Batman, Spider-Man, Superman and Captain America are all household names, but they can’t hold a candle to the real estate that Santa Claus holds in the hearts and minds of people around the world. And although superhero comics have been known from time to time to take public domain characters and turn them into big franchises, Santa Claus has been more of a guest star than a comics mainstay. But when he shows up, you’re in for something special.
Here are six appearances and incarnations of Kris Kringle that’ll warm up any fanboy’s fireplace:
1. Rob Liefeld’s Santa The Barbarian: Ah, Wizard magazine. Although the magazine has entered into the cavalcade of canceled series, we can still reap the gifts it gave out over the years. In 1993, it released a special-edition trading card with its Christmas issue containing Rob Liefeld’s stunning rendition of Kris Kringle as “Santa The Barbarian.” This one-off joke got a life of its own, with Liefeld later releasing Santa The Barbarian as a comic series and even featuring him on one of his family’s Christmas cards.
2. Gun-Toting Santa from Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #112: Beneath that great 1986 cover by a young Kyle Baker, there beats the heart of a unique Christmas tale by Peter David and Mark Beachum. In this under-appreciated story, Spider-Man fights off a department store Santa who tries to stuff his stockings with Peter’s neighbors gift on Christmas Eve.
3. Justice League of America #110, “The Murder of Santa Claus, 1973!”: Not quite the craziest Santa, but perhaps the craziest cover with Santa on it ever. This issue, cover-dated March 1974, showed a lifeless Santa face-down in the snow — a shocking sight for any comic fan, young or old. Inside the pages, it shows the villain the Key murders a Santa Claus who was scheduled to guest-star at an orphans Christmas party with Superman and Batman. What a grinch.
4. Iron Man #254, “Ho-Ho-Homicide!”: Bob Layton had quite a run on Iron Man, and in this issue of Iron Man the comics veteran puts a Christmas spin on Tony Stark’s war against people who steal his tech. In this story, a newly minted Spymaster, disguised as Santa Claus, sneaks into Tony Stark’s Christmas party and steals a high-tech ornament from the tree. Iron Man fights with the Spymaster, but ultimately lets the villain get away with the ornament to save the lives of his unknowing party guests.
5. What The-?! #10, “I’ll be Doom For Christmas”: Marvel’s dearly departed What The-?! series wasn’t just home to comedic John Byrne stories, Forbush Man and the great duo of Milk and Cookies, but also for one of the best Doctor Doom stories ever. In this issue, Santa Claus lands at Doom’s Latverian castle and fights through Victor’s formidable defenses to deliver a present. But along the way, the Jolly Old Elf is fatally injured and makes his last gasp a request for Doom to take up the mantle of Santa Claus and deliver presents that year. And Doom does it, as Santa Doom. Kudos for Scott Lobdell and John Byrne for this great little story.
6. 2005 Marvel Holiday Special, “Yes, Virginia, There is A Santron”: Speaking of villains getting into the Christmas spirit, writer Jeff Parker and artist Reilly Brown do just that and reprogram the villainous Ultron in this story. In it, a young woman builds a robotic Kris Kringle to help children, and Ultron downloads himself into the robot and goes on a rampage against the Avengers … all while dressed as Santa.