Sunday, 19 December 2021

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer - DC Limited Collector's Edition


Deer Pressure

The Red-Nosed Reindeer

DC Limited Collector's Edition
Issues C20 (1972), C24 (1973),
C33 (1975), C42 (1976) & C50 (1976)

For a couple of years now for the blog I’ve been wanting to read through the annual Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer comics published once a year by DC between 1950 and 1962, specifically to review those issues for this blog at Christmas. Alas, this is not... quite... that review. Once again, with Christmas blog deadlines fast approaching, I realised there wasn’t a way I’d be able to make myself read through all those issues in time but, I did think I would manage to read the five, giant sized DC Limited Collection Editions of the title put out by the company between 1972 and 1976.

The DC Limited Collectors Editions, of which there were many, was that companies rival to Marvel Comics famous Treasury Editions. Being a tabloid size with card covers and a much bigger page count. Because of their size and the fact that they would get folded to travel through the post etc, a lot less of these larger format comic books survived the 1970s and early 80s... the time in which they were most prevalent. These five specific ones contained a mixture of mostly reprints of the earlier, regular DC issues mentioned above plus, it would seem, a smattering of new material on occasion (which look like they were handled by the same artists and writers who were drawing the strip in the 1950s... it’s a pretty consistent tone throughout, it has to be said).

Asides from the majority of Rudolph’s fellow reindeer, who are not in these specifically selected stories as much other than as supporting roles, the strips seem to have had six regular characters. There was Rudolph himself, of course... and, as importantly, his best friend who would continually get him in or out of trouble, Grover the Groundhog. Then, of course, there was their boss, Santa Claus. There were also two chief elves who helped run Santa’s workshop where the toys for all the children of the world would be manufactured... Winky and Blinky. And lastly, there was a sometimes villainous but never too mean spirited or unhelpful bad guy... err... bad bear character, succinctly named... Baddy Bear.

Okay, so each of these contains either two very long stories or one long story and two shorter ones, in addition to the various puzzles and games pages and the cut out diorama found on the back covers (which was often the case with these things) and all but one story would deal with how that year’s Christmas trip by Santa would be placed in peril by some kind of accident or intervention and then the rest of the story would be how to solve the problem and fix things so Christmas could go ahead after all...usually with Rudolph applying the powers of his famous nose to good effect in some capacity or another. Which is one of a couple of small problems I had with the strip...

In total these treasuries have 13 stories, 12 of which are all set on Christmas Eve... but it’s also clear that none of them are set on the same Christmas Eve as the previous story. Which makes no sense because, nobody in the strip seems to have aged over the years... let alone Rudolph. I looked it up and the average lifespan of a reindeer is just 15 years (20 if they’re in captivity)... so I either read the whole of his lifespan in these stories, more or less, or... something else is going on here. Santa Claus or no... Red Nose or no... these characters should at least show some kind of entropic deterioration over the years, it just makes no sense. So, yeah, the characters in this are suffering from the same bizarre disease of fiction that has also plagued characters like James Bond over the years. There’s no science to this at all.

The other minor quibble I have is that... okay, the stories are a bit formulaic and you kind of expect that to an extent... but they do seem to be hitting exactly the same spots in most stories. For example, Winky and Blinky will always bump into each other and have a blame game argument for a panel. Now you could argue that’s just re-enforcing the characterisation but it’s almost the same thing every time. The thing is, I remember reading a lot of Harvey Comics when I was a kid, probably intended for the same kind of audience as these and, the Harvey Comics were way superior in the writing department, as far as I can remember.

Okay, another common thing to the formula, though, is also a very interesting approach. For a kids comic about Rudolph and his pal helping out Santa, it gets very experimental with the format. For instance, one common thing is that, at some point in about half the stories here, the plot relies on Rudolph and Grover taking an alternate form of transport to try and get to their destination, as opposed to the standard ‘Santa sleigh’. So this can be anything from a new experimental plane to a rocket ship but, usually once their journey begins, we are then treated to a splash page where the favoured mode of transport goes all over the place, shown in different positions and in all orientations on the page along with a visual trail marking out that journey. This is augmented by continual comments from Rudolph and Grover in speech bubbles which match whatever the orientation of the craft is at that time... so you will have a load of speech bubbles on the page also, at varying angles, meaning you will be doing a lot of sideways and upside down reading. So, yeah, a common element but at least it’s a fun one.

The other thing is that the fourth wall gets broken occasionally by one character or another... which I found strange for a kids comic. So when the characters are looking for something in the bottom panels of a page, for instance, one of them says “Let’s look on the next page! I bet that’s where they are!” Or, when a plan is coming to fruition in one issue, Grover peers out of the panel and says “Ha! Didja hear that, reader - - my trick is working!” Or in another one... “I saw this trick work in a TV cartoon.”, followed quickly by “Well whaddaya know? - - It works in Comic-Books too!”, literally drawing attention to the media format in a bit of mind bending metatextual shenanigans. And in another panel in a different strip, after Rudolph makes a ‘floor yo-yo’ for Baddy Bear, Santa even calls Rudolph's attention to the presence of the audience by saying to him... “Rudy, look at our readers out there! - - See their faces? They’re dying to know how you made that yo-yo!” So, yeah, even though the stories are a bit one note, there is a certain degree of sophistication in the writing on occasion. Rudolph is even aware he’s a famous reindeer on account of the song which inspired this comic book rendering.

And that cleverness in concept (if not dialogue or set up) extends to Rudolph’s nose. They obviously wanted to broaden the range of things a Reindeer with a glowing nose can bring to the table to open up their story possibilities... so at various points Rudolph can be seen utilising his most famous asset in new ways such as melting snow, generating an electric current as required, using it as a backlight to reveal the message on ruined, paint covered letters and even picking up a shard of glass to hone the glow of his nose through the makeshift lens into a laser beam.

But, for every innovation, there’s a heck of a lot of bizarrely silly stuff happening in the comic too. For instance, when Baddy Bear hitches a ride from a passing eagle, you have to ask yourself how a small bird can possibly carry the weight of a large bear. Or how Rudolph’s mum is possibly dextrous enough with her hooves that she is seen knitting.

However, all that aside, I did find these treasury sized editions of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer a refreshing brain cleanser alternative to some of the other stuff I’ve been reading lately and it’s certainly something that can’t help you catch the Christmas spirit at least a little. Not exactly a recommendation for the majority of my readers, perhaps... but I certainly had a good time with it, in spite of the various scientific holes in the stories. I think I still need to go back and read the original 1950s/60s run at some point now. 

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