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Superman: The Unauthorized Biography
Glen Weldon (Author)
A celebration of Superman's life and history - in time for his 75th birthday. How has the Big Blue Boy Scout stayed so popular for so long? How has he changed with the times, and what essential aspects of him have remained constant? This fascinating biography examines Superman as a cultural phenomenon through 75 years of action-packed adventures, from his early years as a social activist in circus tights to his growth into the internationally renowned demigod he is today.
Hardcover: 352 pages
Last updated: December 17, 2001
Religion is not often portrayed in the DC Universe, except where it serves a specific story purpose. The exception to the rule is stories set in late December, either as part of a regular issue or as a holiday special. I love these holiday-themed tales because they give us something not usually seen during the rest of the year -- stories that are either quieter and reflective or ones that are light-hearted and fun.
Christmas stories are rare in the regular Super-titles. One issue doesn't even have Superman in it.
1989's "Homeless For The Holidays" from Adventures of Superman #462 (written by Roger Stern with art by Dan Jurgens and Art Thibert) starts on an upbeat note with Superman helping out some construction workers, who thank him by singing a carol beside the Christmas tree set atop their building.
The issue nicely reflects both the sadness and the joy that the holidays can bring. It is Clark Kent's last day at the Daily Planet, as he is leaving to take a job as editor of Newstime. His co-workers ignore his entrance and Lois gives him a wrapped box, which is empty. She says, "Well, you are cleaning out your desk today, aren't you? Excuse me, but some of us still have work to do."
Fortunately, it's all a set-up to surprise Clark with a farewell party. After a couple of heart-warming pages, the tale turns serious again as Clark discovers one of the Planet's interns, Allie, with a sleeping bag in the storage room. Allie reveals that she has been living in the building for three years since her mother became ill and the medical bills wiped out her savings. One panel in particular captures the shared pain. Perry, Lois, Clark, and Jimmy all stand apart and stare at different parts of the floor as Allie says, "I couldn't let you know I was really living here. I ... I was too ashamed."
The tale, while not minimizing the plight of Allie or other homeless people, turns more optimistic. Perry writes a special front page editorial as we see Superman and other citizens helping the needy. There is no pat solution. Cat Grant offers help to one man who clutches his bottle and refuses, while the caption from Perry's article reads, "Others cannot turn their backs on drugs or alcohol. For them we may be able to offer little more than our prayers."
The personal lives of the cast end on a much more positive note. Perry and Alice White invite Allie to stay with them, and Perry agrees to fight for a better wage for Allie. Clark flies home to his parents and Lana Lang. The issue ends with toasts and well wishes worthy of Tiny Tim.
Two issues deal with the Christmas season in 1991. Dan Jurgens (with art by Jackson Guice) reveals in Superman #64, that each year around December 23, Superman goes to the Metropolis Post Office to answer the "Metropolis Mailbag". He dreads the job of going through the correspondence and choosing which letters he will try to answer. His fiancee, Lois, comes along to help.
The Post Office has a year's worth of mail from all around the world. Superman reunites two sisters who had been separated at Auschwitz during World War II. Next, Superman travels to a hospital to reply to a young boy whose father is dying. He arrives just after the father dies. Superman has to deal with the boy's anger and grief, but the death leads to the saving of another life, as Superman responds to another letter from a woman who desperately needs a new heart.
Lois gives Superman one last letter. The Daily Planet's yearly Christmas party for disadvantaged kids has no money for presents. Superman solves this with a telephone call to Bruce Wayne who replies, "It will be my sincere pleasure to assist you." Bruce agrees to make the arrangements and foot the bill. The issue ends on the Daily Planet's roof, with children watching Santa and his reindeer fly down to meet them. Superman, hidden by a black outfit, carries "Santa" and his sleigh to a safe landing.
The story is followed in The Adventures of Superman #487 with "Santa Bibbo" and Jimmy the elf bringing the leftover toys to The Children's Aid Society. The issue, written by Jerry Ordway with art by Tom Grummett and Doug Hazlewood, mixes the serious with the humorous and touching. Jimmy Olsen, concerned about his unemployment, is reunited with his mother. Bibbo's drunken comrades try to break into a toy store to get toys for the kids. Lois gives "Santa Bibbo" a breath mint because, as one kid tells him, "your breath smells really bad!" The issue ends nicely with Lois and Clark together by their Christmas tree.
The Superman Christmas story that doesn't have Superman in it, takes place after Superman's death -- during the "Funeral For A Friend" arc. "Metropolis Mailbag II", by Dan Jurgens (story/art) and Brett Breeding (finished art) in Superman #76, has many heroes meeting atop the Daily Planet before travelling to the Metropolis Post Office. The main stories deal with helping a family coping with a separation and the effects of Doomsday's destruction, as well as Lois, Lana, and the Kents grieving over Clark's death. The story is touching on its own, and even stronger as part of the Funeral storyline. The strongest scene is that of Lois, Lana, and Ma and Pa Kent silently standing in front of the Superman statue, supporting each other as the snow falls around them.
"Night of a Hundred Thieves", in Adventures of Superman #520, takes place on Christmas Eve, but, aside from that, it's not much of a Christmas story since the tale could easily take place on any other night of the year. Superman is trying to find a "debbi doll" as a present for Lois. Meanwhile, someone has organized 100 criminals to simultaneously commit thefts at the stroke of midnight. Superman and the police go up against the villains, who include Loophole, Captain Boomerang, the Royal Flush Gang, and Punch and Jewelee. Karl Kesel writes a fun story and shows (with art by Stuart Immonen and Jose Marzan Jr.) how truly outclassed these villains are against Superman. Superman takes out Punch and Jewelee by tossing rubber balls at them while punning that "the holiday season means giving till it hurts!"
Jeph Loeb takes on Christmas shopping for the JLA in Superman #165. In a series of short chapters, illustrated by various artists, Superman gives each of his JLA buddies a small trinket of appreciation. The gifts are tongue in cheek (tube socks for Flash) and the potentially cheery theme is overshadowed by Superman's black mood over Luthor's presidential election and the foreshadowing of Warworld's approach.
Mark Schultz follows up in Superman: The Man of Steel #109 as Liri Lee of the timeline guardians, Linear Men, visits Clark. She shows him a dark, possible future which might occur if he gives up hope or abandons his role as Superman in despair over Luthor's election. Schultz draws heavily on seasonal favourites, It's A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol, but his dark story doesn't have the charm of either movie.
While not in the Super-titles, Mark Waid takes a light-hearted look at Christmas in JLA #60 when Plastic Man launches into a bedtime story about Santa Claus joining the JLA and fighting the demon Neron's attempts to undermine the spirit of the holidays.
DCU Holiday Specials
Aside from the regular Super-titles, DC has published five Christmas or holiday specials since 1986. DC's most recent offering is a trade paperback called A DC Universe Christmas with 17 stories - many of which are from the three DCU Holiday Bash specials or the previous two Christmas With The Super-Heroes. Since I have most of the stories, I haven't picked up the trade paperback, but if you haven't got the comics reviewed below, A DC Universe Christmas is a great holiday choice with stories from 1940 to the present.
Each of the three DCU Holiday Bash! issues (cover dated 1997, 1998 and 1999) have a heart-warming Superman story in them. The Superman stories are light and enjoyable, but it is the combination of all of the stories that make the issues special. There is a mixture of likely and unlikely characters and stories (my favourite is the two pages by Ty Templeton in the second Bash where Santa invades Apokolips to deliver a lump of coal to Darkseid). Although most stories focus on the Christmas holiday, they also have wonderful stories on Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. All the stories are new and all are very enjoyable.
As to the Superman stories, in DCU Holiday Bash! I, (Barry Jameson writing with art by Graham Nolan and Josef Rubenstein), Lois talks a man out of a suicide attempt by telling him a story of a Christmas past, just after Superman arrived in Metropolis. Superman decides to give Metropolis a Christmas without crime, but learns that the people of Metropolis play a vital role in keeping the city safe - even Superman can't do it on his own.
DCU Holiday Bash! II has a three page story written/pencilled by Dan Jurgens with Brett Breeding inks. Again set in early days, Superman thwarts another scheme of Luthor's and, flying to Smallville for Christmas, receives a special and simple present from his parents.
DCU Holiday Bash! III has a "World's Finest Christmas" story by Karl Kesel with layouts by Dave Taylor and finishes by Klaus Janson. The story is a teaser for Kesel's World's Finest series and has Superman and Batman teaming up to defeat the Toyman and, each in his own way, making a memorable Christmas for a young boy.