13 Superhero Stories Out to Evoke the Spirit of Christmas by Pulling a Lone Tear from a Jaded Fanboy’s Eye
1. “Small Miracles” (Marvel Team-Up #127, 03/83)
“He knows when you are sleeping/He knows when you’re awake…” of course we’re referring to the Watcher, Marvel’s cosmic voyeur to the human drama. Most Marvel Team-Up stories were slight affairs, teaming Spider-Man with an array of underused and obscure Marvel characters for trademark-renewing entertainment. In this “special Christmas issue,” though, writer J.M. DeMatteis opted for something a little more sentimental than the average slugfest, allowing readers to learn that yes, even a Watcher can cry. It’s a snowy Christmas Eve in New York City, and Peter Parker drops in on his Aunt May and her boarders as they ready themselves for the holidays. One of them is saddened because his estranged granddaughter, the only family he has left, is nowhere to be found. Before you know it, Spider-Man is summoned outside by the Watcher, whom Spidey has never met, and so he’s confused when this imposing and seemingly all-powerful alien being hands him a sphere showing the missing woman’s face. What follows are pages of Spider-Man running down leads and despairing at ever finding her (but it’s nothing a rooftop pep talk from a conveniently located Captain America can’t cure). Near the end, we learn why she has been so hard to find (spoiler: it involves bad people) and why an otherwise aloof alien would concern himself with the fate of one mere human. “To stand eon after eon, bearing mute witness to the flow of life, shrivels the heart… desiccates the soul,” he ponders, gazing skyward. “Can I be blamed, then, for setting aside one night — a night so precious to the children of Earth — to remind myself that creation knows no great or small?” Sniff.
2. “The Silent Night of the Batman” (Batman #219, 02/70)
When modern fans think of the Batman, they tend to imagine him as a grim, relentless elemental force of justice. Not the kind of person, in other words, who might be prone to hanging around police headquarters on Christmas Eve and singing Christmas carols with his brothers in blue. Pity. This eight-page story by Mike Friedrich, Neal Adams and Dick Giordano is often held up as the quintessential superhero Christmas story, and for good reason: on a snowy Christmas Eve in Gotham City, Commissioner Gordon summons Batman via the Bat-Signal just so the Dark Knight won’t have to spend Christmas Eve alone. Batman relents and joins some officers in a round of Christmas carols… only to discover, many hours later, that the precinct didn’t receive one crime-related call from anyone for the entire night. No muggings, no robberies, no gunfights, nada. That’s right, gang — even Batman’s singing voice fights crime! Or, as is more likely, Friedrich was — via the little vignettes showing Gotham’s citizenry engaged in random acts of kindness whilst Batman crooned — simply saying the world would be a better place if we all tried to make someone else happy during the holidays. Hey, whatever it takes to get more superheroes singing, I’m all for it.
3. “Silent Night, Deadly Night” (Batman #239, 02/72)
The early ’70s were an interesting time for Batman. While pros like Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams brought him back to his dark roots after an era of TV-induced campiness, a new generation of writers aching to inject a dose of social commentary into the comics often cast him as a cape-and-cowled social worker. Case in point: “Silent Night, Deadly Knight,” a tale that starts with Batman on the hunt for a man who has been robbing street corner Santas in the weeks leading up to Christmas. He tracks the man, Tim, down to his shabby apartment on Christmas Eve, where he learns Tim was acting out of desperation, having just lost his job at a toy factory and no money to buy medicine for his sick niece. In one of Batman’s less noteworthy moments, he inadvertently convinces the man to focus his rage on his former employer rather than the world at large; a bonk to the Bat-skull later, and the man is off to kill his miserly boss. When Batman awakes, he finds himself alone with the man’s niece, and so he brings her with him in the Batmobile and promptly gets stuck on a deserted road during a snowstorm. So, knowing Tim could be at his ex-boss’s home already, Batman makes the courageous decision to… carry a sick child through a blizzard so she could witness her uncle commit a horrible crime? (Memo to self: Do not let Batman babysit the little ones.) How they survive the elements and arrive at the old man’s house in time is just too awesome to describe in mere words, so enjoy the image above. Of course, the story ends on a happy note with Batman helping the man, the child, and the miserly old toymaker discover new lives for themselves on that most magical of nights. Syrupy? Perhaps. But that’s the ’70s Batman for you — a caring, mellow kind of dude, and proud of it.
4. “Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot” (Christmas with the Super-Heroes #2, 1989)
In the late ’80s, DC put out two books titled Christmas with the Super-Heroes; the first was a collection of Yuletide reprints, while the second featured all-new stories about the season. The second issue was also a fairly depressing affair, with such sobering tableaux as Superman convincing a man with a degenerative disease not to shoot himself, or Wonder Woman gabbing about faith and religion with her teenaged groupie. Fun. The Deadman story has them all beat, though, and not just because it stars a dead guy who can only experience Christmas by possessing someone else’s body (and, in the process, prevent that other person from having any memories of the holiday). He’s feeling pretty down about being a ghost during the holidays until he meets someone who has it even worse: a young woman who reminds him that being a hero means doing the right thing even when no one knows about it. And she knows what she’s talking about: she’s the spirit of Kara Zor-El, the Supergirl who was declared “never existed” during DC’s big Crisis on Infinite Earths event just a few years before. On the upside: Deadman finally gets to share a Christmas moment with someone who can see him.
5. “Christmas Knight” (Starman #27, 02/97)
By all means, try to find your way past the groan-inducing title (“Knight” being the last name of the titular hero). Once that’s done, settle in and enjoy the heart-warming story of a hero who helps out a homeless man on Christmas Eve. James Robinson’s revival of the Starman character was a much-needed breath of freshness in the testosterone-laden ’90s, as the series presented an average man who used his powers to help his city, often in the smallest ways. Here, for instance, Jack is heading to a Christmas dinner when he spots a man in a Santa suit crying on a park bench. He quickly learns the man is homeless (he lost his wife, child, livelihood and home in quick succession) and someone has taken the gold locket containing the only photos he has left of his dead family. Also, the Santa suit? It’s the only clothing he has to wear after someone tossed out his street clothes while he was working as a store Santa. Anyone out there who doesn’t think this story will end with Starman finding the locket and inviting the man home to enjoy a sumptuous meal? No? All right, then.
6. “The Door of the Solstice” (The Spectre #26, 02/95)
If Christmas Eve is not a night for miracles to happen, then what, pray tell, is the point? In the spirit of giving, the Spectre (normally not someone given to displays of sentiment or charity during the holidays… or any other time, really) promises his friend, Father Craemer, a Christmas Eve in which no one in New York City will die by another person’s hand. After issuing a stern warning to the entire city, the Spectre is angered by the actions of a quartet of gangbangers who ignore his edict and shoot an innocent man. Arriving on the scene, the Spectre is about to get vengeful on their now-quaking gangsta asses, but he defers punishment to honor his pledge; while he cannot undo what was done, he gives both the victim and his assailants one last Christmas Eve to share with their families before he comes back to collect what’s due. The man then attends midnight mass with his wife and children knowing he’ll be dead in the morning, while the gang member who pulled the trigger shows up at the same church and tearfully confesses to Father Craemer, who then chastises the Specte for missing the point of… well, all of Christianity, really. Point taken: the following morning, the shooting victim wakes up fully healed and the shooter’s life is spared… but the other gang members are reborn as babies, a chance to forge better lives for themselves.
7. “Merry Mosaic” (Green Lantern: Mosaic #9, 02/93)
Published shortly before DC decided to turn Hal Jordan into a homicidal basketcase, GL: Mosaic was a series that, if not always hitting the mark, was based on an intriguing premise. After an insane Guardian of the Universe uses his powers to transport entire cities from planets across the universe to his homeworld, John Stewart is tasked with keeping the peace among the wildly disparate communities that now have no choice but to learn to live together. In this special holiday issue, writer Gerard Jones has Stewart and friends hosting a holiday gathering of representatives from some of the more open alien species, a gathering in which readers learn that (1) every sentient culture appears to have its own winter solstice/end of year celebration; (2) cherishing childhood traditions are often the only way to keep hope alive in seemingly hopeless times; and (3) It’s a Wonderful Life, “with that strange sense of violence and terror,” is about a hell of a lot more than some angel earning his wings. Plus, fair warning: your breath will be taken every time you read Tomar-Tu’s account of how Xush-Nut-Nut saw the rainbow.
8. “Snow” (Marvel Fanfare #1, 03/82)
An anthology title at a time when that was a rare thing to see, Marvel Fanfare was intended to be a showcase for writers and artists, as seen by the thicker paper stock and ad-free layouts. In this forgotten gem of a tale, writer Roger Mackenzie and artists Paul Smith and Terry Austin introduce Lewis, an old man working as a street-corner Santa when a group of drug-addicted punks steal his kettle money and leave him beaten in an alley (that was the ’80s for you; every group of muggers was strung out on drugs and featured at least one dude with a Mohawk). When Lewis doesn’t show up at a Christmas party to play Santa for the kids, Matt Murdock dons his own red suit and goes out searching for him, only to discover the old man’s Christmas spirit broken by the attack. Naturally, this enrages Daredevil to the point of seeking out the attackers and chasing down their drug connection (who bears a striking resemblance to, like, every male ’70s porn star… and also that guy Wonder Girl married), who ends up returning the money that was stolen from Lewis in an ending that reads like a mashup of O. Henry and the Coen brothers.
9. “Have Yourself a Sandman Little Christmas” (Marvel Team-Up #1, 03/72)
Hypothetically speaking, let’s say someone hogties you and a friend together and throws the two of you into a water tower. Even if it’s just for laughs and nobody ends up drowning, it’s fair to assume you would be less than inclined to do the man a solid, especially if he’s a wanted super-felon who later asks you for five minutes alone with his mother in an easy-to-escape-from room. Christmas Eve or no, that kind of thing just does not go down. But try to explain that to bleeding-heart heroes like Spider-Man and the Human Torch who, after a huge battle with the Sandman, let him slip away because he just wants to see his sick mother (whom he only comes back to visit once a year, mind, so yeah, “Momma’s little angel” right over here). They relent and he escapes, but that’s okay because it’s Christmas, and it gives the heroes an excuse to team up in the next issue to take him down. This story made the list because it was the spirit of Christmas that motivated the heroes to give a crumb-bum like the Sandman a break, and not because the story, sloppily written even by Marvel’s 1970s standards, is likely to give readers any warm feelings…. unless you count the warm feeling of pee dribbling down your leg because you’re laughing so hard at Johnny Storm’s swingin’ Seventies fashion sense. A blue kerchief and purple vest atop a paisley green shirt? You go, Superfly!
10. “‘Twas the Night” (Uncanny X-Men #230, 06/88)
This Christmas tale came along shortly after the “Fall of the Mutants” storyline, which saw the X-Men “die” on national television. Choosing to make the best of their new, formally deceased status, the team sets up shop in a former enemy’s base of operations in the Australian outback and relies on an Aboriginal teleporter to travel the world undetected (this was back when everything Australian was cool in the U.S.; see also “Crocodile Dundee” and “that one dude from the Energizer commercials”). Team member Longshot discovers a cave full of stolen goods and his psychic powers allow him to “read” the stories of each piece of treasure, which readers learn are sad because they were stolen from the people who cherished them the most. The team then decides to return everything, using a combination of Longshot’s powers and some computer sleuthing to track down the rightful owners. Only when most of the items have been secretly returned does the team realize it’s now Christmas morning, which they celebrate by giving a bicycle to one of their own and offering a piece of cake and a flute to their silent teleporter. Heartwarming, to be sure, and just a little bit creepy, once you start contemplating the emotional lives of appliances.
11. “Home for the Holidays” (The Adventures of Superman #462, 01/90)
One of the first Christmas stories starring the post-Crisis Superman, Roger Stern’s “Home for the Holidays” offered readers a rare glimpse into the daily lives of Daily Planet staffers other than those named Lois, Clark, Jimmy or Perry. Clark is about to leave for his new job as editor of Newstime magazine when the staff throws him a surprise going-away party. During a quiet moment, he slips away from the festivities to think about his career when he hears a noise in a nearby stockroom. He finds Alice, a staffer sitting on a sleeping bag and crying; she later confesses to living at the Planet because her late mother’s medical bills plunged her into debt and she had nowhere else to go. This bit of news throws a damper on the evening’s festivities; later, in Perry’s office, the gruff editor now thinks back to all the times he joked about Alice always being at the office and not realizing how true that was. The rest of the story consists of excerpts from Perry’s editorial about homelessness interspersed with images of Planet staffers helping the poor, and it ends with Perry bringing Alice home to spend the holidays with him and his wife. Oh, and he figures Alice is owed a lot of overtime for all the hours she put in at the office outside of her normal workday, and he pledges to help her get what’s coming to her. A touch on the heavy-handed side at times, it’s nonetheless a touching reminder to remember the less fortunate among us… by which I mean anyone still depending on the newspaper business as a source of income.
12. “Silent Night, Silent Morning” (Captain America #50, 02/2002)
Back in 2001, Marvel put out a month’s worth of titles that featured no dialogue or captions, calling it “‘Nuff Said” in honor of Stan Lee’s famous catchphrase. Writer/penciller Dan Jurgens decided to make his silent story a Christmas tale as well, wordlessly introducing readers to Lloyd, a man laid off from his Manhattan office job on Christmas Eve. He arrives home that evening too ashamed to tell his wife and children the news, though the lack of presents under the tree makes it clear this is a home where financial stress has been the norm. He takes the last of his money to a toy store to buy presents when Captain America comes flying through the wall, quickly followed by Crusher Creel, the shirtless menace known as the Absorbing Man. Long story short: Creel tried to rob the bank next door, he and Cap fight, Lloyd gets the bright (albeit suicidal) idea to fly a remote-controlled plane right into the villain’s face. When Lloyd later learns Creel was only trying to get enough money to buy a present for his sick wife, Lloyd uses his reward money to buy presents for his family and also act as a “secret Santa” on Creel’s behalf. If you disregard the implausible timeline (he thwarts a robbery, gets a reward, finds places still open on Christmas Eve and tracks down Creel’s home address in the span of, what, a few hours?), the story does a fine enough job invoking the spirit of giving… and extolling the benefits of last-minute Christmas shopping.
13. “White Christmas” (The Batman Adventures Holiday Special #1, 01/95)
Fans of the 1990s Batman animated series will recognize three of the four stories in this special from the 1997 “Holiday Knights” episode of The New Batman Adventures; the fourth, in which Mr. Freeze escapes Arkham on Christmas Eve, didn’t make it into the episode. That’s a shame, because it’s easily the most tear-inducing of the four — which isn’t all that hard, considering Freeze’s tragic origin (dead wife, scientific mishap, etc.). After retrieving an experimental snow maker, Freeze proceeds to gift Gotham with a very white Christmas, which Batman deduces is just part of Freeze’s ongoing vendetta against the warm-blooded world. Not so much, it turns out, as it’s revealed that Freeze, who was married on a snowy Christmas Eve, only wanted to honor his dead wife’s memory. “Nora loved the snow,” he says, caressing her headstone. “I thought it… sad that there should be none this year. And I wouldn’t want my Nora to be sad tonight.” Sniff. No, that’s just my allergies acting up, I swear…