DC Comics recently announced it will return to the tradition of releasing a holiday special with “DC Rebirth Holiday Special” #1. This is DC’s first company-wide holiday special since 2009 (although the publisher has had other holiday comics since then, including a number of Harley Quinn specials).
Holiday specials have an interesting history. In the Golden Age of comics, there was practically a Christmas-related issue of any given title once a year, like clockwork. That tradition fell by the wayside during the 1950s and 1960s, at least in superhero titles (DC released a “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer holiday comic special every year from 1950 through 1962, and Walt Disney Comics routinely put out “Christmas Parade” specials). Stan Lee generally believed that holiday-related stories distracted from the universal feel of Marvel stories, so it wasn’t until the late 1960s that Marvel Comics had its first notable holiday comic. The 1970s saw Marvel and DC begin to tell more holiday-themed stories in their comics and that decade saw the release of the first superhero holiday specials from both companies (with both releasing them as Treasury Editions).
The late 1980s saw DC return to the holiday special game and Marvel joined in in 1991. Throughout the 1990s, both companies routinely put out a multitude of holiday specials. Things died down around the turn of the century, but then there was a brief resurgence from 2006-2011. Both companies have dialed down their holiday special production since then, but now that DC has come back to the game, maybe Marvel will soon join in, as well!
Without any further ado, here are the 10 greatest comic book holiday specials of all-time (note that we’re talking comics with primarily new stories in them, so not the reprint heavy “Holiday Grab Bags” of the 1970s)!
10. Power Pack Holiday Special
By the time that the original “Power Pack” series had ended in late 1990, the characters had been drastically revamped, with Alex Power, the oldest brother of the team of sibling superheroes, being transformed into a Kymellian (a horse-like race that were friends of the team). After discovering their powers, the mother of the Powers suffered a nervous breakdown. So the whole family headed off into outer space to see if they could find a cure. It was a bleak ending for such a hopeful series. Luckily, a year later Marvel allowed the original creators of “Power Pack,” writer Louise Simonson and artist June Brigman (along with new inker Roy Richardson) return to the characters to do a Holiday Special. In the main story in the book, they essentially retconned all of the final storylines of the series and returned the characters roughly to where they were when Simonson left the series. (It was a much-needed retcon.) The special had other fun stories in it, as well, including a touching one starring Jack Power trying to avenge himself on his teacher before realizing that she just had the Christmas blues since she wasn’t going to see her family (the Pack fixed that).
9. Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special
Released at roughly the same time as the “Power Pack Holiday Special,” the “Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special” was about a 180 degree turn from the style of the “Power Pack.” In this story written by Keith Giffen and Alan Grant and drawn by Simon Bisley, the Easter Bunny hired Lobo to kill Santa Claus because Christmas overshadowed all of the other holidays. Lobo complied and headed to the North Pole where he slaughtered Santa’s elves in grotesque fashion before taking on Kris Kringle himself, who was not exactly a pushover. They had a bloody knife fight before Lobo successfully beheaded Santa. He then used Santa’s workshop to build bombs to drop on all the children on Santa’s list (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer wouldn’t go along with it and he was killed for his efforts). It’s a wonderfully twisted tale, with Giffen, Grant and Bisley amping up the absurd violence to the point where it really does work well as a dark comedy. The book comes with an apt warning on the title: “WARNING: Contains Bad Taste In The Form Of Ultra-Violence, Icon-Bashing, And “The Finger.” More Offensive Than Christmas Usually Is.”
8. Marvel Holiday Special 2005
Marvel returned to the Holiday Special game in 2004 after taking nearly a decade off between holiday releases. 2005 saw their second effort, which was under a brilliant Stuart Immonen cover of the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man trimming a giant Christmas tree. The book had three stories. A Dickensian effort from Mikes Carey and Perkins, a fun Moleman story by the classic “Fin Fang Four” creative team of Shaenon Garrity and Roger Langridge (along with inker Al Gordon) and the highlight of the book, a story about a young woman named Virginia who tried to create her own Santa Claus robot, using an old, unfinished Ultron body. However, the robot went berserk when she sent it on its way, exclaiming, “Merry Christmas to all… except the Avengers. The Avengers must die!” So “Santron” then attacked the Avengers Christmas party. Virginia helped stop her creation, upon which Captain America gave her a version of the famous “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” speech.
7. Clerks Holiday Special
The second comic book starring the characters from his film, “Clerks,” Kevin Smith did an excellent job writing the characters into a holiday-themed story and artist Jim Mahfood continued his strong work on the characters (he drew the first “Clerks” comic, as well). In the story, Dante decided to visit his former girlfriend, who had been catatonic since having sex with a dead man in the bathroom at the convenience store that Dante worked (she thought that the man was Dante). Dante’s best friend, video store clerk Randall, convinced Dante that she needed to be sexually stimulated to help her with her catatonic state. Hilarity ensued. Randall, meanwhile, befriended Santa Claus himself and helped him with the toy delivery after his original hires, Jay and Silent Bob, messed things up. It’s a well-rounded story with a lot of laughs and an impressive amount of heart.
6. DCU Holiday Bash II
After a brief period without holiday specials in the early 1990s, DC returned with their first “DCU Holiday Bash” in 1996. Their second one was an excellent collection of holiday stories. Some standouts included a short dialogue-less story by Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding about a helpful present from Ma and Pa Kent to Superman, a reunion of the acclaimed “Black Lightning” creative team of Tony Isabella and Eddy Newell, a heartfelt Devin Grayson-penned story starring Green Lantern and Green Arrow (Kyle Rayner and Connor Hawke) and a Justice Society of America story during World War II by Howard Chaykin and Rick Burchett. The highlights of this collection, though, were a Nightwing/Oracle story by Devin Grayson, Brian Stelfreeze and Karl Story that did wonders for the development of the Dick Grayson/Barbara Gordon relationship that DC was slowly beginning to push around this time (they reminisce about how they used to think that “Auld Lang Syne” was “Old Lane sign”) and a stellar short story by Ty Templeton about Santa Claus delivering coal to Darkseid on Apokolips.
5. DC Infinite Holiday Special #1
The 2007 DC Infinite Holiday Special had a few notable stories in it, from Keith Champagne and John Byrne having Hal Jordan deal with some childhood memories to Bill Willingham and Cory Walker having Shadowpact give Santa Claus a hand to Joe Kelly, Ale Garza and Tim Townsend showing Supergirl take on the task of answering some of the many letters that Superman receives every year to Greg Rucka and Christian Alamy telling a touching Batwoman Hanukkah story about reuniting a family torn about by the Holocaust. However, the standout story by far was Kelley Puckett and Pete Woods’ insanely awesome story, “Yes, Tyrone, There is a Santa Claus,” where a young boy wrote to the Daily Planet asking if Santa was real. Superman decided to make a Super-Santa outfit and surprise the children. Batman, though, intercepted him and explained that such an action was devaluing Superman’s mission on Earth. What if someone died while Superman was giving a kid present? Superman ultimately agreed, but later figured he might as well drop off the presents — at which point he discovered that Bat-Santa had paid the kids a visit. Simply amazing.
4. Marvel Holiday Special #1
When Marvel first started doing company-wide original holiday specials in 1991 (they had done a few character-specific one-shots before then), they really went all out for their first one. Behind an iconic Art Adams wraparound cover, this collection featured stories from some of Marvel’s biggest names of the time. Scott Lobdell, Dave Cockrum and Joe Rubinstein told an “untold story” of a fight that happened before the beginning of “X-Men” #98. Walter Simonson, Art Adams and Al Milgrom had a touching story involving Franklin Richards and his mother, the Invisible Woman. Tom DeFalco and Sal Buscema told a old school Yuletide story with Thor. Captain America visited the family of Bucky Barnes in a story by Len Kaminski, Ron Lim and Jim Sanders. The book also has some great pin-ups from Marie Severin, Tom Grindberg, Rurik Tyler and Rik Levins and a fun batch of X-Men-themed Christmas tunes by Kelly Corverse.
3. Batman Adventures Holiday Special #1
This 1994 collection featured a number a famous stories, including the stunning confrontation between Batman and Mister Freeze by Paul Dini and Glen Murakami that contained some outstanding use of negative space by Murakimi (Batman in the snow). Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Kevin Altieri and Butch Lukic told a great Batman/Joker fight, with Dini and Dan Riba following it with a striking coda featuring Batman and Commissioner Gordon. Timm and Dini collaborated on the opening story, about Batgirl and Harvey Bullock versus Clayface (including Bullock as the world’s worst mall Santa Claus). The most famous story, though, was by Ronnie Del Carmen and Paul Dini, “The Harley and the Ivy,” a story so awesome that it was later adapted into an episode of “Batman: The Animated Series.” In it, Poison Ivy uses her mind-control lipstick to brainwash Bruce Wayne, leading to a Christmas shopping spree for Ivy and her buddy, Harley Quinn.
2. DC Special Series #21 (Super-Star Holiday Special)
A stunning Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez cover spotlighted DC’s first all-original holiday special. The comic was a masterful mix of the great variety of comic books that DC had to offer in 1979, from a Sgt. Rock and Easy Company story by Robert Kanigher, Dick Ayers and Romeo Tanghal to a Jonah Hex story by Michael Fleisher, Ayers and Tanghal to a House of Mystery story by Bob Rozakis, Romeo Tanghal and Dan Adkins. However, while those stories were all fine, the collection is best remembered for the two superhero stories in it. The Legion of Super-Heroes story by Paul Levitz, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Dick Giordano that saw Superboy and the Legion try to find the star that shined over the birth of Jesus Christ and, most famously, a Denny O’Neil Batman story about a department store Santa turning his life around, “Wanted: Santa Claus — Dead or Alive!,” drawn by a very young Frank Miller (inks by Steve Mitchell), one of the first Frank Miller comic book stories ever.
1. Christmas With the Superheroes #2
In 1987, Mark Waid put together “Christmas With the Superheroes,” a collection of classic DC Christmas stories (with a great John Byrne cove). The following year, Waid outdid himself by putting together a fully original collection of DC Christmas stories, using some of the very top talent that DC had available to them at the time. The end result was a Superman story by Paul Chadwick and John Nyberg where Superman helped a motorist in need of more than just help with his car, a Wonder Woman story by Eric Shanower, a Batman story by Dave Gibbons and Gray Morrow, a stunning dialogue-less Enemy Ace story by John Byrne and Andy Kubert and an old school Justice League of America story by William Messner-Loebs, Colleen Doran and Ty Templeton. Just those stories alone would make this collection worthy of making the top five on this countdown, but then there was the maginificent final story, “Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot,” by Alan Brennert and Dick Giordano, where Deadman wondered about whether he had any real purpose in this existence before being visited by a beautiful young woman named Kara, who assured him that everything you do matters, even if people forget you. Kara, of course, was really Supergirl, who had been written out of DC continuity at this point. Brennert’s meta-fictional ode to the power of all stories was heartfelt and beautiful, making this the best comic book holiday special of all-time.
What is your favorite comic book Holiday Special?
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