Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing Power Man and Iron Fist Sweet Christmas Annual 1, originally released December 21st, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Taylor: At some point during the Christmas holiday I looked up from my cell phone and realized a number of my family (including myself) weren’t talking to each other. Instead, we were hypnotized by the small, glowing screen in each of our hands. Something about this felt wrong and I felt a stab of guilt in realizing that this wasn’t the best way to spend time with my family. Resolved to do better, I put my phone in my pocket and got ready to make some conversation because at the end of the day, isn’t that what the holidays are really about? Connecting with people? Most would say yes and can count on the first annual issue of Power Man and Iron Fist to back up their opinion.
Power Man and Iron Fist is a series that has overarching themes of inclusiveness, teamwork, and love at its core. It’s hard to think of a better series to release its annual issue right around the holidays because so many its themes overlap with the spirit of the season. Whether or not people are more giving and caring during this time of year, these thoughts are at least at the forefront of everyone’s mind and this issue asks us to once again consider if we are have lost our yule tide ways.
Krampus has set in motion a plan to capture the souls of everyone on earth with the very thing that threatened my own Christmas: the cell phone. Disguised as a toy maker, Krampus has created a Pokemon Go knockoff that has caused everyone to forget the true meaning of the holidays, thus making the earth ripe for the demonic plucking.
By causing everyone to care more about their cell phones than their family, Krampus has destroyed the Christmas spirit of togetherness and love that most people like to believe the holidays are all about. By no means is this a subtle message. In fact it stands among other classic Christmas stories as being highly moralistic and blunt in its message. But that’s part of what also makes this a successful holiday romp. Just like other Christmas stories the main characters all learn a lesson about the true spirit of the holidays and the importance of family and love. Of course the clever thing here is that writer David Walker infuses the story with kung-fu, demons, and a kick-ass Santa Claus to undercut the narrative and prevent it from becoming too maudlin.
While this story is mostly focused on the idea of Christmas spirit it also takes time to explore the world of parenting. While in the toy store Luke meets up with Jessica Drew, AKA Spider Woman, to give her some much needed parenting advice. Jessica is a new parent, and like a lot of new parents she feels like she’s doing a terrible job raising her child. However, Luke is there to tell her that everything is alright and give her a pep talk.
This is a side of Luke we haven’t seen much before. More often than not, Luke is the man who’s skin can’t be broken and who doesn’t deal with any fiddle-faddle. In this issue though we see that he’s also a great parent.
He knows just the way to quiet a crying baby (no easy task) and also how hard it is to always be there for his kids. This secondary story wonderfully builds on the primary theme of family in this issue only it does it in a way that is more subtle than main narrative. Here, instead of flat out being told to drop out cell phones and pay attention to our loves ones, Walker hints at the importance of family and the hard work that goes into making one run smoothly. Being a parent is hard work but it’s also the stuff that binds a family together and makes the holidays bright for everyone. It’s not as loud of a message, but it’s perhaps the more meaningful one to take from this issue.
Drew, that’s a of stuff about the themes in this issue and I didn’t even really talk about Krampus of Santa Claus. Your thoughts? In the pantheon of Christmas stories, where would you rank this one? Also, are you going to go out and buy Schnuckies for all of your loved ones next year?
Drew: I suspect, like Pokemon Go (which Walker name-checks in the first panel of the issue), the Schnuckie fad will fade quickly — even without the reveal that they’re actually demon spawn.
Taylor, I’m definitely with you in being more enamored of the parenting subplot than the anti-commercialism message. The season is very much about family, and I think Walker nails the notion that family brings both joy and stress — both of which can be goosed by the holidays. Jessica getting to the end of her rope feels like the right kind of stakes for a holiday story, and Luke supporting her through that moment felt like the true heart of the issue. This wasn’t a problem that needed unbreakable skin or super strength, just some words of encouragement. That’s a lesson that feels very applicable to real life — particularly this time of year.
Unfortunately, that thread gets buried by the stilted moralizing of the main plot. It’s possible some Christmas story will manage to find a fresh angle on the “Christmas has become so commercial” kvetching, but this one definitely does not. Perhaps because of that (or perhaps because of the toothlessness of such a message coming from a Disney subsidiary), Walker never fully commits to the idea, keeping whatever kids are learning the true meaning of Christmas and singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” forever out of view. Indeed, the only kid we spend any time with seems utterly immune to the temptations Krampus offers, deciding to pass on a Schnuckie long before they’re revealed to be demonic monsters.
Without a better idea of how (or how successfully) Krampus is corrupting the souls of other children, we never really have a sense of the threat. I suppose we understand that he might possibly hold sway over some hypothetical children, but the only children we actually see completely balk at their first glimpse at a Schnuckie. As if acknowledging the nebulousness of this threat, Walker quickly ups it to “taking over the world” — the gold standard of vague villainous machinations.
What’s particularly troubling about never seeing anyone actually succumbing to the commercialism this issue rails against is that it robs the issue of the very moral it seems to be tilting at. Krampus isn’t defeated by a spoiled kid learning generosity or whatever; he’s defeated by good old fashioned punches to the face. Nobody learns anything. Nobody grows. The specific avenue for Krampus’s entire plan turns out to be completely irrelevant to the solution — if they’re just going to punch the problem away, why bother pretending like it’s an issue of morals or standards in the first place?
I think the reason this bothers me is that Walker had a great off-beat moral baked into that Spiderwoman subplot, which makes me wish all the more that it was the focus of the issue. If Krampus had been vibing off of parental stress, rather than the commercialism of gift-giving, his defeat could have lent more resonance to Jessica’s story. In fact, it would have offered an opportunity for Jessica to not only be more involved in the defeat of Krampus (as it is, she’s sidelined as the babysitter for the final moments of the fight), but also to give that defeat some real character meaning. As it is, these plotlines are essentially unrelated — they just happened to happen at approximately the same place and time.
That the plots are so unrelated makes the structure of this issue somewhat unwieldy. Some of the key rising action is delivered as we’re following three separate groups of characters: Luke and Jessica, Danny and Danielle, and Daiman Hellstrom. Artist Scott Hepburn does what he can to lend that sequence some flow, but a double page spread where those threads are intercut one panel at a time throughly disrupts the continuity, pushing me right out of the story. Even though these characters are ostensibly in the same building, we virtually never see them in the background of one another’s story, so we have no idea where they are relative to one another. When the fight breaks out, it’s not clear how close Danny or Luke are to Krampus or one another, so we can’t guess what their immediate goals are. Simply being separated could be played for drama, but without a stronger sense of the geography, their reunion becomes a complete non-event.
This issue has some good moments, and clearly has its heart in the right place, but its roughness robbed it of leaving any kind of mark. Maybe mildly diverting is the right target for holidays specials, and maybe it’s unfair to expect a stronger moral because it’s a holiday special, but I think the tragedy here is that there actually is an interesting holiday story underneath the trite, inelegant main plot. That a sweet, sincere sentiment was drowned out by a bunch of crassness might feel intentional if that theme came across in the issue itself. As it is, it’s hard not to feel like this issue represents the very hollow commercialism it limply aims to decry. It’s a real shame.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?