12 Comic Stories in Which Santa Claus (or a Reasonable Facsimile) is Shown Kicking Ass or Reserving His Spot on the Naughty List
1. “All I Want for Christmas is the Head of Idi Amin!” (Wasteland, 02/89)
A few years before it rolled out its Vertigo imprint, DC dipped its corporate toe into the mature-readers market with Wasteland, a horror anthology series that eschewed EC-style blood and gore for more existential sources of angst. Served up with its tales of alienation and dread was this lovely slice of black humor by John Ostrander, Del Close and Don Simpson. The premise: Santa Claus really exists, and occasionally he likes to pose as a department-store Santa to grant the wishes of unsuspecting young moppets who come and sit on his lap. But when one of the children asks for the head of deposed Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, Santa feels honorbound to go after him — with the help of his special ops commando elves, of course. It’s hard to imagine any classic Christmas story that couldn’t be improved by the addition of special ops commando elves.
2. The Last Christmas (2006)
Straight from the creators’ marketing department: “After the apocalypse, no one is safe — even at the North Pole. After tragedy strikes, Santa withdraws from life and turns his back on Christmas. When Claus finally emerges from seclusion, the old world is gone forever. As Santa struggles to find his way in a Mad Max-like world, can he find a way to save Christmas, too?” Picture Bruce Campbell with a white beard and an Uzi, and you’ve pretty much got the concept. Written by Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn (of Mr. Show fame), The Last Christmas also depicts Santa as a hopeless suicidal drunkard and features plenty of mutants and zombies plus a character named Gary the Snowman; it’s almost as if they were writing this series specifically for my inner child. An Amazon.com reviewer also delighted in describing one scene involving Santa licking syrup off himself, which says a lot more about Amazon.com reviewers than you probably wanted to know.
3. “The Man Called Santa,” Silver Comics (2004)
Remember that kid in your third grade Sunday school class who was the first in your group to realize “Santa” is an anagram of “Satan”? Yeah, he and Dana Carvey’s Church Lady character weren’t the only ones to make that connection. First appearing in Silver Comics #1, a labour of love by former Disney and Warner Bros. animator Johnny Ortiz (who was aided and abetted by a slew of comic-book legends), “The Man Called Santa” follows the one and only Santa Claus in an epic battle against the Prince of Lies that for some reason also involves Martians (and don’t forget Rudolph the Laser-Nosed Reindeer!). And lest you think a steady diet of milk and cookies has left Santa too flabby for a fight to the finish with the Lord of Darkness, here’s one of Santa’s typical lines from the series: “The time has come for all of us to stand up and be judged as naughty or nice — because SANTA CLAUS is going to town!!” Badass doesn’t even begin to cover it.
4. The Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special (01/91)
Originally intended as an ironic commentary on the over-the-top violence pervading mainstream comics in the late ’80s and early ’90s, it should come as no surprise that Lobo was eagerly embraced by the very fanboys he was meant to mock. Funny how that works. Anyway, the character was funny as hell in the right hands, and Keith Giffen (plot), Alan Grant (words) and Simon Bisley (art) certainly qualify as the “right hands.” Case in point: this delightful tale to keep hidden from the kiddies, in which the Easter Bunny (acting on behalf of himself and other cheesed-off holiday icons) hires the Main Man to assassinate Saint Nick because Christmas was getting too big and crowding everyone else out of the holiday racket. What follows are pages of brutal, literally eyeball-popping scenes that should not be viewed by anyone with a soft spot for elves or reindeer. Then there’s the final battle with Kris Kringle himself, who proves to be a tough old bird to put down, “like a bowl full of jelly” be damned. Priceless. And not for the faint of heart.
5. “Rhino Plastered” (Incredible Hulk #378, 02/91)
“Because you demanded it… the most requested villain of all!” Come on, admit it — you’ve always wanted to see Santa get smacked around for not bringing you that Nintendo system you asked for when you were eight. Alas, it’s not the real Santa — it’s actually the Rhino, in a Peter David tale that’s probably the Rhino’s most sad-sack appearance to date. Down and out because his suit can’t come off and he can’t go anywhere without people running in fear, the Rhino looks for a way to lay low during the holidays. Figuring a Santa costume is a surefire way for him to hide his own suit (“even the horn was hidden by the hat,” he happily notes) and make some cash over the holidays, he ends up filling in for a department store Santa and loving the fact that for once people are cheering his arrival… until the kids’ incessant demands drive him crazy and a happened-to-be-nearby Hulk arrives on the scene to beat his unjolly ass. But all is right in the end, because after a battle that wrecks half the mall, both the Hulk and a still Santa-clad Rhino end up playing nice to help restore one little girl’s faith in Santa Claus. All together now: Awwww.
6. “Merry Christmas, Justice League — Now Die!” (JLA #60, 01/2002)
We all know Santa as the bringer of gifts, the maker of lists, the employer of presumably non-unionized elves… but Santa the Justice League member? Hey, why not? After all, he’s a guy who can cover the world in just one night, so you know he’s got some major moves — and figuring out who’s naughty and nice among all the world’s children takes more deductive skills than any Dark Knight could muster. Anyway, this special tale by Mark Waid, Cliff Rathburn and Paul Neary takes the form of a bedtime story by Plastic Man, who’s trying to convince a little boy on Christmas Eve that Santa is indeed real. (And really, in a world with shapeshifting Martians and truck-juggling Kryptonians, the concept of a Santa Claus can’t be that hard of a sell.) In the story-within-a-story, Santa is trapped by the infernal deal-maker Neron on Christmas Eve, who ensnares Santa so he can harvest the psychic energy of millions of children anticipating his arrival (or something like that). After the Justice League is turned into coal by Neron’s magic, it’s up to Santa to “open himself up a can of whoop-elf” and deal with this naughty boy by doing the one thing to Neron that Santa does best. No, not heat vision, people. Sigh.
7. “Graduation Day” (Iron Man #254, 03/90)
Wow, when Tony Stark makes enemies, he doesn’t mess around. No surprise, it’s not the real Santa who’s depicted on this cover, and (spoiler alert!) no actual homicide involving Iron Man takes place inside. But there are plenty of homicides before we get to the main event; the man in the red suit is the most recent (and only) graduate of the Taskmaster’s School for Ruthless Trained Assassins, who killed the rest of his classmates for the honor of going up against Iron Man (I’m guessing Taskmaster has a strict cash-in-advance policy). Upon completing his studies, the student — now christened “Spymaster” — receives a ridiculous super-villainesque costume (complete with S-shaped belt buckle!) that would appear to be at odds with the whole point of the espionage game. No matter, though, as he uses his mastery of disguise to infiltrate a Stark Industries Christmas party to carry out his mission, only to get busted by a sharp-eyed little girl who notices Santa is packing heat. Smooth move, Spymaster. And of course, the big tin-plated wuss with his name on the book lets the bad guy walk rather than risk the safety of a bunch of kids. Stupid kids, always getting in the way of a good fight.
8. “Pariah!” (Daredevil #229, 04/86)
See what happens when you don’t throw enough change in the kettle? This unmerry cover image appeared during the classic “Born Again” storyline by Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli, in which the Kingpin learns of Daredevil’s secret identity and uses that knowledge to systematically dismantle Matt Murdock’s life. At this point, it’s Christmas Eve and Murdock is wandering delirious and in pain through the streets of New York City when he comes across two men trying to swipe Santa suits from charity workers they had just beaten up so they can con donations from the rich shoppers on the Upper East Side. Hardly in fighting form, Murdock takes a knife to the gut and drags himself to the gym where his father once trained as a boxer; he’s later found unconscious and close to death by a nun who whispers his name. Some other stuff happens in this issue, too, like reporter Ben Urich being violently dissuaded from investigating a story linking Daredevil and the Kingpin, and Foggy Nelson getting a taste of New York crime at Rockefeller Center, but in the end this really is the Matt Murdock Show… which only makes sense, come to think.
9. “You Never Make a Sound,” (Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #112, 03/86)
Ah, the ’80s — an innocent time when Peter Parker’s biggest challenges were avoiding his rent-obsessed landlady and keeping the trio of fashion models living next door from discovering his secret identity. In this particular issue, Parker is feeling a mite low on account of a series of misunderstandings that leave him feeling like there’s no place for him to go during the holidays. Meanwhile, a Macy’s store Santa Claus is jotting down all sorts of information in his little book, like the home address of a kid who sat on his lap and wouldn’t shut up about Mommy’s new VCR. Wouldn’t you know it — that kid happens to be the son of one of the models living next door to Parker. Later that night, the criminally inclined Claus breaks into the models’ apartment to steal their presents and other goodies, but a little fast thinking on Bambi’s part brings everyone’s favorite wall-crawler running to save the day. Only it’s not the Spectacular Spider-Man who ends up capturing the fleeing criminal on the roof of the building; instead, it’s an unseen man in a red suit who mutters: “Last year it was slasher films. Now it’s this. I’m not laughing.” Next thing you know, the ex-burglar is confessing his crimes and giving away wooden toys to needy children while taking time out to give Parker a message from “a friend”: “CALL YOUR AUNT! Merry Xmas.” Buh-huh????
10. “Slaying Song Tonight” (Batman Black and White #3, 08/96)
One of the odder Christmas tales in the Batman canon, “Slaying Song Tonight” by longtime Bat-scribe Dennis O’Neil and artist Teddy Kristiansen is a straightforward short story about Batman saving the life of a family on Christmas Eve from a hitman disguised as Santa Claus. It seems Phillip Benning’s testimony sent a very bad man to the electric chair, a man whose final order was the execution of Benning, his wife and young daughter. As you might imagine, Batman doesn’t tend to be the sort who feels the holiday spirit, especially when he’s on the hunt for a man willing to kill a child: “The life he’s fashioned from pain and rage allows for nothing as innocent as Christmas,” his inner voice muses as he waits on a rooftop for the hitman to make his move. He confronts the hitman in front of the Bennings’ home and offers him one chance to prove he’s the real Santa — or at least, that he’s there to spread nothing more than holiday cheer. Readers don’t get to see the fight following the page shown here, but no matter — the next page finds the Benning family indeed visited by someone dressed as Santa, who tells himself it’s the best Christmas he’s allowed himself to experience in a long, long time.
11. “Morton’s Fork” (Blade #4, 02/2007)
Got yourself one of those well-adjusted, happy kids? Well, this cover will take care of that. (Seriously, is Santa taking out his frustrations with his manicurist here?) Once exclusively a hunter of vampires, the half-vampire known as Blade has branched out in recent years thanks to someone tinkering with his bloodlust, turning it into a kind of “spidey sense” that senses when he’s near other supernatural beings. Whilst out Christmas shopping, his radar goes off when he sees a mall Santa who turns out to be a mortal shell for Animus, a “Level 9 demon” who specializes in jumping from body to body. As you can expect, Blade’s attempts to confront the mall Santa (and, as Animus jumps from body to body, a little girl and a security guard) do not go over well with shoppers, but his bigger problem is figuring out how to kill Animus without killing its host body. “Morton’s Fork” refers to an old phrase describing a situation in which two equally unpleasant options lead to the same unfortunate alternative — in this case, said “unfortunate alternative” being a final scene that would traumatize any youngster who still chooses to believe.
12. “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santron” (Marvel Holiday Special 2005, 01/2006)
Hands down one of the funniest superhero Christmas stories to come along in a long while, it’s also proof of what happens when too many people spike the eggnog at the annual Marvel Christmas party. The lowdown: It’s the Avengers’ annual Christmas party, and everybody is (as they say) in the house. And if gazing in awe at Iron Man’s radio-controlled mistletoe or Luke Cage’s (Sweet) Christmas sweater isn’t enough for you, try this on for size: solely because her younger self was once traumatized by the knowledge that Santa isn’t real, electronics genius Virgie Hanlon has created a Robot Santa to spread joy to all the children. Only one tiny glitch: when it comes online it also wants to kill all the Avengers, and so it heads out in its reindeer-drawn “slay” (sorry) to complete its programming. But wait! Somehow, Robot Santa ended up being yet another version of Avengers arch-baddie Ultron, who bamboozled young Virgie into giving him the hardware needed to carry out his eeee-vil schemes. How the heroes subdued him is just too awesome to reveal here, so let’s close out this piece with some stirring words from Captain America, who answers Hanlon’s question about whether she’s nuts for believing in Santa for so long: “To say there’s no Santa Claus? You might as well say there are no heroes… Some among us inspire childlike faith and wonder — they become more than people or even legends — they become ideals. As long as generosity and devotion exist to give life joy, there is a Santa Claus.” Sniff.