How RANKIN/BASS’ SANTA CLAUS Set the Template for Superhero Flicks


TV has A Charlie Brown Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story — reruns that are holiday traditions. At 13th Dimension, we’ve got the SUPER-STAR HOLIDAY SPECIAL — a series of timeless remembrances by some of the best in the comics biz, including Annie Nocenti, J.K. Woodward, Kelley Jones and MORE! Click here to check ’em out!

I really dig Bill Walko’s art. And the creator of the super-satire The Hero Business (click here) digs superheroes and Christmas, as you can see above. So he was a natural for the SUPER-STAR HOLIDAY SPECIAL. Check out his excellent take on a stop-motion classic. — Dan.


If you were a kid who grew up in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, watching the annual run of Christmas specials was a family event. Before the age of digital streaming, you had to catch classics like A Charlie Brown Christmas and How The Grinch Stole Christmas live as they aired.

We always looked forward to the Rankin/Bass specials. With their inventive stop-motion animation and memorable songs, it’s no wonder movies like Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Year Without a Santa Claus became pop-culture favorites.

But the one that held the most sway with me was Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town. In this one, a mailman decides to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about Santa Claus. An animated FAQ on Kris Kringle, if you will.

We learn that Kris was an orphan left in the care of the Kringles, a toy-making couple. As an adult, Kris yearned to share these wonderful toys with the children of Sombertown. But the evil Burgermeister outlawed toys, which caused Kris to get more imaginative in his toy delivery system – recruiting a reformed Winter Wizard and a kind schoolteacher.

I later processed why I loved this special so much: It was the Secret Origin of Santa Claus! I mean, it’s essentially Santa as a cool superhero. An orphaned boy who vows to use his toy-making powers for good, locked in a struggle with an evil despot. By forming an alliance with his super-powered friends, Kris gains some powers of his own and saves the day.

Up, up and away!

Look familiar?

It’s epic, mythic, inspiring and has a lot of heart.

You know, just like any good comic-book origin. And it’s probably why I have such fond memories of watching these specials year after year.

They’ve got comic book DNA embedded in them.

And hey, I’m not the only one to notice the super-similarities.

For more SUPER-STAR HOLIDAY SPECIAL stories, click here.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. Bill…YES! I’ve been saying roughly the same thing for years! Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town is my favorite Rankin/Bass special for this very reason. My son played with the Playing Mantis action figures in much more super heroic fashion because of this as well.


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