Superman: Special Reports

Christmas Tales - Part 2 (of 2)

Author: Sean Hogan (shogan@buckho.com)

Last updated: December 24, 2001



Merry Christmas! Christmas With The Super-Heroes #1

Both Christmas With The Super-Heroes were edited by Mark Waid. The first special, published in 1988, contains 6 reprint stories.

Superman stars in "Twas The Fright Before Christmas" from DC Comics Presents #67. DCCP was a Superman team-up series and this one has him teaming up with Santa Claus to battle the Toyman. Winslow P. Schott, aka the Toyman, has created hypnotic pop-guns that will brainwash children into committing crimes. Fortunately, jolly ol' St. Nick and his elves match him toy for toy, then save Christmas by exchanging pop-guns for genuine presents. The story, by Len Wein and E. Nelson Bridwell, is lots of fun and the art is by the classic Superman team of Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson.

Another gem is "The Man Who Murdered Santa Claus" from the Justice League of America (1st series) #110 (published in 1974). Len Wein (with art by Dick Dillin and Dick Giordano) teams Superman, Batman, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Red Tornado, and substitute Green Lantern John Stewart. The Key taunts the heroes by murdering a man preparing to be Santa for a group of orphans. This classic story has the heroes apparently succumbing, one by one, to a series of bizarre traps. Of course the heroes succeed, with the help of the Phantom Stranger. The Key does blow up the decrepit neighbourhood, but this allows John Stewart to construct improved housing for the residents. The issue ends with the JLA giving Red Tornado a Christmas present -- a new costume (the very one he wears today in Young Justice).

Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes star in "Star Light, Star Bright", originally presented in DC Special Series #21 from 1979. Paul Levitz pens and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Dick Giordano draw. Superboy visits the under-construction LSH headquarters and exchanges greetings with his pals, including a chaste, under-the-mistletoe kiss from Phantom Girl. In the monitor room we see screens of Karate Kid commemorating the holiday with a tea ritual, and Colossal Boy and his family celebrating Chanukah. Superboy, longing for an old fashioned Christmas, suggests the team look for the Christmas star.

Using a navigational computer to determine the location of the Star of Bethlehem, the team arrives to find a planet, but no star. The planet has three lifeforms, each suffering from the increasing cold (though how in the heck the planet has survived without a sun is never explained). Each of the lifeforms is dealing with the crisis in its own way and without success. Thanks to those handy universal telepathic earplugs, Superboy convinces the clan leaders to cooperate, allowing them to survive until the United Planets can evacuate them.

Superboy tells the others that Christmas is "caring, helping ... and maybe a brightly shining star in the sky that science says is impossible." The skeptical Wildfire replies, "I'm not saying that it was anything more than Lightning Lad and a bum navigational computer, Superboy ... but I guess I can't say it wasn't either!" The story ends with Saturn Girl looking out at the reader and wishing "Happy Holidays ... from all of us, to all of you!"

Of the remaining stories, two are Batman solo stories and the third is "The TT's Swingin' Christmas Carol" from Teen Titans #13 (first series - 1968). Bob Haney (with art by Nick Cardy) has the hip-speaking Titans helping out in a modern version of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol". Wheelchair bound Tiny Tom enlists the Titans' help for his father Bob Ratchet and his miserly boss Ebenezer Scrounge. Robin gets "a great idea" after Scrounge is confronted by his former partner, Jacob Farley. He tells the others, "haven't you characters begun to dig it yet?" and explains the Dickens connection. The Titans disguise themselves as the Ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future to get Scrounge to change his miserable ways. They even defeat some criminals along the way. Scrounge is converted, natch, and Tiny Tom exclaims, "Best wishes to all -- for a swinging and groovy New Year ... and bless us everyone!"

They just don't write 'em like that anymore.

I wish they would. The issue contains some of the best pre-Crisis holiday stories. They wouldn't be superhero comics without bad guys, tragic circumstances, and even murder -- but these form the backdrop to the stories, not the focus or the themes. While skirting the religious, the stories use the spirit of the season to tell light-hearted, positive tales of friendship, goodwill, miracles and the kindness of strangers.

Christmas With The Super-Heroes #2

In the second Christmas With The Super-Heroes (cover dated 1989), Mark Waid presents 6 new tales. Only the first and last have a Superman connection, but all of the stories are enjoyable.

In "Ex Machina", a motorist is stranded in a snowstorm and, suffering from the cold, prepares to commit suicide. Superman arrives and uses his heat vision to warm the man and the car engine. Paul Chadwick (story/pencils; with John Nyber inking) writes an unusual Superman story as the two converse about the things that have driven this man to consider taking his own life. The man talks about his medical condition and his estrangement from his daughter. Superman tells him, "listen, I don't mean to preach here, but there's one thing I know. No person who's lost his, or her, parents wouldn't like to get them back. Even one of them. This is something I know."

He urges the man to call his daughter saying, "My friend, your disease is a long, hard way to go. Nobody should die alone in this world. If not for yourself, do it for me." Before he leaves, Superman gives the man directions to visit some friends that will give him a good Christmas dinner. He adds, "They're good folks. They helped me out after I had some trouble in space one time." Superman flies off as the man drives toward the Smallville exit.

The Batman story by Dave Gibbons is a depressing look at Batman's lonely life, and the story isn't helped by the murky art of Gray Morrow.

The Wonder Woman tale by Eric Shanower (story/art) is interesting as Diana converses about her beliefs and gods with a female pastor whose husband has had an affair and asked for a divorce. The pastor's beliefs are shaken, especially after a conversation with Diana about her Olympian gods. The pastor sees a less confident Diana on Christmas Eve. Diana is "reflecting on what I've accomplished ... and what I haven't" and says, "Though my gods have helped me in the past, sometimes they have been cruel. Now I feel abandoned by them. I don't understand anymore. I don't know who or what to believe."

The pastor asks what she believes in, and Diana answers, "love and peace and truth". The pastor counsels her to hold fast to those beliefs and they will sustain her. Someone will hear her message and good will grow. "If it weren't so difficult, the good wouldn't be that important." The conversation acts as a catharsis, helping both women with their individual faiths and beliefs.

Next is a wordless story about Baron Von Hammer, the German WWI flying ace called the Hammer of Hell, who brings supplies to his enemies on Christmas Day. Written and penciled by John Byrne, it's the finished art by Andy Kubert that gives it the look of the original stories by Bob Kahniger and Joe Kubert.

The Silver Age Flash and Green Lantern star in the next story, written by Bill Loebs, with art by Colleen Doran and Ty Templeton. As Barry and Hal finish monitor duty on the JLA satellite, they decide to visit a small town for an old-fashioned Christmas. It's a Scrooge type story, as they meet a disillusioned rich man named CB Fenster who offers five million dollars to anyone who can prove that Santa Claus exists in that town.

GL's ring creates the sleigh, Flash plays the reindeer, and Fenster is forced unwillingly to play the role of Santa. There's lots of Silver Age fun as GL squeezes Santa down chimneys. We meet some lonely and sad residents of the town and, as befits a Christmas story, all ends well when GL and Flash find Santa by having Fenster look at his reflection. Wearing their Santa hats, Hal ends with "Happy Hanukkah, Flash" and Barry replies, "And a Merry Christmas to you, pal."

As good as these stories are, the gem of the issue is the last one, a Deadman story titled, "Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot" written by Alan Brennert with art by Dick Giordano. It's a poignant tale, as Deadman inhabits other bodies to send presents to friends he can't bring himself to visit. He decides to experience the holiday through a young man's eyes (and body), until he realizes he is stealing his host's Christmas.

Deadman flees, angry and full of self-loathing, until a lovely, blond woman starts talking to him. Since Deadman can't ordinarily be seen by humans, he tries to find out who she is. She turns the conversation around and asks if the reason he is angry is that no one knows what he has done on their behalf. She then removes Deadman's mask to speak to the man behind it, Boston Brand.

She tells him, "We don't do it for the glory. We don't do it for the recognition. We do it because it needs to be done. Because if we don't, no one else will. And we do it even if no one knows what we've done. Even if no one knows we exist. Even if no one remembers that we ever existed."

Boston apologizes for how he has acted and the woman tells him not to because, "you're only human. You are still human, Boston. Don't be ashamed of it. Rejoice in it. Because it means your spirit -- as flawed or selfish as our spirits can sometimes be -- is still alive." As she turns to leave, Boston asks her name. She tells him and says, "though I doubt that'll mean anything to you." Boston replies, "Merry Christmas, Kara. Whoever you are." The story is dedicated to Supergirl scribes, Otto Binder and Jim Mooney, with the inscription, "We still remember".

Happy Holidays Everyone!



Relevant Links:
  • Christmas Tales: Part 1 (of 2)