
Synopsis: Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth, is fighting a bear-man named Kursk on the edge of a snowy cliff when an avalanche causes Kamandi to fall. Kamandi is discovered floating on a chunk of ice in the river below by a bear-woman and her son while fishing. The bear-woman, Dolma, tells Kamandi that the ruler of this area, King Omryn, killed all of the cubs born in a year that a comet hit to avoid a prophecy about the bear that would dethrone him, except for her son, Timir. Kamandi tells Dolma about his grandfather celebrating Chanukah and Dolma compares his story to the miracle of their survival when King Omryn and his forces appear. Kamandi attacks Omryn and the two fight until the ice under their foot gives way, where Kamandi is saved by Timir as Omryn falls to his death.
Analysis: Now, I understand that in a collection of stories about the apocalypse, a story featuring Kamandi makes a lot of sense. Then again, my knowledge of Kamandi kind of begins and ends with his appearances on Batman: The Brave and The Bold and he’s not exactly a character that I have a lot of background on. That being said, I thought that this story was overwritten. There’s a clear attempt by Hester to evoke a tone that you would get reading a comic book in the ’60s, ’70s or early ’80s that I don’t’ think is completely successful, and there an overly wordy and flowery nature to the narration that is trying to be retro but comes off as convoluted and frankly, kind of annoying. The biggest problem I had with this story is that I couldn’t muster a lot of interest in either Kamandi or his…Ewok Friends? I think that a more simplified version of this story, like just having Kamandi face off against Omryn without complicating the story with characters the story doesn’t have time to set up.
Story #9: Catwoman in “Nine Lives” by writer Cecil Castellucci and artist Amancay Nahuelpan
Synopsis: In a snowy Gotham City after “The Fall” on Christmas Eve, Selena Kyle and her protégé, Sophie (the daughter of Holly Robinson) rob a transport truck of supplies. The pair comes across a crowd begging for food at a checkpoint, with Selena telling Sophie to move on as Sophie approaches the crowd and gives a starving father and son some of her rations, which Selena scolds her for. Sophie criticizes Selena for stealing pieces of art that won’t feed anyone and storms off. Selena dons her Catwoman costume and breaks into a museum where she ignores a priceless cat statue in favor of a cache of supplies being hoarded in the museum. Selena wakes Sophie to tell her that they will deliver the supplies around Gotham and the two end the story with a hug.
Analysis: While I don’t think there’s anything in this story that isn’t in keeping with Catwoman’s character, I have a hard time believing that Catwoman would waste time and effort to steal works of art in these circumstances. This feels like a story that would happen on day two of the apocalypse, not fifteen years into it and I think this would have been a lot more of an effective story if it had taken this idea and explored Selena, a born survivor, in the early days of the “Fall”. While the art is well done in this story, I did find that it highlighted that when it comes to Joelle Jones’ design for the “Catsuit”, the design only really works when she’s the one drawing it and doesn’t seem to mesh well when drawn by others.
Story #10: Green Arrow in “The Birds of Christmas Past, Present, and Future” by writer Dave Wielgosz and artist Scott Kolins
Synopsis: The story opens with Green Lantern reminiscing about his time with the Justice League and how when the supervillains won, he felt that as the League team conscience he was being ignored and quit. Decades later, an older Green Arrow begrudgingly attends a holiday party at the Hall of Justice, having accepted Hawkman’s invitation. Hawkman tires to make amends with Oliver, who ignores him and makes for the door when he sees Black Canary. Canary stops Oliver and the two share a dance and talk about how their lives have turned out until they are interrupted by Dinah’s grandson Teddy, who complains about being bored. Oliver, with the aid of a holographic training facility, entertains Teddy with stories of his grandmother fighting Despero and Oliver and Dinah part ways under mistletoe, opting for a hug instead of a kiss. The story ends with Ollie and Hawkman walking off to grab a drink.
Analysis: Out of all the stories in this collection, this is the one that leans most towards being a Christmas story instead of focusing on the end of the world. It doesn’t even try to hide that it’s a riff on Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” and Hawkman and Black Canary work well as stand-ins for the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present. I also appreciate that the story made the third “Ghost” much more ambiguous and having Dinah’s grandson give Oliver a glimpse at the life he could have had with Dinah was a nice workaround for this part of the story. I also have to hand it to the art by Scott Colins. Too often in these stories the artists just add some wrinkles and grey hair to their characters to age them in stories like these and particularly in the panels of Oliver and Dinah dancing, you can see the care that the artist used in aging up these characters.
Final Thoughts: This is an on its face weird concept for a holiday special, and one that I don’t think was entirely successful. And while there are stories that I don’t think are terrible successful, there are enough bright spots, such as the stories for Superman, Aquaman, and Supergirl, to make this a worthwhile read.