12 Comic Stories That Are More or Less Inspired by Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol
1. “A Christmas Carol,” Classics Illustrated #53 (Gilberton, 11/48)
This is the earliest instance I can find of A Christmas Carol appearing in comic-book form and I’m too lazy to confirm if it’s the first-ever adaptation, so let’s just agree to say it is. Typical of the Classics Illustrated oeuvre, Gilberton’s ACC is faithful to the original text (if understandably abridged), hitting all the highlights in the original classic. American children who relied on this comic for their Yuletide book reports were also well served by the occasional footnotes that defined Britishisms unfamiliar to a mid-century American youngster, including gruel (“boiled cereal”), pound (“a pound is worth aprox. $5.00”), farthing (“half a cent”) and, um, apprentice (“one who is learning a trade”). Guess Trump wasn’t a household name back in those days. And if that ain’t enough learnin’ for ya, the story is followed by biographies of Charles Dickens and Sir Henry Bessemer, the Englishman who perfected the manufacturing of steel in the mid-19th century after several failed attempts to create a stronger iron alloy. Sadly, history is silent on whether Bessemer was inspired by the spectral realm to keep trying.
2. “The TT’s Swingin’ Christmas Carol,” Teen Titans #13 (DC, 01-02/68)
“Inspired by the immortal pages of the greatest Yuletide classic of them all,” this story finds the Titans taking time out from battling the likes of Mad Mod and Ding Dong Daddy to help a fellow named Ebenezer Scrounge find some Christmas spirit. This particular miser, who pays his sole employee barely enough to allow him to afford an electric wheelchair for his son, owns a junkyard that he occasionally leases to a mysterious Mr. Big. Nothing too shady so far, but then we find out Mr. Big’s men have a portable gizmo that somehow turns junk into brand new merchandise. Because this is illegal for some reason (maybe recycling was a felony back in the ’60s?) and young Tom Ratchet (sigh) fears for his father’s safety, he alerts the Titans to the nefarious enterprise, and they decide to get Scrounge to turn a new leaf by impersonating Dickens’s familiar spirits. It nearly works as Scrounge is reduced to a blubbering mass, but then Wonder Girl (getting into character as the Ghost of Christmas Future by wearing a red-and-white fur mini-skirt ensemble) gets clipped by a bad guy’s bullet and the rest of the team have to rush in to save her. And then they all get trapped by a magnetic tree-shaped mound of trash. Seriously. Long story short: Scrounge has a change of heart, he saves the day, they use the gizmo to turn Tom’s wheelchair into a way-cool electric model, and a mysterious Eastern syndicate pays off the Titans and hides the device in a giant warehouse next to the Ark of the Covenant and the car that runs forever on a tank of gas. I may have made up that last plot point.
3. “A Christmas Carol,” Marvel Classics Comics #36 (Marvel, 1978)
“Stan Lee Presents… A Christmas Carol.” Not on your best day, Stan. Though it’s tempting to wonder how Marvel’s editor emeritus would have written the Christmas classic: “Zounds and gadzooks, true believers! Can you believe the crazy happenings our ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Ebenezer is getting mixed up in now? Things are really starting to get spirited around here! Excelsior!” With script by Doug Moench and art by, no joke, “diverse hands” (an appropriate snub of the talent, given the subject matter), this books retells a familiar story with the usual Marvel flourishes: exaggerated reaction shots, the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present looking especially buff, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come clad in floor-length purple robe and hood, much like Marvel’s interpretation of Death through much of the ’70s and ’80s. Seriously, between this, the Hulk’s pants, and every super-villain costume from the ’70s, you have to wonder who was getting rich making sure the Marvel office supply closet was kept well-stocked with Indigo #7.
4. “The Great Christmas Caper,” Archie Giant Series Magazine #478 (Archie, 01/79)
Of course, not all stories referencing A Christmas Carol are straight-out adaptations. In this holiday tale, Archie is working part-time at a jewelry store to make some Christmas scratch. Not bad as these plans tend to go, but he has the rotten luck of working for Uriah Scourge, a mean and wealthy man who’s so cheap he wears a tattered overcoat to score free meals down at the soup kitchen. We also know he’s bad news because he calls his customers chumps, chases away youthful carolers blocking his store entrance and orders Archie to chase after an armed robber who steals the day’s receipts. Skipping the whole “visits from three spirits” deal, Scourge realizes life isn’t all about money after the robber, who sees the cops closing in, ditches the evidence by throwing the stolen cash into a street Santa’s charity pot — and Archie gently reminds Scourge the surrounding shoppers might not look kindly upon him trying to reclaim money from Santa that he can’t prove is his. No supernatural happenings, for sure, but a pleasant enough outing for America’s favorite teenaged Bob Cratchit.
5. “A Christmas Carol – 1985,” The Outsiders #5 (DC, 03/86)
Originally set up as Batman’s personal strike force when he had a falling out with the Justice League, the original Outsiders struggled to find a way to set themselves apart from all the other 1980s do-gooder super-teams with apparently limitless funding and no credible reason for such a disparate group of people to stay together. The result was a series (two, for a while) that…. well, let’s just say many envelopes were left unpushed by the writers’ efforts. In this issue, we learn that Eben Mudge (yikes) started out as a humble and honest accountant who joined the mob after his business partner, Harold Morley, falls ill and dies (“no money for doctors,” Morley croaks from his deathbed, no doubt thinking too late a mid-career move to Canada might have been a good idea). Fast forward 40 years, and the Outsiders have taken it upon themselves to convince Mudge to testify against his soon-to-retire boss (mob bosses retire? Do they get stolen gold watches for their years of service?). And given the many convenient similiarities between Mudge and Scrooge — His partner died on Christmas Eve! He hates Christmas! He has an estranged nephew! He’s old and nobody likes him! — obviously the only way to convince him to snitch on his criminal employers is to use mind-control drugs and artful displays of super powers to put old Mudge through his own Christmas Carol hell. Yeah, that all sounds nice and legal. God help us, everyone.
6. “A Christmas Card,” Marvel Comics Presents #18 (Marvel, 05/89)
Marvel published this biweekly series in the late ’80s and 1990s to give its supporting characters a stage to strut their stuff; this special Christmas issue featured Willlie Lumpkin, the Fantastic Four’s longtime letter carrier. After delivering a mountain of cards to the team’s Manhattan headquarters, Willie heads home for a quiet Christmas Eve watching Mister Magoo (ask your parents) and nods off to sleep. We next see a spirit floating above the city and looking for the “miserly degenerate” who’s supposed to be receiving the ol’ Scrooge treatment that night, but the spirit gets confused and ends up at Willie’s place by mistake. Despite his protests, Willie is taken on a rough ride through his past, present and future, a ride in which readers learn his sweetheart left his younger self for a more ambitious fellow, the FF once accidentally left him in a closet for six hours while fighting the Super-Skrull, and his funeral — while well attended — will come about because of an unfortunate encounter with one of the mail carrier’s greatest natural enemies. Bummer! When his tombstone reveals he was a nice guy, the spirit suddenly realizes his error and disappears, leaving Willie to yell “Bah! Humbug!” when the FF come knocking to spread some Christmas cheer. So… mission accomplished, then?
7. “A Christmas Carol,” Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Michelangelo Christmas Special (Mirage, 12/90)
The heroes in a half-shell have gone through many incarnations over the years,
but one of the things that remains constant is Raphael’s surliness and general annoyance with life. One wintry evening, as the other turtles enjoy some eggnog and tree trimming, Raph starts ranting about all the “Christmas crap” that’s taking over his TV, leading to him storming out of the apartment to get away from all the “kissing and smiling and false sentiment” (um, so is there a lot of kissing going on in the sewers, Raph?). A slip on an icy rooftop sends him plummeting into an empty alleyway, and he falls asleep in the snow. Right on cue, the Ghost of Christmas Past appears in the form of a homeless guy, followed by a Ghost of Christmas Present bag lady and a Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come who reveals Raph’s possible future: living as a one-eyed crazy turtle in a swamp, with no brothers or Splinter in sight. It’s enough to shake Raph out of his holiday funk and wish the other guys a merry Christmas… from a rooftop across the street. It’s a start, right?
8. “Sonic’s Christmas Carol,” Sonic the Hedgehog #6 (Archie, 01/94)
Here’s everything I know about Sonic the Hedgehog: he’s a hedgehog, he’s fast, he’s starred in a few video games over the years and… wait. His comic series, which I only learned existed while researching this list, started in 1993 and is still being published today? Mind-boggling. Anyway, the book’s cast puts on a production of A Christmas Carol, with Sonic playing all three spirits, the evil Dr. Robotnik as Scrooge, Rotor as Bob Cratchit, Princess Acorn as Mrs. Cratchit, and so on. If you need help wondering which age level they were shooting for with this story, Sonic’s Ghost of Christmas Present is just Sonic wearing a giant gift-wrapped box (get it?), and Robotnik’s Scrooge is literally pinching two pennies while berating his employee for calling him a penny-pincher. Juvenile entertainment in the best sense of the word, though you have to wonder how Dickens would feel about his classic story being retold by a Sega mascot. He definitely seemed more the Nintendo 64 type.
9. “The Ghosts of Christmas,” Monster Fighters Inc.: The Ghosts of Christmas (Image, 12/99) “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the place, they were screaming and yelling in each others’ face…” This short-lived series by writer J. Torres featured a team of teenagers with super-powers (but no costumes) who live together and occasionally save the world as professional monster fighters. Bickering, hormone-fueled melodrama and glib conversations were the order of the day; if Joss Whedon wasn’t getting a royalty check after each issue, I’d be very surprised. Anyway, tensions boil over one wintry night and some team members say they’re quitting the team before storming off to their rooms for the night… but then three of them receive night-time visits from ghosts who, in the guises of people from their pasts, show them scenes from their past, present and potential future. All’s well in the end as the teammates learn the importance of sticking together and wake up the next morning to eat pancakes and answer a call about “a green goblin thief of some sort” who came down someone’s chimney and cleaned out the house on Christmas Eve. Don’t forget that smug little mutt of his, too!
10. “Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: A Complete Bastardization of a Piece of Classic Literature,” The Goon #10 (Dark Horse, 12/2000)
And now prepare yourself for what may be the most awesome adaptation of A Christmas Carol ever conceived. Eric Powell’s The Goon, as Wikipedia tells us in its delightfully prosaic way, “has a paranormal slant, with the average story concerning ghosts, ghouls, skunk-apes with an unnatural hunger for pies, extra-dimensional aliens, and mad scientists.” You had me at skunk-apes, Eric. Much like the Sonic gang, the cast of The Goon act as if they’re in a stage production of A Christmas Carol, with the Goon (a hulking mob boss) appearing as the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Nameless Man (the zombie master who acts as the Goon’s arch-nemesis) taking on the starring role. What’s bloody brilliant about the story is that the characters hit all the major plot points but remain true to their own vicious and sadistic personalities throughout the story; enjoy the carnage as the Ghost of Christmas Past beats the crap out of Scrooge for walking out on a fiancée who wasn’t rich enough for his liking. Of course, that’s nothing compared to the beating Scrooge gets from the Ghost of Christmas Present for not doing enough to help the violently alcoholic Bob Cratchit or his poor son Tiny Tim, represented here by a full-grown, drooling mental defective prone to soiling himself when placed on his father’s lap. “DOD BESSUS EBEY UN!” he cries. Dod bessus ebey un, indeed…
11. “The Spectre of Christmas,” The Spectre #12 (DC, 02/2002)
At this point in time, Hal “formerly known as Green Lantern” Jordan was doing the penance thing as the Spectre, and one of the more interesting stories from his short tenure as DC’s resident spirit of vengeance saw him coming face to face with the actual Santa Claus. Well, “actual” is a relative term: as Kris Kringle explains it, “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.” Whoa. And just as there must be a happy Christmas-themed funland somewhere in metaphysical space because humanity wished it into existence, there must also be its complete opposite: a dark, joyless place resembling the worst Victorian slum you can imagine, populated by everyone who ever felt cheated by the holidays and ruled over by Santa’s antithesis, Ebenezer Scrooge (yes, he found happiness in the end of his tale, but as he explains to the Spectre, Dickens was so damn good at describing Scrooge’s miserable existence that he’s doomed to be forever remembered as a miser and misanthrope). No brownie points for guessing how many spirits it took to get this Scrooge to lighten up.
12. “Jonah’s Holiday Carol,” Marvel Holiday Special 2004 (Marvel, 01/2005)
Remember that wayward spirit haunting poor Willy Lumpkin? Care to guess the name of the miserly fellow whom he was supposed to haunt instead? Why, it was none other than J. Jonah Jameson, infamous scourge of Spider-Man and Daily Bugle employees alike. He would have to wait a few more years to get the Dickens special, though. In this story, Jameson is harr-umphing about the holidays and the money it always costs him when he falls asleep while watching TV in his office. Naturally, the set is tuned to a showing of A Christmas Carol, and naturally Jameson starts dreaming about three Spirits of Christmas in the forms of Captain America, the Thing and Spider-Man. It’s a bit of a stretch to suggest Jameson’s stinginess and ambivalence about the holidays (the guy did lose his wife to violence when their son was young, so let’s cut the guy a little slack) will directly lead to a super-villain takeover of New York City, and the plot resembles that of a less memorable 1980s sitcom presenting its own take on the classic tale. But the story sticks the landing by showing us in the end that, while Jameson is indeed capable of opening up his heart to his employees and his estranged son, he’ll still be damned if anyone expects him to pay an outrageous catering bill.