Spectre (vol.4) #12 (February, 2002)
“The Spectre of Christmas!”
Writer – J.M. DeMatteis
Artist – Ryan Sook
Letters – Chris Eliopoulos
Colors – Guy Major
Assistant Editor – Morgan Dontanville
Editor – Dan Raspler
Cover Price: $2.50
Heyyy, Happy Festivus everybody!
I ask you what better way to air my grievances and test my strength then to discuss an issue of Spectre?!
Anyone who has listened to any of the programming on the Cosmic Treadmill “Network” knows that the Spectre ain’t exactly my cuppa tea. I always saw the character as nothing more than a moody and irritable “get out of jail free” card who writers could pull out whenever they needed to make their story seem more important… or to bail them out when they write themselves into a corner.
This is probably why the only time I actually actively collected his title was when Hal was wearing the rags. Surely Hal Jordan could make this property interesting, right?
Well’a let’ssssa find out’a.
We open on a narrated scene of Hal-as-Spectre watching Hal-as-young-boy moodily watching his family prepare for Christmas… for some reason, this brings him great joy. Suddenly he is whisked away and finds himself stood right at the foot of Santa Claus… who is in need of Spectrey aid. Hal is incredulous at first… which, c’mon, considering what the Spectre is, is meeting Santa really outside the realm of possibilities?
Hal learns that his Spectre-temple (or whatever it is) has been pulled through a rift of sorts. Hal is still in all kinds of disbelief over the situation… but Santa presses on regardless. He assures him that everything exists where they are… the Easter Bunny, even the Great and Powerful Oz. This story ain’t about them though.
Santa and the Spectre arrive at a Christmas Party, which is where we meet the fella narrating the story… Charles Dickens. Hal is pretty taken aback by this, as growing up his father would read A Christmas Carol in the days leading up to Christmas. Hal lets himself go, and begins to enjoy himself at the soiree.
We shift scenes to Hal’s niece, Helen. She is playing Candy Land or something with… are you kidding me… the Phantom Stranger?! The Spectre and the Phantom Stranger? Oh c’mon! It’s been nearing on twenty-years since the last time I even looked at this series, so I can’t say exactly what’s going on here. Either way, she kicks the board away and says it’s “for babies”…
Back in Santa’s Village the party finally begins to die down… until the only people left are Mr. and Mrs. Claus, Charles Dickens, Abin Sur (who has been hanging around throughout this run) and the Spectre himself. Hal finally remembers that Santa asked him there for a reason, and it’s high time they got around to dealing with it. Santa sends Hal (and Dickens) to another place… a town or something, but one not nearly as lively and animated as Santa’s.
Upon arrival, they are greeted with the repeated shrieking of “Get Out!” The person behind this voice is revealed to be… Ebeneezer Scrooge, and he’s pretty ticked off. Ya see, he hates the fact that he’s only remembered for being the villain of A Christmas Carol… and how nobody thinks of him as the man he became at the end of the story… which, I gotta admit, is a bit clever! Apropos of nothing, Scrooge kinda looks like Stan and Ollie’s boss at the Toy Factory in March of the Wooden Soldiers.
And so, he sics a bunch of witches on Hal and Chuck! They’re just the thing to kayo our heroes… after which, Scrooge and Company loads Dickens into a coffin and ties Hal to a tree… upside down? Okay then. Odd customs, but who am I to judge?
While hangin’, Hal revisits that memory of the moody boy watching his family getting into the Christmas Spirit. We learn that this was Hal’s first Christmas following his father’s death… and the lengths his mother went to that day to get him to smile… laugh even! She sang… very poorly.
The memory causes Hal to begin laughing out loud.
And, as we all know… laughter is contagious!
Amid the frivolity, Santa and Company arrive to spread even more Christmas cheer!
With his job complete, Hal returns through the rift where he meets up with his niece and the Phantom Stranger… and we’re outta here.
This issue does a lot of things right… but, I still can’t say that I necessarily enjoyed it. I feel like this was trying to evoke a Sandman sort of feeling, bringing in literary characters and what-not… but didn’t quite stick the landing, at least not in the “overall” sense.
Let’s get the Dickens stuff out of the way first. I thought the idea that Scrooge is tired of only being looked at as a villain was super clever… because, really… nobody talks about the “changed man” he becomes after being visited by the ghosts. It’s always about what he was a penny-pinchin’ ol’ skinflint ‘e was (‘e was? ‘e was!) Nobody’s going to get that reference… it’s okay though.
I feel like more could’ve been done with that concept. Like, an entire arc of Fables or something… ya know? They just burned through it too quickly. I won’t go so far as to call the idea “mind-blowing”, but… it’s wonderfully clever regardless.
Let’s talk Hal. He kinda wraps himself up in his Christmas memories… which is sorta what we all do, right? I mean, I’m coming to you today as a childless adult… Christmas has a significantly different meaning to me now than it did 20-30 years ago. It was certainly better back in the long ago, and had a “magic” to it… magic that can still cause me to smile (laugh even).
Christmas as an adult (without children) doesn’t really bring that kind of joy. We touched on this when we discussed a Wally West Christmas last week. You find yourself creating traditions… perhaps to convince yourself that things are just as special as before. Maybe even a twelve-day blogging marathon… ahem.
What I’m getting at is, Hal found the Christmas spirit in memories of his youth… and in sharing his joviality, he was able to bring Christmas to a place it otherwise wouldn’t have been. This works on many levels… and hits me a little closer to home than I had initially realized.
Overall… a perfectly readable and enjoyable book (with wonderful Ryan Sook art). A little disappointing in that it kinda rushed through and squandered a really cool take on Ebeneezer Scrooge. It doesn’t look like this issue (or series) is available digitally… I’m guessing DC might not want us to remember that Hal Jordan was ever the Spectre!