15 Comic Stories in which the Thanksgiving Holiday is Observed in One Form or Another
1. “Virtue, Vice, & Pumpkin Pie,” JSA #54 (1/2004)
Ah, the Thanksgiving gathering — it’s one of the enduring traditions of the American sitcom, to say nothing of a sizable number of films in which the lead character is at home dealing with unresolved family issues (or, in the case of 1987’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles, desperately trying to get there). For many of its pre-Crisis years, DC produced annual JLA/JSA team-up stories that brought both teams together for the holidays to nosh, reminisce, and vanquish one cosmic threat or another in true team-up style. That tradition dropped off for a while, but the debut of 1999’s ongoing JSA series gave the writers an opportunity to revive it, complete with knowing winks at the old “superhero gatherings always rudely interrupted by intruding super-villains” trope. The Rockwellian image on the cover of JSA #54 is particularly appropriate, as the story is free of the usual superhero slugfests (aside from one brief and hilarious scene in which one fine-looking dinner is ruined by the world’s worst case of bad timing), instead focusing on the familial interactions of the JLA and JSA team members. “One, two, three, four… there’s quite a few more than we thought, aren’t there?” “Maybe we should excuse ourselves. They were sitting down to eat.” Priceless.
2. “Giving Thanks,” JSA: Classified #32-33 (1/2008)
Perhaps it’s because the very first story featuring the Justice Society of America (waaaay back in 1940) involved the founding heroes sharing tales of derring-do over a turkey feast. Or maybe it’s because the combination of old-timers and youthful protegés has always been prime fodder for writers looking for reasons to work familial themes into superhero stories. Whatever the cause, a number of JSA stories have taken place on or around Thanksgiving, including this one starring the original Green Lantern. Mourning the recent loss of his daughter, he arrives tardily for the “Gracie’s” Thanksgiving Day parade in which he, the Flash, and Wildcat greet the crowds while standing atop a float (with a giant Superman balloon bringing up the rear, an unintentional snub that leaves Wildcat less than amused). Of course, having more than two heroes appear in public is just begging for trouble, which soon arrives in the form of a seriously cheesed-off Solomon Grundy… but he’s nowhere near as angry as Green Lantern, who muses between blows why a monster like him gets to come back to life again and again while others, like his little girl, don’t. Good question, that.
3. “Mixed Blessings,” Uncanny X-Men #308 (1/94)
With the possible exception of the Fantastic Four, the X-Men are perhaps the best embodiment of “family” in the Marvel universe, and for good reason. In this story, the team is spending an unusually quiet day on the Xavier estate doing all the normal things associated associated with the holiday: raking leaves, playing football, anticipating a mouth-watering dinner. Meanwhile, Scott Summers and Jean Grey reminisce about their lives together, with Jean using her telepathy to share with Scott her memories of the moment when she realized he is in fact her one true love. As the rest of the team enjoy a brief respite from their battles, Jean asks Scott to marry her — a proposal that is eagerly accepted and then celebrated when the lovebirds announce their engagement at the dinner table later that evening. Hardcore X-fans may have been put off by the lack of fight scenes and gratuitous cheesecake poses that were par for the course back then, but the issue was a pleasant diversion from the sprawling multi-issue epics that were also common at the time… plus it demonstrated how handy psychic powers can be during the holidays.
4. “Name Calling,” 52 #29 (1/2007)
The best part about having a mad scientist over for the holidays? He can make damn sure everyone gets a drumstick from the, er, specially prepared turkey. In 2006, DC launched 52, a weekly comic series that focused on the one year in the DC universe between its Infinite Crisis and One Year Later storylines (don’t worry, there isn’t a quiz later). With Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman temporarily out of the picture, the series was free to focus on some of the more overlooked heroes and supporting characters in the DC universe, including Metal Men creator Will Magnus. At this stage in the story, he has been forcibly brought to a remote island to join other “mad scientists” in creating new super-weapons for their captors, and he seems to be the only one present who doesn’t enjoy the prospect of sitting down to a truly demented Thanksgiving feast, complete with chainsaws and meat spattering all over the assembled guests. Meanwhile, Green Lantern, Wildcat, and the Flash formally disband the JSA in the wake of a new generation of super-heroes emerging from Lex Luthor’s Luthor’s Everyman Project. Luthor’s Infinity Inc. team chooses the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade to unveil its newest member, a young lady whose superhero codename doesn’t go down well with some of the former JSAers. Oh, and the giant bald-headed balloon following them in the parade? None other than Luthor himself, obviously out to grab himself some of that sweet Underdog action he’s apparently been hearing so much about. (You may go ahead and assume that all variations of “he sure is full of hot air” jokes have already been dutifully employed.)
5. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?,” Power Pack #19 (2/86)
Power Pack was a delightful mid-’80s comic based on a completely insane concept: that a quartet of prepubescent siblings, one of whom had just started kindergarten, for crying out loud, could gain super-powers from a horse-headed alien and keep their abilities a secret from everyone (including their parents) while they fought alien invaders and school bullies (or alien school bullies). Maybe New York parents weren’t as uptight about bedtime back then. In “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?,” the conveniently named Power children are upset because their mother is in the hospital and it’s not clear whether she’ll recover from her injuries. Katie, the youngest, decides a big Thanksgiving feast is the best way to get her siblings’ minds off their mother’s health, and so she invites all her friends to a big dinner at her house, including Franklin Richards (the mutant son of Reed and Sue Richards), Kitty Pryde and Wolverine, Cloak and Dagger, Beta Ray Bill, and that adorable power-sapping mutant known as Leech. After a small mishap at the parade involving runaway balloons, everyone gathers at the Power house for Thanksgiving, where Katie explains how she was thinking that “when you’re miserable and alone… it’s better to be miserable and alone together! So I invited all the alone people we knew.” At which point a live studio audience, if one had existed for this story, would have broken out into a chorus of “awwwww…”
6. “Bart and Lisa and Marge and Homer and Maggie (to a Lesser Extent) vs. Thanksgiving,” Simpsons Comics #51 (10/2000)
Over its long run, The Simpsons has become known more for its twisted Halloween specials than its odes to Thanksgiving, though it scored major meta points in its second season by broadcasting “Bart vs. Thanksgiving” on the same day as the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade to feature a Bart Simpson balloon. (“If you start building a balloon for every flash-in-the-pan cartoon character, you turn the parade into a farce!” grumps Homer, as the Bart balloon floats by unnoticed on the Simpsons’ TV screen.) That 1990 episode found Bart and Lisa bonding after a botched attempt at a quiet Thanksgiving dinner, but don’t expect such sentiments in this issue of Simpsons Comics, which finds idealistic Lisa protesting the annual turkey-cide, Bart taking in a holiday sale at the local Try ‘N’ Save, Homer trying to save Mr. Burns from genetically engineered turkeys, and Marge with nothing to serve her guests. Ay carumba!
7. “Thanksgive and Take,” ALF #24 (12/89)
Remember ALF? He’s back — in Pog form! Sorry, just a little leftover Simpsons humor there. Oh, how I do not long for the three-network days when a midget wearing a furry costume and a turd-shaped shnozz could crack jokes about cat-based cuisine and take NBC’s Monday night lineup by storm. By the late ’80s, the ALF juggernaut was in full force with ALF T-shirts, plush toys, keychains, dinnerware, and a Marvel comic that lasted 50 issues before everyone came to their collective senses. Any random issue delivers the same patented family sitcom-slash-Catskills-comedy routine that very undemanding fans came to expect from the ALF franchise; this particular issue finds Willie (the shlubby, put-upon dad of the family) home sick for the holidays and ALF deciding to make a proper Thanksgiving meal to cheer him up. Gosh, what could possibly go wrong? Scripts and pencils were by Dave Manak, the definitive ALF artist… and probably a nice guy who deserves a far better claim to fame.
8. “Cold Turkey,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer #3 (11/98)
Given the many comic-book references in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series (and creator Joss Whedon’s cred as an uber-comic nerd), few batted an eye when Sunnydale’s favorite slayer made the transition from TV lead to comic-book hero in Dark Horse’s 1998 ongoing series, the first of many to feature characters from the Buffyverse. Most issues hewed closely to the TV formula (action, thrills, romance subplots with hefty doses of pop-culture references), with the first few issues each taking place during a major holiday. After a Halloween encounter with vampires in the previous issue, this issue finds Buffy facing an evil greater than anything the Hellmouth could cough up: last-minute Thanksgiving grocery shoppers (cue theme from Psycho)!!! Oh yeah, and just who has been digging through her family’s trash at night? (My guess: raccoons. No, vampire raccoons.)
9-10. “Let’s Talk Turkey,” Buster Bunny #12 (1/52); “The Turkey Thiever,” Chip ‘n’ Dale #4 (12/55)
My collection of funny-animal comics from the 1950s isn’t as extensive as you might think, so I’m going to rely on the story synopses provided by the good folks at the Grand Comics Database for these two entries. In “Let’s Talk Turkey,” Buster Bunny (no relation to the character in Tiny Toon Adventures) gives the Thanksgiving turkey a growth serum that makes the bird grow large enough to run amok through town with Buster on his back. Buster is almost thrown into the slammer for his sin against nature (and property values), but he’s saved when P.T. Farnum buys the giant turkey for his circus, allowing Buster to pay off the damages. In “Turkey Thiever,” Chip and Dale visit a turkey farm to buy a turkey for Thanksgiving but end up preventing Wasputin, a weasel with hypnotic powers, from stealing the birds. OK, I’m going to skip the obvious “what the hell are herbivorous rodents and rabbits doing chowing down on turkey for dinner” commentary and ask this: how did the writers of these kinds of stories decide which animals got the anthropomorphic treatment and which were doomed to remain as pets, beasts of burden or holiday meat? Was Pluto once given the choice to walk upright and speak English like Goofy, only to decide he preferred the pampered life as Mickey’s pooch? Did the turkeys in these stories ever have even a small chance of escaping their placement in this frakked-up food chain? Did questions like this even come up during the story meetings, or was it more a case of publishers telling kids, “It’s Thanksgiving, everyone eats turkey, now shut up and give us your dimes”…?
11. “For All This… We Give Thanks,” Generation X #23 (1/97)
Generation X was yet another of Marvel’s X-titles that proliferated like mutant bunnies during that anything-goes decade known as the ’90s. Their gimmick was that they were young mutants in training (much like the previous New Mutants and X-Force teams), but they were mentored by mutants other than Professor X and a touch more cynical and surly than the other junior X-teams (hence the name). It’s two days before Thanksgiving, and teammate Paige “Husk” Guthrie takes Jonothon “Chamber” Starsmore (that’s him on the cover) back to her Kentucky home to celebrate Thanksgiving with her family. But the farmhouse is deserted when they arrive, a situation that Jono is not at all surprised to find, as he believes they cleared out so they wouldn’t have to look at his physical deformity (his power to generate energy blasts blew off his lower jaw and chest, which… yikes). Whilst he and Paige go through some of her old keepsakes, he continues to brood about his lot in life until she finally blows up at him, saying she likes him for who he is. Teen angst drama! But on to more pressing matters: Girl, isn’t it a little rude to invite someone to a Thanksgiving feast when they don’t even have a mouth?
12. “The Thanksgiving Thieves!,” Shazam! #10 (2/74)
Re-reading the Shazam! series from the ’70s, you can’t help but wonder what today’s jaded comic book fans would have made of the lightheartedness of the whole enterprise. Walking alien vegetables intent on conquering Earth? A spinster mob boss sending her goons up against Captain Marvel as part of a contest with her hand in marriage as the prize? Why the hell not? While the Captain Marvel stories in this issue aimed to ape the Golden Age C.C. Beck art style that made the Big Red Cheese famous, the Mary Marvel eight-pager is a little more contemporary in its execution, but just corny enough to satisfy the kids. In Mary’s world, superheroines like her are universally adored and made grand marshals of Thanksgiving Day parades in which giant balloons are made in their likenesses and they get to gush about how they are “the center of attention” — but still have to deal with neolithic “she’s just a girl” comments from not-terribly-bright fur thieves attempting a robbery (on foot, no less) right around the corner from a major parade. I’ll refrain from commenting on the inherent creepiness of a 50-foot inflatable likeness of a legs-apart teenage girl in a mini-skirt and… ah, I’m not fooling anyone here. Seriously: what the hell?
13. “Thanks for Thanksgiving,” The ‘Nam #22 (9/88)
Thanksgiving Day, 1967: As a group of Viet Cong soldiers head to their staging area for the planned Tet Offensive, they’re spotted by a U.S. chopper. They shoot it down, but their wounded comrades force them back into the underground hospital/bunker they were attempting to evacuate. Knowing that more American soldiers will arrive soon on a search-and-destroy mission, the Viet Cong hold their position even though they have no food or medical supplies to help their injured comrades, and no way of getting either without revealing their positions. Meanwhile the American soldiers, unaware of the Viet Cong under their feet, grumble about being out on patrol on the one day a year they’re guaranteed a decent meal, but fortune (or a considerate senior officer) smiles on them in the form of hot rations choppered in from home base. Their turkey needs satisfied, the men move out on foot in search of “Charlie,” leaving behind crates of food that the Viet Cong soldiers are amazed to find when they come out of hiding. “The Americans have so much! So much!” one wounded man says. “And it just… slips through their fingers.” I’m sensing a message here.
14. “Thanksgiving,” Batman: The Long Halloween #2 (1/97)
So, here’s the deal: Back in 1996, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale produced a 13-issue limited series focusing on a case that happened during Batman’s early crime-fighting years. A mysterious killer is murdering people once a month during major holidays, most of whom have some connection to the mobs running Gotham City. As the title suggests, the first issue starts with a Halloween bombing at crusading district attorney Harvey Dent’s house (these are the days before he became Two-Face); the second issue, “Thanksgiving,” finds Batman and Commissioner Gordon interrogating witnesses and following leads that they hope will connect the bombing to “the Roman,” a prominent mob boss. Because the story happens on Thanksgiving Day, meals play a prominent role throughout the book: a mob boss schemes while preparing dinner, Gordon comes home to a cold meal after another long day, Batman leaves a plate of food for Solomon Grundy in the sewers (by way of an apology for an earlier misunderstanding), and the mobsters behind the bombing of Dent’s home are just sitting down to their lavish table when an unknown assailant bursts in and kills them all. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
15. “Thanksgiving Day 1990,” Strange Adventures #132 (9/61)
Gosh, who can forget Thanksgiving Day 1990, when millions of American families sat down to a nice turkey dinner and then… um, went out to see Pretty Woman? Well, whatever you ended up doing on that particular Thanksgiving Day, chances are it was pretty sedate compared to the day experienced by the Atomic Knights. First appearing in issue #117 (6/60) of SA, the Knights were men who wore radiation-proof medieval suits of armor and rode on mutated Dalmatians through a battle-scarred landscape, wandering the U.S. in search of rights to wrong and remnants of civilization to save. It sounds ludicrous, sure, but no more so than Kevin Costner posing as a post-apocalyptic postman. Anyway, some of the surviving Americans gather for the first time since the great atomic war of 1986 to share a Thanksgiving feast, little knowing their feast of fresh fruits and vegetables will be violently interrupted by a few dozen time-displaced Atlantean warriors dressed like Roman centurions and armed with mirror ray-guns that look like make-up compacts. Look, if I can write this recap with a straight face, the least you people can do is to stop all that snickering…