It’s that time of year again. Christmas is only a few weeks away and being the resident Yuletide Fanatic, I thought I take this opportunity to talk about one of the overlooked special treats of the season: Christmas Comics. Yes, the world of funny books has presented tales of the holiday season in a variety of fashions. From traditional retellings of classic Christmas stories to modern superhero affairs, Christmas and all that comes with it has been presented between the covers some of the most popular titles. Unfortunately, not all of these stories are stellar. In fact, there are many that are subpar at best. Thankfully, there still are a number of great comics that’ll get you in the festive spirit and deliver a fun and engaging story. There’s even enough that I had to break this article up over two weeks. Come back next week to hear the best Christmas stories that DC, Dark Horse, Image and others have to offer. For now, let’s take a look at one of my favourite publisher’s contributions on the subject. Marvel Comics has it share of lumps of cole in the Holiday comic category but there have also been a few gems. If you love Marvel and Christmas in equal mesure like myself, you owe it to yourself to check out these classic issues. Prepare to be amazed.
Demon (Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1 #143 – 1981)
Creative Team: Chris Claremont (writer), John Byrne (Artist)
While not the most inviting name for a story that involves Christmas, this was one of the first really great stories to come from the House of Ideas during the holidays. And it was a very fitting story, not only that it happened within the pages of one their top selling books at the time but also that it served as a fantastic send off for John Byrne who left the series with this issue. It’s Christmas Eve and all is quiet in the 1407 Graymalkin Lane mansion that houses the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters. It’s also a quiet Chanukah for Kitty Pryde who’s been left alone for the first time since joining the team. It’s no big deal really, except for the fact that an N’Garai, a creature from myth that are an elder race of demons, has made it’s way into the X-Men’s home. He’s looking for revenge as his kind were beaten by Storm previously in issue #96. Kitty doesn’t know about any of this so the history plays no real factor in the story. Instead, we get to see a game of cat and mouse unfold as the young Sprite has to outwit her evil foe. It’s the first real test that she has to face as an X-Man. It’s also a great tour of the X-Mansion as the entire complex is nearly destroyed in this cunning battle. Needless to say that a surprise waits for Kitty at the end of the story and it is a very Merry Holiday in Westchester County.
Down and Out in Forest Hills (Amazing Spider-man Vol. 1 #314 – 1989)
Creative Team: David Michelinie (writer), Todd McFarlane (artist)
Family is important during the holidays and they’re also important when you need someone to lean on. In this story, which also takes place on Christmas Eve, Parker and M.J. are evicted from their swanky Manhattan condo by their pervy landlord. Spurned by Mary Jane in previous issues, this landlord’s had it out for the happy couple and finds a loophole in the lease to evict them the day before Christmas. During the tale, Peter’s not keen to move back in with his Aunt May even though she’s offered to put them both up until they find a new place to live. He’s afraid he’ll lose the independance that he has living in town. He spends most of the issue trying to find a place for them to stay (even bugging a bunch of folks at the Bugle Christmas party) and finally convinces Flash Thompson to give them a room behind the gym he works at. But it’s a stop off at the grave of his Uncle Ben that changes his outlook completely. Aunt May needs him as much as he and M.J. need her. It’s a story of love and family during a time that most comics were taking a very cynical look at being a hero. And the cover is very entertaining.
Ant Man’s Big Christmas (One Shot – 1999)
Creative Team: Bob Gale (writer), Phil Winslade (artist)
Speaking of cynical, this story has some edge to it indeed but it also has a bit of heart too. What else could you expect from the guy who wrote the Back to the Future films. During a 2 year block where Bob Gale was writing a number of stories for the big two (he wrote the start of the Batman:No Man’s Land story for DC and a Daredevil arc for Marvel) this is one of the lesser known tales he wrote for the Marvel Knights Imprint. Hank Pym is a bit of a Grumpy Gus around the holidays. So much so he refuses to go with the Wasp to Christmas Dinner at her family’s place. But Captain America has a job for both of them: answering a letter for the “Make a Christmas Wish with the Avengers” program. Turns out Larry Magruder, a 12 year old boy, is always unhappy during the holidays because his family fights. After witinessing one of these fights first hand, Ant Man and Wasp decide to help Larry “get even” with his folks and play an elaborate (and very dangerous) prank on them. One by one, Larry lures his family members into a the spare room where Ant Man shrinks them down using his shrinking gas and places them in an environment that should show them how rude they’ve been. Of course, the kid has a change of heart half way through and has his relatives returned to their natural states so they can hash out their problems responsibly. This book stands as the oddest comic I’ve ever read about the holidays and due to this fact, it’s a hard one to track down. While not the most uplifting tale, it definitely worth your time if you’re into odd comic stories that you’re suprised were ever printed.
Winter Soldier: Winter Kills (One Shot – 2006)
Creative Team: Ed Brubaker (writer), Lee Weeks, Stefano Gaudiano, Rick Hoberg (artists)
James “Bucky” Barnes has had a pretty tough life. It wasn’t bad enough that he supposedly died falling off a rocket in WWII but he had to be found by the Russians and turned into a weapon for several decades. Because of this, the last time he celebrated Christmas was back in 1944. This year’s his first since then and wouldn’t you know it, Good ol’ Nick Fury’s got a mission for him. By the way, this was back in the Marvel Civil War era where heroes were fighting heroes. Fury sends the Winter Soldier to stop Patriot and Hawkeye of the Young Avengers from attacking a Hydra base that they think is actually a Warehouse of Stark Technology. He’s able to reach them in time to warn them but not in time to stop Hydra from taking the fight to them. So he and the Young Avengers must throw down with a bunch of Hydra goons on a cold winters night. Afterwards, it’s a few trips to visit those who’ve passed on as the Soldier must ask forgiveness from one man he’s killed and then meet up with Namor to remember their fallen comrade (Toro of the Invaders). This book shows off what Brubaker did best with the character, peeling back the many layers to a complex hero and making everything in his past have more meaning. With flashbacks to Cap and Bucky celebrating Christmas back in the 40s, this is a special treat for fans of both Captain America and the Winter Soldier.
Daredevil #7 (Untitled) (Daredevil Vol. 3 #7 – 2011)
Creative Team: Mark Waid (writer), Paolo Rivera (artist)
When Mark Waid restarted Daredevil back in 2011, the results were magical. With great artists backing him up, he was able to take Matt Murdock into a more heroic age while still paying proper tribute to all the writing that came before. Magic was in the air. No issue captures this magic better than the untitled 7th issue of the series. Whether it’s watching Matt Murdock get down with his party animal facade at the Nelson and Murdock Christmas party (wearing a shirt that reads “I’m not Daredevil” no less) or up the catskills during a blizzard trying to lead a group of blind children to safety after their bus crashed, The Man Without Fear is true to form. The thing that’s really cool about it is that aside from having stellar art care of Paolo Rivera it also is a straight up Matt Murdock tale. Sure, he dons his Daredevil threads to stay warm at one point up in the snowy hills, but at no point is this a story about catching badguys or the ways of a ninja. It’s just a tale about a blind lawyer with a few secrets trying to help those in need (and they helping him aswell). If you’re looking for a heartwarming tale to read this holiday season, this story is your best bet. And it truly is magical.
So that’s part 1 of our look at the best Christmas comics. Check back here next week when I bring you tales from the many other publishers that bring the gift of comics to us each and every month.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!