11 Comic Stories Featuring the Actual, No-Foolin’ Santa Claus Teaming Up with a Comic Book Character to Save the Day
1. Superman’s Christmas Adventure (1940)
And you want to know why else the Golden Age years were so golden? Writers in those early days were free to come up with just about any idea they could imagine, unfettered by such modern-day ideas as “continuity,” “maturity” or “making a damn lick of sense.” For instance, if some publishing executive wanted Superman and Santa to team up for a right jolly Christmas adventure just to sell a bunch of Superman merchandise, then by jingle that was what the kids were going to get. Published just two years after Superman’s debut, this one-shot special — printed as a promotional giveaway for stores like Macy’s — features Superman foiling the plans of Dr. Grouch and Mr. Meaney (yes, for real), who have plans to wreck Santa’s workshop and steal his reindeer, thus guaranteeing an unmerry Christmas for all. And of course Lois Lane gets tied to a rocket because that was kind of her shtick even in those early days. After showing the misanthropic malcontents the error of their ways by… er, giving them presents (it’s a Santa thing; you wouldn’t understand), Santa then comes to the rescue for some needy kids by offering up Superman toys, shirts and other merchandise. “Superman novelties are very popular this year,” he notes. You don’t say, old man, you don’t say…
2. “‘Twas the Fright Before Christmas” (DC Comics Presents #67, 03/84)
The generic title aside, DC Comics Presents was a fun way for fans of Superman and team-up stories to get their monthly dose of both, with the guest stars ranging from the predictable (Green Arrow, Flash, Wonder Woman) to the ultra-obscure (Captain Comet, anyone?). True trivia nerds can tell you only two issues in the series’ 97-issue run featured guest stars that were not DC-owned properties: #47, co-starring the Masters of the Universe toy line, and this issue. With words by E. Nelson Bridwell and Len Wein and art by the dynamic duo of Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson, “‘Twas the Fright” has everything you could ever ask from a Christmas tale: hypnosis-inducing toys, a maniacal toymaker, an adorable tyke named Timmy Dickins (geddit?), some fat dude with magical powers, a super-speed Christmas Eve mission to replace toys programmed for evil, and a requisite ending in which Superman wakes up and wonders if it all was just a dream… right before he reaches into his super-secret cape pocket and finds a long-lost Kryptonian plaything. Eerie.
3. “Jiminy Christmas” (Fables #56, 02/2007)
Bill Willingham’s brilliant series, which features nursery-rhyme and fairy-tale characters who are alive and living secretly among us in the “mundy” world, never makes it clear how the “fables” come to possess flesh and free will outside of the storybooks. What is clear throughout the series is that each fable’s level of importance and resistance to age or injury is directly proportional to the number of people who believe in or recognize him or her (which helps explain, for instance, why Rose Red is resentful of her far more famous sister). Is it any surprise, then, that one of the most famous fictional characters of all time plays a key role in this very special Christmas story? On one magical night, Santa visits a very special home and answers a young boy’s question about how he is able to deliver so many presents to all the deserving people in the world on Christmas Eve. Readers also learn that Santa and Bigby Wolf have a special arrangement to ensure no one ever gets their hands on Santa’s naughty list… and if you’re wondering why someone would ever want to get their hands on something like that, then you’re clearly not cut out for a life of evil.
4. “The World’s Greatest Detective” (The Sensational She-Hulk #8, 11/89)
The late ’80s were a grand time for fans of superhero levity. Early issues of 1987’s Justice League series are an obvious example; John Byrne’s run on Sensational She-Hulk is another. Never a character taken too seriously by fans, the She-Hulk was the perfect foil for Byrne (clearly still fond of her from his Fantastic Four days), who pitted her against the most ridiculous villains and predicaments, with Shulkie often breaking the fourth wall to complain to readers about the absurdity of it all. In this issue, our superhero attorney is approached by “Nick St. Christopher,” a bearded round man who has important information about the man she’s trying to convict on six counts of murder. “You see, Miss Walters… I always know who’s been naughty… and nice,” he explains. Do tell, little man. Details throughout the story hint at who this mysterious investigator really is, but when She-Hulk demands he confirm his identity, he replies, “Most of the readers have figured out who I am, anyway… although I’m sure they’re expecting some sort of twist at the end.” A twist like, say, Nick hinting there necessarily isn’t a Mrs. St. Christopher at home if She-Hulk feels a certain way? Oh, yes.
5. “The Seal Men’s War on Santa Claus” (The Best of DC Digest #22, 03/82)
Originally slated for Sandman #7 in 1976 and then rewritten to run in an issue of Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth, “The Seal Men’s War on Santa Claus” instead ended up shelved for five years due to the cancellation of both offbeat series. When it finally saw the light in this collection of Christmas-themed reprints, fans finally understood why: it was clearly too mind-blowing in its awesomeness to be released under Jimmy Carter’s watch (or something like that). Our story finds the Sandman (not Gaiman’s baby, the other one) goaded into action by the pleas of a small boy to help prove Santa Claus exists… only to find himself battling a tribe of Seal Men at war with Santa Claus because Old Man Kringle accidentally gave them gloves and scuba diving equipment (the ultimate insult to a bunch of flipper-waving water lovers, apparently). Naturally, this leads to Santa and Sandman getting into a fistfight with the Seal People before everything gets resolved. Do I even need to mention the bitter old man who finally realizes his dream of helping Santa deliver presents? Or the greedy nephew who nearly murders Santa and the boy just to secure his uncle’s millions? Or that this freakshow of a tale was drawn and written by a seriously tripping Jack Kirby? (For those who want to see this story in its full insanity, this blogger has posted all 18 pages on his site.)
6. “The Year Without a Christmas” (Shazam! #11, 12/73)
This one is a bit of a cheat, as there’s very little here in terms of a team-up between Santa and the Marvel Family. Still, in a make-believe universe with talking tigers and malevolent mindworms ambling about, a dude in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer isn’t going to stand out that much. Just as the clock strikes midnight and the Marvel Family prepares to enjoy another Christmas Day (because apparently Christmas Day is a stay-up-‘til-midnight holiday in Captain Marvel’s hometown), a mysterious force causes time to speed up to the point that Dec. 25 blurs past in mere minutes. The culprits, of course, are the evil Sivana family, who plot to ruin Christmas for everyone because… well, what else do you expect mad scientists to do? Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. fly off to investigate when they nearly collide in midair with a visibly distraught Santa Claus, who helps out the heroes by pointing them in the right direction re: who’s behind this insidious fast-forwarding of time. The fact that it turns out to be the same evil genius behind everything else that happens in Captain Marvel’s life… OK, fine, it wasn’t exactly a towering feat of deduction, but at least the old man helped them out, a’ight?
7. “A Miracle a Few Blocks Down from 34th Street” (Marvel Holiday Special #1, 1991)
Our story begins with Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Wolverine and Banshee receiving a call from Cerebro on December 24. The mutant detector has detected the most powerful mutant ever registered, and he or she appears to be at New York City’s Rockefeller Center, where the X-Men had arranged to meet with some friends. But they aren’t the only ones keen to find this new mutant: members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants are also racing to intercept him or her. A fight breaks out only to end with the sudden disappearance of the Brotherhood, who are replaced by toys featuring their likenesses. A man in a Santa Claus suit then identifies himself as “Kris Kringle” and teleports the X-Men several blocks away with no memory of the incident, but they and the rest of New York are amazed to see snow fall from the sky, giving the city its first white Christmas in years. So — not so much a team-up as a reminder that Santa can mess with y’all whenever he feels like it, so be good… or else.
8. “The Spectre of Christmas” (The Spectre #12, 02/2002)
Between the Jim Corrigan and Crispus Allen versions of the Spectre, there existed Hal Jordan, the former Green Lantern seeking redemption for past misdeeds caused by really crappy editorial decisions. Casting Jordan as the DC universe’s spirit of vengeance was not without its controversies, especially among fans who wished DC would hurry the hell up and get the guy back in his proper union suit already. All the same, the 2001 Spectre series featured a few interesting stories, including this one that saw the Spectre come face to face with Santa Claus himself, who implores his help for an important mission. Naturally, Jordan’s first thought is that some evil entity has plucked a trusting image from his mind to lower his defences, but the man in the red suit soon gains the Spectre’s trust by insisting he’s real enough: “The mind… as you well know… is the source of all creation! So it stands to reason that anything that man imagines has form — existence! If not in the alleged real world — then on another plane… in another realm! And here is where our finest Christmases… not the ones we’ve lived so much as the ones we’ve longed for… manifest and come to life.” In the words of the great Keanu: Whoa.
9. “Yes, Jubilee…There Is a Santa Claus” (Generation X Holiday Special #1, 02/99)
The holidays are nothing without their traditions, be they decorating a tree, baking special cookies, or orphaning a mutant child on Christmas Eve. That last one is a particular favorite of Nanny and the Orphan Maker, two evil mutant hunters who make a point of kidnapping young mutants and killing their parents (all together now: fa la la la la la la la la). Upsetting their ritual this year is a young bullying victim named Matthew and the Generation X team, who have a showdown with Orphan Maker in (where else?) a mall. Jubilee then stops O.M. from killing the parents of Matthew’s tormentor, but she’s later shocked to find Matthew and Santa Claus(!) strapped to a chair. It seems Matthew has kidnapped Santa, reasoning that detaining the jolly elf will hurt the bully by depriving him of his Christmas presents. A re-appearance by Orphan Maker at just the right time moves the plot along, with Santa reminding him he’s a bad boy who still has a chance to make things right. Everything ends on a happy note, and Jubilee is pleased to awaken on Christmas morning happier than she has been in a long time — because God forbid we should ever forget who the star of this “team” title really is.
10. “A Christmas for Carol!” (Howard the Duck Magazine #3, 02/80)
Fans of Marvel’s 1970s output need no introduction to Howard, the cigar-chomping duck forced to wear pants in a world he never made (stupid Disney lawyers). In this story, Howard is attempting to console a young girl named Carol who has lost her Christmas spirit because the holidays only serve to remind her of her parents’ Yuletide break-up. When what to their wondering eyes should appear but Santa Claus himself, crash-landing in front of Howard’s Cleveland home because his sleigh ran out of gas (because, you see, the ASPCA has been on Santa’s case about using reindeer as transportation). Well, a quick fill-up is all that’s needed to get Santa back to the North Pole with his new friends, and just in time, too — for in his absence, Pinball Lizard and Greedy Killerwatt (snerk) have turned some of Santa’s elves into trolls and forced the rest to make shoddy toys as part of Killerwatt’s bizarre scheme for revenge against the world. And if that weren’t bad enough, the North Pole’s nuclear plant (just work with me here) is threatening a meltdown, and Santa and Howard must battle their way through mutated seals, polar bears and penguins to shut it down and save the world. Wait a minute: penguins at the North Pole? Now that’s just silly.
11. “Herbie Claus is Coming to Town!” (Herbie #14, 12/64-1/65)
Forget talking ducks, or rampaging seal-men, or clocks that speed up time — it doesn’t get any crazier than this. Referred to as a “fat little nothing” by his disapproving father, Herbie is a quiet, bespectacled kid who can do pretty much anything with the help of his ever-present lollipops. Talking to animals, advising world leaders, enchanting beautiful women, repelling alien invasions — it’s all in a day’s work for this taciturn fellow. In this story, the kids of the world are looking forward to receiving all kinds of presents, but all Herbie wants is a box of Jolly-Pops. In fact, he wants them so badly he stays up on Christmas Eve to watch Santa deliver the goods, but after a while he gets bored and uses his “strange powers” to see what else is happening in the world. Tuning into the North Pole, he witnesses Santa and his crew being held at gunpoint by a gaggle of gangsters. “You’re not ridin’ tonight, Santa!” one of them growls. “The way we’ve figured it, if the kids don’t get their Christmas presents, they’re bound to set up a big howl –- and folks would pay anything to get the presents to give them! Well –- they’re gonna hafta pay us, see?” Intent on rescuing Santa, Herbie ice-skates through the air toward the North Pole past a trio of penguins (again with the penguins!). Dispatching the goons with the help of giant ornaments, Herbie discovers a new problem: Santa has sprained his ankle and needs help with his annual flight. And that, children, is how a little round boy with a bowl cut and a supply of magical lollipops saved Christmas 1964, even taking time to deliver a kiss to a comely Elizabeth Taylor (“and I thought Richard Burton was something!” she swoons). Of course, that was back when kissing a movie star meant something.