Though I know they're coming this time o' year — and I enjoy reading 'em — I never seem to pick up Paul Dini's seasonal Jingle Belle funnybooks until after their holiday's passed. So when I actually managed to purchase this year's Dark Horse one-shot, The Bakers Meet Jingle Belle, on the Wednesday before Xmas, I couldn't help feeling unreasonably proud of meself. Look at me – buying a Christmas comic ahead of time!
This year's JB bash teams Dini's teenaged Elven heroine, the troublemaking daughter of old St. Nick, with the Bakers, the comic book version of cartoonist Kyle Baker's family. Baker handles the art, and I've gotta admit I enjoy his loosy-goosy proto-Sergio Aragonés penwork over previous artist Jose Garibaldi (who makes Jing's dad just a shade too grotesque for my tastes).
Dini's featherweight script follows both the Claus and Baker family as they scramble through a hectic Christmas Eve. When our heroine attempts to ditch her dad in the midst of his late-night run ("What I want is to be back in my nice cozy igloo, hanging with my friends on MySpace," the eternal teen grouses after Santa's grabbed her to help with deliveries), she's mistaken for a babysitter by the Bakers, who leave her in charge of their mischievous kidlets. Comic hi-jinks ensure after JB swipes poppa's sleigh so she can show the North Pole workshop off to the Baker brood.
In the meantime, daddies Claus and Baker both get pursued by the cops after the former mistakes a life-like reindeer/sleigh display for the real thing. (Scripter Dini and his magician wife Misty Lee make a cameo here – which leads one to believe that Kris Kringle's first stop is a wonderful town primarily inhabited by comics folk.) It's all straightened out in time, of course.
Though the best of Jingle Belle's adventures arguably remain the outings where Dini uses his heroine to make sport of holiday "traditions" (as when our heroine once attempted to produce her own self-aggrandizing claymation special), TBMJB remains sweetly silly. The most enjoyable segment is a two-page wordless sequence devoted to the Bakers as they wend their way through the chaotic shopping mall.
But Jing's efforts to woo the hyperactive Baker kids have their moments. Too often, comic book team-ups wind up stinting on the elements that make each property work, but Dini and Baker give each character their due. (There's a fine moment between the two dads as they hide from the cops on a rooftop.)
The result: a winning entry in the best All-Ages series of holiday funnybooks since Sheldon Mayer produced a batch of over-sized Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeers way back in the 1970s. And I actually read it this year when I was supposed to…