Bizarro Back Issues: Santa Claus, Santa Claus, You Are Much Too Fat (1946)
There are very few things I love in this world more than a story where a superhero teams up with Santa Claus to save Christmas. I mean, I love Christmas comics in general, but the ones where the Jolly Old Saint himself shows up are always just a little bit more special, especially when the hero in question is Superman. If I was in charge, you'd see Santa Claus literally every time there was a comic set at the Fortress of Solitude, because really, the North Pole has exactly three residents, and who else are they going to hang out with? But I digress.
My point is, Superman/Santa Claus team-ups are great, even when they're weird -- and folks, they do get weird. Take, for example, one of Superman's earliest team-ups with St. Nicholas, wherein they have to battle against the evil machinations of a dude who hates Christmas so much that he makes Santa Claus even fatter than he already was, and Superman has to help him lose weight.
That is exactly what happened way back in 1946's Action Comics #105, in a story by Jerry Siegel and John Sikela with the enticing title of "The Man Who Hated Christmas," and there's two things we should probably note before we move on. First, this is one of the earlier examples of something that would be a recurring theme throughout the next twenty or thirty years of Superman comics, which is that being overweight is a problem that requires the intervention of Superman. I realize that it's a health risk, but putting it on the level of, you know, killer meteors and giant robots has always struck me as a little weird. I don't want to say that there are problems too small for Superman, but really, maybe he should tackle the stuff that can't be conquered by gym memberships and salad.
Second, and probably of interest only to people who obsess about Christmas and comics in equal measure, is that DC is all over the friggin' map with regards to the existence of Santa Claus, and it's so weird. You'd think that they would've just settled on one or the other, but in 1945's Christmas special (Action #93), Superman has to step in and save the day specifically because Santa Claus doesn't actually exist, but in this one, he not only exists, you can just straight up go to his house if you want to. They just keep flip-flopping back and forth -- one of my all-time favorite terrible moments from the Silver Age is a panel where Supergirl, in a story that has nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas, just casually mentions that something would be as bad as telling young children that Santa Claus doesn't exist before they're ready for the truth. This happens in a comic that was directed at eight-year-olds. That Mort Weisinger had a cruel streak, I'll tell you that for free.
Anyway, back to this one.
Our story begins with what is quite possibly my favorite caption of the entire Golden Age of comic books:
Yes, Jasper Rasper is A MEAN MAN, and the next caption follows it up with the equally amazing "IF HE COULD KILL CHRISTMAS, HE WOULD." The dude is hard is what they're getting at.
At this point, you could probably be forgiven for thinking that this story was going to do what so many others had done and go for a quick and dirty rehash of A Christmas Carol, with Superman playing the part of the ghosts. I mean, it's 1945, after all, and they hadn't quite gotten to the point where this was something that we never, ever, ever needed to see again because nothing could ever top that one episode of Xena: Warrior Princess where Xena meets Santa Claus and the baby Jesus. But that is not where this story goes. Jasper Rasper hates Christmas so much that he has concocted a plan to ruin it for everyone, so he's taking a batch of drugged chocolates straight to the North Pole:
I am not even kidding when I say that my favorite thing about this entire comic is that a dude can just fly up to Santa's house in a helicopter.
Before we get to that nefarious plan, though, there's a side-story going on. It seems the ersatz Cratchit of our tale, the janitor who was fired earlier, is late on his rent. His landlady is understanding, though, and goes as far as submitting his story to the latest in the Daily Planet's extensive series of questionable journalistic practices, The "Meanest-Deed-I-Ever-Heard-Of" Contest! One assumes that, you know, the entire Second World War, which had just finished, was disqualified from contention, thus paving the way for stories of s**tty bosses.
Either way, the story of Rasper firing an employee just for saying "Merry Christmas" catches the attention of Perry White, who I will remind you is the editor of a major metropolitan newspaper, who declares that it could make "a sensational feature story!" and sends one of his top reporters out to cover it. Clark heads out and discovers that, as you might expect, Rasper's employees are up to here with him and take the first opportunity to rat their boss out for his attempt to sabotage Christmas.
Soon, Superman is on his way to the North Pole, but with Rasper's head start, he's already there making trouble. After just cold sauntering into Santa's house and interrupting his workout on an obstacle course that is basically a Danger Room made of chimneys (AMAZING) Rasper puts his devious plan into action. First, he hands the chemically altered chocolates over to Santa, and if that wasn't enough trouble, he roofies the Reindeer, too:
It was bad enough that he wanted to murder Christmas, but making it a floperoo?! Unforgivable.
By the time Superman arrives, the chemicals have already had their dastardly effect, and Santa Claus has swelled up to twice his usual size. This presents quite a problem since this version of St. Nicholas actually, physically climbs down every chimney in order to deliver his presents, so it's up to Superman to slim him down again. And that's where things start to get terrifying.
See, weight loss in Superman comics is just as weird as everything else that happens in Superman comics. There's one story from the '60s where Jimmy becomes editor for the day at the Daily Planet as part of a secret plot to make Perry lose weight so he won't be dropped from his insurance (really), and he ends up ordering him to do so much physical activity that Perry loses something like 30 pounds in one day. That, I am pretty sure, would literally kill someone. For Santa, Superman does a little of the same thing, starting with the weird old sitcom tradition of just hitting him a bunch, and then moves into what might be the worst plan anyone has ever had to help someone with weight loss.
He tries to scare the weight off.
I'm not a doctor -- I gave up my studies so I could pull down that sweet, sweet Internet comics critic money -- but I think giving someone who just had all the "fatty tissue" in their body "multiplied at miraculous speed" a series of terrifying scares would be less conducive to weight loss and more prone to, you know, massive heart failure. But who am I to argue with Superman?
So this goes on for a little bit, with Superman alternately terrifying Santa (with a volcano and the threat of being dropped from a bridge) and helping him sweat out a few pounds (also with a volcano and a bridge). Finally, he comes to the last phase of his plan: Kicking back with a milkshake while Santa busts a move on the dance floor with a bunch of costumed ladies...
...and then terrifying him with the horrors of space.
It all works, though, and even though the Reindeer are still down for the count, Superman pitches in himself, carrying the sleigh across the world to deliver toys. This sort of raises the question of why Superman couldn't just fill in while Santa recovered in a way that didn't take years off of his life, but I guess when you're immortal, you have plenty of years to spare.
There is, however, one last loose end. On his way back to Metropolis, it seems Jasper Rasper and his Rasper Helicopter had a bit of a malfunction, stranding him on an iceberg. Santa and Superman rescue him, and this is all it takes for him to have a Scroogian change of heart:
Thus, our story comes to an end. Rasper learns the True Meaning of Christmas, Cartwright gets his job back, Mrs. O'Malley the Landlady actually wins the Meanest-Deed-I-Ever-Heard-Of contest and gets to keep the money that she was planning to give to Cartwright, and, perhaps most importantly, Santa has battled chemically induced weight gain by being terrorized by an all-powerful alien.