Anthology comics are typically uneven, if for no other reason as not every story is going to be a home run, and having various different stories vying for screen time and your attention as a reader can cause some stories to lose some of their lustre. The Gwenpool Holiday Special #1 is a typical anthology holiday special, as it’s uneven, but in the end comes out being more enjoyable than not. I hate to sound like a Scrooge when discussing a holiday special, but there are elements of this book that just don’t plain work, but thankfully the stronger elements seem to make the taste of the bad easier to swallow.
The biggest faux pas this comic commits is simply in the name of the book, as it is a complete misnomer (although I was glad that the book contained a LOT less Gwenpool than I would have originally expected, based solely on the title). This book’s title would have been far more accurate if it had been “She-Hulk Holiday Special”, as that’s pretty much what we got here. The framing story is by Charles Soule, who wrote She-Hulk’s most recent (and sadly short-lived) ongoing series. She-Hulk attends a workplace Holiday Party, which is soon threatened by the looming sale of the building, prompting She-Hulk to call over her superhero friends and make sure that the party lasts all night long, to prevent the sale. It’s ludicrous, but the story is charming enough to work, and it’s just nice to read Soule’s take on She-Hulk and her supporting cast from his run one more time.
The art, however, I felt failed to capture the fun tone of the story. The details of the different characters’ facial features kept shifting, there was a general lack of consistency in characters’ visuals, but I think the biggest fault of the art was actually in the colours by Megan Wilson. Her muted colors during the framing sequence were made all the more noticeable and thus jarring when the other stories in the issue boasted far more vibrant and alive colours.
The first vignette involves Kamala Khan, and is probably the strongest sequence in the book. Margaret Stohl does a tremendous job of tapping into Kamala’s character as she deals with the holiday season, considering her religious and cultural background. It was a very enjoyable look into what makes Kamala tick, and further explores her character, as well as her burgeoning friendship with her mentor and idol, Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel. The story ends on a bittersweet note, as it’s a sad moment for her friend Bruno. The sadder part is that I’m sure we’ll never see this referenced in the Ms. Marvel ongoing series, which is such a pity as it was a strong character moment. If G. Willow Wilson should ever leave Ms. Marvel, Stohl would be a great fit to replace her as Kamala’s shepherd, as she taps into the characters so well. The artwork by Juan Gedeon was quite enjoyable as well, and brought Kamala and her world to life quite wonderfully.
The second story features Hawkeye and Deadpool together, written by Gerry Duggan with artwork by Danilo S. Beyruth. It’s a fun little holiday story as Hawkeye and Deadpool take on a low-level thief, and Deadpool has a surprising sentimentality to him by the end. I enjoyed this story far more than I would have initially expected to, there’s just something about the way that Hawkeye is written these days, coupled with Deadpool, which works in ways one doesn’t see coming. It’s silly and light, but there’s a beating heart beneath the humour.
I mentioned previously about the jarring changes in the colours used in this issue, and perhaps nowhere is this more evident than the last page of the Hawkeye/Deadpool story, and the following page which continues the She-Hulk storyline. It’s just so drastic and reveals just how drab and dull the colours in the She-Hulk story truly are (which is not a good thing when your lead character should be noticeably bright green!).
The final story in this volume stars the titular Gwenpool, and is lackluster at best. I find myself completely confused as to just why and how Gwenpool is even a thing that would be the title of a one-shot at all in the first place. A weird mixture of Gwen Stacy and Deadpool… how and why did this become something?
That being said, a few years ago the idea of a Spider-Gwen character having an ongoing series and being a popular cosplay outfit would have struck me as a ludicrous concept that would never happen. But whereas I feel that Spider-Gwen has succeeded because of the merits of it being an interesting What If spin on the Spider-Man concept, with Gwen instead of Peter becoming the superhero, I don’t understand where this Gwenpool even comes from. The story she stars in just feels like I’m reading a Lady Deadpool comic, for lack of a better term (and yes, I know there actually IS a Lady Deadpool, but I don’t know what her deal is either, or what separates her from Deadpool proper). She doesn’t really feel like a version of Gwen Stacy at all, but the story doesn’t seem to be concerned with that, instead using her as a Deadpool stand-in as she does the same type of fourth-wall breaking that Deadpool does with regularity. The artwork is snappy, even if the concept is elusive and confusing.
Overall, this is a holiday one-shot that manages to succeed more often than it fails, boasting an oddball cast of characters (as it doesn’t really feature the more popular or recognizable Marvel characters like Iron Man, Spider-Man and the X-Men), instead splashing its focus on the oddballs of the Marvel Universe. And given the nature of She-Hulk’s impromptu superhero get together at her workplace holiday party, that’s pretty appropriate.
A somewhat uneven collection of stories featuring oddballs, new critical darlings, and an odd couple pairing of Hawkeye and Deadpool, this Holiday special manages to entertain despite some missteps along the way.