For the first half of the 1990s, Marvel Comics made sure to publish a special, over-sized issue filled with holiday cheer. The “Marvel Holiday Special” anthology series, published nearly yearly from 1991 to 1996, provided the parents of young Marvelites with the perfect stocking stuffer — that is, if they were fine with the issue suffering mild spine damage.
Each installment packed between five and eight short stories by some of the top names in the business. Stories by Walt Simonson, Arthur Adams, Ron Garney, Peter David, Ann Nocenti, and Kurt Busiek all appeared in the five issues, as each creator put some of Marvel’s most popular characters up against Christmas conundrums and Hanukkah havoc. If you’ve ever wanted to read a story where a blind child confuses Ghost Rider for Santa Claus, then these anthologies are for you!
With the holiday season in full swing and Christmas right around the corner, CBR News decided now is the perfect time to run down the most seasonally spirited stories from each of the five volumes!
Published in “Marvel Holiday Special” 1991
By Scott Lobdell, Dave Cockrum, Joe Rubinstein, Roxanne Starr and Paty Cockrum
Most of the stories in these five anthologies feature Marvel heroes rockin’ around the Christmas tree with Marvel villains, and this tale featuring the All-New, All-Different X-Men is the best of that particular bunch. The short starts with an alert from Cerebro interrupting the X-Men’s tree trimming. The team investigates at a shopping center where they run into a forgotten iteration of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants that includes Mastermind, Toad, Unus the Untouchable and Blob. The story’s notable for containing the new X-team’s first encounter with the Brotherhood, as well as taking place at a time when the new heroes weren’t all that friendly towards each other.
But what makes this issue so Christmas-y? It’s heavily implied that the mutant Cerebro detected is actually Santa Claus, who makes an appearance at the end of the story. His mutant power apparently involves turning humans into toys, which he demonstrates on the bad guys. That really makes you question every toy you ever got on Christmas morning, doesn’t it?
Published in “Marvel Holiday Special” 1992
By Fabian Nicieza, Darick Robertson, Larry Mahlstedt and Joe Rosas
The holiday season brings out the best in friendships, and the same can definitely be said for teammates. In this short story, each member of the New Warriors gets a quick vignette spotlighting the holiday season’s most prominent tradition — presents. Rage and Speedball’s differing financial situations lead to a misunderstanding, Firestar gives the imprisoned Justice the Hanukkah present he wants most — to hear the sound of her voice, the street tough Nova feels uneasy around his rich girlfriend’s extended family, and the affluent Night Thrasher wonders what it’s like to want anything. If this short story feels more rooted in ongoing plotlines and character development, that’s because it was written and penciled by the same duo responsible for the “New Warriors” series at the time.
This short is also notable for establishing that in the Marvel Universe, they did manufacture and sell talking Venom action figures.
Published in “Marvel Holiday Special” 1993
By Howard Chaykin, Brad Joyce and Joe Rosas
As the holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” reminds us every time the calendar hits December, there’s a dark side to the season. Some stories in these anthologies — pretty much every one starring the Punisher — go dark in a gritty ’90s way that doesn’t jive with the holiday spirit. This Nick Fury short story by Howard Chaykin, though, turns the S.H.I.E.L.D. director into a one-eyed Ebenezer Scrooge.
After ditching the — yes, this is apparently a thing — S.H.I.E.L.D. holiday party, Fury wanders the streets looking for anything else to do. Other World War II vets think he’s joking about his service because of his relatively youthful appearance, and memories of his too-long life keep him tossing and turning all night. But thanks to a classic Christmas miracle — the delivery of a long lost letter from a former flame, telling him to live in the moment — the gruff commando lets his guard down and attends the next S.H.I.E.L.D. gathering bearing gifts. Nick goes from full-Scrooge to full-Santa in just eight pages!
Published in “Marvel Holiday Special” 1994
By Greg Wright, Mike Manley and Brad Joyce
Only a handful of stories in the five anthologies highlight Hanukkah, and this tale, starring Jewish superhero Ben Grimm, actually comments on the disproportionate recognition. After the Fantastic Four’s strong man stops a runaway Christmas tree from flattening ice skaters at 30 Rock, he strikes up a conversation with Amy, a young Jewish girl who feels left out thanks to Christmas’ omnipresence. The Thing tries to explain that the season about more than just Christmas; it’s about peace and good will towards everybody of all religions. Unfortunately for Ben, a string of unlucky incidents prove to Amy that all seasonal goodwill is dead — that is until a stranger gives up his coat to Amy after hers gets stolen. After experiencing such selflessness, Amy comes around to seeing what the season — not just Christmas — is all about, and she gives the Thing a piece of Hanukkah gelt.
Published in “Marvel Holiday Special” 1996
By George Perez, Stan Lee, Rick Leonardi, Scott Koblish, Todd Klein and Tom Smith
While two of the handful of Hanukkah tales get into this holiday issue (one narrated by Doc Samson and the other by Kitty Pryde), this short starring the cosmically powered Silver Surfer is the only one that takes a trip to a manger in Bethlemhem. On top of that, it features a plot by George Perez with dialogue by Stan Lee himself.
After the Surfer harshes a schoolgirl’s Christmas spirit by insisting that the Star of Bethlehem doesn’t exist, he goes on an intergalactic journey to try and find out just what “religion” is. He tracks down the Watcher of a far away galaxy and finally uncovers the truth of the Marvel Universe’s Star of Bethlehem. In addition to leading the Magi to Bethlehem, the star also mysteriously appeared and heralded miracles on dozens of worlds. When confronted with these facts, the Silver Surfer encounters faith and, perhaps more importantly, apologizes to the little girl that he made cry.