Ah, the holidays. A time of family and buying and having to listen to songs about grandmothers and their relationships with reindeer. A time where I find myself watching the final twenty minutes or so of It’s a Wonderful Life or any incarnation of a Christmas Carol that happens to be on TV. Where I think about the old days, where Fred Flintstone would allow his best friend to finally have some of his sugary cereal without chipping in. A time of talking in sentence fragments.
It’s also the day of two of the greatest superheroes to never wear tights. One guy went around for years, using his powers to heal and feed people. He died a pretty kickass death (still need that issue, as I only own the novelization), but for the past 2,000 years, his fans have been clamoring for him to come back. He was a second-generation character, but his dad was WAY too overpowered.
The other guy spends the year in his headquarters, preparing to aid the innocent and punish the guilty. He and his many sidekicks monitor the world as he summons his power for a yearly run of super-speed, stealth and exercise of his bottomless stomach. While some find his ways a bit creepy (watching you as you sleep) and anti-Semitic (only using his power to help the Christians), he still gets support for taking in freaks – such as the talking mound of snow and the mutant reindeer – to help with his annual mission to spread good.
The thought of these bearded men made me think of these other super-powered heroes, trying to do the right thing. What are they up to during those days? And so, I tried to read as many Christmas-based comic books as I could. There are quite a lot out there, whether they be Christmas specials or just issues in December that decide to join the bandwagon.
Let us begin, shall we?
JLA #60: ‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas
What better way to begin than with our good friend Plastic Man? Our story begins with Plastic Man enjoying Christmas with the Winks family. Plas gets the job of putting young Weezer Winks to bed, but there’s a problem: Weezer doesn’t believe in Santa Claus and therefore refuses to go to sleep early.
So Plastic Man starts telling this made-up story about how Santa Claus is actually a member of the JLA, nominated for membership by Martian Manhunter himself. In his flashback, an evil gingerbread man shows up during the meeting to explain that Santa Claus has been captured! Santa has uncovered a plot by Neron (the Devil in 90’s villain clothes for those of you not in the know) to turn all the children naughty by giving them presents in return for cruel acts. Unfortunately, Neron has defeated Santa and has him as his prisoner.
The League take off in their teleporters to the bowels of Hell. There, they fight the demons living in Neron’s own evil workshop. After some fighting, the League attempts to rescue Santa from his prison, in the form of a giant action figure package. Neron steps in and transforms the team into coal. Fortunately for Santa, the League had weakened his prison enough that he blasts through the plastic with his patented heat vision! He then thrashes some demon elves and challenges Neron himself.
All of the sudden, Santa offers Neron a simple gift. Neron is interested and asks Santa to ask for something in return for their bargain to be complete. Santa explains that there are no strings attached. Giving is what Christmas is all about. Neron seems almost touched until he opens his present and finds…
Neron explodes from his humiliating defeat and Santa returns the JLA to normal. He accepts membership and the story ends. Of course, Weezer Winks sees plenty of holes in the story. Plas is trying to dodge the questions, but then the two see Santa Claus flying outside, using his heat vision to burn “MERRY CHRISTMAS!” into a hill of snow. Weezer gets excited and tries to go to sleep while Plas simply stares in bewilderment.
In reality, it’s actually just Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern screwing with him. Turns out that either Weezer or Plas accidentally turned on the JLA Signal Device and the two heard the entire story. The two were in town anyway, fighting a villain that Plas didn’t notice was causing mayhem. As the mischievous heroes fly off to enjoy eggnog, the real Santa Claus is seen, watching from a nearby rooftop.
“Heat vision?” he says to a reindeer. “The imagination of some people…”
Yuletide Rating: 3 and a half out of 4. Not exactly touching, but a damn fine issue. Not only is it one of the few times Plastic Man gets to shine, but we get the bizarre image of the JLA holding Santa on their shoulders while Batman just stands there and says, “Hh.”
On the subject of Batman…
Nightwing #64: On a Christmas Evening
With the news that Dick Grayson is going to be taking over as Batman in the near future, I was interested in reading this comic. After all, maybe it would be so good that I would find myself reading his entire series. Sadly, that won’t be the case. Now, don’t get me wrong. I didn’t mind the writing. Nightwing is a likeable character and I look forward to seeing him don the Dark Knight outfit again.
But Jesus Christ, the art! Here we see that Dick Grayson looks like neither Burt Ward nor Chris O’Donnell, but rather like an even sicklier Steve Buscemi.
It’ll get worse in a second. The story is about Officer Dick Grayson reading through letters to Santa because Bludhaven is too hardcore for mailmen or something. He reads a letter from a little girl who’s afraid that her out of work father is going to start doing crime. She’s right, as he is given some drugs to go out and sell on behalf of some dealers.
Nightwing uses his poorly-illustrated detective skills to track the girl down, especially since there is no return address, nor did the girl use her real name. Hey, they needed 22 pages to fill. It’s a good thing he goes after her, because to make a stand, she decides to flush said drugs down the toilet. Nightwing shows up and beats up the evil drug dealers before they can take revenge on the girl and her father. Dick ends up getting the guy a job despite his criminal record and everybody’s happy.
Well, maybe not the father. You see, his daughter happens to look like this:
Ugh! It’s like… It’s like they casted actors to play these comic characters and they couldn’t get a little girl, so instead they got an ugly, middle-aged black man to stand on his knees and wear braided pigtails.
Yuletide Rating: 1 and a half out of 4. Trevor McCarthy gives us the greatest gift of all: proof that white people can be drawn just as badly as black people.
The Tick: Big Xmas Trilogy
Here we go. In this fairly recent comic special, we see how dire things are in New York City. There are too many superheroes and not enough crime. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any crime. The Tick decides to save the day by putting on a Christmas pageant; an idea that, like many other concepts, only makes sense to the Tick. He gets his fellow heroes to play the parts in his harebrained production, including his sidekick Arthur.
Sadly, they can neither get funding nor a stage for the performance. That is, until Chairface Chippendale and a bunch of other villains step in. Chairface becomes the director, while secretly planning to take control of everyone’s mind. During rehearsal, there’s banter all around with way too many characters and subplots to keep count of, ending with a gorilla and a super-powered pilgrim in a diaper brawling. This brawl expands to the point where every hero and villain in the area is duking it out all over the place. Well, most everybody.
As it turns out, after the fighting ends, everybody gets along great, offering to buy each other drinks and gas for their cars. The Tick believes that his pageant will create world peace, but in the background, Chairface continues to plot.
The show itself is a whole lot of surreality, which probably isn’t actually a word, but what the fuck. Barry Tick plays a psychotic Santa Claus, the 90+ year old Terror plays Tiny Tim (who gets his very own death scene), and there is an appearance by Madam Curie, who is considered an important part of Christmas because she discovered radium. Like I said earlier, it makes sense to the Tick, so go with it.
Chairface hypnotises everyone in the building to attack the Tick, but is then defeated by a couple of seals (don’t ask), leaving the Tick to bring everyone back to normal. Sadly, normal means everybody starts fighting each other again. Tick is distraught that he couldn’t break the mold and bring the peace he had been after, but Arthur brings up that there were moments of tranquility here and there and that was something to be proud of. The two friends wander off, wishing each other a Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanukah.
Yuletide Rating: 3 out of 4. It’s hard to talk down at a Tick comic, but it still felt a bit lacking. It’s like there was so much going on that there was actually nothing going on. Still, it’s always good to see an appearance by Paul the Samurai.
Hellboy Christmas Special
This special came out back in ’97, years before the almost-interesting movie starring Ron “Kurtis Stryker on the Mortal Kombat cartoon” Perlman. We get a handful of different Christmas stories, but only the first one actually interested me. I admit, it’s because I didn’t know who the hell the other characters were other than Hellboy. Sure, I could’ve pushed myself to read them, but I have like 20 more comics about Frank Castle saving Christmas to push through. Priorities, man! Priorities!
The Hellboy segment, “A Christmas Underground”, takes place in England during Christmas Eve of 1989. In a castle neighboring a cemetery, an old woman is dying. Her daughter disappeared into the cemetery years ago and since then, everyone in the house had been killed off in some unexplained way. Hellboy visits the dying Mrs. Hatch and comforts her. Strangely, she seems completely at ease next to this big, red demon. She asks him to deliver a certain tin box to her daughter Annie. Hellboy promises to do so.
That’s so sweet.
Hellboy goes underground and comes across Annie in some creepy, yet elegant palace. From her flashback, we find that she has been seduced by some demon into becoming his slave. Hellboy tries to snap her out of it by mentioning Christmas Eve, but she only acts confused. He then gives her the tin box. She opens it to find a crucifix. The illusion is suddenly torn away and Annie vanishes. Hellboy is left to take on a series of undead creatures, leading to the head demon himself. This head demon is revealed as some kind of giant rat-man.
The two slap each other around until they make it to the surface. The holy church bells, signaling Christmas Mass, cause the rat demon to wither into a corpse. Meanwhile, Mrs. Hatch dies and her amending daughter’s spirit brings her to the afterlife. A priest, given directions by Hellboy, is unable to fulfill the complete instructions, which include stabbing Mrs. Hatch’s corpse in the heart with a wooden stake.
As the priest talks to Hellboy about it, they see that the castle is mysteriously burning to the ground. Hellboy insists they let it burn before the two reflect on Mrs. Hatch and how nice a woman she was.
Yuletide Rating: 4 out of 4. Original, badass and pretty touching. Not to mention, unlike most Christmas stories, it featured zombies. The only way it could’ve been better is if they had a scene of Lobster Johnson arm-wrestling a vampire Little Drummer Boy.
Join me for the next installment, where Iron Man, Lobo and the Hulk each get a piece of Jolly Old Saint Nick.