In 2009, DC Comics released a 71-page book: The DC Holiday Special 2009. With a supremely adorable cover by Dustin Nguyen, this book contained 16 stories, starring some of DC’s biggest characters, like Batman and Superman, as well as lesser-known characters like Ragman, Enemy Ace, and Angel and the Ape. Most of these stories are just really heartwarming, full of wonderful holiday sentiment. If I had to pick three favorites, though, they’d be Superman: Man of Snow, Sergeant Rock: A Peace on Earth, and Deadman: Unbearable Loss.
You were probably expecting a picture of Deadman just now, but nope, Sergeant Rock! You’ll see plenty of Deadman later on.
Yes, once again, it’s time for another Deadman review! Deadman: Unbearable Loss is a seven-page comic, one third the length of a proper comic book. And yet it manages to tell a very well-thought out story, much more mature in nature than the others. I’d explain more of the charms of it, but, well, I’ve got a review to do. So here we go.
“Great Grandma was anything but great. She was a monstrous woman. Locking babies in closets— beating children ‘til they bled. Even soaking clothing in blood to draw attacks from animals. All to punish— frighten! Scared him right out of his mind. And into one of Gotham’s most notorious insane villains.”
-Deadman, explaining the Scarecrow’s origins.
On a cold winter night in Gotham City, a young homeless boy starves and freezes. Meanwhile, nearby, a woman named Karen contemplates the horrors committed by her son, Jonathan Crane, the Scarecrow. It’s up to Deadman to save both of them from the horrors they face.
This is actually the longest story in the book, clocking in at seven pages, with most stories lasting four or five, and even a couple only being one. The thing is, pretty much any of these stories could’ve been easily fleshed out into a full and proper one-shot, with some stories, like Superman’s, having the potential to be a multi-issue story arc if you took the concept and ran with it.
But, as the bard said, “Brevity is the soul of wit”. Unbearable Loss, like the other stories, cuts the usual fluff and sticks to the bare bones the story needs to progress. Still, Scott Kolins manages to tell a pretty heavy story in such a short time. We deal with the suffering of two individuals, along with the dark and twisted themes that accompany any of Arkham Asylum’s inmates, especially Scarecrow. And of course, being a holiday comic, it’s got a happy ending. But what I find amazing is that the comic goes from horrific to happy really quickly, and yet the transition feels completely natural, and is really well done. It’s amazing.
Scott Kolins also did the pencils for this book, and they’re nice and dark. The characters look great… Except Deadman himself. This is just a personal thing, but I’ve always preferred Deadman either looking all the way human or all the way dead (like Alex Ross’s skeletal portrayal of the character), not like some malnourished corpse-like being. However, this is made up for by CP Smith’s colors, which actually compliment Kolins’s artwork really well. Everything’s dark, and the shading choices he makes are just perfect. In fact, Deadman’s smiling face in the last panel is probably one of my favorite images I’ve ever seen of the character, and I really think it wouldn’t work as well if it weren’t for the masterful coloring job.
One of the big things about Deadman is bringing balance to the universe, which often means solving small problems. Instead of big supervillain threats, the character is more suited to simply helping out normal human beings (not that he’s a slouch in a fight, because he isn’t). Deadman’s stories don’t always need a villain, because the character often deals with the shit that life throws at people, and you can’t always blame that on one person.
This is a wonderful little tale about people helping each other, and about how the bad in life can always be turned around. While the other stories in the book certainly aren’t bad, they’re really about more normal holiday messages, some of which are directly tied to Christmas, like generosity, or buying presents for people, or the story of Chanukah. Deadman’s story doesn’t even mention the holidays, it just tells its own tale, and it’s much stronger for it. It still fits in a holiday anthology, but unlike the others, you can read it pretty much any time of the year. It’s timeless in a whole new sense of the word. However, that doesn’t mean the other stories aren’t worth reading, because they are.
Deadman: Unbearable Loss is part of the DC Holiday Special 2009, available at prices that vary depending on the seller, or for free on Comixology. I encourage you to read the whole thing. It’s pretty great.
Merry Christmas, folks. And Happy New Year.