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The Merry X-Men Holiday Special (2018) Review

A sometimes endearing, but all too often uncanny feeling X-mas advent calendar.

Ho-ho-ho! Merry X-mas! Deck the halls with Chris Claremont, Charles Soule, Ed Brisson…and Charlamagne Tha God? The Merry X-Men Holiday Special is an interesting, endearing, flawed experiment that I’m glad I read but will never revisit.

What is it? A kind of mutant advent calendar, containing 25 separate stories depicting what the X-Men do for the holiday season, brought to life by writers and artists such as those listed above as well as the likes of rapper Jean Grae, Chip Zdarsky, Kelly Thompson, Al Ewing, and others. In the end, its effect is a kind of exhausting and self-serving, but still charming.

Grounded by an interstitial story that follows Jubilee trying to escape a death-trap of a Middle American mall, we’re treated (in the best of cases) or dredged (in the worst of cases) through a breakneck series of vignettes that attempt to touch on the heart of all of our favorite X-men, but often fall short because they have no room to develop.

Marvel Comics

Some succeed, despite their limitations, by leaning into a sweet hilarity such as Ed Brisson’s Glob story – an equally hilarious and heartbreaking take on the lonely guy’s Christmas watch – as well as Charles Soule’s Wolverine story, which opts out of making any lasting point and instead offers up a quirky, quick-witted rebuttal to the recent #hotclaws debate. Others fare well, such as Anthony Piper’s Domino story and Kelly Thompson’s Rogue and Gambit story, because they rely on the well-grounded foundations of their central characters to lean into a simple vignette that rings true.

Marvel Comics

However, most of the in-between feel inconsequential and flighty, if not entirely pointless. Charlamagne’s Storm story feels bitter and dour, Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler’s Nature Girl story lacks the tact for the story it’s trying to tell, reading preachy and moralistic without much merit instead, and Chip Zdarsky’s Wolverine and Nightcrawler (while featuring a gorgeous Kurt beard) story is awkwardly rendered and flat, underlining a lot of unrealized art throughout.

It’s undeniably interesting to see which characters these writers and artists gravitate towards, and world-building in this way is a unique, intriguing development for Marvel of all places, but in the end there’s little more here that equates to more than the sum of its parts. A love letter not to craft or character like it might purport to be, but a conceit to a kind of generic franchising that feels pre-packaged despite its more genuine moments, of which there are indeed a few. X-men fanatics should check this out just to revel in the experimentation, but it holds little value for anyone else.

The Merry X-Men Holiday Special
Is it good?
Despite a few shining moments of real heart or hilarity, this experiment in world building and characterization falls mostly flat. It's interesting to see which characters or stories these writers and artists gravitate towards but in the end there's just no room to develop anything remotely intriguing.
Ed Brisson's Glob story is a real treat, hilarious and heartbreaking, it speaks to the simplicity and tact I think all of these stories were trying to go for
There's an undeniable warmth to even the failures here, a relative low-stakes charm and kitsch that makes things feel friendly or earnest (even in the darker stories)
There's simply no room for character or narrative development in the limited space that each vignette is given
Some of the stories falter in either art or dialogue in such a way that their entire chemistry is thrown off, Chip Zdarsky's artistic effort being a key example
Quite a few stories go for a surprisingly dark, moralistic take that isn't honed, tactful or realized in any compelling way. This isn't to say that I don't appreciate the effort, but that they miss the mark and introduce a real tonal whiplash.

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