There are some Christmas-oriented comic book stories that resonate with a great mix of nostalgia and holiday spirit - the Legion of Super Heroes trying to find the Star of Bethlehem; the one where Superman digs a man out of a snow-bound car; even the infamous Howard the Duck Holiday Special. But one story just grabs me right by the heartstrings...and won't let go. I always end up tearing up at one key moment.
That book is Starman # 27.
I've always talked about my fondness for this series - how James Robinson (who I still can't believe wrote the horrible League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film) balanced contemporary storytelling, a non-fannish love for continuity, and a strong literate sensibility, in the same comic. In this issue, however, he tells a done-in-one Christmas tale that, if it were a movie, would be It's a Wonderful Life.
(For those of you not wishing to scour the back issue bins, it's reprinted in the Starman: A Wicked Inclination trade paperback)
The story begins in the O'Dare household, as they await Jack Knight's return from his duties in Opal City. Jack, however, comes across a Santa, sitting in a snow-filled park, crying - he had lost his family tragically, and some thieves stole a locket. Not much in the grand scheme of things, but Jack - motivated by nothing more than his own compassion and humanity - helps Pete (aka Santa) find his locket.
The story shifts back and forth between preparations at the O'Dare household, as well as Jack and Pete hunting down the locket. Granted, there are some almost obligatory nods to Christmas - Jack is amazingly generous with money - but part of the appeal of the book is how it deftly combines superheroic action with some genuinely human moments. (Including an appearance by a villain who...well, something tells me Mr. Russell T. Davies might have read an issue or two).
But what gets me every time - what makes this story special - is page 18. Steve Yowell's art, Wade von Grawbadger's inks, and Robinson's writing combine in this page, where we think the story ends...well, let me just show you rather than tell you, or link to Flickr:
Even out of content, it pulls at the heartstrings, but just before the end of the story - which really packs some punch - brings home the overall theme. In an age where Christmas stories are either variations of old movies or classic novels, this is one of the few that never seems overly cloying, or sentimental, or even annoyingly sweet.
But this is one of those back issues that's worth hunting down - there's even a little something for the Chris Sims set:
Personally, if loving a comic featuring a guy with a big glowing stick fighting crime with a guy in a Santa suit is wrong...I just don't wanna be right.