Review Shooter: A Christmas Carol (Dark Horse Comics)

Writer: Rod Espinosa
Artist: Rod Espinosa
Review by Tim Taylor

Dark Horse (with surprisingly odd timing) has released an adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. One may wonder what exactly the adaptation does differently, and we will explore that shortly, but let’s just settle for the broad view that Ebenezer is now Elizabeth, a middle(ish?)-aged woman of wealth. Rod Espinosa is at the heart of this, both creating the adaptation of the old tale, as well as illustrating it. The trade comes in at over 100 pages, so there’s at least a heft to the release, although there’s lots to say past simply the length.

The art style is pretty unique, I can certainly say that. Espinosa uses a rather interesting technique of having the foreground contours inked heavily, creating strong lines, but using the ink in a minimal fashion, leaving a lot of the detail to be sussed out by the colors. The background is far more muted, at least in terms of the inked contours and outlines. Really, there’s almost no hard ink used in backgrounds that involve any distance over a few meters, which gives an interesting dynamic between styles in the panels, having a muted and soft background with detail and a strong but minimal foreground based on inks. When it works, it’s a functioning juxtaposition, however, when it fails, it leaves the background looking disconnected from the foreground, which in turn looks flat and boring.

The colors employed are very soft and have almost a watercolor feel to them, until you get to the fact that they are also rigidly flat and offer little in shading or shadows, which undermines the usual overlaps and rough gradients that make watercolors and that type of coloring work well. While this technique may function passably in the background, it becomes starkly plain when the foreground’s heavy ink and the background’s muted styles clash too much to hold the frame together as an image.

The characters also seem to have a strange inconsistency in the ways they are drawn. Some are made very simple; Eliza, for example. Her ink is about as minimal as you could get, offering only the bare minimum. I can understand this in terms of an attractive-yet-antagonistic main character that reflects her straightforward and stoic personality by the way she is drawn, but this becomes terribly plain between the inking style and such flat coloring. Other characters are sometimes detailed quite well, including intricately drawn hair and wrinkles. Still others are drawn crudely, with poor shading, poor depth, and anime-style ^ eyes. Confusingly some characters even move back and forth between plain anime and detailed expressions for no apparent reason. One frame you will see a character with only an outline of basic features and circles for eyes, to frames later his hair has much more dynamic shading, and, though he has the same emotion on his face, his eyes, cheeks, and chin are all far more detailed. He’s not any closer or farther away, and other characters in the frame change styles as well, although they may transition to anime-face instead of detailed-face, for example. Why does this happen? I have no idea.

The story, in a broad sense, is pretty much exactly your general A Christmas Carol. There’s a rich person who is stingy and rude. They work their staff terribly and they hate Christmas and all that brings happiness. They are then visited Christmas Eve by their old partner, Marley, who informs them that three ghosts will visit them that night. The ghosts are of Christmas past, present, and future. By the end, the main character has changed their ways and runs out Christmas day giving gifts and buying huge turkeys and saving Tiny Tim. So, with so much exactly the same, really the question becomes “What is the point of changing Ebeneezer into Elizabeth?” I have no earthly idea what the answer is. You read the story looking at a main character that is attractive, thin, and spends the majority of the story in her nighty. Now, it’s not overtly sexualized, Eliza isn’t running around in a thong, but the nightie is relatively form-fitting and it’s quite clear she is a woman.

Since there isn’t any clear theme that impacts the general story from Dickens’ classic itself, we will have to look a little closer at specifics and how the fact that our main character is a woman impacts any specific events or changes the character’s development. Basically, Eliza was sent to a boarding school as a child, and was very much a loner. Her brother started his own business outside of their father’s (I have no idea why this is relevant) and shows up one winter to inform her that he will be able to take care of her and she won’t have to stay at the school anymore. Somehow, he magically dies immediately after and she is all alone. Why can’t she live with her father, where did he go, why was he given a hint of being a bad father for sending her to school? I don’t know. However, there is an old teacher (I think?) and Eliza reminisces about how much she liked him. Immediately following that, there’s some character outside talking about how he will marry her off to some old man as a business deal. I’m not making this up. I have no idea who this guy is supposed to be, nor why he has power over whom she marries. Eliza overhears the man’s plan and decides to run off so she won’t have to marry his business partner. I have no idea where she goes or what happens, but the story then jumps to her opening a clothes factory with Marley, who is a young man at the time. He explains to Eliza something about a pact they had, but he will free her from it because she has changed and is cold now. How did she change, where she was, how she made money, where Marley came from, I have no answer for any of this. Why is Marley an old man with a sunken face and white hair when he visits Eliza? It was only seven years ago he died and he was very much her contemporary. Again, I have no answer.

Strange timeline issues like this plague the story, along with other random holes and inexplicable circumstances. Why is Eliza going to sleep with a teddy bear the night of Christmas Eve? In fact, she doesn’t, it just appears randomly in the story for a few frames and then disappears again. Why a character so cold and morose would have a teddy bear in bed at all, I also don’t know. How does Eliza get a gigantic cart full of presents to give out to everyone on Christmas and why is she dressed like Santa Claus? Who is this random friend she has working for her in the factory that is apparently a long time friend? I have no clue.

Review Score: Queen

Basically, if you really like the theme of A Christmas Carol, and want to read a comic version of it with a female lead and don’t mind tons of skipped events, unexplained characters popping in and out, and rather dull art, this is certainly something you may want to look at. However, I’m guessing not very many of you would go unbothered by some or all of those issues, so I can enthusiastically suggest a pass on this one. I know I’m pretty harsh about plot lines and character development, etc. but I’m afraid that when asked the question of why should we have an adapted version with a female lead, I can’t answer that, at least from the perspective of this particular attempt.

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