Here is #7 on our countdown of the best Batman Christmas stories! It is “Merry Christmas” from Batman #247 by Denny O’Neil, Irv Novick and Dick Giordano.
This issue was a bizarre little tale, in that it is the only issue that I can think of offhand that is, in effect, a two-part story within a single issue with the first part taking place on Christmas and the second part on New Year’s Eve. The bad guy from the first story escapes and causes havoc in Gotham on New Year’s Eve in the second story in the issue (with Giordano taking over penciling duties).
Really, the short story is a fascinating lesson in how to do a short story right. It’s only six pages long. Let’s take a look (I omitted the first page, which was just an establishment shop, showing Batman stalking through the snow while the family looks for shelter in the same snow)…
Okay, first off, the quick nod that the guy who owns the house that the bad guy has broken into is an astronomer. That’s obviously important, because otherwise, the payoff at the end of the story doesn’t work. It doesn’t fit to have some guy just say, “I’m an astronomer!” Now, if you’ve already established that the guy is one, then it works for the payoff.
Secondly, with only five pages to work with, O’Neil knows that he can’t waste panels introducing Batman into the story, so he just does it outright, with the dialogue quickly explaining how Batman got involved in this situation in the first place. For what is basically just outright expositionary dialogue, O’Neil pulls it off very well.
Also, perhaps due to the page length, there’s no room for a big battle, so it’s just wham-bam-he’s down with one Bat-slap. By the way, how great of a job did Novick do on the facial expressions of the bad guy? Awesome stuff.
Okay, so the stolen vial not only works to get Batman to back off, but it, of course, sets up the plot for the NEXT story in the issue, as the vial, naturally, plays a center role in the next story.
Then, of course, if you’re dealing with a short story, you gotta go for the star – it’s just such an easy way to get out of a plot situation. O’Neil later used the same exact plot point in yesterday’s “Santa Claus: Wanted – Dead or Alive.” Pretty funny.
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