Super Types

December 19, 2009

Retroactive Continuity: Christmas Capers

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Written by: Tom
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Ah, the holidays!  The season is infused into every aspect of pop culture, and comics are no exception.  Every year, a number of Christmas stories appear, both good and bad, some striving to capture and emphasize the Christmas spirit, others lamenting the commercialization of the holiday, and still others satirizing the whole season.

This week, I’ve decided to highlight some of my favorite Christmas-themed stories.  This is just a sampling, of course, so feel free to share your favorites in the comments!

Christmas Coda 2Title: Marvel Holiday Special #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Date: 1991
Writer: Walt Simonson
Art: Art Adams and Al Milgrom
Story Title: “A Christmas Coda”

What would a good Christmas story be without kids and a reference to the classics?  In this story, Sue and Franklin Richards are out Christmas shopping when Franklin gets separated from his mother.  He hears crying from an alleyway and finds the ghost of Jacob Marley from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol collapsed and consumed with despair, awaiting his final end.  Franklin thinks if he can unlock Marley’s chains, that might save him, so he dashes off to find his mother for help.  As he runs down the street, he spots a woman selling keys.  He asks about them, and she says she’ll sell him a key, but it will cost everything he has.  He gives her the fifty cents he was saving for his father’s gift, but that’s not enough.  The only other item he has is an ornament his mother had bought at his urging, so he hands it over and acquires the key.

As he heads back towards the alley, he sees his mother, but decides his mission is too important, and runs away from her to return to Marley, who is fading fast.  Struggling, he manages to unlock the chains and free Marley, just as his mother arrives.  As she scolds him for running off, he picks up a box Marley left behind and decides it will be the perfect gift for his father.

Later, back home, the Fantastic Four open their gifts.  Franklin gives Reed the box and tries to explain what happened to him.  His parents don’t believe him, but when Reed opens the box, the ornament Franklin gave away is inside, along with an antique coin dated from Dickens’ time.  Inspired, Reed draws Franklin close and begins to read A Christmas Carol to him.

This is a whimsical story that highlights the spirit of giving.  It’s well-told and drawn, and is a nice, light-hearted break from some of the more serious tales that come out around this time, making its point without becoming too heavy-handed.

UXM365Title: Uncanny X-Men #365
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Date: February, 1999
Writer: Steven T. Seagle
Art: Chris Bachalo, Art Thibert, Tim Townsend and Aaron Sowd
Story Title: “Ghost of X-Mas Past!”
Reprinted In: Marvel Holiday Spectacular Magazine, October 2009

Having recently rejoined the X-Men, Colossus is haunted by a ghostly apparition in the X-Mansion on Christmas Eve.  In addition, his drawings keep disappearing and reappearing with the words from “The Ice Princess” added.

Disturbed by the haunting and attempting to find the source, Piotr searches through the mansion, encountering several of the other X-Men’s activities.  Wolverine is having a small party with Gambit and Puck.  Kitty Pryde and Nightcrawler are decorating a Christmas tree.  Professor Xavier is sitting alone in his study, commemorating the X-Men lost on his watch.

Eventually, he gives up and returns to his drawing.  Again, he hears the voice saying “remember.”  Soon after, a teleportation ring appears around him, and he’s face-to-face with the ghost of his then-dead sister Illyana.  She’s been granted the opportunity to have a loved one perform a task for her, but she can only describe it in one word.

Peter realizes she’s asking him to remember her, and it comes to him that she’s the missing inspiration in his drawings.  A short while later, the X-Men gather around the Christmas tree to exchange gifts, where Peter discovers that Marrow was the one adding text to his drawings as her gift to him.

This story highlights the transition to a new chapter in Piotr’s life as he’s moved through the grieving process.  After Illyana’s death, the despondent mutant joined Magneto’s Acolytes, but finding no relief, moved to Britain to join Kitty Pryde in Excalibur.  Now back with the X-Men, he has begun to re-establish connections with the family he had betrayed and forge fresh bonds with the newer members of the group.  In the end, it’s a story of leaving sorrow and regret behind and moving forward with his life.

Lobo ParamilitaryTitle: The Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special #1
Publisher: DC Comics
Date: 1991
Writer: Keith Giffen and Alan Grant
Art: Simon Bisley
Story Title: “The Lobo Xmas Sanction”

Okay, this one doesn’t even try to capture the Christmas spirit.  The Easter Bunny puts out a contract on Santa, and the Main Man decides to collect!  By the end, it’s blood, guts, and a lot of fragged elves at the North Pole!

The story, of course is satire.  The framing sequence features a couple deathly afraid of their children since the husband’s just lost his job, and they won’t be able to afford presents.  They contemplate the only option open to them: taking the children out before the kids get to them!  A thump at the door signals the arrival of a book — featuring a story guaranteed to kill the kids’ desire for Christmas.

The book’s story tells the tale of how Lobo was contracted by the Easter Bunny to assassinate Kris “Crusher” Kringle.  Through a brilliant marketing campaign, the world at large knows him as the benevolent Santa Claus, but in reality, he’s a brutal tyrant operating from his North Pole stronghold.  The Easter Bunny and “other interested parties” are worried that he has grown too powerful and is encroaching on the other holidays.

Seeing as how he has a grudge against Christmas since he never got anything he’s asked for (one shudders at the thought of his wish list!), Lobo takes the contract and infiltrates Santa’s fortress.  Slaughtering the elves, Lobo comes face to face with the big man himself, who challenges him to a machete fight.  I’ll spare the gory details, but in the aftermath, Lobo discovers Santa’s database of children who’ve been naughty or nice.  Seeing the nice children as victims in the making and the naughty ones as potential competition, Lobo hitches up the sleigh and delivers a fatal Christmas surprise to all of them!

In a way, this book pokes fun at the commercialization of Christmas, but mostly, it’s just an excuse for another Lobo gore-fest.  It’s seriously demented and riotously funny at the same time.  It’s also strongly suggested for mature readers.

Superman 64Title: Superman (Vol 2) #64
Publisher: DC Comics
Date: February 1992
Writer: Dan Jurgens
Art: Jackson Guice
Story Title: “Metropolis Mailbag”

In the early 1990s, Superman had a tradition of dedicating one day before Christmas to reading his mail and choosing some people to help.  It was a task he dreaded, since there were thousands of letters, ranging from heart-rending stories to get-rich-quick-scams to impossible tasks, and he was confronted with the reality that for as much as he does, there’s no way he can solve all the world’s woes or even aid more than a handful of people.

This year, he’s joined by his wife Lois Lane, ostensibly so she can write a human-interest piece.  She quickly realizes why her husband hates this task, as they enter a room stacked to the ceiling with letters and begin reading impassioned pleas for help.

The first person Superman decides to help is an old woman who survived the Holocaust believing she was the only member of her family to survive.  She has recently discovered, however, that her sister is in East Germany, but between a lack of money, poor health, and political considerations, she feared they would never be able to reunite.  Touched, Superman flies to Chicago and delivers the woman to her sister, having made arrangements with the East Germans to allow her to visit.

Returning to the mail room, Superman resumes reading, and is again touched by a plea from a boy to cure his father’s brain tumor.  He decides to go visit, if only to tell the child there’s nothing he can do.  As it turns out, he arrives ten minutes too late and faces the wrath of the irate boy.  He consoles the boy and his mother, but then he realizes a way to salvage some good from the situation.  Another letter he had read and dismissed was from a woman needing a heart transplant.  He convinces the family to donate the dead man’s organs to save other lives, and by coincidence, the man’s heart is a match for the dying woman!

Once again returning to Metropolis, Lois asks him to read one more letter.  The Daily Planet is suffering through hard times and is unable to afford presents for their annual Christmas party for disadvantaged children, so they’re asking Superman to appear to entertain the kids.  Inspired, he flies off to meet Professor Hamilton and asks him to play Santa and then convinces Bruce Wayne to donate presents.  Thus prepared, he creates a dramatic entrance to the party by flying Santa’s sleigh to the rooftop of the Daily Planet building.

It’s easy to be critical of this story.  Why does Superman only read his mail once per year?  Why does he choose to help so few people in such an arbitrary fashion?  Why not enlist more help?  That’s not the point, though.  The intent of the story is to humanize a godlike character.  Faced with the weight of thousands of people clamoring for his help, Superman is confronted by his limitations.  As he explains to the boy who had just lost his father, he’s not SUPER-man, he’s Super-MAN.  He can’t be everywhere at once, and he cannot cure all ills.  The emphasis of that point is the core of the story, and it’s what makes it special.

DC carried on this traditional Christmas task for several years, culminating in Superman (Vol 2) #76, set soon after Superman’s “death” at the hands of Doomsday, when a gathering of surviving heroes carries on for their fallen comrade.

Silent Night of BatmanTitle: Batman #219
Publisher: DC Comics
Date: February, 1970
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Art: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano
Story Title: “The Silent Night of the Batman”
Reprinted In: Limited Collector’s Edition #C-43, February 1976 and Christmas With the Super-Heroes #1, 1988

For some reason, this story has stuck with me since I first read a reprint as a child in the mid-70s.  The plot itself is straightforward: on Christmas Eve, Commissioner Gordon summons Batman from his nightly patrol to Police Headquarters not for an emergency, but to take the evening off.  The Commissioner is convinced their services won’t be needed, and insists that Batman join the officers in celebrating the holiday.  Doubtful, Batman decides to stay anyway and joins in singing Christmas carols.

Silent Night of Batman 2The action switches to a sequence of street scenes, told without dialogue, of various events influenced by Batman’s mystique combined with the Christmas spirit:  A group of kids steal a  Christmas present, but upon finding a Batman figurine inside, rewrap it and return it to its owner; a mugger bumps into a caped figure resembling Batman and pulls a gun on him, but after discovering he’s really a charity worker dressed as a cross between Batman and Santa Claus, tosses away his gun in relief and walks off to a new life; a despondent wife receives bad news about her husband overseas.  Contemplating suicide on a bridge, an Army truck pulls up, and her husband steps out, transforming despair into joy.

In the end, Batman realizes he’s been singing all night without a single call!  He wonders how that could happen as dawn breaks over the city.

The art by Adams and Giordano on the street scenes is really the centerpiece of this story and captures the essence of the holiday.  The idea of Batman hanging around singing Christmas carols is somewhat strange, especially given the modern portrayal of the character as dark and humorless, but for this story, it works.

I’ve attempted to include a variety of stories here — both maudlin and whimsical, ribald and serious.  What are your favorites?

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

Tom McNeely



  1. Guess what? This is the 400th article published on! Woo hoo!

    That Lobo comic sounds INSANE! …and Superman has a mailing address?

    “Doubtful, Batman decides to stay anyway and joins in singing Christmas carols.” LOL!!

    Happy Holidays!

  2. Billy

    The Lobo comic sounds hilarious. Good stuff Tom.

  3. InfiniteSpeech

    can’t Supes speed read? so it shouldn’t have been THAT hard to read all those letters lol

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