Ask Chris #319: Come To The North Pole, Have A Few Laughs
Q: Santa's workshop is taken over by terrorists who are not what they seem. Which comics character fits the John McClane role? Remember: he’s an unlikely hero, so no obvious answers like Batman. — @charlotteofoz
A: Okay, look: I know that everyone is tired of the whole "Die Hard is the best Christmas movie" thing. I mean, I'm tired of it, and Matt D. Wilson and I once recorded a commentary track for that movie as the Christmas special for our podcast. But all that said, this question has too many interesting parts to not answer.
See, the thing that makes Die Hard work so well as an action movie is that it's doing a lot of different things at once. There's the twist with what the bad guys really want, the idea of being trapped in an unfamiliar place with no way out, and, of course, the everyman hero. Putting it at Santa's Workshop just makes it all a whole lot better.
The bad guys are the easy part. I mean, it's pretty easy to just duplicate the exact plot of the film. As the world's most beloved gift-giver, Santa Claus is a pretty believable target for villains who seize the North Pole with a list of demands. And for that role, I'm thinking that Ra's al-Ghul fits the bill pretty well. I mean, he's an immortal swordsman with a strained relationship to his children, who wants to kill off most of the world's population, which pretty much makes him Santa Claus's evil opposite, right? He's even got the reverse of Santa's facial hair!!
Also, I'm pretty sure the League of Assassins could overpower the elves, giving Ra's access to the thing that he really wants: Santa's toy sack, and the presents that should be given to an entire world's worth of children! Imagine what he could do with that kind of power, especially if we're using the Santa Mythology that says the sack provides whatever the holder wants when their hand goes into it. And even if it doesn't, I'm pretty sure he could still wreak a good bit of havoc armed only with the world's supply of new bikes and PlayStations.
So that's our bad guy. The tougher part is figuring out who the hero is.
It's the everyman hero aspect, the thing that makes Die Hard work so well --- and that implicitly makes every sequel carry the title Die Hard With Diminishing Returns --- that's a lot tougher to figure out. After all, superheroes are, by their nature, exceptional and powerful, and pit against overwhelming odds on a pretty regular basis, and even if you take the fact that McClane is himself a Tough Guy New York Cop With A Six Month Backlog Of New York Scumbags to give his exploits a veneer of possibility into account, you need someone who's a little more average.
If nothing else, the necessity of being "trapped" in a location cuts down dramatically on who we can use. Anyone who can fly is out, as is anyone who can run at the speed of light, teleport, use a magic space ring to wish themselves to another planet, or who owns a personal jet, invisible or otherwise.
If you adjust for a superhero universe, in which even Batman's butler is a former special forces soldier with combat training, then I think we can get away with anyone who's just not a superhero. And if that's the case, well.
It's gotta be Lois, right?
Admittedly, Lois isn't exactly an unlikely heroine --- she had her own title for 137 issues, which is more than you can say for the Martian Manhunter --- but in a world of superheroes, she's about as human as you can get while still having all the qualities you want in this kind of story. For one thing, she has a reason to be there.
Again, I know that the discussion of whether Die Hard is actually a Christmas movie is as played out as it gets, but my pal Andrew Ihla --- you may know him from that "Silent Movie" cut of Batman Returns that's been going around --- pointed out, you can't really separate the movie from Christmas without changing massive pieces of the movie. Christmas provides the framework upon which the rest of the film is built --- it's the reason John McClane comes out to the coast to see his wife and kids, and the Christmas Party is not only the reason that everyone's around after hours to be taken hostage by Hans Gruber and his gang, it's also the reason John goes to Nakatomi Plaza instead of to Holly's house to see his kids.
Lois, on the other hand, has a pretty good reason to be at the North Pole even in the middle of May, since that's where Superman's Fortress of Solitude is, and if she's up there anyway, it's a pretty short leap to get her to the North Pole's other famous location. Plus, it makes sense. Even if she's not there to do a story on the jolly old saint, Lois is canonically a Christmas lover, and getting to go to Santa's house is exactly the kind of "present" Superman would give to her.
But what makes her work best is that she really can work as the fly in the ointment, the monkey in the wrench. I mean, he might be the most powerful superhero on the planet, but Superman's pretty easy to prepare for if you know that he's coming --- and if you're going to siege Santa's workshop, it's a pretty good bet that he will be. It's hard to believe that Ra's al-Ghul would have a whole lot of trouble getting his hands on Kryptonite, and that would leave Superman powerless to stop him.
Lois, on the other hand, is a lot more difficult to plan for.
She's clever, resourceful, and driven, and even apart from her love of Christmas and the general "we gotta save Santa!" feeling that I think anyone would have in that situation, she's personally motivated to save Superman.
While it's easy to prepare for superheroes if you're used to fighting them --- especially if they tend to agree to shirtless swordfights in the sun-bleached desert, as most of the people who fight Ra's do --- Lois Lane is the kind of character who's very easy to underestimate, and almost impossible to overestimate. It's easy to imagine her stealthily moving through the workshop, freeing the reindeer, letting out a "you think I'm friggin' stupid, Ra's? No more bullets!," or blindsiding Talia and leaving her tied to a giant candy cane with a note reading "Now I Have A Scimitar, Ho Ho Ho" pinned to her chest. Plus, putting Superman in the Holly Gennaro role --- which I guess makes Jimmy Olsen into Al Powell and Steve Lombard into Ellis --- would make things pretty interesting to read.
Plus, if nothing else, Lois would be smart enough to leave her dang shoes on.