Marvel Holiday Special (1992)

Marvel Holiday Special (1992)

Marvel Holiday Special (1992)

As I said, the 1990s were bleak for comic books in general. One shining beacon were the early Marvel Holiday Specials.

Stan “the Man” Lee himself returned to pen the Spider-Man story, the first time since issue 200 outside of the newspaper strip. Barring Lee’s story, the star is Doc Samson’s revisionist origin of Chanukah. Even his ridiculous pony tail and post-Village People jump suit couldn’t spoil the fun.

Thanos’ touching tale of parenthood comes off as anything but contrived as do all the stories, featuring Wolverine, Punisher, New Mutants, Ironman and Daredevil.

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Marvel Holiday Special (1991)

Marvel Holiday Special (1991)

Marvel Holiday Special (1991)

By the early 1990s the comic book industry was becoming inundated by investors. Promises of high returns for pennies on the dollar had outsiders taking a serious look at what before was considered juvenile entertainment.

Within a few years, the bubble would bust leaving us true believers wondering if the medium could continue. Thanks to some well-done animated series and successful toy lines, comic books would survive.

However, in the pre-bust days readers would have to solider on.

DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths had provided some interesting reboots and the soon-to-be christened Vertigo franchise was holding my interest. Todd MacFarlane’s much heralded arrival on Spider-Man was not. Nor, were many of the flash in the pan titles Marvel was pumping out.

What did catch my attention, aside from Peter David’s run on The Incredible Hulk, was the return of the Holiday specials. For the first time in 15 years, Marvel decided to unleash a Christmas-themed one-shot filled with original material.

Some of the stories are almost unreadable after all this time, but a few still hold up.

Marvel chose some unlikely stories from the bankable characters at the time including the Punisher and Ghost Rider, but it’s the stalwart stables Spider-Man, Captain America and X-Men who provide the real treasures.

Of course any mutant title at the time was hot. Chris Claremont had made the outcasts unheralded successes paving – and paying – for the continued publishing onslaught that had overtaken rival DC many years past.

Scott Lobdell, unofficial Marvel historian, dusted off X-Men 98 and provided a prequel before George Lucas invented the word with “A Miracle a Few Blocks Down From 32nd Street.” The talented scribe shamelessly hinted that even the mighty Santa may be a mutant.

More subdued and predating any reference to the Winter Soldier, Captain America relearned the meaning of Christmas in “Precious Gifts.”

The final gem is the last story in the book starring Spider-Man and Jolly J. Jonah Jameson in “A Spider-Man Carol.” Danny Fingeroth did his homework for this one.

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Christmas With the Super-Heroes (1988)

Christmas With the Super-Heroes (1988)

Christmas With the Super-Heroes (1988)

Christmas With the Super Heroes (1988) was my reintroduction to Christmas with comic books.

Even though I was recently married, I had reconciled with my first love, comic books. Seeing this John Byrne cover on a spin rack just made the return all the sweeter.

I had never completely forsaken comic books. They were always there, ready to take me back as I bought an issue of Spider-Man or X-Men to see where they had gone. When I’d left the fold – or told myself I had – I was more of a Marvel zombie. Coming back, I continued my Marvel purchasing, but this book reminded me how much I enjoyed those who I’d first pledged allegiance with when I was still in single digits. It would take A Death in the Family and Sandman to really bring me back to the DC fold.

But, this brought back memories.

Featured was Batman 219, The Silent Night of The batman, also reprinted in Christmas With the Super Heroes (C-43) in 1975. The Teen Titan’s Swingin’ Christmas Carol from Teen Titans (vol. 1) 13 appeared again, having already been reprinted in the original Christmas With the Super Heroes (C-34) in 1974 and Christmas With the Super Heroes Best of DC 22 in 1982.

The other offerings I wasn’t as familiar with, though the selection was excellent. They included Twas the Fright Before Christmas from DC Comics Presents 67, DC Special Series 21 with the Legion of Super Heroes and The Man Who Murdered Santa Claus from Justice League of America (vol. 1) 110.

To cap off this perfect storm of holiday stories was a personal note from Editor Mark Waid.  He has since lamented taking the space to tell a personal tale (see Back Issue 85), yet I found it very touching. Waid tells how he couldn’t afford to go home one year for Christmas so he strung Christmas lights on a spin rack and dug out Christmas comic books from his massive collection to help tide him over the season.

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Christmas With the Super-Heroes (22)

Christmas With the Super-Heroes (22)

Christmas With the Super-Heroes (22)

Here was one that caught me by surprise.

Getting out of comic books when I did, I was not around for most of the DC digest format. The smaller reprints offered a lot more value, 100 pages for $.95, but also more eyestrain. Still they were fun oddities.

As with the original Christmas With the Superheroes (C-34), The Teen Titan’s Swingin’ Christmas Carol appeared, almost as ubiquities as It’s a Wonderful Life during the holiday season. It would appear yet again in the 1988 special of the same name.

Another that would be rehashed in 1988 is The Man Who Murdered Santa Clause from Justice League 110.

Those not previously exploited include Christmas Peril and Merry Christmas, both from his self-titled Batman book; Robin’s White Christmas from Batman Family 4 and The Seal Men’s War on Santa Claus, featuring Sandman, from Cancelled Comic Cavalcade 2.

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Christmas With the Super-Heroes (C-34)

Limited Collector’s Edition C-34

Limited Collector’s Edition C-34

They say you never forget your first. That’s true – at least with Christmas comic books.

If my memory isn’t playing tricks on me, Christmas With the Super Heroes was peeking seductively from behind the white faux fur of my stocking top, dressed in a wanton fushia-pink and sporting a low-cut wreath hinting at what lay within.

These were the days of only the best toy line ever made, Mego’s World’s Greatest Super-Heroes. Eight-inches of plastic driven by pure imagination.

In addition to this over-sized representation of holiday cheer and muscles, 1974 was probably the first Christmas I received a Mego World’s Greatest Super Hero:  Batman.

Christmas 1974 as a two-fer

Two of my all-time favorite holiday stories appear in this issue: Silent Night, Deadly Night, reprinted from Batman 239 in the 52-page giant and The Teen Titan’s Swingin’ Christmas Carol, reprinted from Teen Titans (vol. 1) 13; both of which I would later pick up in their original form.

Also collected are Christmastown U.S.A. from Action Comics 117, Billy Batson’s X-Mas from Captain Marvel Adventures 58 and The $500,000 Doll Caper starring Angel and the Ape.

I would note this was my first exposure to Angel and the Ape. Gotta admit, the idea of a gumshoe gorilla moonlighting as a comic book artist intrigued me. Especially when teamed with a bombshell blond who doubles as detective and model in the O’Day and Simeon Detective Agency.

Anyway, in addition to the reprints the editorial staff tossed in extras like a calendar for 1975, Christmas cards, what super villains have to say about Christmas and other assorted goofiness.

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My Introduction to Christmas Comics

Comic books have been a part of my life pretty much as long as I can remember.

Limited Collector’s Edition C-34Christmas has been a part of my life before memory.

The marriage of Christmas and comic books didn’t really happen till 1974 with DC Comic’s Limited Collector’s Edition Christmas With the Super Heroes (C-34).

That was the morning I ambled down the stairs of our old farm house in Virginia, nestled in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley amidst apple orchards and the best childhood anyone could ever hope for.

I would take the steps three or four at a time as I bounded toward the bounty that was Christmas morning.

For those who don’t remember or never experienced it, the Limited Collector’s Editions were the forerunners of trade paperbacks; chock full of golden- and silver-age reprints featured in tabloid-size format.

Christmas With the Super Heroes (C-34) was released in November 1974, though dated February/March 1975. The cover sported Santa Claus flanked by the Teen Titans, Superman, Batman and Shazam all framed in a wreath on a bed of festive, fushia-pink.

Tucked between were five holiday stories culled from the golden and silver ages of DC.

In Mom and Dad’s house, Christmas morning was regimented. You rose, washed, brushed teeth and hair, dressed and waited for the family before diving into the stockings. Those were to tide me over till after breakfast when we then tore open the wrapping paper to see if our dreams from the Sear’s Christmas Wish Book came true.

Though I didn’t know it, that was the morning I began a collection of Christmas comic books; a sub-collection of my normal books.

1974 was my introduction of Christmas and comic books. I didn’t always have Christmas With the Super Heroes in my stocking. DC would only publish one more of the Limited Collector’s Editions (C-43) the following year, and yes, I had that one as well, but I always had comic books in my stockings. There are so many fond memories of rummaging past the Life Saver Holiday box and Crayola crayons to find DC 100 pagers or Giant-Size Marvel fan favorite.

As with all good things, those days passed. Sadly they passed without me realizing they had and the comic books disappeared without mourning.

Fast forward to 1988.

A lotta snow had flown and wrapping paper been rent from presents. The thoughts of comic books in Christmas stockings I\was almost forgotten until I happened upon Christmas With the Super Heroes (1988). While I didn’t find it in a stocking, it was in the next best place, a spin rack.

My original Limited Collector’s Edition from 1974 was long gone, but this sparked memories of mornings rummaging past stocking stuffers to find the real prizes. This was a piece of my childhood reimagined.

Later I learned this present was courtesy of Mark Waid who urged DC to produce the third special entitled Christmas With the Super Heroes. It may not have been tabloid sized and the price had doubled, but collected inside were more holiday-themed stories from the DC Universe.

In addition to the name, the other constant was The Teen Titan’s Swingin’ Christmas Carol, a staple that I would later find was also collected in the Best of DC 22, also titled Christmas With the Super Heroes. This version was part of DC’s digest line from the early to mid-1980s. I blame these and Marvel’s Pocket Comics for my reading glasses today.

At some point I found myself buying any comic book that had a Christmas theme. I guess it was a voluntary decision, but I don’t remember it as such.

One day a few years back, Jeff, who is co-authoring this site, was over and I stated peeling off holiday issues. The wheels turned immediately and he urged me to do a Web site. It was a niche no one had touched on – yet.

This is it.

Finally.

If you like the site, I’m glad. Hopefully some of these issues will bring back fond memories. They may be sappy, but it’s Christmas with cheer and goodwill toward all, the season of giving and all that. For me it’s all about the comic books.

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