When it comes to Christmas comics, you can't really get around the fact that some characters lend themselves to holiday stories a little easier than others. Superman is essentially built around peace on Earth and goodwill to men anyway, Batman's themes of family and sacrifice are perfectly suited for a bittersweet Christmas tale, and Spider-Man shopping for presents is almost always a good recipe for seasonal comedy.
And then there are the characters that don't quite fit. Like, say, the Punisher, whose tendency to run around brutally slaughtering murderers and other criminals doesn't exactly fit well with good cheer and eggnog.
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.
The time is once again here for Thanksgiving in America, and while most of us just use the holiday as an excuse to binge on turkey, there is a deeper meaning behind it. It's the day that we set aside to honor the time that the Native Americans helped out the Pilgrims, who would not have otherwise survived the harsh winter in their new home. Things eventually turned pretty sour between the two groups, but that first Thanksgiving stands as a testament to the power of people helping each other through the rough times.
However, Batman apparently never got the memo about brotherhood and equality, which is why a 1954 story in Detective Comics #205 found the Dark Knight traveling back in time to drop the hammer on Gotham City's indigenous population in the name of Bat-Imperialism and discovering "The Origin of the Bat-Cave!" It's one of our favorite crazy stories, and we're rerunning this classic Bizarro Back Issues feature this week in honor of the occasion.
A few years back, when there was first talk about a TV show based on The Flash, I remember hearing people say that the character could get a stronger foothold with the American public in a time when shows like CSI were so popular. The argument was that people would have an easier time getting their heads around the idea that Barry Allen was a police scientist, and that blew my mind. I mean, is the day job really the thing that people should be interested in when they're watching The Flash? Isn't the part where he can run super-fast and fight guys with ice guns the more important part of that whole franchise?
Besides, I think we can all agree that it was way better back in 1991, when the Flash worked for the IRS as the world's first superhero taxman.
Around Halloween, there is nothing I like more than a comic where horror elements start to creep in when they clearly have no business being there. I mean, I'll gladly read eighty issues of Tomb of Dracula and I love plenty of comics that are just Hellboy grumping at werewolves, but if you give me a comic where all the spookums and haints show up out of nowhere and start hassling Spider-Man or somebody, I am delighted. That's why I was pretty interested when pal and occasional ComicsAlliance contributor Kevin Church suggested that I add Star Trek #4 to my annual scareathon, mostly because he sold me on it by telling me it was the comic where the starship Enterprise found a haunted house. In space.
He wasn't kidding: This is a Star Trek comic where the Enterprise finds a haunted house in space. And that's after Dracula shows up.
Of all the spooky characters that I throw the spotlight on at Halloween, there's one that I've never really written too much about: Vampirella. That seems like a pretty big oversight, too. I mean, I once wrote about the Tomb of Dracula anime for Halloween, you'd think I could muster up a few words for one of the most recognizable horror characters of the '70s, right?
Well, the fact is, Vampirella's not actually that scary. I mean, despite her name, she's not actually a vampire. She's an alien from planet Drakulon, a planet where water has the same composition as blood. Or at least, I think that's how it worked, until 1997, when it was revealed that Drakulon was the product of memory implants and she was actually the daughter of Lilith, mother of all vampires, who sent her to destroy a 2,000 year-old conspiracy organized like a vampire Catholic Church (complete with a Vampire Pope) with the help of a time-traveling nun. Hoo boy. This is going to get complicated.
Here's a weird thing about this career that I've found myself in: A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a few disparaging remarks about one Andrew Bennett, the weepy star of DC's I... Vampire, and the next day I got an email from one of my childhood heroes asking, jokingly, what I thought of the Andrew Bennett story that he'd done in the pages of Brave and the Bold. The writer was Batman: Year Two's own Mike W. Barr, and the issue in question was BATB #195, where he and artist Jim Aparo sent Bennett on a team-up with the Caped Crusader to deal with a sudden wave of vampire crime in Gotham City. To be honest, it's really one of those perfect superhero comics for Halloween. It's fun, it's exciting, and as you may have guessed, it's more than a little weird.
Largely because it takes the World's Greatest Detective to figure out that all this vampire crime might have something to do with Gotham's newest business, Club Dracula.
Ever since I wrote that Ask Chris a few weeks back about how I'd rebuild the Legion of Super-Heoroes, I've been seized with the desire to go back and re-read some of the classic Legion stories from the Silver Age, but when I sat down to do just that, I was really surprised. Not because the stories are weird, mind you -- I knew they were pretty bonkers from the first time I read them, and they certainly haven't gotten any less weird since -- but because they threw the light on one of the most grievous oversights of my writing career. See, as happy as I was with the lineup I came up with for that column, I left out the character who is unquestionably the most powerful member, the actual, official "King of the Legion." I speak, of course, of Bouncing Boy.
This week sees the start of DC Comics' big The Multiversity event series, and if the related books on sale over at ComiXology -- ostensibly to get everyone up to speed -- are anything to go by, then that thing's going to be chock full of weirdos. Seriously, I already knew they were going to be throwing Captain Carrot in there, and for some reason people can't get enough of that one story where Batman becomes a Dracula, but there are some deep cuts in there, like that one Chuck Dixon comic where the Justice League are all cowboys, and this weird thing from the '90s called Kingdom Come, where Superman fights Cable.
And then there's Kamandi.
But should Kamandi start crossing over into the main DC Universe, it won't be the first time. For that, you have to go back to Bob Haney and Jim Aparo's Brave and the Bold #157, for a story where Kamandi was sent back in time, and ended up being brainwashed, made invulnerable, poisoned with snake venom, joining up with the mob and punching Batman in the face. It... It's a weird one.
If you were a child in 1990, then you wanted to be a ninja. I actually suspect that this is true for literally every child of every era who has known what a ninja was, but I can really only speak from my own experience, and that experience had a lot to do with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There were other ninjas of course, but while Snake-Eyes never really did much on TV and Sho Kusugi required a trip to the video store, the TMNT were swinging katanas and nunchuks around everywhere you looked. They were everything my eight year-old self wanted to be, and since growing a shell proved difficult, ninja training was obviously the next step.
Sadly, I never had a copy of 1986's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Authorized Martial Arts Training Manual, or else I probably would've grown up into a life of silent assassination and smoke-bomb escapes, rather than just sitting in my office making jokes about comic books. But with a new theatrical movie and ninja interest returning to an all-time high, it's worth looking back now, to see if we can't find out a few ninja tricks to apply to our day-to-day lives. Spoiler warning: Unless your day-to-day life involves the proper handling of a sai, we will not.
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