Bizarro Back Issues: The Mystery Of Santa’s Brother! (1951)
The weird thing about Santa Mythology is that while we're all pretty solid on what he does now --- you know, the North Pole, the elves, the sleigh and the toys, all that good stuff --- the origin story is a lot harder to pin down. I suspect this has a lot to do with the fact that our modern idea of Santa Claus has been cobbled together from sources as disparate as a the life of a 4th-century saint, an advertising campaign for Coca-Cola, the stories of Thor's dad, and a series of stop-motion animated specials, but still. It leaves a lot up in the air.
Which is how you end up with stuff like "Santa's First Christmas Trip," in which we get an origin for the jolly old saint that takes the basic premise of "hefty toymaker delivers his wares to children" and goes right off the rails to banditry, frostbite, and the unanswered mystery of Santa's little brother.
The story ran under the Santa Claus Funnies banner in the 361st issue of the needlessly complicated Dell Four Color series, and while the creative team behind the story is sadly unknown, I can definitely confirm that they have some pretty weird ideas about how Santa Claus works.
For one thing, they believe that his actual name is "Santa Claus." As in, his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Claus, gave their child the first name "Santa," which I assume is short for his full name, "Smooth By Carlos Santana Featuring Rob Thomas Of Matchbox 20." This in and of itself isn't all that weird --- I don't actually think of "Santa" as a title as much as his name --- but it's notable here because it stands in pretty stark contrast to his brother, Christopher.
Then again, maybe my view that "Christopher" is an extremely normal name is just me.
Anyway, here's the big twist: While Santa is a friendly and well-liked villager who spends his time gathering the wood of the forest and bringing it back, he's not the one making all the toys. That's entirely Christopher's job, and while Santa wishes he had the ability, he's just too clumsy. So clumsy, in fact, that everyone in town calls him "Clumsy Claus," although the story is pretty quick to assure you that constantly being belittled for his shortcomings is all in good fun and he takes it in stride.
At this point, I was expecting this story to turn into something where Santa and Christopher would fuse together like Firestorm into a kind of ultimate bearded toymaker, but what actually happens is even weirder.
See, while Christopher makes the toys, Santa's familiarity with the woods makes him better at delivering them, so every year, he loads up the sleigh to deliver them --- except that he's not delivering to the kids, he's just taking them to the market to sell, which seems pretty un-Santa-like. In this particular year, though, a vicious snowstorm causes him to seek shelter in a cabin that he finds along the way.
There's just one problem: The cabin is already occupied by a pair of bandits who immediately decide that their best course of action here is to murder Santa and take all of his money. Which, I suppose, is the essence of banditry. The thing is, Santa doesn't have any money. He doesn't even have anything that a bandit would consider valuable, like, say, a new hat or a sharper knife. He only has toys and the clothes on his back, and the fact that this easy target has wandered into their lair without even bothering to bring anything of value makes them so mad that they decide that Santa isn't worthy of a quick death at the end of a knife.
Instead, they decide to dump the toys, trash the sleigh, steal Santa's clothes, and leave him to die of exposure. And despite the fact that that's also how the genuinely abysmal Santa Claus: The Movie opens, it's still something that I'm never really prepared to see in a Santa Claus origin.
After the bandits leave, though, Santa is so distraught that the children won't be able to have their toys this Christmas --- which, again, he was planning to sell to their parents for money rather than give away --- that he wanders out into the blizzard to try to gather them up himself and repair them, and immediately finds it to be a pretty horrific task.
Seriously, the captions go on to describe it as "backbreaking labor" in the "bitter cold." But what's this?!
As Santa whips out his knife to repair all the broken toys, he suddenly finds that his fingers aren't numb and falling off from frostbite, but instead are quicker and more skilled than ever! Is this a fantasy brought on by his impending death?! A hallucination prompted by the cold that threatens to rob him of his fingers and toes as he stumbles blindly through the endless snowy wasteland? No!
But what could cause this miraculous gift? Oh, you know. Just a literal angel descending from Heaven.
And that's the end of the story. Santa was gifted a divine ability to make really good toys, and got a red suit to go along with it because bandits stole his clothes. And that's everything you need to know about Santa Claus! The End!
"But wait," you may well be saying. "What about Santa's brother Christopher Claus? What about Santa Claus's brother who is even better than he is at making toys?! What happened to him?" The answer: Nothing. He does not show up in the story, or, to my knowledge, ever again in anything.
Given how fast this story comes to a close, I'm tempted to believe that the unknown creators just forgot that they'd introduced this entirely new and crucial character to the Santa Mythos around page nine or so, but I think the only in-story answer we can take from what we have is that our divine blessed Santa Claus moved immediately to the North Pole and started raising flying reindeer, while Christopher continued making toys in a small town, laboring under the impression that his clumsy brother was murdered by bandits on Christmas Eve.
Happy Holidays, everybody!