Christmas is a time of bringing people together—usually, with copious amounts of food, booze, and gifts. The Gwenpool Holiday Special might sound like a zany stunt comic, focusing on Marvel’s latest female star, but it’s really about togetherness, and uniting Marvel heroes big and small.
Spoilers ahead for Gwenpool Holiday Special #1, by (big breath here) Charles Soule, Margaret Stohl, Gerry Dugan, Christopher Hastings, Langdon Foss, Juan Gedeon, Danilo S. Beyruth, Gurihiru, Megan Wilson, Tamra Bonvillain, Chris Peter, Travis Lanham, and Clayton Cowles. Phew!
This comic anthology gathers up a disparate mismatch of Marvel characters—from superstars like Ms. Marvel to underloved greats like Patsy Walker and She-Hulk, and of course, the titular Gwenpool—and gives them a sprinkle of holiday cheer. The resulting issue definitely feels like more than the sum of its individual stories.
Weirdly enough, its Gwenpool herself who is the most out of place here, given that she’s the title character, and the focus of the cover. Her story, while fun and a bouncy, interesting introduction to such a weird new character, lacks the Christmas-factor liberally sprinkled over the rest of the book. (Gwen, aka Gwen Poole, comes from an alternate universe where the heroes of Marvel aren’t real, just comic book characters—so she becomes a hired mercenary, thinking she’s just in a fantasy world of make believe.) Gwen’s story stands out in a somewhat awkward way—even if her adventure is a brief jolt of fun action that you won’t really find elsewhere in the issue.
The way it stands out best though, is in the great creative team of Chris Hastings and Gurihiru (the pseudonym for artists Chifuyu Sasaki and Naoko Kawano). Hastings quickly crafts a character that shares some of the ridiculousness of Deadpool, without feeling just like a female Deadpool—and the action has a fun tilt to it thanks to Gurihiru’s wonderful manga-influenced art style. If Gwenpool Holiday Special, overall, is a not-awful version of the Star Wars Holiday Special, Gwenpool’s short story would be like a not-horrifyingly-bad version of the animated interlude that introduced Boba Fett.
Elsewhere, it’s a Christmas-palooza. We’ve got Kamala Khan in “Ms. Grinch”, which offers an interesting take on your typical Christmas story by having Ms. Marvel—Earth’s happiest hero—get grumpy over the holidays. She’s envious of watching her friends celebrate Christmas and Chanukah while her Muslim family just orders pizza like it’s any other day of the year. There’s some interesting introspection, plus the funny family heart-to-hearts that dominate your usual Ms. Marvel fare (Kamala’s mom gets a particularly great line about the importance of stuffed crust pizzas). But the story ultimately has a very Christmassy solution, one that you only really let it get away with because it’s the holidays—and it involves Kamala cathartically punching a robber dressed as Santa Claus.
Because of course it does.
The next story sounds like a recipe for zany wackiness in the style of Gwenpool’s own short—Clint Barton, Kate Bishop, and Deadpool, teaming up to hunt down a Christmas pickpocket—but like Ms. Marvel’s, it goes down the heartwarming Christmas route. And the Santa punching, although this time it’s Clint, dressed as the raggediest Santa there has ever been, doing the punching.
It’s kind of a theme in this book.
But in actuality, it’s a feel-good tale of bringing people together—throughout the short tale Deadpool mucks up Clint’s plans, gets in the way, and makes a general annoyance of himself in a typically Deadpoolian fashion. But when Wade gets turned away from She-Hulk’s big holiday bash (more on that in a bit), the Hawkeyes decide to skip the party, to make sure Deadpool doesn’t spend the night alone, and it’s surprisingly sweet.
She-Hulk’s aforementioned party is what brings the Gwenpool Holiday Special together, though. It’s the thread that intertwines throughout all of these stories—because Jen needs to throw the biggest Christmas party in the world to distract her landlord long enough. Because said landlord has been put under a spell that makes her want to sell up the building, which she rents out pretty much exclusively to powered people like Jen, Howard the Duck, and Patsy Walker. Naturally, such foul magic can only be solved with hardcore Christmas partying.
It’s very Christmassy—in that it’s ridiculous, but with the right amount of sentiment that you adore it anyway. It emphasizes that togetherness that can make the holidays so special, while making some of Marvel’s underappreciated heroes the star. She-Hulk has been sorely missed as a part-time hero/full-time ever since her solo series came to a close, and Patsy—well, her own story is only really just about to begin, with the release of Hellcat #1 this week.
It’s what makes this issue such fun, aside from the silly Christmas trimmings—it’s shining a tinsel-coated light on a corner of Marvel’s New York that’s fresh, vibrant, and rarely the star. Heavy hitters like Storm, Captain Marvel, Thor, and Tony Stark? They’re all background characters, dancing their way into the night. The threat isn’t the end of the world—it’s the end of a community. The villains aren’t monsters, they’re realtors.
Okay so they’re also monsters, but that’s not the point.
It’s an intimate, small scale story, but it’s the ultimate symbol of the season—it’s about joy in the face of adversity, it’s about being together, regardless of who you are. It’s She-Hulk, saving Christmas for her friends, putting smiles on people’s faces. It’s a bit weird—but in the end, it’s a bit wonderful, too.