The Escapist wishes you a ho-ho-holy crap Christmas with a look at the insane ways Comics have celebrated the holiday.
This article is a collaboration between David Chapman and Ross Lincoln.
What best encapsulates the Christmas spirit? Is it friends and family coming together? Is it the exchange of gifts? Or is it kicking hellacious ass?
We vote the latter, and not just because Lethal Weapon and Die Hard are the greatest Christmas movies of all time. But as great as movies centered around destruction and mayhem during the Yuletide season can be, nothing tops the absolutely crazy stuff that goes down on the pages of comics.
Yes, Christmas in comics is usually an excuse to get everyone’s favorite characters together for one big superpowered holiday feast. There are usually laughs and good times, right up until some evil force decides to crash the party. You know … just like what happens in real life.
Comics also end up being a great place to deconstruct the holiday without having to worry about budget constraints or the inability to turn back pages to figure out just what the hell is happening. Which is why you’re just as likely to see The Kingpin try and ruin Spider-Man’s christmas as you are to see, well, something that abandons narrative altogether and just turns into a long and weird gag about how comics are actually made.
Anyway, in the best tradition of comic book superhero team-ups, David Chapman and Ross Lincoln have joined forces to compile some of the wackiest and most awesome Christmas happenings from the long history of American comics. You want Ambush Bug? Looks like you were good this year! How about Ultron as Santa? Wish granted, true believer! All that and more awaits you. Read on, and have a merry Christmas!
Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Keith Giffen, Alan Grant
Artist: Simon Bisley
Release Date: November 30, 1991
Admit it. Even the best of us have had those moments where our inner Scrooge has screamed “Bah humbug!” to all the Christmas cheer. Sometimes, you just want it all to go away. Enter DC’s “Main Man”, Lobo, who is more than willing to step up and give a big middle finger to the ho-ho-holidays.
Keith Giffen and Alan Grant pen the perfect anti-Christmas special, with 40+ pages of yuletide ultraviolence, brought to life by legendary artist Simon Bisley. The fun starts when a drunken Easter Bunny hires Lobo to take out jolly ol’ Saint Nick with extreme prejudice. It seems that the fat man has gotten a little too big for his britches, overshadowing the hard work of all the other holiday mascots. After staging an all-out assault on Santa’s Workshop, Lobo finally faces off with Kris “Crusher” Kringle in a fight to the death. Naughty or Nice, the Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special deserves the top spot on any comic fan’s Christmas list.
Ambush Bug Stocking Stuffer Vol. 1
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Robert Loren Fleming
Story By: Robert Loren Fleming and Keith Giffen
Artist: Keith Giffen, Bob Oksner (cover), Keith Giffen (pencils), Bob Oksner (ink), Anthony Tollin (colors)
Release Date: December, 1985
Ambush Bug might not have been an A-list character but for the better part of a decade he was a reliable source of lols at the expense of the rest of the DC Universe. Another Keith Giffen creation, you can see for yourself in the two mini series and several specials published between 1984 and 1992. (He still shows up in random cameos from time to time.). The best of those specials was this ode to Christmas excess from 1986, by Giffen, along with writer Robert Loren Flemming and Cover Artist Bob Oksner.
The story is completely batshit. It starts with Ambush Bug trying to fight the Vietnam War (despite the fact that it had been over for 10 years by this point), then ending up in a battle with Atari Force‘s Hukka. Eventually, Ambush Bug takes over the comic and the plot changes to a story about his coping with the death of Cheeks. Who comes back as a zombie. It gets wackier from there, until Ambush Bug’s holiday wishes are granted when the embodiment of DC Comics continuity provides him with a non-zombified Cheeks, and then sends him to Arkham.
ANYWAY, If I could have one wish come true this Christmas, it would be for Batman to be replaced as DC’s most popular character by Ambush Bug. Sadly that’s about as likely to happen as Santa turning out to be real, which frankly is a damn shame. I mean come on, his arch enemy is a sentient sock named Argh! Yle! and his sidekick is a discarded doll he calls Cheeks, The Toy Wonder. But y’all are haters so never mind.
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Cliff Rathbum (pencils), Paul Neary (inks), David Baron (color)
Release Date: November 28, 2001
Super speed. Size manipulation. Telepathy. These are all hallmarks of some of the greatest members of the Justice League. So it should come as no surprise to learn that Santa Claus is a card carrying member of the JLA, right? Well, that’s the case in this holiday themed issue of Mark Waid’s JLA run.
While spending Christmas Eve with Woozy Winks and his family, Plastic Man is tasked with getting Woozy’s nephew to bed in time for Santa to make his visit. Plastic Man recounts the Justice League’s first meeting with Father Christmas, who had been captured by Neron. When even the combined might of the JLA fails to stop Neron’s plans, it falls to Père Noël to “open himself up a can of whoop-elf” and save the day.
Sensational She-Hulk #8
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Writer: John Byrne
Artist: John Byrne (pencils), Bob Wiacek (inks), Glynis Oliver (colors)
Release Date: November, 1989
Without question, John Byrne’s run on Sensational She-Hulk made for some of the wackiest, most entertaining reads you’ll ever find. Long before Deadpool was even a smart-assed twinkle in Rob Liefeld’s Levi 501 button fly jeans, Byrne had Jennifer Walters gamma punching her way through the fourth wall and starring in some of the greatest “WTF” moments in comics. Case in point: that time She-Hulk teamed with Santa Clause to bring a serial killer to justice.
During her stint as a New York Assistant District Attorney, Jen is assigned to prosecute a man on seven counts of murder. The only problem is that the evidence against him his all circumstantial. With just 48 hours to come up with something solid, she’s approached with an offer of help by a familiar looking bloke by the name of Nick St. Christopher, the world’s greatest detective. After a bit of globe-trotting, chimney diving, and even a visit from Santa … er … “Nick’s” other half, Jen’s holiday adventure ends with the case all wrapped up.
Fables: Jiminy Christmas (Issue #56)
Publisher: DC Comics (Vertigo)
Writer: Bill Willingham
Artist: Mark Buckingham (pencils, ink), James Jean (cover), Andrew Pepoy (ink), Lee Loughridge (colors), Todd Klein (letters)
Release Date: December, 2006
A breather episode that takes place just before the beginning of Fables’ mid-run climax, Jiminy Christmas sets out to answer the most pressing question of the holiday season: just how is it that Santa can deliver all his toys?
I’ll skip the recap, except to mention that the children of Bigby Wolf and Snow White learn that if they catch Santa in the act of delivering gifts, he has to answer one question. They plot to do just that, and thus we learn that Santa basically has the ability to exist in multiple (possibly infinite) places simultaneously. Freaky!
But the kicker is that we then see that at the same time he’s answering this pressing question, Santa is also visiting all the other characters in the Fables universe, including Ambrose, also known as Flycatcher, the former Frog Prince who still has no memory of what happened to his dead wife. (Spoiler: she died horribly, Flycatcher witnessed it, and his amnesia is a coping mechanism.) Santa’s gift to him is to permanently rob him of his ability to forget, then inform him that he has an important, possibly life-threatening role to play in some very dark times ahead.
The issue is heartwarming, kind of depressing, imaginative and ultimately the setup for some significant and horrific violence. So, basically it’s exactly like Christmas in the real world. Not bad!
Sensation Comics #38
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: William Moulton Marston
Artist: Harry G. Peter
Release Date: December, 1944
A story that combines practically everything that made the golden age of comics so golden, Sensation Comics #38 is less a Christmas story and more something like Lethal Weapon or Die Hard, like when Christmas is just the backdrop to some serious asskicking. Plus, Wonder Woman is the star.
On Christmas, Wonder Woman decides play Santa Claus for the children of a poor neighborhood after meeting a little boy who has completely lost the Christmas spirit, thanks to his wise discovery that Santa only seems to visit the children of kids whose parents have money. While delivering presents, she learns that some nefarious criminals are planning to rob the US Treasury (this is before the idea of a super villain had really matured).
The would-be robbers take a bunch of the poor children hostage, the dicks, but they fail to take Wonder Woman into account, and she delivers a swift ass kicking to them. Just like Riggs and Murtaugh! The comic isn’t quite as replete with the kind of fetish-heavy overtones that Marston tended to throw into his Wonder Woman stories, but considering it involves Christmas, robbery, and ass kicking, I’m guessing some of his boxes were checked.
Long story short, this is a charming artifact from olden times, and it boasts some pretty great art too. Plus punches. Christmas punches!
Green Lantern: Larfleeze Christmas Special
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artists: Brett Booth (pencils), Oclair Albert (inks), Andrew Dahlhouse/Shane Davis (colors)
Release Date: December 22, 2010
They say Christmas is a time for giving, but let’s be honest … there’s a lot to be said for the getting part of it as well. Don’t believe me? Just take a cue from Larfleeze, DC’s resident Orange Lantern and the avatar of avarice.
When Larfleeze wakes on Christmas morning to discover he’s been overlooked by Santa Claus, he sets out on a personal quest to find the “Holiday Guardian” and get his Christmas list filled from start to finish. After learning that Santa’s usual digs are at the North Pole, Larfleeze takes a trip to the top of the world to flush the big guy out of hiding. When Hal Jordan shows up to stop the rampage, he takes it upon himself to try and teach Larfleeze a little more about the true meaning of Christmas.
Marvel Holiday Special 2005
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Writer: Jeff Parker
Artists: Mike Perkins/Reilly Brown (pencils), Pat Davidson (inks), Christina Strain (colors)
Release Date: November 30, 2005
What makes Marvel Holiday Special 2005 stand out is the story “Yes Virginia, There is a Santron”. The story begins with the Avengers all coming together to celebrate the season. Meanwhile, across town, a young woman named Virgie is putting the finishing touches on a robot Santa Claus. After firing up the robot, it immediately sets off to spread good cheer to all. Well, to all except the Avengers, who Santa-bot has decided must die. It doesn’t take long for the Avengers to figure out that “Santa” is a repurposed Ultron. Yes, that Ultron, the same Ultron we’ll see on the big screen in next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. Naturally, the Avengers ultimately beat Ultron (with a cookie, no less) and teach Virgie to believe in Christmas once again. Personally, I’m hoping this story inspires Joss Whedon to include a post-credit scene in Avengers 2 with a bearded Ultron calmly stating “Ho-ho ho” in James Spader’s voice.
Vault Of Horror # 35 – “And All Through The House”
Publisher: EC Comics
Writer: Johnny Craig
Art: Johnny Craig (pencils, ink), Marie Severin (colors)
Release date: December, 1953
What better way to celebrate Christmas, than with murder, guilt, panic, and a richly deserved karmic end at the hands of a serial killer? This classic Vault of Horror story from December, 1953, concerns a cruel woman who, on Christmas Eve, has just murdered her milquetoast husband for his insurance. Unfortunately, her young daughter woke up during the caper, and now the murderess must distract the kid with Christmas cheer while she figures out how to dispose of the body.
Meanwhile, local news brings reports that a homicidal maniac has escaped from an insane asylum and has been cutting a murderous swath through the local community. Thus the cops are now conducting a massive manhunt. The murderess can’t leave to dispose of the body, nor can she call the cops when, predictably, the escaped madman appears outside her house. Eventually, her murder-chickens come home to roost thanks to her daughter’s embrace of the Christmas spirt: the madman is dressed like Santa, and young daughter mistakes him for the real thing. She lets him in the house and well, fade to black with the implication that it’s going to be a very bloody Christmas.
And nope, you didn’t misread this – “And All Through The House” was published in 1953, before the hilarious controversy caused by the odious book “Seduction of the Innocent” and the comic industry’s hasty adoption of the Comic Code Authority self-censorship regime. Pre-code, comics were able to be grisly and exploitative in a way they wouldn’t be again until the 1990s.
In case you’re curious, this story was eventually adapted into a pretty great episode of HBO’s Tales From The Crypt. You can read the comic in its entirety over on The Blog At The End Of Time, and See that episode of Tales From The Crypt here.
Spider-Man: Christmas in Dallas
Publisher: Marvel Comics AND the Dallas Times Herald
Writer: Jim Salicrup
Art: Alan Kupperburg (pencils), Mike Esposito (ink), Marie Severin (color), Rick Parker (letters)
Release date: December, 1983
Back in the day when newspapers were still the only game in town for deep news not shown on TV, cities used to have multiple papers with budgets so huge they would do promotional stunts using popular culture with stories tailored to local markets. For example, the Dallas Times Herald did more than one promotional comic, written specifically for readers of the paper, featuring Spider-Man. (I still have a yellowing copy of the comic in which one of Peter Parker’s college friends is a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, so he gets to meet the team.)
So this promotional comic from 1982 is exactly what it looks like: A Spider-Man adventure in Dallas set during Christmas! It seems a local millionaire is hosting a charity event, to be attended by many more millionaires. For some reason, The Kingpin (who is of course very rich himself) decides to travel to Dallas to rob this event. Unfortunately for him, J. Jonah Jameson was invited, and he’s dragged Peter Parker along with him for photography. Do you think Spider-Man can defeat The Kingpin (disguised as Santa) with the help of a millionaire inventor? Probably!
As Sense of Right Alliance points out, the best thing about this comic is the ads that local businesses paid to run along with it. All of them, no matter how weirdly incongruous it is, went well out of their way to imply a connection between their business and Spider-Man. You can see them here.
By the way, isn’t it quaint remembering a time when a wealthy inventor only had to be a millionaire? Merry Christmas!