Yuletide is upon us and columnist Paul Kupperberg has a list — and he didn’t even have to check it twice!
UPDATED 12/25/21: Merry Christmas! Enjoy this piece that first ran in 2020. No better time to re-present it! Right on. — Dan
By PAUL KUPPERBERG
’Tis the day before Christmas and here in my house,
I’m thinking of comic Christmas tales for Greenfield, that louse.
The stories I recall from my reading days of yore,
The mawkish, the heroic, the silly, and more,
Found in comics now nestled snug in Mylar on the shelf,
Stories of heroes and holiday and, of course, that jolly ol’ elf.
1. Superman’s Christmas Adventure #1 (DC, 1940). The very first DC Comics Superman holiday story was certainly done in the spirit of the season: commerce! It was what would later be known as a “custom comic,” or a comic created for a commercial client. Superman’s Christmas Adventure #1 was a 20-page retail exclusive comic book, sold to a variety of businesses, from New York’s Macy’s department store (which also sponsored a Superman balloon in their annual Thanksgiving Parade) and Skippy Peanut Butter to Bailey’s “3 Department Stores” and Molan’s Bakery.
There appear to have been later printings with different covers stamped by yet other products and retailers, but I believe the innards of all the editions of Superman’s Christmas Adventure featured the same story, which I’ve seen credited to writer Jerry Siegel and artist Jack Burnley. In it, Clark and Lois are assigned to write a story about Christmas, and things turn heartwarmingly wacky.
A couple of Scrooges named Dr. Grouch and Mr. Meaney rocket to the North Pole where they kidnap first Lois, then Santa’s reindeer, get into a fight with Santa’s Toy Soldier security guards, and render the reindeer senseless with gas. Of course (SPOILER!) Superman comes to the rescue, flying Santa’s sleigh around the world and (SPOILER!) Santa forgives the two bad guys and gives them their presents, making (>choke!<) Christmas believers out of them both.
2. Marvel Team-Up #1 (Marvel, March 1972). I’m not alone in thinking “Have Yourself a Sandman Little Christmas,” in the debut issue of Marvel Team-Up, is the perfect Marvel Christmas story. Written by Roy Thomas, with art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, it starred Spider-Man and the Human Torch taking on their shared foe, William Baker, aka the Sandman on Christmas Eve.
You’d never even have expected to find anything more than a mighty Marvel slugfest from the Gil Kane/Frank Giacoia cover, or, frankly, from the mighty Marvel slugfest that does indeed ensue in the first part of the issue. But Roy brought it all together when Spidey and the Torch offer the more than usually ferocious Sandman a holiday truce and learn that Baker was afoot that Yuletide not for evil, but because he was trying to deliver a Christmas gift to his ailing old mother.
3. Batman #219 (DC, Feb. 1970). Just as “Have Yourself a Sandman Little Christmas” is the perfect Marvel Christmas story, “The Silent Night of the Batman” is, for my money, the quintessential DC holiday story.
This back up eight-pager was written by Mike Friedrich and illustrated by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano and opens with Batman being summoned by Batsignal to police headquarters. It turns out, though, that there’s no emergency, but rather an invitation from Commissioner Gordon for the Caped Crusader to join him and his officers for Christmas Eve. Knowing crime doesn’t take time off for the holidays, Batman hesitantly agrees.
But this Christmas Eve proves different, and while Batman croons carols with his cop friends, crime and tragedy are averted across Gotham by the spirit of the Dark Knight. At dawn, he discovers it had in fact been a “silent night,” with no one needing the help of Batman or the police. “But what is the Christmas spirit, Batman — might it not be… you… or I?” asks Gordon. (NOTE from Dan: Click here for the history of this story – which tops my personal list.)
4. Christmas With the Super-Heroes #2 (DC, 1988). For reasons that will shortly become obvious, this particular seasonal story brought a little lump to my throat the first time I read it. “Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot” was the final 10-pager in a 1988 DC Christmas special. It was written by Alan Brennert, with art by Dick Giordano, and it starred everybody’s favorite spirit of any season, Boston Brand, Deadman.
Deadman is bummed because the only way he can still experience Christmas is by inhabiting the body and mind of a living celebrant. But if he does, he robs that person of their own holiday experience. Some Christmas present for a ghost who’s waged an endless war against evil!
But Boston’s not allowed to feel sorry for himself for long. He soon crosses paths with a spirit of a different sort, a young blond woman who doesn’t hesitate to call him on his self-pity. Heroism isn’t about its rewards. It’s about doing what’s right, even when no one knows you exist. And who would know better about not existing than Kara Zor-El/Linda Lee Danvers/Supergirl, who had been wiped out of existence in the earlier Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, following my close to three-year tenure writing the character. Hence my lumpy throat.
5. The Brave and the Bold #148 (DC, March 1979). From the heartwarming to the rib-tickling, we come to “The Night the Mob Stole Christmas,” a classic Bob Haney/Jim Aparo B&B presentation. The guest hero for this issue is Plastic Man. Excuse me, Bob Haney’s Plastic Man (in this case, the depressed son of the original), because Bob Haney never met a bit of continuity to which he paid attention. Which was, of course, what made his portrayal of Batman (and everybody else) in the B&B continuity such a breath of fresh air (except for the readers without a sense of humor who hated it).
Here’s all you need to know: Batman is after a gang of cigarette smugglers (or “buttleggers” as he calls them) when a bunch of department store Christmas ornaments are stolen, and Batman follows clues left by a kidnapped Plastic Man to learn that both crimes were connected. Yada yada yada Florida yada yadda recovered ornaments returned to Lacy’s Department Store and Christmas is saved.
I once asked Bob Haney about his unique approach to continuity and he told me, with a twinkle in his eye and no doubt his tongue in cheek, “Who can remember all that crap? Besides, it just slows you down if you stop to look it up.”
6. Spectacular Spider-Man #173 (Marvel, Feb. 1991). Spider-Man’s back for another manic Christmas encounter, this time with Doc Octopus, who had, over the years developed a rather fraught relationship with dear sweet old Aunt May; in 1974, the two were almost married.
In “Creatures Stirring,” by Gerry Conway and Sal Buscema, Doc Ock ventures into the wilds of Forest Hills to pay a call at the Parker home one snowy Christmas Eve. Octavius had come hoping he might be able to spend time with his old sweetie, but seeing she already has company, decides to leave rather than intrude and cause her embarrassment.
But when Spider-Man arrives, misunderstanding ensues and he and Doc Ock go at it until the fight’s broken up by Aunt May, who questions Spider-Man’s qualification as a hero for driving poor Dr. Octavius away like that. Even old Webhead has to admit, “Maybe on Christmas Eve, no one’s a hero… or a villain.”
7. Dennis the Menace Giant #19 (Fawcett, Winter 1963). You thought it was going to be all superheroes, didn’t you? Well, jeepers, that would be silly! In the 1950s and 1960s, Fawcett published a series of 100- (later 84-) page Dennis the Menace Giants on various themes, like Dennis Visits Washington DC or Hawaii, or Summer Vacation, and, of course, Christmas.
I’ve written about these Dennis the Menace comics before. Besides being in my favorite-ever format (80-plus pages for 25 cents… what can I tell you, I’m a child of the 1960s), they were wonderfully executed by writer Fred Toole and artist Al Wiseman (probably others as well; credits are often incomplete). They were so well done, young readers like me often had no idea we were learning anything about the people and places the stories were about.
Even the Christmas specials like this 1963 issue I first read when I was 8 years old took the Mitchell family to Christmas Eve at the Moravian Church, a German Protestant sect that a Jewish kid from Brooklyn would otherwise never have heard of. These charming comics still hold up more than half a century after they published.
8. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Annual #13 (DC, Dec. 1962). Speaking of outliers, nothing says Christmas like Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Since 1950, DC had been publishing annual issues of Robert L. May’s reindeer (created for a book advertising the Montgomery Ward department store and made famous in the 1949 song by cowboy Gene Autry).
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Annual #13 was another 25-cent square bound 80-pager, chock full of stories, games and features from the earlier 10-cent issues, all credited to writer Sy Reit and artist Rube Grossman. My memory of these stories was rekindled by the later tabloid-size Rudolph Limited Collectors’ Edition treasuries in 1972–78, during which Rudolph with his nose so bright earned five collections, the same number as Batman and two more than Superman.
9. DC Comics Presents #67 (DC, March 1984): “Twas the Fright Before Christmas” as Winslow Schott, the Toyman, trots out another toy-themed plot to destroy the Man of Steel, this time on New Year’s Eve. But this was DC Comics Presents, the Superman team-up title, so the Last Son of Krypton wasn’t without an ally.
Yes, it’s Santa Claus, who can traverse the Earth faster than a speeding bullet! Santa Claus, who knows who’s naughty and nice!
Santa Claus? Poetic license is granted writer Len Wein for a charming little holiday story, while the cover by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and interior art by the classic team of Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson get passes just for being so damned good.
10. Spider-Man’s Tangled Web #21 (Marvel, Feb. 2003). Sometimes, villains gotta Scrooge just for the sake of Scrooging and that, apparently, was what was on the Puppet Master’s mind when he brought a hypnotized Medusa to New York’s Macy’s to ruin Christmas for shoppers.
Bah! Humbug! I think we’ve seen that the reader’s already suspended sense of disbelief can be suspended even further for the sake of a good Christmas story. So, having Spider-Man, Flash Thompson (dressed in a Spidey costume to promote the sale of Spider-Man action figures), the Wasp, Crystal and the Invisible Woman all end up in the same place at the same pivotal moment in “Twas the Fight Before Christmas” was no stretch at all.
And frankly, even if it was, who cared? I don’t think writer/inker Darwyn Cooke was concerned about continuity and story sense as much as he was in making this a fun and furious holiday romp, ably aided and abetted as ever by penciller J. Bone.
11. Archie Giant Series #137: Archie’s Christmas Stocking (Archie Comics, Jan. 1966). For roughly 40 years, from 1954 to 1992, Archie Comics was there to celebrate the season with an issue of Archie Giant Series: Archie’s Christmas Stocking… and, maybe, also a Betty and Veronica Christmas Spectacular and/or Christmas Love-In.
Archie Giant Series #137: Archie’s Christmas Stocking came to me in a summer of 1967 trade with a neighborhood kid: my 10 superhero comics for his box of 300 Archie Comics. I’m sure in terms of Overstreet value (or should that be the Howard Rogofsky price list?), the other kid got the better of the deal, but it was my first deep dive into the world of Archie; I’ve been a fan ever since.
More than 40 years later, I would get to write for Archie Comics (including a couple of Christmas stories), and I credit that immersion by the 12-year-old me into that big pile of Archie titles with etching the characteristics of the Riverdale gang into my brain.
12. New Adventures of Superboy #39 (DC, March 1983). Is it wrong to include a story I wrote here? Well, bah! Humbug! It’s my column, my choice! But seriously, I include “A World Without Christmas,” scripted by yours truly and illustrated by the great Kurt Schaffenberger not because it’s necessarily a favorite of mine, but because it seems to be fondly remembered by readers.
I’ve written four Christmas stories in my career: a sort of Christmas-on-Krypton story for a 1975 Superman Family back-up, two for Archie Comics, but “A World Without Christmas” was the most traditional comic book superhero tale. Young Clark’s pal “Bash” Bashford is in a thoroughly Grinch-y mood at the Kent Christmas tree decorating party (“What kind of garbage is this… plastic mistletoe, for cryin’ out loud!”).
Long story short, Superboy whisks Bash off to a parallel world where there is no Christmas, and everything is horrible as a result. Bash learns his lesson and returns to his own world freshly imbued with the Christmas spirit. As for me, I take satisfaction in one blogger’s 2014 review that ended, “This comic is silly. This comic is lame. Which puts it right in the groove of most superhero Christmas stories, the rock-hard fruitcake of stapled newsprint.”
And to all, a good night, Gracie!
13. The Teen Titans #13 (DC, Jan.-Feb. 1968): Yes, yes, it’s yet another take on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, with those groovy guys and gal of the Teen Titans acting as the Spirits of Christmas to reform miserly junkyard owner Ebenezer Scrounge, employer of Bob Ratchet, father of a sickly son, Tom.
“The TT’s Swingin’ Christmas Carol” is writer Bob Haney at his corniest, but, like my Superboy story, that just puts it in the Christmas story sweet spot. What makes this particular slice of fruitcake palatable, however, is the art by Nick Cardy. Cardy was incapable of drawing anything less than great, but from the moment I plucked this beauty off the newsstand, I knew I was looking at something special. Forty years later, I found out I was right.
Knowing that Nick was a guest at the 2008 New York Comic Convention, I brought my copy of TT #13 for him to sign. I told him how much I had always loved the art on the issue. He smiled and told me that he had indeed poured a lot of extra effort into “The TT’s Swingin’ Christmas Carol,” but only because he had intended to turn the story in to editor Murray Boltinoff and use it as his notice of resignation! He had earlier been denied a $2-a-page rate increase and wanted to show the bean counters what they were losing due to their cheapness.
Murray took one look at the pages and ran them down the corridor to art director Carmine Infantino and told him DC was about to lose the artist. Carmine convinced Nick to stay, promising his old friend that there were changes on the way on the business and editorial ends of the company and he would soon be in a position to get the artist that raise he had asked for.
Well, those are my favorites, my Top 13 at least,
I’m sure you have yours; these lists are a beast!
So just let me add, ’ere it gets way too late,
“Happy Holidays to all, and to all a gezundheit!”
Paul Kupperberg has been writing comic books from Archie to Zatanna for 45 years at DC, Archie, Charlton, Marvel, Bongo and others. He is also the author of Paul Kupperberg’s Illustrated Guide to Writing Comics (Charlton Neo Press); I Never Write for the Money… But I Always Turn in the Manuscript for a Check (Comics Career); the comic book industry-based murder mystery The Same Old Story, the short-story collection In My Shorts: Hitler’s Bellhop and Other Stories, and JSA: Ragnarok (all from Crazy 8 Press), all of which are currently — or shortly will be — available at Amazon.
— PAUL KUPPERBERG: My 13 Favorite 1960s COMIC BOOK TOYS — RANKED. Click here.
— Christmas Eve With BATMAN and NEAL ADAMS. Click here.