Christmas With the Superheroes, Part 2 -

Comic Book Retrospective

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Christmas With the Superheroes, Part 2

CINESCAPE looks back at some superhero stocking stuffers from the past

By Arnold T. Blumberg (additional material by Tony Whitt)     December 31, 2003

X-MEN #143 featured Kitty Pryde single-handedly defending the X-Men mansion against a N'Garai demon.
© Marvel Characters Inc.
Editor's Note: Originally published last year, we're reprinting "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 next week -- 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.

Last time, we took a look at five examples of Yuletide excitement from the DC stable, so now let's turn our attention to the House of Ideas. Marvel too has dabbled in holiday tale-telling, from its '70s treasury-sized HOLIDAY GRAB BAGS to its '90s MARVEL HOLIDAY SPECIALS and many individual issues in between. Here are a few memorable Marvel encounters with Christmas and Chanukah cheer. (Note: Interestingly, by pure coincidence, three of our five selections were at least partially the work of John Byrne. Was he Marvel's resident jolly old elf? Hmm?)

She-Hulk teams up with a right jolly old elf in SHE-HULK #8 (1989).

1) "Demon!" originally presented in THE UNCANNY X-MEN #143, 1981.
Authors: Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Terry Austin

As the rest of the X-Men head out for Christmas Eve, they leave their youngest new recruit, Kitty Pryde, alone in the mansion. She's never spent Chanukah away from her family before, and she's a bit homesick. But she'll be focused on matters far more deadly when an ancient evil demon known as a N'Garai decides to come calling this holiday season. By the time the rest of the team returns to the school, Kitty will have laid waste to the entire mansion - Danger Room, Ororo's greenhouse, and then some - in trying to eradicate this unholy menace. She scores her first X-victory, beams with pryde (heh heh), and then learns of Professor X's big surprise. He's brought her parents home to spend the holidays with her! Just another example of traditional mutant merry-making. Aww.

One of the more fondly remembered X-Mas stories (and yes, that "X" is doing double duty there), "Demon!" is suspenseful and heartfelt without being cloying, and it acknowledges Kitty's Jewish heritage in a small but pleasant way.

In 1991, Marvel inaugurated a dedicated series specifically devoted to holiday-themed tales.

2) "The World's Greatest Detective!" originally presented in THE SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK #8, 1989.
Authors: John Byrne, Bob Wiacek

She-Hulk returns from a space mission to find herself embroiled in a sleazy murder case. An Australian hulk (no relation) has killed seven people, but the evidence that can tie him to the crimes is elusive...until "the world's greatest detective" shows up to assist the statuesque green crusader. He's short, cuddly, sporting a white beard, and he shakes like a bowl full of...yeah, that's right. Goofy it may be, but it worked when we were pre-teens. Looking back now, it is kind of stupid, isn't it?

Byrne was in his "breaking the fourth wall" mode during his two runs on this series, and although the concept was refreshing and even very entertaining back then, today it suffers a bit, and I'm at a loss to explain exactly why. But when Santa Claus himself turns up and recognizes that he's appearing in a comic book story, it gets a bit grating. Add to that the fact that he keeps trying to make time with the jade giantess, and readers might find themselves squirming in their Christmas best. But the story does have an important reason for existing - it sets up a crucial plot point that wouldn't be resolved for years, when Nick St. Christopher (sigh) gives She-Hulk a special present...

The first-ever MARVEL TEAM UP (cover to #1 pictured) brought Spidey and the Human Torch into conflict with the Sandman on Christmas Eve.

3) "Plastic Snow & Mistletoe," originally presented in SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK #36, 1992.
Authors: John Byrne, Keith Williams

She-Hulk and Louise Mason, the newly rejuvenated former Blonde Phantom, head to sunny California to spend Christmas with Shulkie's dad. On the way, our heroine detours to smooch Wyatt Wingfoot and meets a few old supporting characters from her former title when she finally makes it to the old homestead. But the holiday season hangs heavy at the Walters house. Her father finds himself attracted to Louise but wishes he could have his "real" daughter back for just one night - you know, the pink-skinned, slightly shorter Jennifer Walters trapped within the then permanent form of the towering She-Hulk. Jen wishes she could give him his heart's desire. But as Louise reminds her friend, doesn't she still have that mysterious present from Nick St. Christopher in her pocket...?

Where Byrne's last She-Hulk holiday tale was quirky, uncomfortable and at times just plain laughable (yet a bit of fun at the time), "Plastic Snow & Mistletoe" strikes just the right balance between fourth-wall shenanigans and warm Christmas sentiment. The final page can make even the hardest Marvelite shed a tear.

The second of Marvel's dedicated holiday specials (1992).

4) "A Christmas Coda," originally presented in MARVEL HOLIDAY SPECIAL #1, 1991.
Artist: Walter Simonson, Arthur Adams, Al Milgrom

We couldn't have a Marvel holiday survey without a story from the publisher's First Family, now could we? Actually, this riff on Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" (and we've had enough of those over the years) focuses on young Franklin Richards, who encounters a Marley-like ghost on the streets of New York and learns the value of self-sacrifice and giving at this important time of year. It's all rather sickly sweet, but the powerhouse creators make up for it with some great artwork and a deft use of the familiar Dickensian elements. Not an all-time classic, but a nice holiday visit with the FF.

Nick's gift allows She-Hulk to spend a traditional holiday with her dad. From 1992's SHE-HULK #36.

5) "Have Yourself a Sandman Little Christmas!" originally presented in MARVEL TEAM-UP #1, 1972.
Authors: Roy Thomas, Ross Andru, Mike Esposito

We end with my favorite Marvel hero and one of the great classic '70s superhero Christmas stories. In his first-ever "official" Team-Up in a dedicated title, Spidey joins forces with off and on buddy the Human Torch to pursue the Sandman as he leads them on a merry chase into that most dangerous of territories - New Jersey. But instead of being hell-bent on mayhem, William Baker (yup, not Flint Marko) only wants to visit dear old mom on Christmas. Rather than thwart his seasonal plans, the heroes go all soft on us and let the villain spend a happy holiday at home. Spidey even gives Sandman a present intended for his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, so that Sandy's mom won't go without. Aww! Now let's take up a cup of egg nog and toast the season!


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