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Christmas With the Superheroes, Part 1

CINESCAPE looks back at some superhero stocking stuffers from the past

By Tony Whitt     December 24, 2003


Don't let the kids near this frightful Titans Christmas tale (from TEEN TITANS #13, 1968).
© DC Comics
Editor's Note: Originally published last year, we're reprinting Tony Whitt's "Christmas With the Superheroes" to get into the holiday spirit once again -- and to give Tony a much deserved two weeks off vacation. Tony's regular weekly column, COMICSCAPE, will return in January -- but for now, why not spend some time with DC and Marvel's heroes as they deck the halls (of justice)...

It's Christmas time, and just as inevitable as that high credit card bill you'll get in January for all the gifts you bought is the equally inevitable Christmas-themed comic book. Christmas-themed stories in comics have been a tradition for as long as comics themselves have been around. Superman first encountered Santa Claus as early as 1940, and since then each character has either gotten to play Santa, to make some otherwise unhappy urchin smile again, or to somehow stop a super-fiend from destroying the true spirit of Christmas. And have you ever noticed that it's only around this time of year that the word "urchin" ever gets used? Odd, that.

A feature listing every single story ever written by every single comic company would take all of the Twelve Days of Christmas to run and then some. So, in the spirit of the season, those of us toiling away in CINESCAPE's Comic Critic Workshop have come up with a look at some of the best (and even some of the worst) Yuletide stories that the two big boys, Marvel and DC, have come up with over the last sixty years.

The Best:

Captain Marvel and Billy Batson have a special Christmas in 1947's CAPTAIN MARVEL #69.

1) "Superman's Christmas Adventure," originally presented in SUPERMAN'S CHRISTMAS ADVENTURE, 1940.
Authors: Jerry Siegel, Jack Burnley

Superman decides to educate a spoiled brat who's unhappy with his presents about the true meaning of Christmas by showing him an even unhappier poor boy who has no toys. (Goodness, I'm tearing up even thinking about it, seriously. Seems that guilt is another ongoing theme of these stories.) But before he can take the little tyke out shopping for other deserving kids, Superman must foil the plans of Dr. Grouch and Mr. Meaney, who want to wreck Santa's workshop and steal his reindeer to ruin the holiday. Dastardly!

This is one of the earliest Superman Christmas stories, and one of the best. Of course, it may also be one of the earliest DC marketing ploys?Santa has his elves working on Superman toys, shirts, Krypto-rayguns and so forth, remarking that "Superman novelties are very popular this year." And thus a marketing juggernaut is born.


Christmas in the 30th century is a whole new ballgame in a special 1980 tale.

2) "Wanted?Santa Claus, Dead or Alive!" originally presented in SUPER-STAR HOLIDAY SPECIAL (DC SPECIAL SERIES #21), Spring 1980.
Authors: Denny O'Neill, Frank Miller, Steve Mitchell

Former heist artist Boomer Katz gets a job playing Santa at a department store, but he's being forced by his pals Fats and Lou to rob the store after he has a change of heart. Batman arrives too late to catch the crooks, but a certain star points him in the right direction.

Hailed by many because it features DARK KNIGHT writer Frank Miller's very first Batman art, this isn't that bad a story, either, and it's nice to see Batman worrying about the well-being of a former crook for a change. Those were the days?


In 1974 you could spend CHRISTMAS WITH THE SUPERHEROES!

3) "Star Light, Star Bright, Farthest Star I See Tonight!" originally presented in SUPER-STAR HOLIDAY SPECIAL (DC SPECIAL SERIES #21), Spring 1980.
Authors: Paul Levitz, José Luis García-López, Dick Giordano

Superboy visits his pals in the Legion during the holidays and finds that beings of the future celebrate in completely different ways than he's used to. He suggests going to look for the Christmas Star?what do you expect from a fictional construct from a pocket universe, anyway??and the team finds a planet on the brink of extinction instead. Rather than let the inhabitants die a slow death, the Legionnaires pull together to help the aliens help themselves until rescue ships can arrive.

Given that the aliens that Superboy sees celebrating Christmas all come from different planets, it's amazing that they're celebrating it at all. Oh, well, at least "Chanukah" gets a mention. The interesting thing about this one, apart from the fact that it's more a straightforward adventure tale rather than a Christmas story, is that it fits into the then-Legion continuity: the story opens with the LSH HQ being rebuilt after being destroyed by Omega. How many other Christmas stories can boast that?


Superman and Santa team up way back in 1940's SUPERMAN'S CHRISTMAS ADVENTURE.

4) "Billy Batson's Xmas!" originally presented in CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES #69, February 1947.
Artist: Pete Constanza

Billy Batson and Captain Marvel, in what may be one of the oddest cases of split personality disorder in comic book history, decide to buy each other a gift. But when the Big Cheese promises to play Santa at the department store where he averts a fire, Billy realizes he may have to miss his own Christmas party.

In a series well-known and well-loved for its?er, cheesiness, this story stands out as being cute rather than silly. When Captain Marvel gets the falsely-accused department store Santa his job back, it just makes you want to go "Awww!" really loudly. If you're given to such a thing, that is.


And finally, one of the Worst:

Batman faced a Christmas challenge in 1980's DC SPECIAL SERIES #21.

5) "A Swingin' Christmas Carol!" originally presented in TEEN TITANS #13, January-February 1968.
Authors: Bob Haney, Nick Cardy

Anyone who pines away for the Silver Age should be made to read this story. The Titans decide to teach nasty old Ebenezer Scrounge a lesson after his partner Jacob Farley escapes from prison to get his revenge. The teens finally "dig" that this situation is just like "A Christmas Carol," even down to Scrounge's worker Mr. Ratchet having a disabled son named?wait for it?Tiny Tom. But the teens' plan to play the Spirits of Christmas gets interrupted by Mr. Big, a mobster who forced Scrounge to set up Farley. Scrounge has the inevitable change of heart, helps them stop Mr. Big, and even replaces Wonder Girl's damaged Christmas outfit. When Aqualad says, "Hey Robin-O, how could anyone have as marv a Christmas as we are?" you'll wish it were a silent night, indeed.

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