Kathryn Immonen knows how to write a lot of things very well. And the thing she knows best is how to make ordinary characters and situations (ordinary by superhero book standards, anyway) unapologetic fun. This book is just that: a shot of fun, straight up. We get to see into the holiday plans of four characters: Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man and Black Widow, but we also get an appearance from Shang-Chi as he leads a group of incredibly skilled teens through the Avengers Tower trying to set an example of what they can achieve if they put their minds to it. But one decides to stay behind, and her intentions are as murky as her power, but the chaos she unleashes is...well, it’s certainly chaotic. It's not all fun and games, though, as Immonen takes an interesting turn in using both Cap's charity work and assignment in the tower to show isolation and loneliness that the holidays can sometimes bring. But she never makes it oppressive or has it clash against the general fanciful feel that the rest of the issue brings.
David LaFuente’s line work has always worked amazingly with Immonen’s sense of whimsy and wonder (as well as her absolutely genuine comedy), and this book is no exception. I can think of no artists who do “nose crinkled in irritated disbelief” better than LaFuente. And if you think that’s too niche a compliment, read more of Kathryn Immonen’s work. Rain Beredo and Lee Loughridge lend a beautiful palette to this book and, again, with a tone this off-the-wall, things definitely need to be bright, even at night.
There's no way around this, I had a lot of trouble following large swaths of this book. Characters looked VERY different from how they’re usually shown, making them hard to keep track of until someone outright says their name, in addition to very abrupt cutaways to the characters with later references to what they were up to that don’t match those cutaways at all. This could have been intentional, but was never explored fully, making it simply vague. Dialog overlapped relevant and incidental, which made some scenes nonsensical to the point of being impenetrable.
Despite what I just said above, this book brought a constant smile to my face. There is a wonderful charm and wit buoyed by beautiful art and that easily overcomes some confusion for a plot that wasn’t particularly important (this is very much an issue about characters), particularly for a standalone annual. I have scarcely read a book that is more unabashedly fun, at least a mainstream superhero book that is, and that charm counts for an awful lot. I can safely say, regardless of beliefs, this is a holiday special well worth looking into. Not at all like SOME holiday specials...