Friday, April 13, 2018

Marvel Holiday Special 1993

Cover Artist: Mike Kaluta
Published: Jan. 1994
Original Price: $2.95

Title: "Harvey Teabiscuit's Yule Log"
Writer: Ann Nocenti
Artist: Tom Grindberg
Inker: Bob Almond
Letterer: Brad Joyce
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Editor: Renee Witterstaetter
Editor In Chief: Tom DeFalco

On Christmas Eve, sadsack Harvey Teabiscuit wakes up to his alarm screaming at him, followed immediately by his mother screaming as well.  At breakfast she berates and belittles him for having no friends, stating that she wishes he had just one to invite over for Christmas dinner.  Harvey fantasizes about killing her, but departs without a word.  On his way to work, he sees the Ghost Rider chasing a criminal down the street on his motorcycle.  When he passes by, the Ghost Rider turns his head and stares directly at Harvey, who is standing on the sidewalk.  At his office, a daydreaming Harvey is told by his boss that there will be no Christmas bonus this year, and that Harvey will have to work on Christmas morning.

Harvey leaves the office that evening, consumed by the word "vengeance".  Outside the building, the waiting Ghost Rider approaches Harvey and starts conversing with him.  While Harvey can only stand in shock, the Rider apologizes for scaring him earlier and wishes to do something to make it up to him.  Ghost Rider walks into the office building and confronts Harvey's boss, who confesses to mistreating his employees.  Ghost Rider tells the boss to change his evil ways, then departs, bidding Harvey farewell.  Harvey interrupts and hands Ghost Rider his business card, asking if he will be his friend and come by his house later for a drink.  Ghost Rider takes the card and leaves, and moments later Harvey's boss runs outside and tells Harvey that he is getting a bonus and a raise and a paid vacation.  That night, while Harvey and his mother watch television, there's a knock on their door.  Harvey tells his mother that he invited a friend over for a drink, and when she excitedly runs to the door to open it, finds the Ghost Rider on the other side.

This Christmas special also included stories featuring Spider-Man, Nick Fury, the Marvel Bullpen, Captain Ultra, and the Hulk.

Ghost Rider last appeared in Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance (1992) # 11 and he appears next in Fantastic Four (1961) # 374.

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A poor milquetoast named Harvey Teabiscuit gets a dose of the Spirit of Christmas in this charming holiday tale.

Ghost Rider has a history of starring in some really fucking weird Christmas stories, but amazingly all of them have this endearing charm to them.  The character really shouldn't work all that well, given the demonic violent nature of the stories he usually appears in, but for some reason creators are always able to tap into something unexpected for the Spirit of Vengeance's yuletide shenanigans.  The 1993 Holiday Special allowed Ann Nocenti and Tom Grindberg to do an extremely off the wall story starring Ghost Rider...or, well, starring Harvey Teabiscuit with special guest star Ghost Rider, to be more accurate.

The image of the beat-down introvert dominated by a controlling woman, be it his wife or his mother as in this example, is pretty cliched.  Nocenti seems to understand this, as she makes the story as surreal as possible, what with all of the flights of fancy that Harvey has about murdering his awful mother as she berates him for not having any friends.  He's a schlub at his office, forced to work on Christmas, and it looks like his life will continue to be utter shit for the rest of his life.  However, the chance encounter he has with a very affable and loquacious Ghost Rider changes his fortune and gives him that good ol' fashioned Christmas miracle that he needed.  It's a simple and, yes, downright goofy story that is saved by two things.  The sense of humor this story has, because at heart it's a comedy, is pretty funny (see Harvey's slack-jawed, multi-panel reaction to Ghost Rider speaking to him).  The Ghost Rider's personality, itself, is the other positive because it's just so jarring and unexpected that you can't help but enjoy it.  This isn't a growling, vengeance fueled monster, this Ghost Rider is a guy that gets too much into his work and feels the need later to apologize for scaring some poor guy on the sidewalk.  Seriously, Ghost Rider's soliloquy when he introduces himself to Harvey is priceless, and Nocenti's ear for dialogue that would sound ridiculous coming from anyone else makes the scene.

What also elevates this story is the artwork by Tom Grindberg, who had been a low-level Marvel artist for several years by this point, working steadily on stuff for Marvel Comics Presents and other anthologies.  When Grindberg started he had a real Neal Adams aesthetic to his work, but in the mid-90s he changed to this much blockier style that really works to his favor.  The characters look carved out of wood in some panels, and his Ghost Rider has a real physical, imposing presence.  That splash page of GR on his motorcycle is particularly nice.

So, yeah, Ghost Rider has Christmas dinner with Harvey Teabiscuit, and a story that should frankly be dumb as hell turns into something that I found myself enjoying quite a bit.  Not a must read, but recommended if you can track it down.

Grade: A