Review: “The Outsiders – A Christmas Carol 1985” (DC Comics, Jolly Jinglings Special)
Welcome back to Jolly Jinglings, The Splintering’s month-long celebration of all things merry and bright!
Yes, another take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. What kind of Christmas stories would comic creators come up with if A Christmas Carol never existed?
But all is well, because if there is any superhero team that fans were clamoring to see reenact the Dickens classic, its the Outsiders, right? Who doesn’t love such storied characters such as Halo, Geo-Force, Metamorpho, Looker, Katana and Black Lightning? Well, maybe those last two have a bit of a mainstream following now thanks to their film and television appearances. Still, The Outsiders book was designed from the outset to include characters on the fringes of the DC Comics mainstream, so the team being made up of C-list heroes was kind of the point (still a better idea than the Suicide Squad, anyway).
A Christmas Carol 1985 was the fifth issue of The Outsiders, and featured a girthy 28 pages thanks to a short back-up story. The main story is written by Mike W. Barr and features illustrations by the late Jim Aparo and colors by Adrienne Roy. I assume that most have a passing familiarity with Charles Dickens’ tale about three ghosts visiting Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve, so I won’t exhaustively recount it here. However, this issue of The Outsiders begins as the team is concocting a plan to guilt a mob accountant named Eben Mudge (a little on the nose, dontcha think?) into turning over evidence that would incriminate his boss. The plan? Yeah, they play dress up and do the Christmas ghosts thing.
And spoilers! It works. Geo-Force plays the ghost of Mudge’s dead partner, Halo is the Ghost of Christmas Past, Metamorpho is the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Black Lightning gets Ghost of Christmas Future duties. There’s even enough pages (barely) at the end to have an action sequence where the team fights off a small group of gun-toting mobsters.
This main story is only twenty pages, and much of it seems crammed and rushed. Each “ghost” is only given about two pages to do their thing, and given that I complained about a similar story in Batman Haunted Knight only giving each ghost six pages to work with, I would be remiss to not mention it again here.
The line art is by legendary Batman artist Jim Aparo, and while much of it is still solid work in the style of the era, there’s a handful of panels that look rushed and a few finer details are awkward at times. Some visuals are very silly, too (Metamorpho turns into a flying sleigh at one point), but it’s hard to fault the art as it matches the lighter tone of the narrative well enough.
After the Christmas Carol-inspired main story, there is also an 8-page backup story featuring artwork by Trevor Von Eeden. This short tale involves Katana assisting Black Lightning who is out Christmas shopping for his ex-wife (yeeeeah). If that wasn’t weird enough, then some bad guys kidnap the kid of a mall Santa, and force the father to use his Kris Kringle credentials to shut down security, allowing for the bandits to rob the mall’s jewelry store. Katana and Black Lightning leap to action and thwart the caper. A Christmas miracle, eh?
This back-up story wasn’t ground-breaking in any way, but it was a nice bonus to round out the 28-page book. The art and panels are really crammed in these 8 pages, though, and I don’t envy the artist’s task of trying to make it all fit. It all remains passable enough, and it’s certainly readable, but it makes for some busy pages and a few awkward transitions.
Is The Outsiders issue 5 worth picking up? If you are a fan of the broader DC Universe and are looking for a decent, self-contained story, then sure it is, but it’s just “okay.” Some story moments progress too quickly, the artwork isn’t up there with Aparo’s best, and there are better comic book interpretations of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. However, it’s not an expensive pick-up, there are flashes of good artwork, and if you’re looking for a festive read in keeping with the spirit of the Christmas season, then give it a shot.
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