The weather outside? Frightful. The fire inside? So delightful. That can only mean one thing: it’s time for the seasonal return of the Popverse Advent Calendar, in which we hijack the holiday tradition and add comic books to celebrate both what some have called the hap-happiest season of all and how very strangely comics have tried to mark the event for themselves. Do you love the holidays? Do you love comics? Do you love weird holiday comics? So do we! You’re in the right place, friends.
Below, you’ll find entries for each and every day leading up to Christmas Day, each spotlighting a particular issue (or story) from comics history that tries its hardest to sum up everything that’s great about the holidays: some of them exciting, some ridiculous, some sentimental, but all always appropriately festive. You can either speed through the entire list in one sitting, or treat it like an actual Advent Calendar, and come back for the appropriate entry on each new day leading up to December 25. Your choice, as a special holiday gift.
And if you’re wondering if there’s anything else we can tell you about Advent Calendars — like, for example, which ones you should buy as a last-minute, pre-Christmas Day gift to yourself — then we’d happily direct your attention here. You’re welcome.
Day 1: The Brave and The Bold #148
Sure, these days everyone thinks of Batman as the Dark Knight of Gotham that never sleeps, and never rests in his tireless quest for justice, but things were different back in the day. Look, here’s the Caped Crusader telling Commissioner Gordon that he would take care of business, but he really needs to handle that all-important holiday shopping list first. Look, the '70s Batman knew how to prioritize — especially when he was written by the great Bob Haney, who’s responsible for this issue’s script. (Art comes from Joe Staton and Jim Aparo, with the latter’s inks really overwhelming the former’s traditional clean lines.)
Don’t worry for the Commissioner too much, though; the very next page of the comic shows that Batman’s “shopping list” is actually a list of informants he’s shaking down across the city for the case, for all the good that it does him. “Please, Batman… even if I knew, I’d be one dead stole if I told ya!” Benny sweats in one particular panel. Guess some people are just naturally hard to shop for.
As for the mob stealing Christmas… they don’t manage to get away with the whole thing, but they do successfully steal the Christmas display from department store Lacey’s, because they want their boss to have the best Christmas party ever. No, really. If this all feels a little over the top, just enjoy the fact that Batman yells “You don’t want to be a Scrooge!” while taking down a bad guy in the issue’s climactic fight.
Day 2: Amazing Spider-Man #166
Look, it’s early days in this yuletide season, and we could all use a little reminder just why we’re all in this December holiday mood together. Thankfully, none other than New York City’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man Peter Parker is here with just such a life-lesson, courtesy of the epilogue to a classic '70s issue of Amazing Spider-Man by Len Wein, Ross André, and Mike Esposito that was otherwise concerned with the hero dealing with not one, but two, different reptile-inspired supervillains. (One of them was the little-seen Stegron the Dinosaur Man, which is a holiday gift in itself.)
Having dispatched with both of said creature-men, Peter swings by the apartment of Doctor Curt Connors to check in on him, and his long-suffering family — he’d earlier visited and picked up a Christmas tree that had been knocked over, because apparently it takes someone with the proportional strength of a spider to achieve such a feat — only to be so overwhelmed by the joys of the season that he forgets his traditional griping from just one panel earlier. It’s a holiday miracle, for real!
“Sharing… giving… that’s what it’s all really about, isn’t it?” he asks himself rhetorically, before webbing up a gift for the family outside their window in the hope that they notice it outside before (a) the weather destroys it, or (b) the webbing dissolves and it crashes to the ground, destroyed. Sure, his internal monologue was so on point, but his actions still demonstrate the precise level of lack of forethought that killed Uncle Ben all those years ago. Can we chalk that up to the Ol’ Parker Luck…?
Day 3: Runaways #16
For many of us, the first weekend in December means something more than just a temporary escape from the mental hell that is the work week. It also means, finally, we get a chance to climb into whatever forgotten corner of the basement/attic/box room (delete as applicable) to recover the holiday decorations and finally bring some color back into our drab, humdrum existences for the first time in 11 months. It’s a beautiful thing, really.
Of course, that’s the dream. The reality is something more akin to this tragically lifelike moment from Runaways, in which Gert points out the ways in which Chase is… well, failing to fulfill the seasonal tradition with his attempts at decking the hall, so to speak. We’ve all been there, and every year get that little bit closer as we open up the box of decorations and realize that we didn’t really spend that much time in January putting everything away in the best condition to keep it fresh and ready for use in the future.
Let’s take a moment, though, to appreciate what’s really going on here. As the title of the series suggests, the Runaways are far from being in the best place in their lives, but here they are, making the most of their situation. Sure, it’s not perfect — nowhere near, if we’re being honest — but they’re trying. I don’t think it’s what Rainbow Rowell or Kris Anka necessarily intended, but this exchange here, as testy as it is, is the perfect distillation of the Marvel approach to heroics: trying your best in imperfect circumstances, and being a little testy about it, in the process. Managing to do that in just two panels? That’s a holiday miracle, right there.
On the one hand, this image speaks for itself, and also acts as a companion to yesterday’s image. Congratulations to John Allison and Lissa Treiman for such conciseness and brevity! (It’s a sign of just how great Giant Days is as a comedy series, I’d argue.) On the other hand, however…
There’s a certain audience for whom early '00s soap opera The O.C. was a big deal; I, myself, am part of that audience, and to this day, the Chrismukkah episodes of the show — exactly what it sounds like, an über-holiday created by merging Christmas and Hanukkah together — are a seasonal staple each and every year. The final season’s Chrismukkah episode, 'The Chrismukk-huh?' is one of the show’s finest, as two of the characters finds themselves in an alternate world where things had gone so much worse than the regular weekly melodrama fans had come to love. It’s an excuse for lots of in-jokes and broad comedy… and it’s also, clearly, the inspiration behind this very story, right down to a head injury resulting from decorating being the thing that pushes a character into an alternate world.
I mean, both are also referencing holiday staple It’s A Wonderful Life — although, in that case, it’s less 'random decoration-related head injury' and more 'divine intervention' that brings George Bailey into Potterville — but, nonetheless: if one particular joy of the holidays is bringing people together, let’s enjoy the unexpected surprise of discovering shared interests and fandoms with others whose work you also happen to love. John and Lissa, I’m raising a mug of eggnog to you both.
Want more? You can read the entire issue in Giant Days 2016 Holiday Special, available via Comixology.
Day 5: Hellblazer #49
John Constantine is not necessarily the first choice for a cheerleader for yuletide joy, for obvious reasons: infamously misanthropic and self-centered — although both are, arguably, little more than a pose hiding his intense love for those around him, as much as he’d deny it — he’s hardly the most obvious candidate to convince anyone that the holidays are a fun time of year. And yet, it’s something he happens to be very good at.
If you need proof of that, then Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s classic 'Lord of the Dance' is right here for you. Putting aside that it’s the first collaboration between the two on Hellblazer, a book they’d later have a classic run together on, it’s also a literal joy of a Christmas story, as Constantine helps the literal Lord of the Dance remember how to have a good time, simply by talking to him and getting him drunk at the local pub. (It is a Garth Ennis comic, after all.)
Eschewing faux sentimentality or forced festive traditions in favor of bluntly stating that, sometimes, it’s good to go out drinking with friends and talk nonsense — again, this is definitely a Garth Ennis comic — there’s a kindness and simplicity to this issue that makes its case far more than any number of Special Episode of your favorite sitcoms could manage. Reading it is, fittingly, like hanging out with a couple of good friends you haven’t seen in far too long. Let’s call it a joy of the season.
Much like the yuletide season itself, the rivalry between Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge for the affections of Mr. Archibald Andrews — or, depending on the story, almost any other reason under the sun — is a gift that keeps giving. As anyone who’s read any appreciate amount go Archie Comics (or, for that matter, watched Riverdale for any length of time) already knows, Betty and Veronica are very often the best of friends until they happen to both want to same thing.
Of course, this could only mean disaster when it comes to the holiday season, and the subject of just whom Archie will be spending some of those more important holiday moments with. Sure, it looks like Veronica is losing her cool above — with some stylish art from Bill Vigor and Marty Epp, working off a Frank Doyle script — but before too long, Betty’s flipping her wig too, and threatening to punch Archie’s lights out. Who knew the holidays were quite so stressful? Oh, wait, everyone.
As you could expect, things work out after a fashion — which is to say, after realizing that he’s promised to spend Christmas morning with Betty, Veronica, and Jughead, Archie does the only sensible thing: skips everyone else’s house, and spend the morning at home with his family, as he should have been planning in the first place. Take a lesson, kids.
Want more? You can read the entire story reprinted in Archie Christmas Classics, available via Comixology.
There’s a scene at the opening of the 1988 holiday classic Scrooged that is intended to show how cynical, cruel, and heartless American television of the late ‘80s had become: a show titled 'The Night The Reindeer Died,' in which terrorists attack the North Pole, and only a gun-toting Santa and Mrs. Claus can keep Christmas alive… along with the help of then-TV star Lee Majors. It’s a quick, two-minute gag before the movie really gets started.
The Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special #1 is what happens when those two minutes get expanded out into a full comic, which then decides that it needs to go even harder. Fresh of the success of the first Lobo miniseries, Keith Giffen, Alan Grant, and Simon Bisley re-teamed for a story that asks the important question: what happens when the Easter Bunny hires an unstoppable bounty hunter to take out Santa once and for all?
Beyond the hyper violence and various over-the-top touches — Santa has a roommate who’s a gorilla called Kong, because of course he does — one of the joys of the whole thing is that this particular Santa, and all of the Elves in his workshop, pretty much deserve everything they get; they’re the sort of North Pole citizens that the real Santa would ensure gets a lump of coal or three. Wait, did I say “real” Santa? I mean, the other Santa, the nicer one… Obviously…
As someone who learned all-too-young that Santa Claus wasn’t necessarily who I thought he was — we’ll say no more about that, but I still bear the emotional scars decades later; thanks, Craig — the idea of Santa as a figure that exists in the collective consciousness has always been a point of fascination for me. He straddles the gap between Mythical Figure and Cartoon Character, somehow bigger than both purely because so many of us have, at one point, willed him into being.
Grant Morrison and Dan Mora’s Klaus fits into this space somewhere closer to the cartoon-y edge: he’s Santa as reimagined using superhero tropes and language, but still played as a mythical figure, as if Thor decided to get really seasonal and use the Silver Age Superman as his role model. As the series continues, Morrison and Mora fill in the gaps as to how Klaus actually operates, and how he co-exists with our traditional view of the character, as in Klaus and the Witch of Winter revealing that he’s basically franchised the “Santa Claus” role around the world to ensure that everyone gets their gifts in one night — and that means getting kids’ parents involved, too.
That’s how we get the above scene, featuring a classic piece of Morrisonian logic: if Santa is actually our parents all along, then that just proves that Santa has been real all along. After all, if our parents weren’t real, then how would we be here in the first place — and if our parents are Santa, that means that Santa has to be real. Don’t think about it too much. Have another mug of egg nog, instead.
Want more? You can read the entire issue in Klaus and the Witch of Winter, available via Comixology.
Day 9: Merry Christmas, Mr. Zombo!
For legal reasons, let’s just get this out of the way first: that’s definitely not professionally cheeky singer and light entertainer Robbie Williams in the above image. Yes, it looks just like him, and, sure, showing up on a variety show for the holidays to talk artlessly about the struggles other people face in their everyday lives is most definitely the kind of thing that he’d almost certainly be up for, but it’s definitely not. His fate at the end of the story makes that pretty clear, if nothing else. (Sorry, Fake Robbie.)
I should also explain what Zombo is, given its unfortunate relative obscurity outside of the UK; a strip in British anthology 2000 AD from a decade-or-so ago, Zombo was the breakthrough project for writer Al Ewing, who’d also been working on Judge Dredd and some other 2000 AD work at the time: it’s a hilarious, smart, and occasionally touching parody of horror tropes, sci-fi tropes, and seemingly anything and everything else Ewing and artist/co-creator Henry Flint can think of — a freewheeling, excitable love letter to entire genres and ideas that also wanted to remind everyone how terrible some of that stuff was, in the best way possible.
Which, of course, makes a holiday episode almost inevitable. Merry Christmas, Mr. Zombo is, perhaps, almost too rooted in a particular brand of British Christmas Television — hi, Noel Edmonds — for American audiences to understand every part of it, but the basics are this: there’s a certain insincerity to the fake jollity of holiday television, an eagerness to play on people’s goodwill for profit, which can only really be exorcised by some good old fashioned hyper-violence, and a Christmas Tree that’s actually an alien that’s going to try to eat people. Think of it as the contemporary version of Dickens’ moral lessons from A Christmas Carol, but with a little more bloodshed. Ho ho ho.
Want more? You can read the entire issue in 2000 AD Prog 2010 Christmas Special, available via 2000 AD’s own webstore.
Day 10: 'An Old Fashioned Christmas'
There are those who would have you believe that Oliver Queen, DC’s Green Arrow, is somehow less impressive than his fellow members of the Justice League. “He has no powers! How can he stand up to the Flash, Aquaman, or even Batman, who makes up for his own powerlessness with all manner of expensive gadgets and his advanced intelligence,” they’ll say — I mean, I assume they do, I’ve never had this conversation myself — as if it doesn’t take real guts to stand up against Darkseid, Pariah, or even just Lex Luthor armed with just a bow, arrow, and a smart-ass attitude. Green Arrow, dear reader, is great.
Except when it comes to giving Green Lantern Christmas gifts, it seems. In this panel from 'An Old Fashioned Christmas,' a short from 1989’s Christmas With The Super-Heroes #2 by William Messner-Loebs, Colleen Doran, and Ty Templeton, Hal Jordan reveals the unfortunate truth about his fellow hard travelin’ hero: that he’s really uncreative when planning presents.
And, look, I get it — planning out just what to get your friends, especially your best friend, isn’t easy. It’s the kind of thing that requires some thought, as well as some time to sit down and really go through all your options. Maybe Green Arrow just didn’t have enough of either in the run-up to the holidays each year; maybe he was too busy fighting Merlyn or trapped in the Arrow Cave or something. Perhaps he was helping out Black Canary in her flower shop, I don’t know; the man’s pretty busy, okay? Nonetheless, there are priorities that he should be bearing in mind, especially at this time of year. I’m glad you’re keeping the world safe from the threat of supervillains, Ollie, but if you can’t put in more than a moment’s thought into buying gifts for your friends, then, really, haven’t the bad guys already won?
Day 11: Werewolf by Eve
As much as we like to celebrate the season as a whole here at the Popverse Comics Advent Calendar, there’s no denying that some parts of the Advent are just a little bit more special than others. No offense, December 11; you might mark the two-week mark until the big day for Christmas fans, but otherwise, you’re just not that special. Not like, say, December 24…?
Of course, Christmas Eve is something that just builds throughout the entire day: that sense of anticipation and excitement surrounding what’s about to happen only gets stronger as it gets closer to the next day, making the night of December 24 a particularly powerful time, even for those who aren’t hoping to catch a glimpse of an old man on a flying sleigh. That’s where 'Werewolf by Eve,' by Ben Morse and Stephanie Buscema comes in to help Christmas fans remember that, even at this time of year, it’s not all about us.
Yeah, for fans of the yuletide cheer, the night of Christmas Eve is a time for excitement and metaphorically rocking around the mental Christmas tree as we plan which present we want to open first the next morning. Consider the poor example of Jack Russell, though, Marvel’s Werewolf by Night: no tidings of comfort and joy for him, only the horrific devastation brought on by his monthly transformation into a terrifying wolf man that has, unfortunately, coincided with Christmas this particular year. It might be a joke to some, but it’s also an important lesson at this time of year in particular: it’s really not all about what you want. Think of the werewolves in your life, and do something for them — for example, lock them in a room so that they don’t destroy the fun for everyone else. You know it makes sense.
Day 12: Present Tense
While it’s more than true to say that not everyone celebrates the season — and there’s no reason that they should, I hasten to add — it can be fun to imagine what it would mean for some fictional characters if their refusal to participate wasn’t shared by the season itself. That’s the hook behind 'Present Tense,' a two-page short by the great Ty Templeton that appeared in the little-remembered DCU Holiday Bash II anthology way back when, a story that just so happens to be one of the greatest Santa stories ever told. No, I mean it.
Anyone with a passing familiarity with the DCU knows just how scary Darkseid is — he is, after all, the “Tiger-Force at the Core of All Things,” as he’ll happily remind you at any given opportunity — and, for that matter, how deadly Apokolips, the planet he rules as a cruel despot, happens to be, as well. It’s not somewhere that you can visit easily, and somewhere that is even more difficult to escape; even Superman hasn’t been able to drop in unannounced without it causing trouble.
Turns out, Santa doesn’t have that problem. That’s the gag of the entire thing: that Santa turns out to be even more unstoppable than Darkseid himself when it comes to checking off his list… and, in the process, he’s become one of the most dangerous foes Apokolips has ever faced. That’s just in their minds, of course; everyone knows that — outside of the Santa that shows up in that Lobo comic — Mr. Claus is just an old softy who sees the best in everyone and wouldn’t hurt a fly. Just… don’t get on his bad side, though. Just in case.
Day 13:Marvel Team-Up #1
If ever there was a superhero who’d not dig this time of year, it only makes sense that it would be the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch. After all, think about what makes Johnny Storm tick: Fast cars! Cute girls in revealing outfits! Heat! All of which are in reasonably short supply in December, thanks to icy roads, the need to stay warm when the temperature is dropping, and, well, the temperature dropping, respectively. I’m not saying that the Torch is Marvel’s Ebeneezer Scrooge — that, surely, has to be Doctor Doom, right? — but it’s only understandable that he’s the kind of guy who’d prefer July.
This grinch-like attitude is in full display in Marvel Team-Up #1, by Rascally Roy Thomas, Rambunctious Ross Andru, and Melodious Mike Esposito. Yes, weirdly, Team-Up — which would go on to run more than a decade, and feature Spider-Man teaming up with all manner of Marvel heroes (hence the title) — launched with a holiday-themed story, inexplicably. The issue’s even called 'Have Yourself A Sandman Little Christmas,' presumably due to Thomas forgetting that 'Sandman' isn’t actually an adjective.
As you might expect, the story sees Spidey and the Torch taking on the Sandman, who seems to be up to no good… even though he’s just trying to visit his sick mother for the holidays. The highlight of the issue, though, is just how impressively grouchy Johnny is throughout most of the issue, because of what he describes as “girl troubles.” You’re not fooling us, Mr. Storm: we know it’s because no-one was impressed at your trick to heat up hot cocoa in a flash. Better luck in summer, hotshot.
Given, as I am, to enjoying a rewatch of the many Doctor Who Christmas Specials at this time of year, a thought I often have is asking myself, who doesn’t my other favorite sci-fi TV franchise do a similar thing? After more than half a century of stories, why aren’t there any Star Trek Christmas stories? The answer, dear friends, might be found in the second-ever Star Trek: The Next Generation comic book, which goes by the title 'Spirit in the Sky.' (Sorry, Gordon Lightfoot.)
Star Trek can be sentimental at times, especially when it comes to its treatment of the interpersonal relationships between its core characters; that said, it’s also the home of faux-science explaining away everything, especially during the hyper-rational TNG era. That’s not really here; instead, we’re left with a story that wants us to believe in an actual Christmas Spirit that may or may not look like Santa Claus, that is not only powered by love, but makes warlike aliens want to give gifts to their enemies… and that makes William T. Riker say “Eeeeooo,” for that matter. I mean… what?
Let’s get this out of the way right away: this issue — by Mike Carlin and Pablo Marcos — is actually a pretty good representation of the first couple of seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The problem is, this issue is a pretty good representation of the first couple of seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Maybe Star Trek and the holiday season just don’t mix! Maybe the sci-fi and the yuletide cheer aren’t compatible... or maybe the start of Next Gen was a mess, and we shouldn’t damn the whole idea based on one bad comic.
Want more? You can read the entire issue in the Star Trek Classics Vol. 4: Beginnings collection, available via Comixology.
Day 15: Spider-Man's Tangled Web #21
While this joyful yuletide confection does, in fact, offer a fight that takes place before Christmas — in classic Marvel fashion, it’s a guest-star-filled saturnalia as the Puppet Master turns a bunch of heroes against each other as a distraction from his latest crime — it would be untrue to say that the superhero slugfest is where the action of this particular story truly lies. For that, dear friends, we have to head to the Daily Bugle’s holiday party.
Yes, that’s right! The office holiday party — that awkward collection of multiple social interactions that all parties would rather forget almost as soon as they happen, as everyone steps outside of their traditional work roles to reveal that, yes, their sense of rhythm and judging when to stop indulging is just as bad as you might have expected. (Look, I’ve attended some bad office parties in my time, I admit; I might be biased.) And if the usual holiday parties are bad, imagine how much worse they’d be if you worked alongside J. Jonah Jameson!
It’s the Daily Bugle office party subplot where the story really shines, and I suspect where Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone’s hearts really lay when creating this issue; it’s easy to see why, considering just how great the Spider-Man supporting cast is. Jameson alone is the sort of character anyone could spend an entire holiday issue on, given that he’s part Ebeneezer Scrooge and part Grinch, but with more need to be loved, feared, and respected than either of them combined. Really, the Puppet Master can go hang; the true holiday gift of this issue is the chance to see JJJ at this time of year and discover that, yeah, he really is just as bad as you’d suspected. Ho ho ho!
Day 16: DC Special Series #21
1979 was apparently a great year to be a fan of the Legion of Super-Heroes, judging by the seasonal story that appears in this holiday anthology; as if writing from Paul Levitz — a man who’d go on to define the futuristic superteam just a few years in the future, no pun intended — wasn’t enough, the story also features art from the peerless team of José Luis García-Lopez and Dick Giordano, making it arguably the best-looking story in this entire advent calendar of ours this year.
Even better, let’s all enjoy the fact that, while this story is technically about Superboy trying to find the Christmas Star in the 30th century — spoilers, he fails, but what he finds instead is the Christmas Spirit. Ain’t that always the way? — there’s the utterly enjoyable subtext that makes the rest of the Legion incredibly easy to empathize with. Sure, they might be superpowers aliens from a possible reality a thousand years in the future, but they’re just like us… a fact made all the more clear by the fact that they, too, get exhausted by Superboy’s can-do attitude throughout the entire story.
I know, of course, that likely wasn’t Levitz’s plan when he wrote the story — he’s too much of a nice guy to do Superboy dirty like that — but there’s simply no way to read this and not understand on an atomic level that the Legion of Super-Heroes are a collection of teens who just want to get to Christmas Day already without flying off across the galaxy on some wild goose chase. They want to relax, eat some food, maybe open some gifts; that’s not too much to ask for… unless, of course, some well-meaning, excitable Kryptonian shows up all full of good intentions and too much pep in his step. Clark! It’s December! We’re tired already!
Want more? You can read the entire issue, complete with stories featuring Batman, Jonah Hex, and others, on DC Universe Infinite.
Day 17: '"O Little Town of Bethlehem'
It might seem counterintuitive that Judge Dredd — a long-running series that is part-satire on society and politics, part-science fiction adventure strip, and also one of the crowning achievements of English-language comics in that it’s a real-time strip that’s been in continuous publication for the last 45 years — celebrates the holiday season every year: he’s a no-nonsense future cop who doesn’t show emotion and stops at nothing in the service of his mission… but somehow he still finds the space of celebrate the season every year…?
That’s the gag, of course. It’s that tension, that unexpectedness, that tends to be exactly what creators play on to make the annual holiday Dredd strips work. That’s definitely the case with 2009’s 'O Little Town of Bethlehem,' by Al Ewing and Paul Marshall; the plot revolves around a thwarted mutant uprising that goes entirely awry for reasons too ridiculous to explain but which involve the Hot New Toy of some years earlier, called Little Juvie Jovus (don’t ask), but really, the whole thing is about the fact that, even during the holidays, you can’t stop Judge Joe Dredd from being Judge Joe Dredd no matter what.
Therefore, you get the scene above: what happens if you show up in town with nowhere to stay in the middle of winter? Judge Dredd will make you feel lousy for even asking, and demand that you get out of his face as quickly as possible? Looking for some seasons’ greetings? Try somewhere else, creep — or else face the wrath of the law. When it comes down to it, this is exactly what we all want. After all, at this time of year, you can’t beat the classics.
Want more? You can read the entire issue in 2000 AD Prog 2010 Christmas Special, available via 2000 AD’s own webstore.
Long before it was canon, comic fans understood that Ben Grimm, better known as the Fantastic Four’s bashful blue-eyed Thing, was Jewish. The faith of comic book characters was hardly a topic of discussion when the Thing debuted way back in 1961, in much the same manner than the faith of his (also Jewish) creators was up for discussion, but nonetheless, it was so clear from the way he was portrayed that is barely needed clarifying.
It wasn’t until Fantastic Four #56, back in 2002, that the matter was actually raised in a story itself. Karl Kesel and Stuart Immonen were the creators responsible for that story, where Ben said that he didn’t talk about his faith because, as he put it, he “figure[s] there’s enough trouble in this world without people thinkin’ Jews are all monsters like me.” (It’s a lovely story, and you should go check it out.) A handful of years later, Stan Lee and artist Nick Dragotta — doing a great Jack Kirby impersonation — followed up with a digital-only tale offering another reason the Thing might have stayed quiet about the whole thing: the rest of the Fantastic Four just didn’t understand.
Reed Richards might be one of the world’s smartest men, but apparently he didn’t know how to spell Hanukkah before Ben set him straight; Sue even tells Ben that he can’t have his gifts until they figure out the spelling, because… apparently no-one has figured out how to use Google, I guess. Thankfully, once he helps his friends out, he gets his first gift, and it’s a great one: an original, signed, Jack Kirby drawing. “I musta died and went to Heaven!” he exclaims, tearing up. It’s a moment that makes little sense given a moment’s thought, but that’s not what’s important at this time of year. Let’s just take a breath, and enjoy the impossible joy, just for a second.
Want more? You can read the entire story in Marvel Digital Holiday Special #2, available on Marvel Unlimited.
Amongst the many, many things that the 1'0s Batman animated series headed up by Alan Brennert, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm did right was to remind audiences that the supporting cast in Batman stories are a lot of fun. Even beyond the core team of Commissioner Gordon, Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl et al, there’s a swath of really enjoyable characters filled with story potential. Take, for example, slob-turned-cop-turned-slob-again Harvey Bullock.
In comics by this period, Harvey had straightened up his act a bit and become part of the intelligence community in the Checkmate series; the Batman animated show, however, saw the potential in a lazy, gross bum who ate too many donuts but was, at his core, a good guy even if he’d struggle to admit it. You can tell that by this story by Dini and Timm from the 1992 Holiday Special comic book tie-in, which puts Bullock right where he’s always belonged: undercover as the worst mall Santa imaginable at the height of the holiday rush.
As delightful as the sight of a belching Bullock Santa is, it’s nothing compared with the moment later in the story, when Bullock meets the kid of a criminal he’s put in jail, only to feel so guilty that he gives her some cash to buy her dad something nice for the holidays. Even a purposefully cranky oaf has his moments at this time of year, you see. Especially if he’s dressed in the red-and-white.
Day 20: JLA #60
Okay, fine; the central tale in the marvelously-titled 'Merry Christmas, Justice League — Now Die!' Is an intentional feint; it’s the story told by Plastic Man to Woozy Winks’ kid, as he tries (unsuccessfully) to convince him that Santa is not only real, but every single bit as cool as the mightiest superheroes in the world. It’s writer Mark Waid speaking through Plas, of course, trying to convince JLA readers of the particular pleasures of yuletide comics, with artist Cliff Rathburn playing willing and eager back-up.
Of course, Waid can’t resist poking fun at both himself and the seriousness of post-Crisis superhero comics in the process; not only is the villain that Santa and the JLA facing off against Neron — the satanic majesty whom Waid had co-created for the Underworld Unleashed crossover event some years earlier — but JLA #60 has no less than two trick endings to tease people with the possibility that Santa really does exist in the DCU. (He does, of course.)
Knowing this is canon once again means that it’s time for DC to fully embrace Santa as part of its multiverse of storytelling options: where’s the Year One storyline to show us Santa’s earliest days? (I guess that’s just Boom! Studios’ Klaus, come to think of it.) Where’s the Black Label mini showing what really got certain people on the Naughty List? And, most importantly of all, how long do we really have to wait until Santa finally gets the guest-shot he deserves in World’s Finest? Mark, I know you’re out there. I know you want to do it.
Day 21: DC Holiday Special 2017
It’s the shortest day of the year, everyone: that time of year that feels like a great idea until you remember that you still have the same amount of responsibilities and chores and work, just less daylight to do it all in. (On the plus side, at least all the decorations make the dark that little bit brighter and more colorful; despite what might seem like grouchiness, I actually love the darkness of this time of year for that very reason.)
As important as the Solstice is to many people — and as important as it has been to so many for centuries by this point — it’s not something that gets a lot of time in the comic book spotlight, for whatever reason. That’s one of the reasons that “Solstice,” by Greg Rucka and Bilquis Evely in the 2017 DC Holiday Special, is such a pleasure to read. It’s less a traditional story as such than a comic book poem; there’s no real plot, but instead narration from both Wonder Woman and Batman as they talk about the special night, before meeting on the final page to talk properly.
That meeting, too, is quietly touching, as the two build a fire together to mark the solstice while Wonder Woman tells Batman, “you and I have a more intimate relationship with darkness. So you and I must guard against being consumed by it… and remind ourselves that the light always returns.” It’s a nice message on this day of all days, and a reminder for those struggling in this cold, dark season that things will turn around and get better before too long.
Day 22: Marvel Holiday Special 2005
For whatever reason, it feels as if Marvel has shied away from creating as many holiday-themed stories as DC across the decades. Is it that the 'world outside your window' attitude of the Marvel Universe is less forgiving of the unvarnished, unafraid sentiment of the holiday traditions? Is it that no-one wants to risk letting Rudolph into the world too often in case Sentinels discover that his red nose is the result of a genetic mutation? It’s unclear — but it does mean that stories like Jeff Parker, Reilly Brown, and Pat Davidson’s 'Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santron' shine all the brighter as a result.
As the name suggests, 'Santron' gives regular Avengers bad guy Ultron a festive makeover, as he’d rebuilt by a well-meaning scientist who really doesn’t understand what she’s done… but quickly realizes, in the scene you can see above. Don’t worry; even if it wasn’t taking place in the happy, happiest season of all, the Avengers wouldn’t have been particularly troubled by this incarnation of the hateful robot: it was quickly dispatched in what might be the most Christmassy method imaginable: an EMP snuck into his body in a cookie that he felt compelled to eat because of his Santa programming.
For those Marvel fans shaking their heads in disbelief, you’d better watch out for lumps of coal on Christmas morning — and for everyone else, maybe you should think about going to find this story for yourself: after all, I haven’t mentioned the killer Christmas tree or the mistletoe-drone yet. The holidays were a stranger time back in the mid-2000s; I blame Tony Stark, which only feels like a reasonable attitude for everything when it coms to the Marvel Universe in the past few decades.
Day 23: Ambush Bug Stocking Stuffer #1
There’s layers to this joke, but we can get to them in a moment. For now, just take a moment to appreciate this counterintuitively cantankerous reboot of Santa Claus? (And from Keith Giffen, the same man who had a similarly grumpy attitude to Ol’ Saint Nick in the Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special we covered earlier in the month, too! What does he have against the Jolly Old Man In The Big Red Suit, is the question I think we should all be asking ourselves. And what do inker Bob Oksner and scripter Robert Loren Fleming have to say about it all?)
And now, to the layers: the joke isn’t just that this Santa doesn’t act like the Santa we all know and love; it’s that it’s a reboot of a beloved icon offered in the same era that DC was trying to reposition itself as an edgier, more daring publisher than fans expected — hence the mention of “the new DC,” as well as the gag about him having debuted in New Teen Titans Annual #8. Just look at how poised for action he is! Look at that scowl! This is a Santa for a new generation! Feel how groundbreaking this Santa is!
There’s less than a year between this page being published and the launch of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. I think we can all agree that this isn’t a coincidence.
Day 24: Teen Titans #13
In a way, just the title of the story in Teen Titans #13 tells you everything you need to know: 'The TT’s Swingin’ Christmas Carol' gives you not just the fact that you’re about to read a take on the Charles Dickens’ holiday hit, but that it’s one that is very much 'with it' and, indeed, 'swingin’' in the way that so much of Bob Haney and Nick Cardy’s (amazing, and amazingly dated) '60s Teen Titans stories were. It’s a title that doesn’t take itself too seriously — it sounds like a variety show title — and promises a good time ahead, if one that might be just a mite sentimental at times.
All of this is true of 'Swingin’ Christmas Carol,' but it’s far from the full picture. The issue is un-selfconscious in the best way imaginable, and filled with shameless, inexplicable choices that are nonetheless supremely entertaining in their outrageousness: Why does Wonder Girl wear a Santa-themed mini-dress instead of her regular costume? Why use only slightly veiled versions of the Dickens’ characters’ names when they’re so obvious, so that we get Ebenezer Scrounge and Tiny Tom? Are we really meant to believe that the Teen Titans couldn’t escape a magnet? The answer isn’t just 'who knows,' because there’s no way to avoid adding, “who cares, as long as the comic is this much fun?”
Underneath all of the zaniness — perhaps the only word that fully fits the feel of this comic — there’s no shortage of heart, though, and that’s ultimately what makes this one of the greatest holiday comics of all. As awkward and inorganic as the panel above may be, it’s clear that it comes from a good place, and that those involved with the comic really do want the reader to feel the spirit of the season. Despite the out of date slang and the very idea of Ebenezer Scrounge as a character who should show up in a Teen Titans comic in the first place, there’s a sincerity and kindness on display that’s genuinely charming, more than half a century after the comic was originally published. It’s a Christmas Miracle in a way, if a somewhat underwhelming one.
Want more? You can read the entire thing for yourself in Teen Titans #13, available via Comixology and on DC Universe Infinite. And since this is the final entry in the series, have yourself a very merry yuletime!
Feeling in the mood already? That means it’s time to go check out our guide to weird and wonderful potential gifts for the loved ones in your life.