Each year, I try to pick up some holiday-themed comic books. I'm a little light this year, and they're all Marvel titles, but I did manage to work through a good/bad/ugly trio.
Getting the bad out of the way, Wolverine #49 isn't terrible, but it's pretty mheh. The issue is oversold from the solicitation blurb to the cover (Wolvie never shows up in a Santa suit). There's a funny moment after Wolverine kills a bunch of terrorist elves (seriously), the beginning is solid, and the climax and end are top-notch, very stylistic, and powerful with their lack of dialog.
The good is this year's Marvel Holiday Special #1, I surprisingly great, entertaining read. Not serious at all, the pace is great, and there are some fun stories to be had. "A.I.M. Lang Syne", Shaenon K. Garrity and Andrew Farrago's take on a holiday office party (where an unknowing date is attending at the offices the A.I.M. terrorist organization) is a fun romp, with Ron Lim's solid and personable art pulling the story along nicely. Also, spreading that story across the issue (24-style), is clever.
Scott Gray and Roger Langridge's "how fin fang foom Saved Christmas" unexpectedly pairs up the legendary dragon Fin Fang Foom and Dr. Strange's faithful manservant Wong (that looks weird spelled out). The two thwart a botched Hydra holiday attack. The art is Ditko-esque, and the whole piece is satire, with some not unimportant things to say about dogmatism and relationships. And it's funny.
Then there's Mike Carey and Mike Perkins' Dr. Seuss-ian (ish?) "A is for Annihilus", which is arguably brilliant, and is the "whole package" -- writing and art, and really needs to be experienced to be appreciated.
And there's a "Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe" entry for Santa Clause, written (edited?) by Jeff Christiansen, and does a great job of marrying the history the myth with Marvel's treatment of it over the years.
Finally, there is a gallery of select previous Marvel Holiday Special covers (1991, 1993, 1994, and 1996), with my favorite being the Arthur "Art" Adams 1991 cover, the original issue of which I have somewhere. (Art did the cover for 1993, too, but I think that's an inferior cover, and for me (for various reasons), that cover is a sad snapshot reminder of Marvel's first year in serious decline.)
And the bar from last year's issue (a Harvey Award nominee) is pretty high...
The ugly isn't bad -- it's actually great. But it's the Punisher: X-mas Special #1. Not only does it typify the anti-hero nature of the character (which straddles the fence between that and "non-hero"), it's even grittier when put against a holiday backdrop (think select issues of the Daredevil "Born Again" run). Stuart Moore's story is tight, and C. P. Smith's art is much better than the New Invaders stuff, which may be due to the one-shot nature of the issue, and Dean White's coloring. Smith's art is bit inconsistent, most noticeably in not keeping character's (like Frank Castle's) faces consistent. It's annoying when you have remember the main character is the main character.
Why this get's the "ugly" designation is it's pretty rough stuff, content wise. Published under the Marvel Knights imprint, geared to "spotlight its darkest corners and grittiest characters". The problem is it doesn't bare the MK logo on its cover, and it's even missing Marvel's kludgey (and changing) rating system. While MK titles are generally for "readers 15 and up", I'd argue this title -- with its child death, attempted suicide, strip club, and such -- is somewhere between "Parental Advisory" and "MAX".