In honor of the holiday season, Kayleigh Hearn, Sarah Register, Max Robinson, Patrick Stinson, and Jason Urbanciz share some of their favorite seasonal comic book stories. Consider it a Christmas, Hanukkah, non-denominational winter solstice gift to you from Deadshirt.
The Transformers (UK) #145
Plot by Simon Furman
Written by Ian Rimmer
Art by Jeff Anderson (pencils) and Stephen Baskerville (inks)
Colored by Euan Peters
Lettered by Annie Halfacree
A blast from the past here from the year of my birth, 1987. Marvel UK wanted a new twist on a Christmas issue, and Furman and Rimmer came up with one—having it star the famously treacherous Decepticon, Starscream. As an alien seeking nothing less than the destruction of Earth, Starscream makes Scrooge look pretty tame. Oddly, despite being the breakout star of the cartoon, Starscream had very little development in the comics at this point. The brilliance of this story is how it finds a believable reason for Starscream to put up with an Earthling teaching him about Christmas, producing his first substantial character development in the process.
It’s revealed that like many of the Autobots, Starscream is homesick. After a series of setbacks, he’s near-crippled by depression, aimlessly wandering the snowy suburban landscape. An unrealistically brave kid comes up to the thirty-five-foot tall robot and starts lecturing him about appearing so down on Christmas Eve. (Hey, it was the eighties, we were all pretty optimistic.) Starscream hangs a big ol’ lampshade on the premise of the issue by moaning, “It’s a sure sign of how bad things are when I can’t even stir up the enthusiasm to squash a fleshling!”
The unnamed child keeps acting like he’s teaching an unemotional robot about love, not realizing that Starscream is more like Satan than Skynet. In one of the bits of clever writing that made the Transformers UK series a cult favorite, Starscream finds a way to superficially placate the “spirit of Christmas” without learning one single thing. He even manages to turn a group of humans against the Autobots! But at the end of the issue, in the midst of his gloating, we learn that even Starscream has a tiny, withered shred of compassion, as he gives the final line of the issue, “Ohh…Merry Christmas, kid!” Somehow, it’s much more inspiring to see a Decepticon moved, even for a second, than to see the Autobots decorating a tree for the umpteenth time.
– Patrick Stinson
“Endgame Part 2: …Tender and Mild…”
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Dale Eaglesham (pencils) and John Floyd (inks)
Colored by Noelle Giddings
Lettered by Willie Schubert
What better way is there to appreciate the season than realizing you don’t have to spend Christmas in a government-abandoned Gotham City under the “protection” of a deranged cop with the most famous Arkham escapee harking outside your door? In the grim but captivating story arc, No Man’s Land, Gotham is completely cut off from the outside world. The Joker shows up at a shelter full of families under the protection of the “Blue Boys” (GCPD) who unfortunately answer to the crazed Officer Petit, a man who touts a bullet for every Gotham citizen. Knowing that Petit is frantic to kill him, the Joker dresses up captured cops in his likeness and one by one pushes them out into the street to get shot down by their superior officer. The Joker’s ultimate plan, however, is to kidnap every child born after the fall of Gotham, taking away the hope of the city on Christmas, the holiday of hope.
Luckily, a vigilante desperately petitioning to be a member of the Bat family is also protecting the shelter: Huntress. Under the direction of Greg Rucka, she has the most dynamic character transformation in No Man’s Land. Huntress throws herself in between the two madmen, getting the shit beat out of her and taking three bullets, but ultimately saving the innocent people in the shelter and winning Batman’s approval (and a Christmas cuddle from Nightwing HEYO).
– Sarah Register
(Available from Comixology)
Uncanny X-Men #143
“Co-Plotted” by Chris Claremont and John Byrne
Written by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne (pencils) and Terry Austin (inks)
Colored by Glynis Wein
Lettered by Tom Orzechowski
Uncanny X-Men #143 is interesting in that it feels more like a horror film than a Christmas or even superhero story. On Christmas Eve, an ancient demon rises from its tomb, slays an innocent couple, and then pursues a plucky young girl left home alone. Luckily that plucky girl is Kitty Pryde, the newest and youngest member of the X-Men, and she relies on not only her wits to save her from the N’Garai demon, but also her phasing powers and the Danger Room in her basement.
Uncanny X-Men #143 is an important showcase for Kitty Pryde, establishing her as the smart, capable young heroine who would go on to be a major viewpoint character (and crush) for many readers throughout the 1980s and beyond. Chris Claremont’s overly verbose writing style works well for Kitty’s introspective moods, and her situation is relatable to anyone who’s found themselves lonely and away from family and friends over the holidays. Often the time of year when we’re supposed to be joyous is when we’re actually the most vulnerable, though usually a soul-sucking N’Garai demon isn’t after us.
I can’t talk about Uncanny X-Men #143 without mentioning that it was the final issue in the Chris Claremont/John Byrne partnership that produced classic stories such as “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and “Days of Future Past.” After the time-sprawling epic of “Days,” the self-contained character piece “Demon” is a much-needed change of pace, though it is still one hell of a suspenseful story. John Byrne was at the height of his talent when he drew Kitty’s nail-biting escape from the demon—on one page, Kitty and the demon phase/crash through four rooms in a single panel. And Kitty’s embarrassed, lopsided smile when she tells Storm she “wrecked” the Danger Room is one of my favorite images of the character.
In keeping with the holiday spirit, Uncanny X-Men #143 ends happily. Kitty channels her inner Ellen Ripley and torches the demon. The X-Men return home, bringing Kitty’s parents for a surprise Chanukah visit. And Kitty proved herself to be a worthy X-Man in what is a fitting epilogue to one of the best creative partnerships in superhero comics.
– Kayleigh Hearn
(Available digitally on Marvel Unlimited and from Comixolgy)
“The Santa Contract”
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by John McCrea (pencils) and Steve Pugh (inks)
Colored by Carly Feeny and Heroic Age
Lettered by Willie Schubert
It would’ve been easy, even expected, for Garth Ennis’ incredibly underrated, incredibly vulgar late nineties psuedo Bat-title Hitman to do a Christmas comic that pisses on Christmas. Instead, “The Santa Contract” is a gleefully violent done-in-one that’s aggressively pro-Christmas. Super-powered “killer with a conscience” Tommy Monaghan and his pal Natt The Hat find themselves broke on Christmas Eve, when lo and behold a lucrative job comes their way: kill an out of control radioactive monster in a stolen Santa suit that’s going around murdering people, and collect $10,000.
Ennis has a lot of fun with this issue, from his use of rhyming narration captions to the comic’s hilarious final “message”: Don’t be an asshole on Christmas or someone will put two in the back of your head. John McCrea is one of those artists where I don’t understand why he doesn’t get bigger gigs. His art in this issue is perfectly grimy and sells many of the gags, whether its the sloppiness of a group of dimwitted nuclear power plant employees, or irradiated corpses of holiday shoppers. Hitman is a slept-on DC title, and “The Santa Contract” really exemplifies the beating black heart that makes it so good.
– Max Robinson
(Available from Comixology)
Marvel Holiday Special 2005
“Yes, Virginia, There is a Santron”
Written by Jeff Parker
Art by Reilly Brown (pencils) and Pat Davidson (inks)
Colored by Christina Strain
Lettered by David Lanphear
I often wonder if my kids are going to feel betrayed when they realize there is no Santa Claus. They’ve gotten to the age where they’ve undoubtedly heard rumors, and are asking probing questions, but my stock answer is that he’s real as long as they believe he’s real. It’s hard, because I don’t want to straight-up lie to them, but I also want them to hold on to believing there is still magic in this cold world. This comic features probably the worst-case scenario of what will happen. A young woman, damaged by the realization that Santa is fiction when she was young, finds a smashed Ultron robot and creates her own Santa, hoping to spare another young child that betrayal. Meanwhile the Avengers are celebrating their holiday party at Dr. Strange’s mansion, complete with carnivorous shape-changing trees, flying problematic mistletoe, and Gravity, the superhero find of 2005. Add to this mix a murderous Santa-bot and things go horribly, hilariously wrong.
Parker, Brown, and company create a wonderfully fun Christmas comic that also gets to the heart of some of the difficulties of the season. While many are warmed by the togetherness of the holidays, inevitably some are left out. Fortunately most won’t create jolly but murderous robots, but they also won’t get a wonderful speech and a hug from Captain America. I’ve loved this comic for a long time because it’s fun, but it also captures the magic of the season, encourages us all to believe in that magic, and to try and help others to see it too.
– Jason Urbanciz
(Available digitally on Marvel Unlimited and from Comixology)
Have any favorites we missed? Let us know below!