Inexplicably, Christmas is this Thursday. The sands of time sift ever-faster exponentially through the hourglass, reminding us all that our tour of duty along this mortal coil is fleeting and the cold grip of death waits just…oh, sorry. Huzzah! Celebrate! For me, my love of comics is blissfully forever entwined with my love of Christmas because of one particular work of awesomeness that resembles nothing currently being offered today.
I’m not sure I can recall what exactly bridged the gap between the Berenstain Bears and Batman wrecking dudes in the face with his fists of justice, but one of the first comics to fully grapple my budding imagination was this masterpiece:
Look at that fucking cover. It is everything you need in this depressingly moribund world in one place. There is charming and then there is this cover charming the shit out of you until you die. Hours upon hours of car rides, Sunday mornings and supposed-to-be-sleeping-but-really-using-a-flashlight-under-the-sheets were spent trying to discern which boot belonged to which superhero. I’m still not sure I know, actually. It goes Superman, Batman, Robin, uh…Captain America maybe, Black Canary, Horseback Riding Dude? Point being, it absolutely enthralled me to look at the footwear of characters who could fly and shoot lasers from their eyes, so imagine how easily I was immediately hooked once I moved past looking at boots. John Byrne did this cover and if there was ever any doubt that he is a magnificent storyteller allow me to draw your attention to Exhibit A: superheroes trying to guess what their presents are. Green Arrow is just BAFFLED by that elongated slightly bent object; Superman was straight up trying to playfully cheat and peak, but BOOM he just got lead-blocked; and Batman no doubt has already figured out his gift while Robin is showing us why he’s not the lead detective in this dynamic duo. What really captured my young heart, no doubt, was the idea that these capital-S superheroes were friends; they spent their holidays with each other because they were family and exchanged gifts on Christmas morning dressed in their costumes. That is great and if you think it is silly, please feel free to look at Exhibit New 52 and enjoy limbs being ripped off.
Beyond the cover (which I honestly want to talk about for hours, but will refrain) this particular book contains five reprinted stories which I admittedly remember less vividly than the cover except for one particular page:
Wow. Okay, I know this seems like something out of the aforementioned dark & gritty New 52, but everything following this is endlessly fun, I swear. It’s kinda hard to go from Santa-corpse to fun, but I swear it happens. This scene was from Len Wein and “The Man Who Murdered Santa Claus” and it’s a romp. Also included are “The Teen Titans’ Swinging Christmas Carol” which is a title only Dick Clark could love brought to you by Bob Haney and Nick Cardy, “Star Light, Star Bright” by Paul Levitz and José Luis García-López, “T’was the Fright before Christmas” by Len Wein & E. Nelson Bridwell and Curt Swan that involves Superman hypnotizing a child that attempted to rob a sidewalk Santa with a dart gun (you read that right) and, finally, the piece de resistance, “The Silent Night of the Batman” by Mike Friedrich and stunning pencils from Neal Adams. That Batman story has our hero caroling with the police department on Christmas Eve and freaking out that crime would never take a night off as he is, only to have the spirit of Christmas, in the form of a ghost-Batman, preserve a peaceful holiday evening by helping Gotham citizens. Think about that for a second. Awesome, right? Damn right.
Together, all of these stories, deliver on the promise of the cover that held my attention for countless hours. Honestly, I don’t know if this was my first comic book or if it was just my first favorite, but whenever I try to mentally leap backwards to the point where I loved comics, that image of stockings hanging by the first prominently pushes itself to the forefront. This book, which frankly I think I picked up well after Christmas (or before…time is sort of subjective) oozes charm and was a truly ALL-ages book featuring the big guns of DC. And it wasn’t a children’s book, it delivered on the promise of appealing to literally all ages because there was something for everyone to enjoy. Each tale was a mini-morality play, propping up the lessons of goodwill and human empathy that the holiday is, you know, supposed to be about, but without ever losing the core essences of what the most iconic characters in DC’s stable. There’s not many comics out there right now that do this well, which is obviously a shame. This particular showcase was my linchpin to loving comics and, beyond the nostalgia factor, I truly adore it even now for being a great collection of superheroic fun. Any comic, literally any one on the shelves, has the potential to be the gateway into this shared passion of ours and it would be nice to think that they could all be as charming as this one. Apologies for sounding like the old guy at the bar, sputtering about how things had heart in my day and that I used to play with sticks in the mud instead of playstation box machines, but something about Christmas always rekindles my love for this comic and gets my imagination moving again in a way that few offerings do today. If there’s a particular book that makes you feel the same way, let us know below in the comments.
Happy Holidays, old chum.