Curse Words Holiday Special 1: Discussion

by Patrick Ehlers and Spencer Irwin

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

“No hugging, no learning.”

-Larry David

Patrick: It’s maybe not fair to say that Seinfeld was a show about nothing. The show was about cynicism, it was about flawed people trapped in their familiar patterns, it was about manners and modern etiquette. But it was mostly a vehicle for observational jokes about the weird ways human beings behave. So while there are virtually no sincere lessons learned in the whole series, the show illustrates an awful lot about human nature. The only way it ever drills down into that fundamental human truth is by straying aggressively true to itself — no hugging, no learning. The same is true of Charles Soule and Ryan Browne’s Curse Words, which gets to the heart of a nearly impenetrable relationship by being just as gross, just as crazy, and just as heartless as it possibly can be in Curse Words Holiday Special 1.

It’s the Holidays in Hole World… whatever that means! Our evil wizard masters celebrate some kind of annual feast, and because this is Curse Words, Ryan Browne and guest artist Mike Norton give the celebration all the trappings of an Earth-bound Christmas. Botchko wears a full-on Santa suit, while Clear Boy breaks his clothes rule to don a jolly hat. Even Sizzajee’s palace is decked out with multicolored twinkling lights! Of course, those lights are made up of imprisoned fairies, but y’know, it sure looks like Christmas.

Aww, one of the lights has gone out! Norton isn’t shy about what that means: while all the other fairies are struggling against their bonds, this one hangs lifeless. The light’s dead because the creature is dead. That’s a perfect encapsulation of the sort of dark whimsy that drives this whole series, and which we see continued in the feast of Meet Meat.

Meet Meat is an inspired bit of grotesquery. Sizzajee and his Nine work together to assemble a corpse from discarded offal, and then magically bring it to life to hunt for sport. There are some ways in which this is totally in line with IRL holiday traditions. For example, part of the reason we eat so many sweets around Christmas is that by this time of year, all that was left were the preserves — a lot of sweet fruits sealed away in jars and cans. It is not a feast of plenty, but a dinner made on what can be scraped together. If the Meet Meat isn’t the very definition of “scraped together,” I don’t know what is.

Caruso also gets a hilariously cheery line about the joy she gets from everyone working together to make this little tradition possible: “Everybody helps!” Of course, that moment of glee is sandwiched between the first panel that reveals the lifeless monster-body to us, and another panel of it screaming in the pure anguish of its mere existence, so there’s really no separating the saccharine from the savagery.

That’s the backdrop against which we are meant to learn about the relationship between Ruby Stitch and our ol’ pal Wizord. Soule smartly keeps both characters in the background for the majority of the issue, giving neither a role in animating (or re-animating?) the monster, which Caruso names “Jane.” They stand by, waiting for the thing to zoom off into the wilds of Hole World, and then Wizord engages the only way he knows how: by being an asshole. He teases and taunts Cornwall and his sister, and Ruby unsentimentally tells him that he “can be a real prick sometimes.”

Standing in stark contrast to Ruby and Wizord are Cornwall and Lady Violet, who seem to be the only ones taking the actual “hunt” part of this ritual seriously. Norton draws them with disarming sincerity, even giving them a dorky little fist-bump-between-siblings when they think they’re on the path to victory.

Even their magic is fucking dorky: Cornwall flies on the back of a cherub, and they follow an arrow with a heart on the end of it. These two are doing the real hard work of tracking and killing the creature, but it looks insufferably sincere.

But that’s where we can start to draw a connection between Wizord and Ruby — both of them make a move to steal the prize out from under Cornwall and Violet’s noses. This is what they bond over, a shared desire to take advantage of their more hapless peers. Spencer, what do you think that says about our heroes? They’re only really undermining a cruel ritual, and taking advantage of the people who take it seriously. Does thwarting evil make them good, or just double-evil? Also, I love that the grand prize for winning the Meet Meat is an iPod with Katy Perry on it. Hell yeah, you’re a firework Ruby Stitch. Hell yeah.

Spencer: Do you think Ruby Stitch ever feels like a plastic bag?

I don’t know if I’d call Wizord or Ruby heroes even in the series’ present day — I certainly wouldn’t at this point in their history, when they’re working as Sizzajee’s top henchpeople. I think the key to decoding this issue is remembering that it’s following the bad guys, in a world ruled by a magical, murderous warlord. In that sense, Meet Meat is almost a tame celebration compared to the kind of chaos Sizzajee could find amusing instead.

You’re right to key in on Cornwall and Lady Violet’s sincerity, Patrick, but the real thing that makes them the Hole World’s greatest losers is that they’re powered by love. Not necessarily romantic love, but their sibling bond certainly seems stronger and more genuine than any other relationships we see play out in this issue. That’s the heart-shaped beacon, the cherub, the giant heart-embroidered doily Violet rides on — love is their whole shtick. Even their motivation is somewhat sympathetic — they’re just tired of being seen as losers! In any other narrative that might give them an edge, but goodness, virtue, and love aren’t qualities that come out on top in Hole World, and certainly not in Sizzajee’s court.

Wizord and Ruby, on the other hand, are winners because of their ruthlessness. These are the qualities cherished in the Hole World, and clearly the kind of qualities these two find attractive. To answer your question, Patrick, I’d say that their victory just makes them double-evil. They weren’t trying to subvert Meet Meat — they were fully participating in it.

It’ll be interesting to see what role, if any, these ruthless qualities that initially brought Wizord and Ruby together ended up playing in their relationship’s demise. In a world where evil rules, would the potential both characters have for redemption serve as a turn-off? Or were they driven apart by the very selfish, opportunistic traits that brought them together in the first place, showing that maybe the dark doesn’t have quite as firm a grip on the Hole World as one might think?

Actually, the information this issue gives us about the Hole World has my mind speculating more wildly than anything. I’d always interpreted this realm as a place of darkness and despair, but from Curse Words Holiday Special‘s very first panel, Norton and Soule paint a picture of a far more whimsical land.

Just in this panel alone, not only do we get an adorable ice-skating goblin, but some sort of ritual surrounding a giant snowman! Super fun details like this are hidden throughout the issue, making it a joy to read just to find all the Easter Eggs. It does make me wonder about the nature of the Hole World, though. How absolute is Sizzajee’s control? Does he even rule over it at all, as I once thought, or is he more like a supervillain just menacing this world? Or has the Hole World just gotten that much worse between the time this story takes place and the present day?

If the creative team treats the Hole World with half the whimsy and attention to detail they do in this issue, I’d love to return to find out the answers to these questions in the future.

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?

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