If you’re sick and tired of constant showings of It’s a Wonderful Life and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, then treat yourself to some holiday festivities superhero style. These 12 stories are among the very best superhero holiday-themed comics of all time, demonstrating how Christmas miracles and peace on Earth are not just reserved for claymation characters. So roast up a pan of chestnuts, spice some egg nog and have a very caped and cowled Christmas:
12. Superman’s Christmas Adventure
One of the very first DC Christmas Specials to ever be published, this 1940 tale from Jerry Siegel and Jack Burnley is pure Golden Age camp. But it’s also absolutely memorable and a true holiday classic in every sense of the word.
What starts out as a comic about Clark Kent having to find a Christmas story to write for the Daily Planet devolves into a tale of two evil men trying to kidnap Santa’s reindeer by taking their rocket to the North Pole (like people are wont to do). Fortunately, Santa calls on Superman, who not only saves Christmas, but does so by guiding Saint Nick's sleigh.
11. "T’Was the Fight Before X-Mas" (Spider-Man’s Tangled Web #21)
An absolutely manic and hilarious one-shot story from writer Darwyn Cooke and artist J. Bone that was a part of the underappreciated Spider-Man Tangled Web series from the early 2000s. Bone’s stylized/cartoony style works perfectly with the overall vibe of the story, which features Peter Parker being forced to go to the mall on Christmas Eve to buy J. Jonah Jameson’s wife, Marla, a present. While he’s at the mall, Sue Storm and the Inhuman, Crystal, are also there shopping when a brainwashed Meduda stampedes through, causing a holiday ruckus. In typical Spider-Man fashion, a crook, dressed as Spidey, uses the Medusa-caused diversion to rob a few stores, which of course earns the Wall Crawler Jonah's scorn and public admonishment.
The story accelerates with the energy of a runaway train and culminates with lessons being learned and happy holidays being enjoyed by all – the quintessential Christmas cartoon put to comic book form.
10. "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santron" (Marvel Holiday Special #1)
Similar to the Tangled Web entry, this story, which opened the very first Marvel Holiday Special in 2004, is just joyfully fun. "Yes, Virginia" takes place at the Avengers holiday party, which is worth the price of admission by itself as the event is filled with a number of funny and wacky gags like the younger hero Gravity being denied entry to the festivities. However, the party takes a (somewhat) serious turn when a killer Santa robot crashes the party and reveals himself to be Ultron in disguise.
While there may not be any strings on this Santron, he is ultimately done in by his sweet tooth as Yellowjacket embeds a devices inside a Christmas cookie which disarms the killer robot. That’s one way to lose all those holiday pounds.
9. "Soft Targets" (Gotham Central #12-15)
Not exactly a holiday story that warms the cockles of one’s heart, "Soft Targets" is a great demonstration of just how amazing Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka’s work was on the criminally underrated police procedural, Gotham Central.
Despite the fact that this series rarely involves Batman – instead focusing explicitly on the Gotham PD – "Soft Targets" is Brubaker and Rucka’s chance to tell a Joker story. And what a Joker story it is. Joker incites fear and paranoia throughout Gotham when he goes on a one-man killing spree, using a sniper rifle to target high profile individuals just before the holidays. After the city goes on lockdown and Gotham residents are urged to stay indoors, Joker allows himself to be captured so he can carry out an even more devious plan – bombing a shopping mall on Christmas Eve. Batman makes a rare appearance in the series to save the day, but not without a member of the Gotham PD losing his life, making "Soft Targets" an indisputable Christmas tragedy.
8. "Merry Christmas Justice League, Now Die" (JLA #60)
As part of his critically acclaimed run on JLA in the early 2000s, Mark Waid takes a somewhat tired holiday trope – the kid who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus – and gives it a superhero makeover.
The story is told from Plastic Man’s perspective as he tries to convince a skeptical young boy about the legitimacy of Santa. But because this is Plastic Man playing the role of narrator, his account takes a number of bizarre twists and turns, including a Santa with heat vision which he uses to combat demonic elves. As part of his case for Santa, Plastic Man tells the boy that Kris Kringle is also a member of the Justice League.
The story ends somewhat predictably, but it’s still an insane amount of fan as told by one of the great masters in Waid.
7. "Have Yourself a Sandman Little Christmas" (Marvel Team-Up #1)
Oddly enough, the first issue of Marvel’s flagship team-up book, Marvel Team-Up, kicked off its run with a Christmas-themed issue starring Spider-Man and Human Torch versus the misunderstood villain, Sandman. After the Sandman appears at a Polar Bear swim event at the beach, Spidey, who just wants to get a nice Christmas gift for his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, tries to pawn off the villain on the Fantastic Four. Instead, Spider-Man and his best frenemy, Human Torch, work together to bring in the Sandman.
But as the story continues, things are not what they seem. Sandman breaks out of prison only to visit his elderly motherly, who doesn’t know her son is a criminal. Spidey and Torch agree to let the villain spend some time with his mother before he has to go back to jail. Of course Sandman escapes, but the two heroes are so overcome with holiday joy, they don’t really care.
This story gets bonus points for being the inaugural installment in what we would be a long-running series (150 issues) and for being one of the first times Sandman – who would later evolve into an anti-hero of sorts – is characterized with shades of gray.
6. "One Perfect Gift" (Flash #73)
A prologue to one of the greatest Flash storylines of all time, "The Return of Barry Allen," "One Perfect Gift" sets that succeeding arc into motion by demonstrating just how well things were for Barry Allen's replacement, Wally West. Wally has a new girlfriend, Linda Park, and is spending the holidays with Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash who thinks of Wally as a surrogate son of sorts. Jay and Wally go out on patrol on Christmas Eve, but it’s what’s waiting for Wally and Jay when they get back that changes everything.
Back at Jay’s house, there’s a knock at the door, and standing out in the snow is a man who looks exactly like the thought-to-be-dead Barry (who was killed during Crisis on the Infinite Earths). And thus, the "Return of Barry Allen" kicks off in shocking fashion.
5. "Rhino Plastered" (Incredible Hulk #378)
In typical Peter David fashion, he crafts a story that is both patently absurd, but also oddly sentimental in this holiday romp that took place in the midst of his character-redefining run on The Incredible Hulk.
The flashback tale places the Grey Hulk at the mall alongside Rick Jones and Clay Quatermain where the villain, Rhino, is playing the role of Santa. Initially Rhino is overjoyed by the fact that he is able to step in front of a group of children and be greeted with cheers rather than screams. However, the story devolves from there as Rhino lets his true colors shine through and he snaps at the whiny, selfish kids sitting on his lap. Hulk and Rhino fight throughout the mall. But before total destruction can ensue, a little girl named Virginia gets the two to reconcile.
And just when you think this story is about to become too schmaltzy, David inserts a well-timed “Shut Up!” from Hulk and Rhino to Rick, who starts by saying "Yes Virginia, There Is A ..."
4. Hellboy: A Christmas Underground
It’s hard to pick a single story from the award-winning Hellboy Christmas Special series, but 1997’s A Christmas Underground gets special mention for how writer/artist Mike Mignola adapts a classic folktale and transforms it into a signature Hellboy story involving demonic possession and the underworld.
In the story, Hellboy visits a dying woman in England (who mistakes him for Santa Claus) and agrees to find her daughter who disappeared five years earlier, so that he could give her a present from her mother. Hellboy discovers that the daughter is married to a demonic prince in the underword. As a parting gift for the woman, Hellboy breaks the prince’s hold on the daughter, allowing the girl’s spirit to visit her mother one last time before she dies.
3. "The Silent Night of the Batman" (Batman #219)
This eight page backup story from Mike Friedrich and Neal Adams, manages to capture the spirit of the holiday season by being oddly and unexpectedly touching and heartfelt.
Its premise is relatively simple: Batman is invited to go Christmas caroling by police Commissioner Jim Gordon (its notable how Batman singing is drawn with such earnestness and sincere authenticity by Adams) and while he’s away from the streets of Gotham, a series of crimes almost happen but are stopped when the would-be perpetrators think they see Batman.
By the end of the comic, not a single call comes in for Batman. Whether this turn of events was due to the sprit of Christmas or Batman’s efforts to clean up the streets is irrelevant as the Caped Crusader gets to enjoy a rare night of peace and tranquility – a perfect Christmas eve.
2. "Be Good for Goodness Sake" (JSA #55)
Geoff Johns scripts this 2004 holiday classic that features a department store Santa that turns out to be Ma Hunkle, the original Red Tornado, a Golden Age character that first appeared in All-American Comics #3 in 1939. Hunkle reveals that she had to go into hiding as part of the Witness Protection Program after testifying against the mob. However, she meets up with the Justice Society every Christmas in her Santa Claus disguise while the JSA give her status updates about her children.
The story’s ending really tugs at the hearstrings, as the JSA lets Ma know that the last of the mobsters that she testified against has died in prison, meaning she no longer has to live in hiding. They make her an official member of the JSA as the museum curator. A big group hug later and … excuse my fingers are slipping off my keyboard because it’s wet for some reason. Who’s cutting the onions?
1. "Demon" (Uncanny X-Men #143)
The final issue of the storied Chris Claremont/John Byrne run on Uncanny X-Men puts the spotlight squarely on Kitty Pryde (just an issue after she saved all of mutant-kind in "Days of Future Past"). Kitty, who is left alone at the school for the holidays, has to single-handedly survive and defeat a deadly Demon-monster.
The joy of this comic comes from watching Kitty constantly think on her feet as she outsmarts and outmaneuvers her adversary. Pryde calls back on her Danger Room training from earlier in the issue to finally stop the Demon. And because this is a holiday-themed comic, she is reunited with her parents by the end of the issue.
If you’re a fan of Kitty and you haven’t read this issue, do yourself a favor because you’re in for a treat. If you’re already well-versed, you probably understand why this is one of the greatest holiday-themed comics of all-time. It’s an issue that no only keeps with the spirit of the season, but also shows a superhero doing superheroic stuff. You can't beat that combination this time of year.