Certain pieces of music, film and art have become ingrained in our collective consciousness as Christmas standards, be it Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” or Rankin/Bass’ Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. In American comics, however, Christmas seems best known for superhero-filled parodies or dark twists on the winter holiday. But that”s not all that’s out there, if you look — and we did.
For Christmas Eve, ROBOT 6 collects six go-to comics that can sit side by side with holiday classics from other mediums. And while superheroes are represented, these selections stretch the breadth of the medium, offering a little something for everyone.
1. Archie’s Classic Christmas Stories, Volume 1 (2003)
Archie Andrews and the Riverdale gang are timeless, and over the years their Christmas-themed comics have become a tradition. This 2003 collection, still in print, boasts 14 of the most time-honored Archie Christmas stories from the 1950s and 1960s, striking at the same core as A Christmas Story — only with some teenage humor. All are genuinely good, but the standout is the six-page 1959 short “Feather Merchant” by Frank Doyle and Bill Vigoda: Archie tries to get into the good graces of Veronica’s father by giving him a rare bird for his extensive collection.
2. DC Universe Christmas (2000)
DC Comics releases a Christmas special nearly every year, but its 2000 entry still stands tall because it collects some of the best from the publisher’s decades-long history. From the standout Justice League story “Wanted: Santa Claus — Dead or Alive,” co-written and drawn by a young Frank Miller, to John Byrne’s wordless Superman story “The Gift,” there are some serious comics legends represented. It also has some lesser-known stories that are arguably even more worthy of praise, including Ty Templeton’s story that pits Darkseid against Santa Claus and a 1995 Batman Adventures entry that became central to the characters of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy.
3. Walt Disney’s Christmas Classics (2009)
This recent collection pulls together an all-star cast of Christmas stories featuring Disney’s classic animated characters, including Uncle Scrooge in his debut. Cartoonist Carl Barks is all over this collection, with no argument from me, but the richest story may be 1947’s “Christmas on Bear Mountain,” featuring Scrooge, Donald, and his nephews ensconced in a chalet that becomes an obstacle course, to hilarious effect.
4. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Island of Misfit Toys (2014)
Rudolph began life as a poem, transformed into a song and eventually into an animated classic — but it didn’t stop there. The Rankin/Bass version of the red-nosed reindeer has come to comics several times, but this year Brendan Deneen and George Kambadais have made what seems to be a shoo-in for Christmases to come with this spinoff featuring the Misfit Toys. The basics story involves Yukon Cornelius and Abominable heading out in a snowstorm to recover the lost Charlie-in-the-Box. Deneen really hits that hard-to-find sweet spot between capturing a well-loved classic and creating a new story, and Kambadais’ art mightily adapts that Rankin/Bass style into something that’s modern without being revisionist.
5. Fables #56 (20o7)
Bill Willingham and company deal with fairy tales in every issue of the Vertigo series, but around Christmas they take on one of the most powerful of all: the winter holidays. Several issues of Fables have featured one-off Christmas stories, but until a collection of those manifests itself (hint hint, DC), if I had to just pick one it would be “Jiminy Christmas” by Willingham and Mark Buckingham. The story revolves around Snow White and Bigby Wolf’s family spending Christmas at home where Bigby tells the children that if they catch Santa Claus as he delivers their presents, they get to ask him a question about anything. Of course, they ask the most obvious one: How does he deliver all of the presents in one night? That’s when the fun begins, with Willingham and Buckingham at the top of their game.
6. Hellboy Christmas Special (1997)
This extra-sized one-shot bowled over Eisner judges, earning two awards in competitive categories, but it’s a gift that’s good for more than just one year. Mike Mignola leads off this anthology with a story about Hellboy fulfilling a wish from an ailing mother to save her long-lost daughter. Mignola stays true to the grimy spirit of Hellboy stories while delivering a great little tale that can give even the grinchiest reader a warm feeling.
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