It's okay to hate the holidays.
Really, no secret Santa brigade will beat you into being jolly. In fact, it's perfectly natural to get a sort of dread around this season. The sun doesn't shine as much, the weather outside is frightful, it's the end of a year and the approach of a new one that we can only hope is better. As much as festive decorations, carols and family dinners might say otherwise, this is the season for frustrations.
Dear reader, I understand this feeling. I work retail. It's perfectly fine to hate the holidays, and it's perfectly normal to wish things were better. Charlie Brown Christmas Specials are all well and good, and it's great to aspire to that Rockwell painting of a warm Christmas dinner, but let's face it: that's not reality. Reality sometimes is that a roast is burnt, the family just bickers and drinks, and all those Peanuts kids dance like idiots.
We can't get the perfect Christmastime we want so badly, but sometimes we can be Avenged. We can take Christmas into our own hands, show some Scrooges what for and make them kinder. We can look at all the little things that make this time, if not perfect, uniquely special. And we can rocket a perverted uncle around in a frilly brassiere once we've shrunk him to the size of an action figure.
Folks, this is Ant Man's Big Christmas.
I don't sell a lot of holiday-themed comics this time of year, but I do love reading them. After awhile, however, they all sort of blend together (unless they're written in the Silver Age and then all bets are off). Something about Santa, or orphans and kindness, family and togetherness and hey, Ben Grimm is Jewish! Spidey swings by in a Santa hat but is that really Christmas, or just the trappings? Ant Man's Big Christmas, by Bob Gale and Phil Winslade, seems to be entirely devoid of all the mythology aspects to the modern-day media Christmas and focuses on the one thing that is essential: family.
Especially family that you hate, though hate is a strong term. Family that irritates you, makes you feel small in some fashion and generally puts a damper on your Christmas cheer and charity. I'm sure that even if you were raised by wolves, there would be at least one wolf-brother who peed inside the cave. Everyone can relate to a relative that you'd rather not spend a weekend with. Maybe you're lucky and you can get through a family dinner in peace and tranquility, or maybe you're married and now there's two sets of families to try and make it through. This is where we find Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne somewhere around the turn of the new millennium, trying to figure out whose family is worse and simply cannot be tolerated for a Christmas dinner.
Neither one is exactly thrilled with the notion, and while they don't fight with each other, they bicker in a familiar fashion. These are two people who love each other enough to fight about it. It's nice and a little nostalgic to see a sassy Janet get fed up with the men in her life, and an oblivious Hank try and find ways of playing nice with others. They are saved from having dinner with either family and sent on a sort of Avengers "Make a Wish" request, where a young boy named Larry asks for an appearance at his family's dinner to make Christmas a little more tolerable. With some prodding by Captain America (and the threat of having dinner with the Van Dynes), they head off to make a celebrity appearance.
After a bit of a reality check on how superheroes can't just exactly bust in on a family without causing a scene, they eventually meet up with Larry in secret. Dazzled by his favorite heroes (really?), the heroes shrink him down and give him an ant's high view of the world at Christmastime. He's honestly amazed, and it is a true credit to Mr. Winslade as he's got this great 'fish-eye' lens style when showing how a Christmas tree might look at the size of one of its bulbs, all very vivid and classically styled for a book that shows a 12-year-old boy torturing his extended family for being rude.
We should get to that: so the crux of the story is that Larry has the relatives from Hell and, because of a request made at his grandmother's death bed, they have to see them every year for Christmas dinner. And we're not just talking the aunt that pinches your cheeks too hard or that cousin who has a little too much to drink at dinner and sings carols a little too loudly, we're talking vile people. Larry was hoping that if Ant-Man and Wasp showed up, then everyone would think he's a big shot (size pun!) and might behave a little better for super-heroic company. "Being a 'big shot' is something you earn," Ant-Man tells Larry, "from your own accomplishments. Just because you associate yourself with a big shot won't make you into one."
Instead, they devise a way to teach these relatives a lesson, shrinking each one to tiny size and terrorizing them until they are chased off and told to be more considerate. These are nasty and weird punishments, and even Ant-Man and Wasp are a little apprehensive at points until, well... they get into the Christmas spirit. I won't go into the dirty details, but yes: a pervert gets shrunk down and taped to the inside of a brassiere and sort of whirled around like a NASA test subject. It's all a little vindictive and childish, but hey! It's Christmas.
In the end, Larry decides that using shrinking gas on his family to extort better behavior through torture is the wrong way to go about this, despite hilarious results. No no, extortion wasn't the answer: blackmail was. For the last and most vicious of his family members, two twin bully cousins, he lures them out into the garage, dumps tires on their heads to subdue them (feels a little Home Alone-y), then hog-ties them with Velcro to cover their pants in sugar water so he can unleash a horde of ants on them. And yes, they bite. He films their shrieks and humiliation, and says that if they come to the house next Christmas, they should behave or he'll put the video on the Internet.
Now this all might seems a little... mean. Please keep in mind that Home Alone reference and that all slapstick comedies are a little mean, crude and horrible if you try to put them in a more realistic setting. Ant-Man's Big Christmas came out as part of the original Marvel Knights line, edited by Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti themselves and certainly shows a kind of humor and self-awareness that seems odd on the shelves today.
Bob Gale wrote something unique for the holiday season, something that doesn't pander to the great, all-perfect vision of Christmas, family and charity. He just wants us to be good, not for goodness's sake, but because someone will humiliate and terrify you if you're not. That there are consequences to your actions, be them large or small, that we can all take the reins of our holiday blues and make a difference as we come into the new year. You don't have to have that blessed moment of holiday bliss to be a big shot, you can fight for your right to have peace in this house, just for one day.
Happy Holidays, everyone.