(w) Paul Dini (a) Don Kramer (i) Wayne Faucher (c) John Kalisz
The comics industry has served up some fantastic holiday-themed stories over the years. However, one of the best only uses Christmas as the setting for a compelling story. “Slayride” from Paul Dini and Don Kramer is lauded as one of the best Joker stories, Tim Drake stories, and Christmas comics ever put to print. Much has happened in the DC Universe in the 14 years since its publication, but despite the now oversaturation of Joker, the now-confusing role Tim Drake plays in the Bat Family, and DC’s push for more “blockbuster” comics, this done-in-one comic is very much in the tradition of DC’s evergreen storytelling.
Despite that praiseworthy introduction, ‘Tec #826 has plenty of flaws, mostly stemming from the art. Some of the transgressions fall on the shoulders of artist Don Kramer, while inker Wayne Faucher shoulder’s some of the blame too. Spoiler for a 14-year-old comic, but the sequence when Robin escapes from the Joker’s trap contains the most egregious flaws. Keep in mind that the majority of this issue is set within the space of a mid-size sedan. They’re roomy when compared to a compact car, but adequate for a well-choreographed action sequence they are not. Robin would have to shrink down to the size of a toddler for some of his movements to make sense. Meanwhile, there are instances where characters or objects are either overly detailed, or lack any, while shading and definition is all over the place.
This is not to say that “Slayride” is a bad-looking story. There are many instances where the art comes together in an effective manner. The Joker in particular looks great. Looking back, it is interesting to see this is one of the final appearances of the “classic” Joker, as Batman’s iconic foe would undergo significant change during Grant Morrison’s and Scott Snyder’s respective Batman runs. Given that Paul Dini writes this issue, it’s unsurprising that this Joker aligns with other classic depictions of the character, from “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” to Batman: The Animated Series. He is equal parts scary and hilarious, providing the reader with many guilt-ridden laughs as he murders fast-food workers and runs over several unsuspecting citizens.
“Slayride” is ultimately a battle of wits between the Joker and Tim Drake. Though modern readers may dismiss Tim as boring or redundant thanks to the emergence of Damian Wayne and lackluster Teen Titans books, this issue is a reminder of how great a character he is. Among the Bat Family, Tim was always the most relatable individual. He wasn’t a billionaire, he wasn’t a former acrobat, he wasn’t the commissioner’s daughter, and he wasn’t a homeless car thief. He was just a smart kid who wanted to do the right thing. As Batman comments at the end of the issue, Tim manages to withstand every bit of psychological torture the Joker throws at him and manages to walk away. This while the Joker seemingly has planned for every scenario – even planting objects to give Tim a false sense of hope for escaping. In spite of these challenges, Tim manages to keep his wits about him and ultimately defeat the Joker.
Paul Dini and the art team have created a caped-comics version of Die Hard. It’s a Christmas classic thanks to the setting, but if we’re being honest with ourselves it has little to nothing to do with the holiday. But even if you can’t bring yourself to call this a Christmas story, it a wonderful use of a single setting to tell a story, with high stakes and a focus on well-developed characters. Stories like “Slayride” don’t come around very often, but comics would be much better off if they did.