You can't forget the great Christmas songs, movies and television specials. But what of the wonderful, heart-warming Christmases you spent with Archie, Richie Rich, Mickey Mouse and Little Lulu? Even super-heroes sometimes take a break from clobbering super-villains at Christmas. Here are some of the classic holiday stories that have made their way into the comics over the years.
1. Superman's Christmas Adventure (1940)
Superman had only been published for two years when he met Santa, but he was already America's top-selling comic book hero, with his own very popular radio serial. In this classic story (co-written by his creator, Jerry Siegel), the Man of Steel foils the plans of Dr. Grouch and Mr. Meaney (hoo boy), who plan to wreck Santa's workshop and steal his reindeer, thereby ruining Christmas for everyone. To show that it was more than just a superhero story, it also has a subplot in which he teaches the true meaning of Christmas to a spoiled kid by introducing him to some poor kids who have no toys. Happily, his new friend Santa comes to the rescue with"¦ Superman toys, shirts, Krypto-rayguns and other merchandise. "Superman novelties are very popular this year," remarks Santa.
2. Christmas on Bear Mountain (1947)
This celebrated Christmas adventure—for Donald Duck and his nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie—appeared courtesy of the legendary artist Carl Barks. As it was Christmas, it introduced Scrooge to the comics. Not the miserable old man of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, but another miser—Uncle Scrooge McDuck.
It all begins with Donald too broke to celebrate Christmas, but then his rich uncle invites the gang to his chalet on Bear Mountain—not out of goodwill, it turns out, but to test their courage. Through misinterpretation, Uncle Scrooge believes they are all fearless, and has Christmas dinner with them in his mansion. Scrooge was popular enough to become a recurring character in the Donald Duck comics, and in 1952 he became the hero of his own comic book. Unlike Santa (who had his own comic, Santa Claus Funnies), he wasn't limited to Christmas stories.
3. Have Yourself a Sandman Little Christmas (1972)
Decades before Hollywood special effects were good enough to put him in the movies, the Sandman was the causing trouble in Marvel Team-Up. In the very first issue of that comic, set on Christmas Eve, he ties up his old foes Spider-Man and the Human Torch inside a water tower, then cackles "Merry Christmas" and runs away. Of course, our heroes escape and track him down, only to find him is visiting his bedridden mother. He says that he will come along peacefully, but he needs to see her first. He explains that the doctors never told her that he is a criminal, and asks that they not spoil her Christmas with this revelation. Spider-Man is so touched that he hands her a gift-wrapped package, which was meant for his girlfriend. The heroes go out to wait for him"¦ and naturally, he escapes. But that's OK, because it's Christmas, so they're happy to let him get away. (Besides, they get to kick his butt in the very next issue.)
4. A Swinging Christmas Carol (1968)
Back in the sixties, the Ten Titans was a group comprised of the young sidekicks of DC Comics superheroes, with hipper-than-hip dialogue"¦ and some pretty weird stories. In this one, vicious Ebenezer Scrounge's business partner Jacob Farley escapes from prison to get his revenge, while Scrounge's employee Bob Ratchet struggles to care for his disabled son Tiny Tom. The Titans—Robin, Wonder Girl, Aqualad and Kid Flash (who later took over as the "real" Flash)—agree to teach Scrounge a lesson.
Somewhere in the story, it occurs to these well-read youngsters that the plot has a few things in common with A Christmas Carol. Perhaps this is why decide to play the Spirits of Christmas. This being a superhero comic, Scrounge is actually being manipulated by a mobster, but the Titans stop him in time for Christmas festivities. "Hey Robin-O, how could anyone have as marv a Christmas as we are?" asks Aqualad. As I wasn't a hipster in 1968 (or any other year, come to think of it), I'm not sure what he meant by that.
5. The Feather Merchant (1959)
Archie Andrews just can't get it right. In all his years as a teenager, he had countless Christmas stories, but so many of them were the same: he buys a gift for someone (usually his favorite girlfriend, Veronica), only to be repeatedly persuaded by different people that he's made the wrong choice. He trades his gift for something else, again and again, until eventually he is either clobbered by the shop assistant or forced to buy a completely awful gift. In this version of that sorry tale, he tries to get on the good side of Veronica's wealthy father by buying him a rare bird for his collection. After many wrong birds, and a particularly aggravated pet shop owner, he eventually gives him a vulture—something he really doesn't want.
6. Wanted: Santa Claus"¦ Dead or Alive! (1980)
Even Batman could occasionally get into the Christmas spirit. In this story, a reformed criminal named Boomer Katz gets a job playing Santa in a department store. Sadly, Boomer's past catches up with him, as he is forced by his pals "Fats" Morgan and Louis to rob the store (and let's face it, if your friends have names like that, you're hanging out with the wrong crowd). Batman arrives too late to catch them, but he is led to their hideout by a mysterious star on the horizon. Of course, being Christmas, Boomer helps to save the day. But for all its festive spirit, this story is historically important for another reason: it was the first Batman story to be co-written and drawn by Frank Miller (then 23), who later reinvented the character with his graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns.
Images courtesy of comics.org.