Bizarro Back Issues: How Tharg Saved Christmas! (1981)
I have read a lot of Christmas comics in my time, and while I usually love them all with the unconditional affection of someone who goes around humming "Good King Wenceslas" in the middle of August, I have to admit that they tend to get pretty repetitive after a while. Even I can get tired of the endless string of halfhearted Christmas Carol parodies, which is why my favorite stories are always the ones that get a little weird. You know, the "evil robot santa" stories, or the "Batman goes back in time and recreates the universe and becomes the subconscious source of all Christmas Elf imagery" kind of thing. Those are the ones I really like.
So when I tell you that there's a story where Tharg, the mighty alien comic book editor who supplies 2000 AD with its weekly dose of Thrillpower, has to save Christmas after a bunch of readers wake up to bad presents on Christmas morning, rest assured that it is somehow even more amazingly bonkers than it sounds.
"Tharg's Chirstmas Tale" was originally published back in 1981's 2000 AD progs 243 and 244, but if you're looking to pick it up yourself, you can find a more recent printing in a collection that came bundled with 2011's Judge Dredd Megazine #279. It does, however, require a bit of understanding on how 2000 AD operates, so just so we're on the same page, here are the basics as I understand them.
As you might've already guessed from the title, 2000 AD specializes in sci-fi stories set in the distant future, brought to us meager Earthlets by Tharg, alias The Mighty One, an alien from Betelgeuse. He has come to Earth to give us the gift of Thrillpower in far greater quantities than any other comics can offer, and to that end, he staffs a British office building with robots who write and draw comics. Tharg generally sticks to editing rather than actually producing comics because, per Wikipedia...
Tharg wrote and drew a whole issue himself, but when he ran it through the quality-control "Thrill-meter", the device melted down on extreme overload. The offending issue had to be taken away, by blindfolded security guards, to a lead-lined vault where there was no danger of anyone seeing it accidentally.
So basically, 2000 AD is the best comic ever.
This story, however, actually was credited to The Mighty One, with Eric Bradbury handling art, and it opens with a gang of alien thugs ambushing Santa Claus on one snowy Christmas Eve:
These ne'er-do-wells are the Dictators of Zrag, occasional nemeses for Tharg, who seek to hijack the excitement of his comics and use it to revitalize their own boring planet. This time, though, they're out for revenge.
The first step in their plan is to hijack Santa's sleigh and load it up with their own "presents," and the second is to pay a visit to the UK for delivery. But it's not everyone who's getting a presents: It's only the kids who read 2000 AD:
This, for the record, is brilliant. I've said it before (and I stole it from a friend of mine), but once you've seen everything in the comics put in danger --- something that happens an awful lot in a strip like Judge Dredd --- the only way to take things further is to to put the readers in danger.
Which is exactly what happens here. When the young comics readers wake up the next morning, they find themselves with some presents that, while awesome on paper, aren't exactly the sort of thing that you'd really want in your house. Instead of action figures, for instance, one youngster gets a squadron of life-sized killer robots, and that's just the tip of the horrifying iceberg.
Clearly, something has to be done, but with Santa out of commission, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has to find someone else to save Christmas. And of course, when you want to save Christmas, you pretty much go straight to the nearest comic book editor and hope for the best.
Admittedly, it helps if the editor in question is a super-powered alien in command of a small army of robots who also has a vaguely mystical gem of nebulously defined power.
So, if you're Tharg and you want to save Christmas, what are your options? You could rush out a special edition to make up for the lousy presents, I suppose, but that would require a lot of hard work on the part of the robots, and since this is only a few months after the introduction of the Dark Judges, I think we can all agree that Robot John Wagner, Robot Alan Grant and Robot Brian Bolland have earned a few days off.
Still, someone's going to have to do the heavy lifting to set things right, Tharg turns to the next best thing: The characters.
Interestingly enough, Judge Dredd is completely absent from the lineup of 2000 AD characters who show up to help Tharg, but given that pretty much every other story in the collection is about how much ol' stone-faced Joe hates Christmas, I think it's fair to say that he's too much of a Grinch to be a whole lot of help anyway.
Instead, we get Rogue Trooper, the ABC Warriors and the VCs showing up to fight the Dictators' army of Draculas and Frankensteins:
And that, my friends, is the true meaning of Christmas.
There is, however, one last thing to deal with. Even though the Dictators' creations have been stopped, the Dictators themselves remain at large until Tharg himself sets out to stop them. Eventually, he finds them hiding in a cloud, still in Santa's sleigh, and unleashes the full force of Thrillpower upon them.
What I'd like you to do right now is to just stop and see if you can guess what kind of punishment an alien purveyor of sci-fi comics would dole out to his enemies. Go ahead, give it a second.
Did you guess "He will send them to actual Christian Hell to be tormented by the for real Satan?" If so, congratulations: you are correct.
So if you wake up on Christmas morning this year and find a present under the tree that doesn't immediately try to murder you in the name of space conquest --- which, for the record, is actually exactly how I want to go --- then remember to say thanks to our alien comics overlord for making sure that's the case.
Zarjaz Christmas, Earthlets!