While my favorite superheroes are pretty well-known, I've always had a soft spot for the weird, minor and exceptionally obscure comic book characters, too. There's something about those goofy little weirdos that only show up a few times that always grab my attention, and this week, as we head towards Valentine's Day, I think I have found a new favorite: Amy Ames, The Listening Heart!
Amy appeared in the mid-60s in the pages of DC's Secret Hearts as an advice columnist who would sort out her readers' heartbreaks and occasionally find a few herself, and I'll be honest with you, folks, those stories are not really that great. They do, however, feature scenes where Amy just tells a bunch of teenagers that their feelings are stupid, and that is a romance comic plot I can get behind.
The last year or so of Archie comics has been defined by one thing: the supernatural. Not only did we get Afterlife With Archie, which saw Sabrina the Teenage Witch dabbling in necromancy and inadvertently bringing about a zombie apocalypse that saw Jughead ripping out throats at a school dance, but it was so popular that we got a separate ongoing series about Sabrina dealing with the Lovecraftian horrors that result from witchcraft.
To the casual reader, this might seem like it's a pretty big departure from the usual Archie storylines about sharing milkshakes and having too many dates to the movies, but those of us who really know Archie Comics know that it's been there all along. Or, at the very least, it's been there since 1962, in that story where Betty Cooper literally sold her soul to the Devil so that she could make out with Archie.
Last week, one of the questions that came in for my Ask Chris column came from someone who was curious about how Batman celebrated New Year's Eve, and really, that's a pretty interesting question. I mean, we have plenty of comics, cartoons and even one goofy-ass movie about how he spends Christmas, but stories that address whether or not he watches the ball drop and toasts a cup of kindness are significantly harder to come by. Fortunately, we have Batman #247, a classic from the Bronze Age that addresses exactly this question.
As it turns out, Batman spends his New Year's Eve punching out criminals. What the hell did you think he was going to do?
Last week, I mentioned that Lost in the Andes, Fantagraphics' amazing new book Donald Duck stories by Carl Barks, had one of the weirdest Christmas stories I've ever read. And for me, that's saying something: Christmas comics are one of the few things I go out of my way to collect regardless of who the creators are and who puts them out. I love the darn things, and over the years, I've read hundreds of 'em, going back through my favorites every year.
And even with all that, The Golden Christmas Tree might just take the fruitcake. After alll, most of the other Christmas stories I've read don't involve a harvest of tears or someone turning into a woodchipper.
If you're a regular ComicsAlliance reader, then you already know that I'm pretty fascinated by the weirder comics of the past, but at Christmastime, my thoughts turn to more heartwarming tales. As soon as that calendar flips over to December, 'tis the season for Santa Claus, presents, the occasional talking Christmas tree that Wonder Woman rescued from the Nazis by holding a door shut and talking about how it felt like being spanked. I mean, yeah, they're still pretty weird, but they've got that Christmas spirit!
Case in point: "A Christmas For Shacktown," the title story in the latest Fantagraphics collection of Disney Duck tales by the legendary Carl Barks. At 32 pages, it's a sprawling epic (By Barks' standards, anyway) that hits those beautiful Holiday themes of altruism and the spirit of giving. Although to be fair, it does get a little closer to cannibalism than most other Christmas comics.Our story begins as Donald Duck's three nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie, are taking a shortcut home from school through Shacktown, the hard-luck side of Duckburg where Calisota's poor gather together in sub-Dickensian poverty. Now, you'd think that a city built around the most successful businessman in the history of the world would be prosperous enough that even the bad neighborhoods would be doing all right, but apparently McDuck industries isn't the proven job creator that you might expect. If I had to guess, I'd say it's probably because its owner keeps three cubic acres of cash in a gigantic bin on top of a nearby hill, but I'm no economist. That's a different Chris Sims.
Christmas has once again come and gone, but before the holidays are over, there's one last celebration we all have to get through before New Year's rolls around and puts a cap on it: Boxing Day! The only problem is that the True Meaning of Boxing Day has been explored in roughly zero movies (as opposed to the True Meaning of Christmas, which has been pretty thoroughly dealt with in about 4,926), so I always just tend to think of it as a wintry celebration of people punching each other in the face.
I always try to celebrate with the most pugilistic comic I can find, and this year, that led me to 1944's Captain Marvel Adventures #35, which promised a boxing match between Billy Batson's alter ego and a soldier, and then went on to become one of the all-time craziest comic books I have ever read.
Listen, I don't want to get up on a soap box here, because that's not what ComicsAlliance is about, but there's something that really bothers me at this time of year. I've read a lot of holiday comics, and very, very few of them even touch on the true meaning of Christmas. Sure, there's a lot about the spirit of giving and being a good person, but that's the kind of stuff that superhero comics are always about anyway. There's something more behind Christmas, something eternal, something that a lot of people want to ignore for the sake of being "inclusive" or whatever nonsense reasons they have this year.
I'm sorry if this offends anyone, but let's be real: There's a reason we have Christmas, and it's time we acknowledge that. And that reason is that Batman reversed time to stop the Earth from being blown up by antimatter.
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.
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