Lots of people have a December tradition, whether they celebrate the Winter holidays or just enjoy them from the periphery. One tradition that I came to later than most was reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I had read other Dickens when I was younger, and thought I was off him for life. But there are lots of things I can visit as an adult that I hated or would have hated as a teenager. This was one of them. Even knowing the story, having grown up on Mister Magoo and other various renditions of the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, I was charmed and enthralled with the brief (for Dickens) tale of a man who could change in the twilight of his life. All around me, people were talking about their tradition of reading it every year around Christmas. I tend to not re-read books, though, so I didn’t think I would hop onto that wagon.
But then I came across today’s Throwback Thursday, and a new tradition was born.
In 2011, Lee Bermejo, most known for being behind the spectacular art in Joker, which he co-created with Brian Azzarello, published Batman: Noël, a darkly haunting, surprisingly uplifting retelling of a man called Scrooge. Unlike Joker, Bermejo was responsible for the story and the art, and the seamlessness of the storytelling clearly displays this. The story is told in two distinct narratives: we begin with an undisclosed narrator, telling the story of Scrooge. This story, laid straight on the page instead of in narrator blocks or thought bubbles, could be anyone’s paraphrasing of A Christmas Carol, using a modern vernacular to make the tale their own. Beneath that layer of narration is the story that’s really being told–Bruce Wayne, Batman, the Dark Knight, needs to make a few changes in his heart and his life, or he’s not going to go out in any kind of way that could be described as “Good.” In the hard-hearted loner’s eyes, Bob Cratchit is simply a criminal, fine to use as live bait for his boss, Batman’s ultimate nemesis. He’s got good intentions, but his single-minded goal has left him with a personality that makes his older self seem like the softest touch in comparison. Bruce is also dealing with a pretty bad cold, which makes his Christmas Eve–just another night–even worse.
This book could have become very trite, very quickly. But the expert eye and clear deference Bermejo brings to the story make it both meaningful and compelling. Even if you know the story, you want to know how it will play out in this universe. And if, like me, you’ve read it before, you find it’s always a wonder to come back and experience the story again, catching the small details in the art, as well as the parallels that are pretty obvious the first time, but become clearer and clearer with every subsequent read.
What are your winter reading traditions?