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.
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.
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