Ask Chris #270: A Kirby Carol
Q: Which Christmas song would make the best Kirby comic? -- @hazbaz
A: Okay, first of all? This is literally the best Ask Chris question in the five-year history of this column.
I mean, there are very few questions I've ever gotten that hit the exact bullseye of my interests quite as well as that one. If I somehow manage to come up with an answer that involves a Christmas song about Bulbasaur - something that actually does exist thanks to the charmingly bizarre cash-in abum The Pokémon Christmas Bash - then I think I will have covered everything. But even more than that, it's an opportunity to fix one of the greatest tragedies in comics history: The fact that there just aren't a whole lot of Jack Kirby Christmas comics.
I'm willing to accept that I might've missed one given his legendarily prolific career, but the only Kirby Christmas story I can think of is "The Seal-Men's War on Santa Claus," an obscure collaboration with Michael Fleisher from the late '70s that, despite being amazing, almost didn't see print. It was originally intended to run in The Sandman #7, but since that book was canceled at #6, it sat in a drawer for a few years before finally seeing release in a digest-sized collection in 1981. It wasn't released at full size until 2013 as part of the Jack Kirby Omnibus Vol. 2, and as far as I know, it remains the only time that the King of Comics took on Santa Claus.
On one level, that makes sense. Kirby was Jewish, of course, and given the lack of Hanukkah stories in his career - totaling a solid zero - I kind of get the feeling that he was less interested in holiday stories in general than he was in crafting the modern mythology of the New Gods. Which, incidentally, makes me wish that there were a few carols written about those stories, too.
Seriously: I could not love Christmas more, but how much better would this season be if there were people dressed up as Victorians going door-to-door a-wassailing with songs about THE GLORY BOAT?
Glo-o-o-o-o-o, o-o-o-o-o, o-o-o-o-ory Boat
In excelsis Deo!
And see, that's the thing that makes this question so great. Christmas songs, particularly the traditional carols, tend to be written with the same kind of metaphor-heavy, over-the-top bombast that you get from Kirby comics. Generally speaking, all they're missing is a couple of exclamation points and a handful of exclamation points and we're pretty much there. Be honest: if you didn't know it was from a Christmas carol, would you doubt for even a second that HARK! THE "HERALD ANGELS" SING!! was something Highfather shouted in the pages of Forever People? And that's not even getting into the one that's nominally about comfort and joy but also invokes the idea of a battle against Satan's pow'r. If y'all don't want to see that drawn by Jack Kirby, then you and I will never understand each other.
With that in mind, the tricky part of this question is trying to narrow it down. There are just so many songs that could be improved by Kirbying things up a little that we're spoiled for choice, especially since so many Christmas songs are in the form of stories already - occasionally stories about characters who have actual super-powers, like noses that shine (like a light bulb) and cut through foggy Christmas Eves.
That's how I think my fellow Christmas/Kirby fan Benito Cereno ended up with his pick when I put the question to him, and I have to admit that it's a solid one: "Frosty the Snowman."
HE WAS MADE OF SNOW -- BUT THE CHILDREN KNOW!
Benito's main point here was that Frosty is not only a snow golem that is brought to life by a magic hat (a pretty solid concept for a Kirby story already) but that the first thing he does is essentially go on a rampage. Admittedly, it's a very pleasant, sing-songy rampage, but still. Even the police can't stop him, only giving him a momentary pause before he continues his chilly, magic-fueled journey, capped off with a promise to return.
You put Kirby on this, and you've basically got a wintry OMAC.
Or, as Benito called him, SNOMAC.
For my pick, though, I decided to go a little traditional. With Kirby involved, you want a story of strange powers and high drama that still has a core of humanity. You want someone battling against a force larger than themselves and triumphing through sheer indomitable will. You want Jack Kirby's "Good King Wenceslas."
BRING ME "FLESH" -- AND BRING ME WINE!!
"Wenceslas" is a classic of course, but of the well-known Christmas carols, it's certainly one of the most underrated. If you're not familiar with it - or if you only know the catchy tune and not the lyrics that go along with it - Here's the gist:
Wenceslas - or, more properly, Vaclav I - was Duke of Bohemia in the 10th century. As you might expect from the title of the song, he was well known for his charity, to the point where he would occasionally head out and give alms to the poor himself. One night, having spied a peasant gathering up some wood for a fire on a particularly cold evening, he went out to do just that, getting one of his pages to follow along. The thing was, it was so cold that the page was like "the heck with this, I am going home" until Wenceslas told him to follow in his own footsteps. Not only had Wenceslas melted the show, but his footprints were as warm as a summer's day, with heat rising from the very Earth where Wenceslas had trod, a minor miracle for which he would be posthumously upgraded from Duke to King and canonized as a patron saint of the Czech Republic.
That alone should sell you on a Kirby adaptation of the song - just imagine a dude with a gigantic Kirby crown striding through the snow leaving fiery footprints in his wake as a storm raged around him calling for flesh and wine in the name of charity and tell me you don't want to see that - but if you need more convincing, consider this. If you start reading about Wenceslas, you start seeing phrases like "father of all the wretched" and "rex justus - the righteous king," and then you get to the part where he was assassinated at a feast by his brother, Boleslav the Cruel, whose son was born at the moment of Wenceslas's death and thus given the name Strachvas, or "a dreadful feast." Seriously. Those are their names, and in terms of Kirby subtlety, "Boleslav the Cruel" ranks somewhere between "Desaad" and "Baron von Evilstein."
It's worth noting that there is in fact a really great comics adaptation of "Good King Wenceslas" by Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen, which reinterprets the song about a rich man driven to act by his desire to help others even on the most bitter of nights and his faithful young sidekick into a story with a pretty familiar aesthetic:
It's one of the standouts of DC's (relatively) recent holiday comics - and also the last thing you need to hit bingo in terms of my favorite things - but if we can have a dozen comics adaptations of A Christmas Carol done to varying degrees of success, then Wenceslas can have two. Especially one where he's burning footprints into the Earth with the cosmic fire of righteousness.