Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hark...Holiday Comics

Lo in years past there weren't always trusty collections of holiday-themed comic book stories that could all be found in one place (such as the 2009 Marvel Holiday Spectacular featuring Werewolf By Night in "Werewolf By Eve"--available now both online and in print!). No, in the days before consolidation became hip, tales of Christmas, Chanukah, etc. cheer were instead relegated to issues of ongoing series, weaved seamlessly into a character's tapestry of continuity each December or there about.

Ok, I'm lying; "Holiday Special" type comics have been around since at least the 90's (probably the 80's) and occasionally there is still a one-off issue of your favorite super hero title that takes a month off to dress their lead up as Santa or teach us the meaning of the Menorah. Still, I just ate up two paragraphs pretty quick, didn't I?

Where was I? Oh yeah: holiday comics.

I can't say I've read enough enough comics centered around holiday cheer that I can compile any sort of definitive "Best Of" list, but here are five from my youth or thereabout that I at least remember, meaning that for better or worse they did make an impression.

"...Guess Who Just Came Down the Chimney!" from UNCANNY X-MEN #143
The final issue of Chris Claremont and John Byrne's legendary run together on the X-Men, and while it has since been reported far and wide by both that they were not getting along by this point, it certainly doesn't show in this classic. Not a shocker that in their last shared tale on the franchise they'd shape for a generation or two, these creators chose to focus on Kitty Pryde, a character near and dear to both. With all of the other X-Men out enjoying their Christmas plans, young (and Jewish) Kitty sticks around the X-Mansion and ends up having to face a N'garai demon with pretty much only her wits. Of course there's a happy ending and the plot is plenty sappy, but it also has awesome action and is beautifully drawn, and really that's pretty spiffy for a comic of this type.

"Funeral for a Friend Part 4: Metropolis Mailbag II" from SUPERMAN v2 #76
In general I thought Dan Jurgens' concept for his annual "Metropolis Mailbag" issue of Superman--in which the Man of Steel takes a break from fighting aliens and scientists and whatnot to fly around fulfilling all the wishes kids send to Santa via the Metropolis mail--was a wonderfully simple and fun one that guaranteed a nice uplifting story with plenty of "Aww" moments at least once a year. However, the most poignant of these unquestionably came the year Superman was unavailable for his task, having "died" at the hands of Doomsday a month earlier, and thus his super friends have to pick up the slack. Thus you've got the Justice League, Captain Marvel, the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and even Kiel's beloved Agent Liberty reunitin families and delivering presents, culminating with a picked up thread of the heroes helping to rebuild a house destroyed during the Doomsday fight and the jerky teenage son admitting Superman didn't suck after all. Jurgens is in his prime drawing every DC hero and the cover has Batman releasing a friggin' dove from his hand.

"Rhino Plastered" from INCREDIBLE HULK #378
Once again, we travel back to Peter David's epic tenure as writer of Incredible Hulk, because it was simply that awesome. In this installment, that lovable loser the Rhino opts against robbing a bank when he sees the Hulk is in town and instead steals a Santa suit off a Salvation Army volunteer, planning to scrounge up cash for "charity" then take off. Unfortunately for the horned one, a mall floor manager in need of a last minute Santa spots Rhino and drags him inside to sub in. At first, Rhino goes with the flow, but even this hardened super villain is disgusted at how bratty the kids are, causing him to lose his cool, causing the nearby Bruce Banner to lose his cool...and so forth. Though the visuals of Rhino as Santa Claus fighting the Hulk through a packed mall would probably be enough to make this a gem on their own, but David has a leg up on many writers who awkwardly stumble their way through comedy issues such as these in that he is actually a funny dude and has a knack for this sort of thing. Also, the fact that it's the curmudgeonly grey Hulk as opposed to the dumb green Hulk works wonderfully here. I won't spoil exactly how they get there, but the final page of the issue features Rhino still as Santa and Hulk as the world's biggest elf working together to save one little girl's Christmas; it's awesome.

"What Do You Get the JLA for Christmas?" from SUPERMAN v2 #165
Jeph Loeb pretty much makes sure he gets the equivalent of a nice slow softball right down the middle to hit a holiday home run here by assembling the all-star art team of Ed McGuinness, Art Adams, Ian Churchill, Rob Liefeld, Joe Madureira, Humberto Ramos and Mike Wieringo to draw a story wherein Superman buys Christmas presents for the other members of the "Big 7" JLA, but hey, a hit out of the park is a hit out of the park, and this issue is great harmless fun that also helps advance the series' ongoing plots and gets some clever sight gags in to boot. The story follows right on the heels of Lex Luthor getting elected President with the narrative being driven by Superman getting each of his teammates' opinions on the deal, but the draw here is really seeing what Lois thinks Batman wants for Christmas and Rob Liefeld drawing Aquaman.

"Tidings of Comfort and Joy" from FORCE WORKS #8
13-year old Ben was totally fooled by the seemingly obvious juxtaposition of a giant "X" and the silhouette on the cover to this issue into thinking it was yet another gratuitous Wolverine guest appearance, but that's actually Hawkeye, who shows up in this issue as an invited guest of USAgent to the first (and last) ever Force Works holiday bash. Agent's intent is to reunite Clint Barton with his former West Coast Avengers teammates for the first time since the death of his wife, Mockingbird, but unfortunately Hawkeye's distrust of Iron Man and a sitcom-esque bit of confusion where he watches Tony Stark dissing him during a speech on a video monitor then mutes it before he can hear the subsequent compliment scuttles the deal. Speakin of USAgent, his crazy red, white and blue Sgt. Pepper's get-up is another highlight of this issue, as are the attempts of the various Force Workers and Spider-Woman's daughter Rachel to teach Century the meaning of Christmas. Man, I really owe Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning a pair of cards this year reminding them of this bad boy.


TJ Dietsch said...

I loooooove that Superman issue. I was thinking about doing a similar list but my memory sucks. That's actually the one Christmas issue I really remember. Did Ian Churchill do the Aquaman section? I seem to remember it being stunning. Oh, plus super ripped Pa Kent drawn by McGuinness.

Ben Morse said...

It's been a bit, but I'm reasonably certain Liefeld did Aquaman and Churchill did Wonder Woman.

Chris Ward said...

I love this article! AHH!!!

Ben Morse said...

Thank you, sir :-)

ArousedMigrant said...

Churchill and Liefeld both did really good jobs on their sections.

KP said...

Guh. Just getting to respond to this:

I haven't read most of these including the Agent Liberty appearance because I skipped Funeral For A Friend in the Death & Return story cycle.

But I DID have that Force Works issue and never really understood what was going on with Hawkeye because I never knew who Mockingbird was until last year!

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