Listen, I'll be the first to admit that I'm a complete sucker when it comes to Christmas comics. I love 'em, and the more heartwarming they are, the better, whether it's a thoroughly predictable ending where someone does a good deed for the less fortunate or a passionate, starry-eyed speech about peace on Earth and goodwill to others. I love that stuff, and as a result, I've never been a fan of Christmas stories that go dark. Call me a sap if you will, but in most darker Christmas stories, there's a cynicism that I just don't find all that appealing.

Every now and then, however, I run across a holiday story that's not just dark and not just cynical, but so utterly, shockingly grim that I end up completely fascinated by it, and this week, that is exactly what has happened. Everyone who has ever tried to make a jaded, pessimistic holiday story needs to step aside, because I have found the darkest, most shockingly violent Christmas comic of all time -- and it's a six-page Archie story from 1958.

 

 

Before we get any further into this, I want to stress that this isn't one of those weird offshoot Archies that I've written about before, like those melodramatic '70s comics where Veronica's held at knifepoint, or even one of their more recent expansions into mature-readers Lovecraftian horror. This is a straight up, mainstream Archie comic, "Generous to a Fault," by the team of Dan DeCarlo, Rudy Lapick and Vincent DeCarlo, originally published in Archie Giant Series #5. It's even one of the first stories printed in the new Archie's Favorite Christmas Comics paperback, if you want to witness the holiday horror for yourself.

It starts off with a reasonable enough premise. In fact, DeCarlo goes out of his way to have Betty and Veronica reject the cynicism that has taken hold of so many Scroogey hearts in this modern age.

 

 

In a flurry of seasonal charity, Betty and Veronica have decided that they want to reward the most charitable among them by doing something nice this Christmas -- that's something to keep in mind as the story goes on, that they want to do something nice. Naturally, given that Riverdale is populated almost entirely by teenagers, and teenagers are generally driven by self-interest and greed in equal measure, Archie, Reggie and Jughead immediately start bickering among themselves about who among them is best suited for whatever massive reward the combined Cooper-Lodge team can provide for them.

 

 

At this point, you might think that you have an idea of how this story's going to go. I certainly did. I expected that the gang would be so driven by coveting this imaginary prize that they'd all run off to prove that they had the True Spirit of Giving and, in the process, learn that charity is its own reward. That's a nice holiday moral, right? To do nice things for others without expecting anything in return? Right.

That is not what happens. It's not even close.

Instead, after being suitably chastised for their decidedly un-Christmasy attitudes towards the contest...

 

Archie and his pals set out to actually get the job done. Rather than bicker amongst themselves to decide who deserves the reward, they start asking around town. The problem, of course, is that everyone they ask just assumes they're offering them the prize, so that doesn't really get them anywhere either. Obviously, the solution is to increase the sample size, and that, my friends, is where this story starts to take its turn.

See, rather than forming a quorum of teenagers, Archie and the gang accidentally end up gathering up something that's a little closer to an angry mob.

No, really.

 

 

I don't actually know how this happens. At six pages, it's a pretty heavily condensed story, but the setup for this is just literally "Hey, let's get all our pals together and see who deserves a nice gift this Christmas," and then two panels later Archie is giving a speech about how they need to join together and get revenge on the bully who has been making their lives at Riverdale High a living Hell for the past twelve months. And then somebody starts handing out clubs and two-by-fours, and at that point, we are officially off the rails.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that Moose isn't one of my favorite characters, and I know a lot less about him than I do about, say, Jughead. That said, I've read a lot of Archie comics, and I was under the impression that his acts of violence were mostly limited to Reggie, and even then only when Reggie was trying to beat his time with Midge. Don't get me wrong, that's pretty unpleasant -- one of the reasons it's been phased out in recent years -- but it's not the sort of thing that you'd think would lead to a revenge crazed mob armed with ACTUAL WOODEN CLUBS.

And yet, according to Betty, Moose is merely reaping the consequences of "innumerable black eyes, sore muscles, loose teeth, bruises, scrapes and contusions." Innumerable loose teeth! Jeepers Christmas, Riverdale. What the heck was happening back in the '50s?

To make matters even more ominous, Archie and his mob are advancing on their target while singing a version of "Deck the Halls" that they have rewritten into a song about handing out savage beatings to those who have wronged you.

 

 

Fortunately, the girls are there to prevent a massacre... sort of.

See, while they initially talk Archie and his gang of armed thugs out of their violent revenge, it turns out that Moose Mason is not that bright and has trouble getting his mind around concepts like metaphors, so when he promises to "give" them even more the next year than he did this year, things get bad all over again.

 

 

And that was the Christmas that Archie Andrews literally broke a baseball bat over Moose's head and left him in the snow to die.

Happy Holidays, everyone!