A Yuletide Favorite

Many, many comics bloggers have weighed in with memories of their favorite holiday-themed superhero comics from over the years. Most of them are talking about the tabloid-sized reprint books like DC's Christmas With The Super-Heroes or Marvel's Superhero Holiday Grab Bag.

Mine was a pretty hefty book too, but it's not one of those.

I did READ the tabloid specials, back in the day. I preferred Marvel's because they weren't just Christmas stories-- they always included some straight-up superhero action as well.

The truth is, though, I am not sentimental about the holiday season. In our family, it was generally an excuse to ramp up the shouting and drunken ill temper among the adults... for us kids, it was mostly something you had to hunker down and wait out.

My usual method was to bury myself in books and comics, so I am actually sort of sentimental about those. Which brings me to my very favorite of all time. Justice League of America #110.

I was already a big fan of the Len Wein-Dick Dillin take on the League. I'd always liked the Justice League anyway, ever since I'd found them at age six through the Filmation cartoon.

But Wein won my heart completely with his one-off in JLA #107 that introduced the Red Tornado into the Justice League. Whether it was on purpose or not, Wein made the League into a microcosm of what was going on at my school-- Superman was a big well-meaning jock, Batman was the smart kid, Elongated Man was the class clown, and Black Canary was the sweet-natured girl that somewhat redeemed her jerk boyfriend Green Arrow, who was the team's designated douchebag. (Over in Avengers, that was Hawkeye's job. What comics writers of the Silver Age had against archers, I'll never know.)

Red Tornado was the League's dorky outcast. Needless to say, I identified with him like mad, and I loved the way Wein depicted the awkward new friendships he formed both with his fellow Leaguers and with his girlfriend Kathy Sutton.

So I was always up for a Wein-Dillin JLA. A few months later, DC super-sized several of their flagship titles to the 100-page size, which I adored. #110 was the first issue of JLA to get that treatment, and it was AWESOME.

The lead story had young holiday-loathing me at hello with its title-- "The Man Who Murdered Santa Claus!" And indeed, we opened with a dead Santa.

The murder's just a ploy to get the League's attention, so the villain of the piece can taunt them with his threat to set off a bomb in a major city. The call goes out, and the heroes gather. Including substitute Green Lantern John Stewart, who I'd never heard of.

Turned out, neither had the League, but that got sorted out quickly.

Note that Green Arrow is being a complete dick to everyone.

It develops that the mystery villain is in fact the Key, who's dying. He's decided that his last act on this earth is going to be making sure the Justice League has an incredibly shitty Christmas. Taking out your own crappy situation on everyone else at the holidays made such perfect sense to me at age twelve that I never questioned it. Hell, all the REAL adults I knew dealt with the holidays that way.

The Key lures the JLA to a tenement filled with deathtraps, and one by one, the heroes are taken down. Wein started with killing Superman, just to show he wasn't screwing around.

And the others are eliminated one by one as well. Each in a moment of terrible, heartbreaking sacrifice.

Well, okay, maybe not heartbreaking-- even at age twelve, I knew there was no way DC would let Len Wein kill off the entire Justice League. But I was still digging it. Something that I always liked about the satellite-era JLA was that they were friends. (Decades later, when Grant Morrison and Howard Porter revived the JLA, the fact that they went back to that friendship idea and put a modern spin on it was one of the things that made me fall for it so hard.) The way that everyone's first reaction was to sacrifice their own life to save another's was tactically unsound, no question. But for a kid like me, who'd mostly formed what moral code I had from reading comics and adventure stories, it was emotionally resonant. That's how it was supposed to be, heroes cared about other people more than themselves.

Anyway, SPOILERS, the League didn't die, because the Phantom Stranger had infiltrated the operation and secretly saved each hero from his or her deathtrap.

The Key gets away, and the JLA has to race against time to save all the civilians from the bomb. Which they do.

And we end with the League having their own little Christmas moment in their satellite headquarters. Apparently the Tornado is the only one that gets a present, but there's lots of holiday cheer to go around. Even Green Arrow is-- slightly-- less of a dick.

Lots of people have taken shots at this story, and especially the ending, over the years. It's cheesy and corny. Black Canary sewed the Tornado's new costume because she's the GIRL, of course, the seventies were so un-evolved. The new suit looks like some sort of cross between a luchadore costume and a deranged clown outfit created by a color-blind person. And so on. All legit criticisms. I won't argue it.

But I still loved that story. Being an awkward, dorky kid myself, it was hugely reassuring and wonderful to see the League's awkward kid getting to have a good Christmas with people who genuinely liked him.

I've gone on and on about the lead feature because I have so much affection for it, but the rest of the book was cool too. The two reprints that filled out the issue were a big deal for my young self as well. First you had the epic Justice Society tale of juvenile delinquency from the 1940s, "Plight of a Nation."

One of my favorite things about the 100-page era at DC was the way they'd go way back to the 40s and 50s for reprints. Each one was a little comics history lesson for me. Lots of those early efforts seemed crude even to me as a kid, but this story held up pretty well, a couple of decades later.

The other reprint was "Z as in Zatanna-- and Zero Hour!" The concluding chapter of Zatanna's search for her father.

The story from Fox and Sekowsky was just okay, but I liked finally getting the ENDING. DC had been reprinting the ongoing saga of the search in the other 100-page Spectaculars, and it was nice to know how it all turned out.

There was also a terrific pin-up from Murphy Anderson of the entire Justice Society.

I dug this because since my very first comic book ever-- a Giant that reprinted, among other things, a team-up between the Barry Allen Flash and the Jay Garrick one-- I'd been fascinated with the idea of Earth-2. So it was reference for me. (In those pre-internet days, it took forever for me to figure out who the hell the FIRST Red Tornado was.)

I read that comic to tatters. When I was an adult and old enough to seriously hunt back issues, this one was always on the short-list, and I finally snagged a copy from Randy's Readers at an Emerald City show a few years ago.

Anyway. There you have it. I'm not sentimental about the season, but I'm hugely sentimental about favorite books and comics and I still have vivid memories of how this one almost singlehandedly saved Christmas for me that year. That's what makes it my favorite holiday comic.

Feel free to weigh in with yours in the comments below, if you like.

See you next week.

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