Ask Chris #175: The Great Santa Fight
Q: Can Santa Claus beat Superman in a fight? Can he beat Batman? –@byharryconnolly
A: You, Harry, have been affected by the cynicism of a cynical age. Any schoolchild could tell you that Santa Claus would never fight Superman or Batman, because they are all on the same side. Then again, I suppose that’s why you didn’t ask a schoolchild and instead went straight to someone who specializes in providing needlessly elaborate answers to yes-or-no questions about fictional vigilantes.
So today, on this wintry Christmas Week Eve, I’m going to take up the spirit of the holiday and give you the answer you asked for. The short version? Yes. Santa Claus could beat those dudes like government reindeer. It wouldn’t even be close.
That might sound a little odd coming from someone with a reputation as a devout fan of Batman and who has a pretty high opinion of Superman to go along with it, but part of loving a character like that is loving their limitations just as much as you love their strengths. I don’t ever want to see Batman or Superman really lose, you understand, because that means evil wins and the entire structure that superheroes are built on gets called into question and all that jazz that I love about morality and the triumph of good goes right out the window. But at the same time, limitations can be an important part of the drama — there has to be something that’s overcome in order for the triumph of good to really matter. It’s one of the reasons that I never, ever, ever want to see another fight where Batman beats up Superman because of how much everyone loved it the first time they saw it thirty years ago, which has gotten to the point where it’s just flat-out ridiculous. I’d be way more into a story where Superman actually remembered that he can bench press a small city and set something on fire by looking at it and just dropped him with one hit. It might even do him some good. Stuff like that builds character. Just ask Alfred.
Anyway, that’s part of why I’m willing to say pretty unequivocally that Santa has this battle on lock. The other part… well, that’s just the facts.
I’m going to go ahead and guess that we’re all pretty familiar with Superman and Batman at this point, so in this case, it’s really Santa Claus that needs explaining more than anything else, and most of that explanation is going to have to do with that guy’s sixteen hundred year history of taking exactly zero amounts of guff from anyone who is not, you know, God Himself. That’s basically his entire deal, assuming that we’re working from the premise that Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, and Father Christmas are all the same dude, which, in the style of Official ComicsAlliance Santa Claus Consultant Benito Cereno, we are.
So let’s start at the beginning and get our basics out of the way. We naturally know Santa Claus as a friendly and charitable gift-giver, but it’s always worth remembering that these past few centuries of dabbling in pacifism have been a relatively recent development for jolly old Kris Kringle. It’s one of the most well-known pieces of obscure Christmas trivia that, in addition to Children, St. Nicholas of Myra is also the patron saint of Sailors, Thieves, Pirates, Archers and the elite personal bodyguards of the Byzantine Emperor, who were just straight up Vikings who were pretty well known for fighting loyally to the death. That ought to give you an idea of just who it is we’re dealing with, and why I think he has the chops to hang with a science ninja crimefighter like Batman. That roster of interests, coupled with the fact that he was well known for performing miracles, essentially make him a one-man D&D party.
Quick sidenote about the miracles: St. Nicholas performed so many of these that he is also known as “Nikolaos the Wonderworker,” which, at the very least, sounds like one of Jack Kirby’s Celestials. It fits right in with “Arishem the Judge” and “Nezarr the Calculator.” There are two that he’s most famous for, and the first one involves multiplying wheat from a shipment some sailors were bringing into a port during a famine so they wouldn’t get screwed over on their taxes, and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not quite as flashy as you might expect it to be. Sure, extra food is always nice to have around when people are starving, but still, it’s just wheat. Good thing that his other most famous miracle is, you know, resurrecting dead children who had been dismembered by a cannibal.
Apart from the miracles, there’s another piece of St. Nicholas’s life that has bearing on whether he could take down a couple of superheroes: He was not afraid to get violent when he needed to. Admittedly, his definition of a situation that required violence may have been slightly different from ours, but look, that’s what happens when you’re talking about someone who lived in the fourth century. The most famous example — again, pretty well-known as far as these things go — was during a theological debate, when he was so incensed by what he saw as heresy that he walked across the forum and punched the man he was debating in the face, right in front of Emperor Constantine. This, as you might expect, is illegal, but he later broke out of jail when Jesus and Mary appeared and freed him, thus making him the patron saint of those who have been wrongfully imprisoned. Amount of guff taken remains at a lifetime total of zero.
So that’s our starting point, and from there, he only gets tougher. Even once he transitions into the type of Christmastime figure that we start to recognize as our modern Santa Claus, he still spends about a thousand years wandering around Europe, driving out demons and recruiting monsters like the Krampus or Klaubauf into his service:
Even in more modern interpretations, there’s still a pretty strong undercurrent of action running through the mythology of Santa Claus. L. Frank Baum’s version in The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus was raised on the milk of a lioness and granted immortality by a twenty foot-tall druid with a silver axe that shot laser beams, which makes all that stuff with the toys seem pretty tame by comparison. J.R.R. Tolkien’s version of Father Christmas, crafted in letters that he wrote to his children, goes even further. Over the course of the letters written over 20+ years, you find out that Santa’s workshop is under pretty constant attack from goblins that live in caves beneath the snow, and that Santa has to frequently go to war against them with the help of the North Polar Bear.
As you might expect from the fact that they’re, you know, written by J.R.R. Tolkien, Father Christmas gets up into some pretty rollicking epic fantasy adventures. Here’s an excerpt from 1941:
I have not time to tell you all the story. I had to blow three blasts on the great Horn (Windbeam). It hangs over the fireplace in the hall, and if I have not told you abou tit before, it is because I have not had to blow it for over 4 hundred years: its sound carries as far as the North Wind blows. All the same it was three whole days before help came: snowboys, polar bears, and hundreds and hundreds of elves.
They came up behind the Goblins: and Polar Bear (really awake this time) rushed out with a blazing branch off the fire in each paw. He must have killed dozens of Goblins (he says a million).
But there was a big battle down in the plain near the North Pole in November, in which the Goblins brought back hundreds of new companies out of their tunnels. We were driven back to the Cliff, and it was not until Poalr Bear and a party of his younger relatives crept out by night, and blew up the entrance to the new tunnels with nearly 100 lbs of gunpowder what we got the better of them — for the present.
A MILLION GOBLINS. And that is Santa’s pet. There are also letters hinting at the existence of Santa’s dad, Grandfather Nicholas Yule Sr., and his mysterious “green brother.” It probably will not surprise you to learn that Letters From Father Christmas is my favorite thing Tolkien ever wrote, and I eagerly await the day that it is turned into a 27-hour film series designed to keep New Zealand’s economy thriving.
Put all of that stuff together and throw in what we already know of Santa’s other attributes (immortality, a workshop of industrious elves, the ability to visit all the children of the world in a single night, a harsh stance with regards to crying and pouting), and we’ve got a pretty strong picture of just what the World’s Finest team would be dealing with.
Santa Claus is a mystical immortal with centuries of combat experience, well known for miraculous resurrections, who leads an army of obedient, well-trained servants. If Santa Claus was a bad guy, he’d be Ra’s al-Ghul.
So how does he stack up against Batman and Superman, if indeed there actually was a reason to turn to fisticuffs? Well, let’s start with Batman, and like I said, it’s not even a fight. You can talk all you want about how Batman can strategize a plan if he’s given enough — and let us pause here to see if you can actually hear me rolling my eyes at this phrase that always crops up in comic shop “who would win” arguments — prep time, but there’s no one who’s going to be more prepared than Santa Claus. He spends an entire year preparing for exactly one night, and he’s been doing it every year for twenty times longer than Batman has actually existed.
Look, Batman’s very, very good at what he does, but if you’ll recall, he lost that first shirtless swordfight with Ra’s al-Ghul out in the desert, and that dude’s not even the Patron Saint of Pirates. I’ve read enough comics to know that Wayne Manor has multiple chimneys, and once he’s in there, the fight is basically over. I feel fairly confident in saying that there is nothing Bane has done that Santa Claus could not do.
Superman seems like he might be a slightly more difficult opponent at first, but the more I think about it, the more I feel like he’d go down even faster. Superman is, after all, vulnerable to magic, and Santa Claus is nothing but magic — and as we know from endless holiday specials, Christmas magic is some of the most powerful there is. Even if he doesn’t pull any Kryptonite out of his sack of toys — and really, is there anything more Christmasy than a glowing green rock — that evens up the playing field and makes it something that comes closer to a purely physical contest. Carrying PS4s for the children of America alone would seem to require some pretty serious muscle, and Superman’s fast, but let’s be real here: brings-toys-to-every-child-in-the-world-in-a-single-night fast is a few ranks above “speeding bullet” fast.
You might be tempted to point out that I’m assuming Santa Claus takes the initiative and that the World’s Finest might have the advantage if they launched the assault at the north pole, but how exactly are they supposed to ambush a guy who sees them when they’re sleeping and knows when they’re awake? I submit that they could not, and even if they did, they’re dealing with elves, those yetis from Rise of the Guardians (which, in case I haven’t said it enough, features Pirate Cossack Santa Claus fighting evil with his twin cutlasses) the North Polar Bear and/or the Master Woodsman and his laser axe. And at the end of all that, they’ve still got to deal with a miracle-working, demon-chaining toymaker who, as previously established, takes no guff whatsoever. They lose, and they lose bad.
But fortunately, this is all an imaginary scenario. As we all know, Santa Claus, Superman and Batman are all on the side of good, devoting their lives to protecting people, spreading good cheer, and, when necessary, punching people right in the face. As sure as love and generosity and Darkseid exist, they’ll be united for the happiness of this world and all its people.
That said, Superman and Batman better watch out, and they better dang sure not cry.