The power of American pop culture has worked its delightfully skewed magic upon a whole host of traditions and institutions. Transforming the transcendent to tacky and the solemn to silly, holidays like Christmas have become the venue of Norelco-driving Santas, caroling Star Wars characters and prancing Victoria’s Secret models. It’s within this surreal alternate universe that even comic book superheroes gather to celebrate Christmas (or its generic equivalent “the holidays”) in their own inimitable style.
One of the earliest examples appeared on Comic Cavalcade #9 (1944), where Flash, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern are either leaving presents for a deserving child….or stealing them!
Superman took a more symbolic route on the cover of Action Comics #93 (1946), as he brings a holly-wrapped planet Earth to a gathering of the world’s children standing on a Christmas tree cloud, a powerful image that evokes….well, to be quite honest, I’m not entirely sure.
The Lone Ranger #79 (1955) finds an uncharacteristically smiley L.R. taking a break from meting out Old West Justice to fetch a Christmas tree for some deserving widow, swindled rancher, or harassed padre.
Another oddly jovial character is the Batman on the cover of DC Super-Star Holiday Special (a.k.a. DC Special Series #21, 1980), as he and a random assortment of DC characters appear to be heading for Bethlehem, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and Batarangs.
Back on the domestic front, Superman and his Imaginary Story Mystery Wife confront the age-old Christmas tradition of whiney kids in Superman #166 (1964).
Things are much more peaceful on the cover of Green Lantern #18 (1945), as GL and wacky pal Doiby Dickles hang out a shingle of season’s greetings….right before going to pick out curtains together.
No doubt topping everyone’s Christmas wish list is the Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #10 (1969) ornament collection. This eye-catching set includes (clockwise) Nick Fury himself, a SHIELD hover-car, the beautiful Sharon Carter, and the dreaded Hate-Monger! I ask you: what says “Merry Christmas” quite like a hooded clone of Adolph Hitler?
A fun tradition for 1970’s comics fans was Marvel’s series of Giant Superhero Holiday Grab-Bag treasury editions, measuring a whopping 10” x 14” and packed with either Christmas-themed or secular-yet-heartwarming reprints. In fact, the Grab-Bags were so packed with joyful sentimentality, even the normally grumpy Hulk managed to catch the Christmas spirit.
DC’s answer to Marvel’s Grab-Bag series was their Christmas with the Superheroes comics, published in the late 80’s, followed by a series of Holiday Bash specials during the 90’s.
It wouldn’t be a survey of Christmas covers if we didn’t include the obligatory nods to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
First up is “A Christmas Happening” from Teen Titans #13 (1968). Scripted by Bob Haney, the undisputed king of faux-hep dialogue, the Titans encounter Dickens doppelgangers like junkman “Ebenezer Scrounge”, his employee “Bob Ratchet”, young “Tiny Tom” and so on.
The cover of the Hellboy Christmas Special (1997) evokes the 19th century world of Dickens gene-spliced with the delightfully demented world of Hellboy.
Not every superhero gets the day off for Christmas, as Amazing Spider-Man #166 (1977) finds the Lizard and Stegron the Dinosaur Man putting a major crimp in Spidey’s holiday plans.
It’s not a “Sweet Christmas” for Luke Cage in Hero for Hire #7 (1973), as he struggles to prevent a mysterious time-traveler from blowing-up Manhattan in the futuristic world of 1984.
During an especially grim period of Crisis-spawned angst and gritty realism at DC Comics, Ambush Bug was a refreshing source of irreverent comedy….as his birthday serenade to the “Swaddling Infant” demonstrates on the cover of the Ambush Bug Stocking Stuffer (1986).
The ultimate comic book stocking stuffer has to be Fawcett’s X-Mas Comics #7 (1949). Not only did it weigh in at a staggering 196 pages, but the stocking held by Captain Marvel was made with real green felt! “The World’s Mightiest Christmas” indeed!
“But Mark”, you ask, “…where’s SANTA?” Ahhhh, rest assured, I didn’t forget the Big Man. Be sure to tune in next Friday for part two of my Christmas Cover survey, featuring a special sleigh ride through a Santa Claus Cover Gallery!