10 Surprising Comic Book Appearances by Santa Claus (et al.)
Two of my greatest loves in life are Christmas and comics, and so it's always a treat for me when the two cross over in that most wonderful of things: the holiday special. Even when those things are bad, they're still kind of good, because it's Christmas, and you're feeling charitable. But sometimes the introduction of Christmas-themed elements are not what you expect. Here are ten appearances by Christmas folk that might confound you, and that's even without mentioning that time Aquaman saved the baby Jesus from pirates by mind-controlling a giant squid.
Put this in your corncob pipe and smoke it: Santa Claus would be the world's greatest detective to a degree that would make what's-his-name look like Barney Fife. Think about it: he knows who's guilty and who's innocent, he can enter any building without knowledge of the owner, and he knows when the occupants of a building are awake or asleep. You never thought of that, did you? Well, John Byrne did, and that's why he had Santa Claus (in his P.I. disguise of Nick St. Christopher) team-up with She-Hulk to catch a serial killer in Sensational She-Hulk #8. The idea is so genius, I don't know why he's never shown up again, even though I keep pitching stories with him to Marvel by means of shouting them at my computer screen.
Carl Barks is undoubtedly one of comics' greatest treasures: he was such a standout writer/artist on Disney's Donald Duck stories that in a time when Disney artists were not credited on their stories, he was known universally as “the GOOD artist.” Plus, he was the creator of Uncle $crooge, Magica DeSpell, the Beagle Boys, Gyro Gearloose, and more, which is to say he was the sine qua non of DuckTales, so you'd better recognize, is what I'm saying. While Uncle Carl did a number of Christmas comics during his tenure as custodian of the Disney Ducks, including the story “Christmas on Bear Mountain,” which was the first appearance of Uncle $crooge, only one that I know of has Donald and Scrooge dressing up as Santas by sticking big wads of putty on their noses and having a Rock'-Em-Sock-'Em Robots fight with steam shovels like total ballers: "Letter to Santa," from Walt Disney's Christmas Parade #1, published in 1949. In the end the real Santa shows up and makes Donald and Scrooge look like idiots for not realizing the nephews wanted TOY steam shovels, then shrinks down to swoop up the chimney, shocking everyone in the room. They would have pooped their pants if they had been wearing any.
While Carl Barks is undisputedly the deftest of hands at his talking duck craft, to my mind (and hence the mind of all reasonable people), the absolute master of
funny animal comicscomics is Walt Kelly, the creator of the comic strip Pogo. But before the adventures of Pogo, Albert and Churchy La Femme were nationally syndicated in newspapers, Kelly contributed many stories to Dell Comics, including their Santa Claus Funnies title.
While it's not surprising to see Santa Claus appear in a book called Santa Claus Funnies, you still might not be prepared to see him fly down to the swampland and slide down a pot-bellied stove at the behest of a young bunny, dictated to a boll weevil and written on a leaf with berry juice, only to land in the middle of a Santa Claus lookalike contest between a rabbit with a mop on his face, an owl in a red rug, and a weevil wearing a rubber glove (don't worry: the real Santa wins the contest).
Superman's Christmas Adventure #1 by Jerry Siegel and Jack Burnley begins with Superman rich-shaming a spoiled little kid by flying him around in the middle of the night to look at poor children until he starts crying, but the adventure really ramps up when two old dudes fly their spaceship to the North Pole to try to extort Santa into manufacturing, uh, well, I'm not sure what exactly. They just say “commercial products,” but this is supposed to be in contrast to the variety of officially licensed Superman merchandise being product-placed on the very same page, so I don't know what you were going for here, Jerry. Anyway, don't worry: the elves drive them out with tasers, but the evil old men still manage to tie Lois Lane to a giant firecracker and spray Santa's reindeer with knockout gas. The good news is, the story ends with Superman throwing this a-hole down a chimney.
(It actually ends with forgiveness. But there's a certain sense of satisfaction that comes with stopping at the chimney-chucking.)
Those who know me know that basically my main thing is researching and writing about weird, little-known, or otherwise fun Christmas and Christmas-adjacent traditions, such as St. Nicholas's international companions. As much as I like reading about them, they don't show up in comics much (to the chagrin of someone trying to write a top ten list on the subject), so imagine my surprise when the antagonist of the Amazing Joy Buzzards story by Mark Andrew Smith and Dan Hipp in the 2005 Image Holiday Special was the controversial Dutch figure Black Peter. While the version in the comic story bears more or less zero resemblance to the character currently being investigated by the United Nations, you still get a story where you find out Santa Claus used to be tag team partners with a luchador genie who yells a swear at a troll before going home to gruzzle some doughnuts.
JLA #60 by Mark Waid and Cliff Rathburn tells the story of Plastic Man telling the story of how Santa Claus joined the Justice League to the young nephew of his pal and sidekick Woozy Winks. The demon Neron was trying to destroy Christmas by giving presents to kids that were actually some monkey's paw nonsense. Needless to say, Kris Kringle was not going to stand for this, so he throws down with some demonic elves before ultimately thwarting Neron by selflessly giving him the true meaning of Christmas: new socks and underwear.
Look, I realize that a giant Hydra-controlled evil Santa robot is not TECHNICALLY an appearance by Santa Claus, but this story features a human-sized Fin Fang Foom (following the events of the Fin Fang Four mini-series) teaming up with Dr. Strange's man Friday, Wong, to fight a giant robot and some pretend Nazis with karate chops and fire, so I hope you can forgive this story's inclusion.
(This bit of business is a story by Scott Gray and Roger Langridge in the Marvel Holiday Special from 2006. Roger Langridge is a treasure and I hope you will remember that.)
“The Seal Men's War on Santa Claus” was a story by Michael Fleischer and Jack Kirby originally intended to be run in 1974's Sandman #7, but Sandman was canceled with #6, so then it was going to run as a framing sequence in Kamandi #61, but Kamandi was canceled before it could run. So the story originally saw print in the Canceled Comics Cavalcade #2, before finally seeing wide release in a DC Christmas Special digest in 1981.
The story is this: due to a dare, young Jed is sent out into the Christmas Eve snow to try to collect one million dollars from a miserly recluse for charity. The miser agrees to give Jed the money if he can prove Santa Claus exists. Fortunately, Jed has a magic whistle that summons the Sandman, Master of Dreams, who is pretty close with St. Nick. Unfortunately, when they get to the North Pole, they find Santa has been kidnapped by an army of Seal Men. Why are they angry? Because Santa accidentally gave them gloves for Christmas last year, and seals don't have any dang old fingers, obviously. There is also a subplot about an unscrupulous heir who is nearly eaten by a wizard's Venus flytrap and who kidnaps Mrs. Claus. Literally do not understand why Neil Gaiman thought he needed to go back to the drawing board on this concept.
All that and more in the Battle Pope Christmas Pope-tacular by Tony Moore and Robert Kirkman. Anyway, true story: that guy has the most popular show on television now.
In The Tick's Big Yule Log Special 1997 by Sean Wang, a disgruntled elf, fired from the North Pole for making all those toys that kept getting recalled for eating children's hair etc., sets out to get revenge on Christmas, and part of his plan is making a giant monster out of coal. A side effect of the magic that brings this monster to life is giving sentience to a nearby wreath. This now intelligent—and obviously evil—garland resurfaces in The Tick and Arthur #6 as the Dire Wreath, who has the power to bring Yuletide flora to life (well, I mean, like, the having-arms-and-legs-moving-around-and-eating-stuff kind of life). The important moral message of this story is that sometimes, at Christmas, the most important thing you can have is not material things, not wealth, nor even love, but a friend (or at least, temporary uneasy ally) with a chainsaw.