It’s the Four-Color Bullet Christmas Special!
Starring Superman! Batman! Spider-Man! Hellboy! The X-Men! The Justice League of America! Santa Claus! And More!
Welcome to The Four-Color Bullet Christmas Special, Kryptonics! Usually, Four-Color Bullet is where I review my comic book picks of the week. But naturally I had to have a Christmas Special! I have in my big red sack of goodies what I think are the top 12 Christmas comic books stories of all time. We begin with one Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man.
12) The Spectacular Spider-Man #112: “You Never Make a Sound” (Marvel, 1986)
Writer Peter David crafted this Christmas tale about a Macy’s-employed Santa Claus who is asking visiting children for their addresses with the intent of robbing their houses. And Dark St. Nick’s next victim is none other than Peter’s neighbor Bambi and her son Jordan.
Santa breaks into Bambi’s apartment, gun in hand and looting the place, when Bambi surprises him. Peter’s Spider-Sense goes off, alerting him to the danger. He changes into Spider-Man and crashes into Bambi’s window to stop the sinister Santa.
Santa leads Spidey on a merry chase to the roof, but when Santa gets there, he runs smack into another red-boot-wearing individual. The real Santa Claus! And he’s not very jolly. And when Spidey gets to the roof, Dirty Santa is nowhere to be found.
The next day, Peter gets a call from Kathryn Cushing saying to go down to the office, and the burglar is there handing out presents. But not the things he stole. Those items were in a corner, and he was giving out homemade wooden toys and stuffed animals. And he even confessed to all the burglaries. Then he gives Peter a message, saying it was given to him by a friend of Peter’s, to prove he’s changed his ways. The message reads “Call your Aunt! Merry Xmas!” And the next thing we see is Peter spending a nice Christmas Day with his Aunt May, Mary Jane and Aunt Anna Watson, who is visiting from Florida.
11) Batman #239: “Silent Night, Deadly Night” (DC Comics, 1972)
Writer Denny O’Neil and vastly underestimated penciler Irv Novick brought us this tale about Batman being on the hunt for a guy who has been robbing Santa Clauses for a few weeks. Naturally, the Darknight Detective catches up with the pilferer, only to have him beg for mercy, claiming that he’s only been robbing to support himself and his niece, Betsy, because his previous employer shafted him. Batman will not be swayed, however, telling the crook that he’s a strong man and able to work to support themselves.
The crook gets a momentary drop on Batman and knocks him unconscious by smashing a lamp over his head. When Batman comes to, he is “stuck” taking care of the man’s niece while he pursues the crook in a blinding snowstorm.
The crook, who we now know is named Tim, arrives at the home of toymaker Richard Lee Evans, for whom Tim once worked. Tim demands that Evans give him the money he’s still owed, threatening to kill him.
Meanwhile, Batman and Betsy find themselves lost in the Gotham woods during the snowstorm. Batman is afraid that Tim will kill Evans before he can find him, leaving Betsy with no one to care for her. Wishing for a miracle, Batman is surprised, along with Betsy, to hear bells. They track the sound to a lone sleigh with a horse attached and they use it to make their way to Evans’ home, where Tim refused to kill Evans, instead saving his life after having a heart attack.
All ends well as everyone gathers at the hospital to wrap up the story, until Batman notices the horse and sleigh have mysteriously vanished. Briefly, Batman wonders who they belonged to, until he looks up at the night sky, noticing a bright star in the heavens. and confidently realizes who was responsible.
10) Super Star Holiday Special : Wanted: Santa Claus– Dead or Alive (DC Comics, 1980)
Denny O’Neil teamed up with the legendary Frank Miller, who did the penciling on this short story about a contract out on Santa. And it wouldn’t be the first time poor Santa would be the target of a hitman.
In this particular story, on Christmas Eve, Batman confronts mobster Matty Lasko, asking him why he’s arranged to have a boat in Gotham Harbor that night. After a quick scuffle with Lasko and his goons, Batman learns the boat is for an ex-con named Boomer Katz.
He then goes undercover to find out Katz’s current location and learns that he’s working as a department store Santa Claus. Batman concludes that Katz must be doing this as a way of pulling an inside job robbery, and sure enough his hunch is right.
That is, until the Christmas spirit overtakes Katz who then refuses to commit the robbery. His co-conspirators aren’t having it, and force him at gunpoint to let them into the store. Batman arrives and ambushes the goons, one of whom escapes with Katz. It ends on what is supposed to be a Dickens-esque note whereby a shining star from a Nativity scene reveals the location of the henchman just in time for Batman to get the drop on him and save Katz’s life.
9) Superman #64: “Metropolis Mailbag” (DC Comics, 1991)
The Man of Steel makes the Christmas list in this story by writer/penciler Dan Jurgens. Much like with Santa Claus, people around the world write letters to Superman throughout the year, asking for his help. And also like Santa, Superman does what he can every Christmas. Some letters range from the silly, like being asked to squeeze coal into diamonds and send them to the letter writer, to the heartbreaking, being asked by a young boy to cure his father’s brain tumor, to the hopeful, where Superman is asked by a Holocaust survivor to find her sister who she discovered is still alive.
Superman does what he can, even enlisting Bruce Wayne’s help to spread a little Christmas cheer. Easily one of the best Superman stories ever written, in addition to being a fine Christmas story.
8) Uncanny X-Men #230: “‘Twas the Night …” (Marvel, 1988)
The merry mutants join the festivities at number eight in the countdown. To set up the story, the world believes the X-Men are dead, since their “deaths” were broadcast all over television and the media during a fight with a cosmic entity in Dallas, Texas. In reality, the team is holed up in the Australian Outback headquarters of an evil band of cyborg marauders called the Reavers.
While exploring their new digs, the X-Men find a treasure trove of goodies that the Reavers have stolen. Longshot, who can read the history of an object when he touches it, demonstrates his ability to his teammates by reading some of the trinkets. With the help of an aborigine known as Gateway, who has the ability to open a portal to anywhere on the globe, the X-Men decide to spend the night returning the stolen goods to their rightful owners. But the team has been so distracted by recent events, they’ve forgotten that the night they’ve chosen … is Christmas!
This was from the Chris Claremont era of Uncanny X-Men, from which many good stories came. While this particular plotline of their fake deaths and hiding out in Australia wasn’t my favorite, this was a good issue, and a nice break from the apocalyptic story arc that was currently going on.
7) Hellboy Christmas Special #1: “A Christmas Underground” (Dark Horse Comics, 1997)
Even Hellboy gets wrapped up in Christmas cheer. This story by Mike Mignola opens with Hellboy being summoned to a old castle where an old woman lost her daughter years ago. Now, the old woman herself is dying, and she asks for Hellboy’s assistance. The woman, who thinks Hellboy is “Father Christmas” asks him to get an heirloom in a small box from the mantlepiece to give to her daughter, who, the woman insists, visits her sometimes.
Hellboy agrees to the woman’s request. He goes to the Underground, finds the woman’s daughter Annie, and gives her the box. Annie opens the box and screams when she sees it contains a crucifix, and it is then that Hellboy realizes that she is being held captive. An army of demons arrives to dispatch Hellboy, and what follows is a beautifully drawn confrontation between Hellboy and the “prince” who holds Annie’s soul captive.
Aided by the power of Christmas Eve, Hellboy comes out on top, frees Annie, and the daughter visits her mother. One final battle occurs between Hellboy and the forces of darkness, then both mother and daughter are at peace. The usual Mike Mignola awesomeness in a really good Christmas story.
6) JLA #60: “Merry Christmas, Justice League– Now, DIE!” (DC Comics, 2001)
Mark Waid’s final issue of 2001’s JLA recounts a tale told by Plastic Man to his best pal Woozy’s nephew. To help the young man sleep in anticipation of Santa, Plas tells him of the time that Santa joined the League.
It’s a cute tale of how the demonic Neron decides to muck about with Christmas by giving the kids their presents early, and each present having a dark twist. The JLA and Santa intervene, but the League is turned to coal, and Santa is forced to fight Neron alone. And fight he does.
What happens next is a hilarious and brilliant depiction of an angry, superheroic Santa taking on Neron and his forces for the survival of Christmas. Cliff Rathburn and Paul Neary did an amazing job on artwork. If Waid wanted a great story to go out on, he got it with this one.
5) Marvel Team-Up #1: “Have Yourself a Sandman Little Christmas” (Marvel, 1971)
While it’s odd for the first issue of a series to be a holiday issue, the first issue of this long-running series certainly was. Peter is on the beach getting pics of the Polar Bear club for the Daily Bugle’s Christmas Eve edition when Sandman shows up. The police try to apprehend him, but since he can sand his way out of the cuffs, they don’t succeed.
Peter heads after Sandman, but runs into the Human Torch, whom he enlists to help nail the villain. After a battle on the George Washington Bridge, the duo is captured, bound, and tossed over the side into the water. After some quick thinking by Spidey, the Torch saves their bacon.
Our heroes locate Sandman, who is visiting his dying mother in a nursing home, a thing he says he does every year. Sandman begs Spidey and the Torch for five minutes to see his mother, and then he’ll give himself up. They agree, which causes both of them to think about their respective families and how important they are to them.
And we end it with a gorgeous final panel drawn by Ross Andru, where our heroes go their separate ways, with the Human Torch writing in the sky, “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.” A great Christmas addition, written by the legendary Roy Thomas.
4) Arak: Son of Thunder #22: “Siege of a Time-Lost City” (DC Comics, 1983)
Arak, Valda and Satyricus have been taken prisoner pending a public execution in White Cathay. But with the help of Brunello, Master Thief of Africa, the trio are soon free to once again attempt to rescue Malagigi from the clutches of Angelica. That’s not going to be easy when outside the city is being besieged by Tartars, and inside the city is in open revolt … and if that weren’t enough, Haakan of Ultima Thule finally arrives on the scene!
While not a Christmas issue, per se, I picked this as part of the countdown because of one scene. In a brief passage, we learn that a Nestorian priest traveling through time joins three Persian kings who are following the star over Bethlehem. When he reaches the manger outside the inn, the baby Jesus heals him. I always thought that was kinda neat.
3) Hitman #22: The Santa Contract (DC Comics, 1998)
It’s a Hitman for the holidays, as Tommy and Natt are hired to take out a crazed, radioactive super-villain rampaging through Gotham on Christmas Eve dressed as Santa. It was also picked as number 93 on Wizard Magazine‘s list of 100 Best Single Issue Comic Books Since You Were Born.
2) Uncanny X-Men #143: “Demon” (Marvel, 1981)
The second X-Men entry on the Top 12 list is an offbeat tale, and the final issue of the acclaimed Chris Claremont/John Byrne/Terry Austin run. It’s Christmas Eve but all of the X-Men are busy and they leave Kitty Pryde behind at the mansion alone to mind things while they’re gone.
Later, the mansion is attacked by a N’garai demon. Kitty tries to escape and phases through floor and walls but the demon is relentless. She lures it into the Danger Room, but it trashes every single weapon that the room throws at it.
Finally, Kitty escapes into the Hangar and manages to fry the demon with the Blackbird’s afterburners. Later, the X-Men return with Kitty’s parents as a surprise, and they are all proud of how well she handled the situation. And, on a personal note, this was the first comic I ever read. It’s kinda important.
And now, the Number One Christmas Story of All Time as picked by yours truly!
DRUM ROLL PLEASE!
1) DC Comics Presents #67: “Twas the Fright Before Christmas” (DC Comics, 1984)
My pick for the best Christmas story ever is this little gem starring Superman in a fantastic and fun team-up with Santa Claus.
Timmy Dickens holds up a sidewalk Santa Claus with a dart gun. Superman finds that the boy is under a powerful hypnotic suggestion. Carrying Dickens to his Fortress of Solitude, Superman uses alien technology to break the boy’s trance. Timmy reveals that he had raided the closet where his parents stored all of his Christmas gifts. Upon firing the dart gun, there had been a flash. Dickens remembers nothing after that. Superman hypnotizes Dickens to unlock his lost memories.
A tape recording on the gun instructed Dickens to rob the sidewalk Santa Claus, then deliver the loot to a local Big Shott Toy Store. Superman realizes that his old foe, the Toy Man is the culprit behind the crime. Superman is heading back to Metropolis, carrying Dickens home, when the toy space craft in Dickens’ hand emits a beam of energy, directly into Superman’s face. The Man of Steel plummets to the Earth like a stone, just managing to twist his body enough to absorb all the impact and keeping Dickens from injury.
In the deep snow, Dickens tries and fails to revive the fallen Man of Steel. The pair are discovered by a half dozen elves, who carry the unconscious Superman to safety. Meanwhile, the Toy Man has monitored the entire affair from his hidden lair in Metropolis.
Superman awakens in the abode of Santa Claus. Unable to believe the evidence before their very eyes, the Man of Steel and Dickens, are taken on a tour of Santa’s workshop. Santa Claus, it appears, is keeping an eye of the Toy Man.
Despite the modernization of the workshop, Santa Claus bemoans the loss of the simpler times, when his elves cobbled together wooden soldiers and rocking horses. Superman, too, becomes nostalgic for his own early childhood toys, specifically a Kryptonian holo-toy, capable of generating images directly from Superman’s mind.
Santa Claus gathers his giant sack of toys and mounts up for his Christmas deliveries. Superman tries to make it back to civilization under his own steam, but still suffers from the effects of the Toy Man’s weapon. Once again plummeting from the sky, Superman lands in Santa’s sleigh, where he stays for the remainder of the journey. Superman and Santa arrive at the Toy Man’s hideout, Superman entering through the chimney, taking the Toy Man by surprise. The Toy Man counters with an army of weaponized toys. Santa Claus provides support with his own army of weaponized toys. Still suffering the after-effects of the Toy Man’s little space ship weapon, Superman finds he’s hard pressed in the fight against the Toy Man’s diabolical toys.
Santa Claus’ toys provide the respite Superman needs to finally triumph over the Toy Man’s automated forces. The Toy Man levels a toy gun, powered by white dwarf star matter, at the Man of Steel. Santa Claus scatters marbles across the floor, causing the Toy Man to lose his balance. The errant shot from the Toy Man’s weapon hits one of his robot soldiers, instead of Superman. The mechanized monster plummets through the shop floor, its momentum carrying it to the Earth’s core. Superman uses his heat vision to melt the Toy Man’s gun.
With the Toy Man defeated, Superman uncovers a list of customers who have unwittingly purchased deadly toys from the Toy Man’s stores. With Santa Claus’ aid, Superman covers the entire continent, darting in and out of one home after another, replacing the Toy Man’s gimmicked gifts with harmless replicas from Santa Claus’ bag. Superman is just about to return Dickens to his home, when the little starship toy once again blasts the Man of Steel into unconsciousness.
Superman awakens in the North Pole, with Dickens standing over him. The whole adventure with Santa Claus was nothing more than a dream. Superman carries Dickens back home. Reaching into the secret cape pocket for his civilian clothes, Superman finds his long lost Kryptonian holo-toy. Activating the device, Superman finds a Christmas message from Santa Claus.
Written by E. Nelson Bridwell, I absolutely love this story and I read it every Christmas. The clean, gorgeous art from the one and only Jose-Luis Garcia-Lopez is a definite bonus.
And that, gang, is it. Thanks for checking out The Four-Color Bullet Christmas Special. As always, as with the weekly column, email or comment on these picks, and feel free to add your own.
Merry Christmas, peace on earth, and good will toward men.
See you next week!