10:36am PT by Graeme McMillan
10 Underrated Christmas Comics
Of all the holidays, it's inarguable that Christmas is the one best suited for superheroes — it is, after all, a time of year when children everywhere* wait for one special man in a well-known colorful costume to fly around the globe at super-speed doing good deeds. (*Well, everywhere that Christmas is recognized as a holiday, at least.)
It's unsurprising, then, that there have been so many Christmas tales in comic books across the decades. Superman and Captain Marvel have teamed up with Santa Claus, while Spider-Man has spent many a December wondering what to get Aunt May for a present for years, all the while stopping bad guys and keeping Dec. 25 safe from trouble so that stockings will remain stuffed by morning. That's not to say that all festive superhero comic have been so straightforward, however. Here are ten that are more unusual … and well worth heading to your local back issue bins for.
Ambush Bug Stocking Stuffer (1986)
The cover of this special edition of the self-referential humor title told you all you needed to know about its tone: Not only did it promise "The True Meaning of Christmas," it also offered "special cover bonus: Chanukkah!" with the second "k" crossed out. As an undead toy fights to make his way back to his original owner — yes, you read that right — the comic breaks out numerous short skits including fake toy commercials, jokes about manga and a suggested grim and gritty Santa reboot that sees him growling at the reader, "I'm sick of milk and cookies! I'm sick of the North Pole! So up your chimneys!"
Christmas With The Super-Heroes No. 1 (1988)
Collecting together a number of yuletide tales from DC Entertainment's back catalog, there are two stories in particular that make this anthology a must-buy if you can find it. Firstly, "Wanted: Santa Claus — Dead of Alive!" features Frank Miller's first Batman work ever, as the Dark Knight hunts down a reformed thief disguised as Santa, only to be assisted by a Christmas Miracle (The Dark Knight Returns, this isn't). Secondly, and more importantly, "The TT's Swingin' Christmas Carol" is a 1960s pop art treat as the Teen Titans reenact Charles Dickens' seasonal special to reform Ebenezer Scrounge. It's exactly as camp as it sounds, and about ten times more fun. Genuinely a classic.
The Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special (1991)
The most dangerous assassin in the universe is hired to kill Santa by a drunk Easter Bunny. Increasingly violent mayhem ensues, but by the end of it, the job is done — even after Santa is revealed to be a rough bruiser who calls himself Kris "Crusher" Kringle. Not for nothing did the cover bear the tongue-in-cheek warning "Contains Bad Taste in The Form of Ultra-Violence, Icon-Bashing, And 'The Finger.' More Offensive Than Christmas Usually Is."
Green Lantern: Mosaic No. 9 (1993)
Green Lantern: Mosaic was an oddity of a series, as much a deconstruction of the Green Lantern mythos (and, at times, wider pop culture) as a superhero comic (Co-creator and creative lead Gerard Jones would go on to write a number of non-fiction books looking at pop culture, including the essential Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book). It's no surprise, then, that the series' Christmas issue would be one that focused on the concept of the holidays and the melancholy behind family reunions. Unexpectedly warm and affecting, it's a rare case of festive sentiment that manages to be genuinely affecting.
The Batman Adventures Holiday Special (1995)
A spin-off of the popular animated series from Bruce Timm and Paul Dini (both of whom provide material for this comic), the Holiday Special features four stories of Gotham being terrorized by Batman's rogues gallery. Each story is a lot of fun, but the highlight is undoubtedly "The Harley and The Ivy," which proved so popular that it later was adapted for the show itself.
DCU Holiday Bash II (1998)
Another of DC's holiday anthologies — the publisher continued this irregular tradition all the way through 2009 — the highlight of this issue is undoubtedly "Present Tense," in which cartoonist Ty Templeton brings Father Christmas to Apokolips, the alien planet ruled by cosmic villain and personification of all evil Darkseid. "You're making it tougher to get here each Christmas, I'll give you that!" Santa says, as he appears with his outfit still smoking from the death traps he survived on the way in.
JLA No. 60 (2002)
Writer Mark Waid manages to work some whimsy into the straight-laced superhero team via a bedtime tale told by Plastic Man to a friend's nephew, in which Santa Claus helps out the Justice League as they take on the devil himself — or at least a sanitized version thereof. Well, who else could save the heroes after they'd been turned to coal? The story also introduces Santa's brand new superpowers, although even the intended audience doesn't believe that Kris Kringle has suddenly developed heat vision …
Spider-Man's Tangled Web No. 21 (2003)
Cartoonist Darwyn Cooke tells you everything you need to know about his seasonal Spider-Man story with its title: " 'Twas the Fight Before Christmas." Focusing as much on Peter Parker's supporting cast (and guest-starring the Invisible Girl from the Fantastic Four, Crystal from the Inhumans and Janet Van Dyne from the Avengers) as Spider-Man himself, the story manages to capture the frenetic feeling of a Christmas Eve when you still haven't managed to get every item on your shopping list … and adds a supervillain, just for luck.
Marvel Holiday Special 2005 (2005)
Marvel's holiday anthology for 2005 is notable for "Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santron," a story that is, to be blunt, everything anyone could want from an Avengers holiday special. Not only do you get to enjoy the sight of Captain America, Iron Man and the other Avengers swapping gifts, but you also meet an Ultron robot that thinks that he's Santa Claus — albeit a Santa who has to kill the Avengers. It's definitely the most wonderful time of the year when that happens.
Flash Gordon Holiday Special (2014)
A spinoff of this year's fun Flash Gordon series, the Holiday Special offers glimpses of the season's festivities in both deep space and down on Earth, thanks to a flashback that explains why Dale Arden hates New Year. (That's okay, Dale, so do I.) There's also an additional bonus for anyone who's ever wanted to see an impressive amount of exposition delivered via a stylized menorah design. Fun and nostalgic, just like the holidays should be.
It's not released until Christmas Eve, but I wanted to throw in a shoutout to the Boo! 2014 Holiday Special, a digital anthology of indie cartoonists that follows up on the Hallowe'en-themed series from last year. If it's anything as good as that series was, it's something that's sure to make your yuletide bright.