3 out of 5
A very average selection of X-Mas themed JD tales, often more notable for art – we get a range of modern allstars here – than its contents.
Al Ewing and Paul Marshall have their Xmas special from 2010 – O Little Town of Bethlehem. This is a Dreddverse riff on stolen Christmas toys – y’know, crooks steal a hot commodity item, wanting to auction it off for dollars – told across a Then / Now flashback / present day story split. Marshall’s rounded, poppy style is a great fit for Ewing, who’s in typical 2000 AD goofy form, but pretty on-the-nose throughout. Amusing, just not especially clever, and some really forced puns.
Marshall also tackles John Wagner’s ‘Death Row,’ which has Joe grumblingly doing an Xmas day favor for a crim who he realizes was wrongly convicted. I liked the ending to this (which is in the usual, guessable “no one ever wins” vein, though Wags does those really well), but the narrative felt like something Wagner was at pains to peace together. It’s way over-cluttered, and wanders, struggling for its throughline until its final pages.
The Gift of Mercy – Dave Taylor, Wagner – is perhaps the best story here. It’s also particularly dark, featuring a poor husband and wife each breaking the law in their own ways in order to procure a meaningful present for their significant other. Taylor’s art is a miracle – his somber, detailed vibe from Megatropolis, but all condensed and stifling versus that strip’s more open, empty feel.
Finally, we switch over to Mike Carroll for the last two stories, one which, like Death Row, struggles to establish itself, and is illustrated with really subpar eye direction from Bill Willsher, pushing us all over the page without proper visual cues. Like Death Row, though, once it gets to its point – Chaos Riots survivors on whom Joe takes some holiday pity – it’s effective.
And then Carroll and Leigh Gallagher’s The Right Thing, which is a funny and brutal cat-and-mouse chase with the “thief” finding himself chased while trying to return the loot. Fittingly, with Carroll’s other story reflecting Death Row’s lack of flow, this one balances it out, standing close in terms of quality to Gift of Mercy, with an equally notable artist at the helm.