The Holly and the Spidey: Our 8 Favorite Marvel Holiday Specials!
Last week, we brought you a list of our favorite DC Christmas stories, but the Distinguished Competition isn’t the only company that’s brought its share of four-color holiday cheer! That’s why this week, we’ve turned once again to ComicsAlliance contributor and recovering wassail addict Chris Sims to bring us Marvel’s eight best holiday stories!
8. The Spirit of the Season – “Marvel Holiday Special” (1993)
…but it mostly just amounts to drawing some snow in the background while Frank goes about the business of murdering people.
What sets this one aside, however, is that it’s the Christmas story where the Punisher embraces pacifism.
Or at least, it’s the story where the Punisher makes a bet with Micro that he can get through one Christmas without shooting, stabbing, setting on fire, or otherwise harming another person. Thus, Frank sets out to bring down a local gang boss in a strategy that involves literally turning the other cheek:
Of course, this being the Punisher, he’s coated his costume with a contact poison that paralyzes his assailant the second he tries to grapple with him, but hey: It’s the thought that counts, right?
Page for page, the 2005 Holiday Special is quite possibly the best Christmas comic ever produced, but we’ll get into that in a moment. For now, it’s enough to know that this is a story where the giant monster from “Fantastic Four” #1 kidnaps a department store Santa:
Yes, as Shaenon Garrity and the legendary Roger Langridge reveal, the Mole Man always gets a little depressed around the holidays, which is why the Moloids — his loyal subterranean subjects — send his army of monsters to recreate his most cherished childhood memory by bringing him a Santa.
This, of course, is problematic — even putting aside the fact that giant monsters are rampaging through Macy’s on 34th Street — as the Mole Man’s vision of Santa isn’t the average Claus, being that hes tall, thin, has eyebrows that are arched to within an inch of their lives, and wings on his feet. Fortunately, as the ever-lovin’ Ben Grimm discovers, the FF know someone who fits the description:
So for those of you who were wondering what Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner was doing for all those years as a homeless man before Johnny Storm showed up to restore his memory, we have your answer: He was Clausing for the Mole Man.
For many people, the holidays mean spending time with family, and for a good chunk of those, it’s an absolutely terrifying prospect that we start dreading sometime around Halloween. This is the conceit behind “Back to the Future” screenwriter Bob Gale and artist Phil Winslade’s “Ant-Man’s Big Christmas,” where a kid tired of dealing with the horrible gang of people who swarm his house every Christmas writes to his favorite Avenger — who, shockingly enough, is actually Ant-Man — for help.
What follows is essentially a lighthearted, Christmasy version of “Tales From the Crypt,” with Ant-Man and the winsome Wasp doling out ironic punishments to Larry’s relatives using their size-changing Pym Particles: An aunt who insists on stinky cigars gets put into Tupperware with a fish-head and rotten fruit, bullying cousins get hogtied, doused with honey and have ants dumped onto them, and an uncle with a penchant for rifling through Mom’s underwear drawer gets snapped across the room courtesy of Victoria’s Secret:
It seems a little harsh when you actually write it out (we’d sort of forgotten the part where the kid videotapes his cousins being swarmed by fire ants), but it’s more in the spirit of “Home Alone” than “Saw.” And really, if you can’t alienate your family with gruesome revenge plots on Christmas, when can you?
Another yuletide hit from Roger Langridge, this time teamed with frequent partner Scott Gray, this ten-page epic told the story of a HYDRA plot to take over New York with a giant Evil Santa Robot, which could only be defeated by the combined efforts of Dr. Strange’s manservant Wong and the misanthropic purple underpants-wearing dragon, Fin Fang Foom.
Truly, it was a team-up that could only happen in the Core Marvel Universe.
On its surface, this is a straight up dragon-and-kung-fu-vs-giant-robot-on-Christmas story (which, as we all know, are a dime a dozen), but underneath that, there’s actually a nice — and very Christmasy — message that’s about both doing the right thing even when you don’t want to, and also about how some people just do not want to deal with hanging out with others during the holidays.
Really, though, it’s all about Hydra Claus, which has to be the second-best evil Santa Claus robot in the history of the Marvel Universe.
The plot centers around Santa Claus being injured by Doom’s many, many, many castle defenses, and turning to Victor Von D. to finish making his rounds as a replacement Santa Claus:
Of course, the heroes of the Marvel Universe don’t take kindly to Doom breaking into their houses (or in their case, mansions and skyscrapers) on Christmas Eve, even if it’s ostensibly for the noble purpose of gift-giving. Thus, as tends to happen in the Marvel universe, a brawl ensues, with the entire roster of Avengers beating the stuffing out of a nog-fueled Doom until Captain America realizes that beating up Santa in front of a little girl is probably not the best idea he’s ever had.
And so, Doom is rewarded with a present of his own…
…and we don’t care what you say: That is totally in continuity.
Underneath all the comedy, though, there’s some genuine emotional content here that fits right in with the True Meaning of Christmas. Or at least, the part of the True Meaning of Christmas that doesn’t involve Squirrel Girl beating up M.O.D.O.K., like memories of lost loved ones and the strained relationships of family members that have grown apart:
Those are the problems that are hard to deal with, and sometimes they don’t get solved. Unlike, say, Thanos, who is handily defeated by Squirrel Girl, who we’re pretty sure is now officially the most powerful character in the Marvel U.
Why? Because J. Jonah Jameson, that’s why!
We love JJJ, and while there are plenty of Christmas comics about him — including a Tom DeFalco/Takeshi Miyazawa story from 2004 that saw him recast as Scrooge — this is the only one that just revels in the fact that he’s an absolute bastard, which is exactly why we love him. And just how much of a jerk is he? Well, when a bunch of lost children show up at the Daily Bugle’s Christmas Party, Jonah takes them to Macy’s to see Spider-Man fighting the Puppet Master (who was disguised as Santa Claus)…
…so that they can see Spider-Man beating up Santa.
Oh, that Jonah! He is ruthless!
Stories based on “Yes, Virginia” are only slightly less common in Christmas comics than riffs on “A Christmas Carol,” but to our knowledge, this is the only one where a girl’s undying faith in the magic of Santa Claus leads her to build a robot designed to deliver toys to children, which then immediately decides to go kill the Avengers because she accidentally made it out of Ultron.
Even beyond the fact that it does Killer Robot Santa better, funnier, and quicker than “Futurama” ever managed to pull off, there’s so much to like about this story, which centers largely on Dr. Strange’s Christmas party, complete with a man-eating tree and devious attempts at repeatedly mistletoe-ing Spider-Woman. What really sells it, though, is the stirring speech delivered by — who else? — Captain America.
All that and a killer Robot Santa that’s defeated through its prime directive to eat cookies and drink milk? It’s like Jeff Parker wrote a Christmas present just for us.