One of my fondest childhood Christmas memories is sitting at the foot of our tree with my brand new copy of Christmas with the Super-Heroes. I was probably in fifth grade. This comic was special. It was before reprints appeared as trade paperbacks or hardcover archive editions. In the mid-seventies DC reprints appeared in such collections as Limted Collectors' Edition, of which Christmas with the Super-Heroes was number C-43. Here was a collection of DC Comics Christmas stories that had appeared through the decades.
The book was also special because it was over-sized, what they called "tabloid sized" back then. And it was available for the whopping price of a whole dollar. I didn't think my parents would spring for it, but they did. When I saw it on the magazine shelf of our local supermarket, I just fell in love with the cover.
I am pleased to say that my copy is still intact (albeit with rusty staples, somewhat yellowed pages, and activity pages completed by yours truly). Now my own fifth grade son enjoys reading it in anticipation of the holidays. It's just one more special tradition that we can share.
So I recently re-read it as a way of recapturing that nostalgic Christmas spirit. I recall the thrill of reading the opening story for the first time--Superman and Santa Claus--two of my childhood heroes together! How cool is that?!?!
But this opening story isn't too sophisticated by today's standards. A couple of old codgers dubbed Dr. Grouch and Mr. Meaney react from their own tortured childhood to destroy Christmas for everyone. They take an air ship to the North Pole where they attempt to destroy Santa's workshop. They use gas guns, rendering his reindeer unconscious, which means Superman must save the day by flying Santa all over the world on Christmas Eve. The most laughable moment had to be when the two bad guys are simply let off the hook after they apologize for the kidnapping and attempted murder of Lois.
I wondered if all Golden Age comics were as plot-thin as this story. But then I discovered that this was reprinted from a 1940 Macy's department store promotional. But it's great for kids!
Other stories include such stars as Wonder Woman, a.k.a, Diana Prince, army nurse and Nazi fighter. Wonder Woman befriends two Hummel-figurine-looking children whose home was broken when their mother was falsely accused of having an affair with a Nazi. Since their father has forbidden Christmas, the children get lost in a blizzard while attempting to deliver gifts to their estranged mother. Wonder Woman stories were ahead of their time from the start.
There's also a Batman story which would be totally out of character today. The Dark Knight sings carols on Christmas Eve with the Gotham P.D. Come to think of it, that would be out of character for any P. D. that I'm familiar with. But what happens on the streets of Gotham while Batman takes the night off is a bit more sophisticated story telling--and without dialogue!
My first introduction to Sandman was in this book, a reprint from the days in which Wesley Dodds had traded the gas mask and overcoat for yellow tights and a youthful sidekick. It was of comparable caliber to the Superman story. The most laughable moment is when a baseball bat is broken over Sandman's head and he wakes up with nothing more severe than a headache.
This special edition also included lyrics to Christmas songs. It was the first time I ever knew that Jingle Bells had more than one verse.
This wasn't DC's only foray into the Christmas season. In 1983 Superman and Santa met again in DC Comics Presents 67. My son picked up this back issue in a comic shop for maybe a buck. It's billed as a "fairy tale." Would that be an "imaginary tale" in today's lingo? While the plot lacks sophistication, the most interesting twist is when Superman discovers that Santa is his neighbor. The Fortress of Solitude is in the North Pole after all.
A couple of years later, The Outsiders did their version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol with super heroes masquarading as the various Christmas ghosts.
The goal was to persuade a Christmas- hating old miser to blow the whistle on some shady characters with whom he had done business. The most redeeming thing about Outsiders # 5 was its cover. A super hero version of the Dickens classic has unlimited potential. If done well, it could make a great graphic novel; perhaps an Elseworlds (or alternate earth) story set in the Dickens era.
But my all time favorite super hero Christmas occurred just a few years ago when the original members of the Justice Society teamed up with Santa in JSA 55.
It's rare to find a story that is self-contained in a single issue. Geoff Johns really pulled it off. This "whatever happened to?" story celebrates the return of Ma Hunkle, the original Red Tornado, appealing to my sense of nostalgia. But the story is moving and even surpasses today's comic standards for incorporating drama and emotion into the medium.
And the art team of Kirk, Champagne, and Grawbadger is excellent! I love it when the characters look real as opposed to looking like residents of cartoon land. The expressions on the faces of Ted Grant and "Santa" are at times priceless. But I can get pretty sentimental about the JSA.
The issue not only celebrates the holiday season, but also sixty years of comic book history. The back issue or trade paperback reprint is worth tracking down.
So there you have it. My Christmas Eve review of super hero comics in the collections at my house. Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas!