Friday, December 20, 2013

Recommended Reading for 12/20: Jingle Belle

I think the holiday recommendation spot belongs to Paul Dini. Last year, it was dedicated to the Batman: The Animated Series Holiday Special, probably my favorite Christmas comic of all time, and this year, we'll be talking about Jingle Belle, his Christmas themed series about Santa's daughter. I beg your pardon if this is a bit short and lacking in my usual detail, but between the holiday and much of my collection remaining buried in boxes beneath boxes beneath yet more boxes since the move, I wasn't able to do a reread, so this is coming all from memory.

Jingle Belle (Jing to her friends) is Santa Claus's daughter. And while Santa is still the jolly old elf that he's portrayed at, Jing isn't like any member of Santa's clan you might have seen on a Christmas special. You see, Jing is a teenager (or about 220, which when you're an immortal is part of your extended adolescence), and that makes her a bit... difficult. And by difficult, I mean a nightmare. Jingle is spoiled (who wouldn't be if your dad was freakin' Santa Claus), entitled, and always up to something. And when you have access to Santa's various cool magical things, that something she is up to is usually a little more than breaking curfew.

Jingle's escapades often involve her trying to get out of working at Santa's workshop or just getting away to be a normal teenager; after all, it's hard to get away with anything when your dad's whole shtick is knowing whether you're naughty or nice. The best Jingle Belle stories work like a lot of the best Simpsons stories (There was even a crossover between the two in Simpsons Winter Wingding #1) with Jing working in the Bart roll: Jing does something naughty, gets caught, and learns a lesson. Of course the lessons don't really stick, and she gets into trouble again sooner or later, usually sooner.  Bit what also makes the series and character work is that under the bratiness, Jing really has a good heart, and will choose to do the right thing and help those in need.

Humor comics generally have a set-up/punchline thing that is consistent, which is true with most humor/comedy series; I mean, how many times could Elmer Fudd really go after Bugs Bunny and not expect to wind up getting shot in the head with his rifle that didn't seem to ever fire anything lethal? The trick is keeping that motif feeling fresh. Dini gives Jing all sorts of odd escapades that don't feel like the same thing over and over again. One time she could be trying to have a Christmas special made about herself, another time she could be trying to build a Vegas-based Christmas-themed resort , or tried to set up a reality TV show with her and her dad (all real plots).

The stories can also have a more action based tone at times, with Jingle falling afoul of some of Santa's wintery nemeses like The Blizzard Wizard, or she can befriend the Frankenstein Monster. But Dini never loses sight of the fact that at heart, Jingle Belle is a humor comic, and is always funny. There's even a story featuring my favorite piece of Christmas apocrypha, the Krampus, who is Jing's weird "uncle." Trust me, if you don't know who the Krampus is, go and find out. He's just wonderfully bizarre.

One of Paul Dini's great talents is world building and character creation. Looking at his Batman work, he created a bunch of excellent characters aside from Harley Quinn, including The Carpenter, Mr. Zzz, and he added levels of pathos to Hush, making him a far more interesting character than he was in his earlier appearances. So it's not surprising that he has populated Jing's world with an assortment of interesting and amusing characters. There are elves, like Jing's pal Gretchen, hipster elf Eddie, or brown nosing Cousin Rusty. There are Jing's girl friends, Polly Green, the Halloween witch, Ida Red, a superpowered cowgirl sheriff, and frenemy Tashi, a part girl-part snowleopard (sorta like a Thundercat, if that helps with visualization). And of course there's Santa and Mrs. Claus. It's a large cast, and each character is wrought well.

The publication history for Jingle Belle is a bit involved. Initially published by Oni Press back in its early years, and spawned two trades and a graphic novel, the series moved to Dark Horse for a bit, where there were some one shots and a four issue mini-seires that was traded, and then to Top Cow, where most of the stories were released as one shots, although there was one collection. The stories are mostly out of print, but I know they can be found, especially if your comic shop breaks out Christmas comics around this time of year like mine does. You can also find at least some of them on Comixology.

So if you're looking for something funny and not exactly what you'd expect from a Christmas comic, you should check out Jingle Belle. Your belly will shake like a bowl full of jelly, trust me. And with that, a merry Christmas to all. I hope to get some reviews up on Monday, but if not I wish you all a happy holiday.

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