Marvel Comics have had a strange history when it comes to Christmas stories. In general, Stan Lee was of the belief that each issue of a Marvel comic book should have a sort of timeless quality to it and thus, he was not typically a fan of tying issues to specific dates within the year. Perhaps this was as simple as him not wanting the comic to look out of date on the newsstand after Christmas was over. Whatever the reason, Marvel had almost zero Christmas stories during the majority of the 1960s. It was not until the very end of the decade that a couple of Christmas stories started to sneak in there.
When Lee was no longer the Editor-in-Chief, Christmas stories began to come out with more regularity during the 1970s, with Marvel also releasing the first of their Holiday Specials. Christmas stories have been released with some regularity in the last few decades, although Holiday Specials have been less of a priority for Marvel, as they have had a lot of gaps in their holiday special release schedule (they haven't had a new one in years). Still, there have been plenty of amazing Christmas stories from Marvel. Here are the top five!
1990’s “Rhino Plastered” from Incredible Hulk #378 by Peter David (with an assist by Kurt Busiek), Bill Jaaska and Jeff Albrecht was a fill-in issue, of sorts, as it came out right after the Hulk had finally united his various personalities into one cohesive Hulk, controlled by Bruce Banner's mind. Instead, this flashed back to when the Hulk was in his gray form and he and Rick Jones were on the run trying to destroy SHIELD's supply of gamma bombs.
They come across the Rhino, who is working as a department store Santa in a mall. Hulk gets into a fight with him, but eventually he realizes that HE was the one looking for this fight and that, to the kids in the mall, it looks like the Hulk has just attacked Santa Claus for no reason. The flashback aspect of the story is delivered by a framing sequence involving Rick Jones that is adorable (he's telling the story to some kids).
T'WAS THE FIGHT BEFORE X-MAS
2002’s “T’was the Fight Before Xmas” from 2002’s Spider-Man’s Tangled Web #21, was an extra-sized one-shot issue by writer/inker Darwyn Cooke and penciler J. Bone. The late, great Cooke designed a beautiful story that had a timeless feel while still technically taking place in Marvel's then-current continuity. The idea is that Peter Parker has to go pick up a Christmas present for J. Jonah Jameson at the mall, a mall where Flash Thompson is dressed as Spider-Man as part of a promotion to sell Spider-Man action figures. The Wasp, Crystal and Invisible Woman are at the mall looking for Medusa, who has gone missing. Medusa shows up at the mall, only she is acting like a villain. Flash, too, starts robbing things dressed as Spider-Man. Thus, when the REAL Spider-Man gets involved, the three female heroes don't know what to expect (considering that Medusa was acting evil).
The whole thing was a delightful romp with excellent art from J. Bone. Cooke/Bone collaborations were always a delight (they did a great Spider-Man Valentine's Day that is even better than this one). I especially loved seeing Jameson stuck at the Daily Bugle Christmas party while the fight at the mall is going down and he can't help but brag to the little kids who are being hosted at the party that their hero, Spider-Man, is apparently finally revealed to be a crook!
YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS A SANTRON
2005’s “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santron” from Marvel Holiday Special #1 by Jeff Parker, Reilly Brown and Pat Davidson opens with a young woman who has seemingly built a functional Santa Claus robot. However, when she finally activates it, while everything seems normal at first, she is shocked when the robot shouts, "Merry Christmas to all...except the Avengers. The Avengers must die!" You see, it turned out that this young woman has built her Santa Claus robot based on an old Ultron robot and now its Ultron programming has resurfaced! It shows up at the Avengers Christmas party to destroy them.
The Avengers come up with a way to use a machine to mess with Santron's insides, but how to get the machine inside of him? Why, by disguising it as a cookie for Santa Claus, of course! The Avengers hunt down the young woman who created the robot and discover that she has emotional issues that led to her creating this robot. She was trying to do good, so the Avengers let her off easy. Cap gives a beautiful speech about the true meaning of Christmas that got Wolverine to tear up (much to Wolverine's annoyance). It's an adorable story.