With December upon us, the Christmas Party is in full swing. That includes both this week’s new and classic EBI columns. First off, the new — this week I dig into Santa Claus’s mailbag to find out what some of our favorite superheroes are asking for this Christmas:
Then, in the classic EBI, I’m going back to one of my all-time favorites. From December 20, 2006, let’s answer the eternal question…
Everything But Imaginary #195: Is Santa Claus a Superhero?
As fans of Fables know, Bill Willingham has promised that this week’s issue #56 is going to answer a long-pondered question: is Santa Claus a Fable? For those of you who aren’t reading Fables (and shame on you, if you’re one of them), here’s the basic premise of the series: characters from fairy tales and folklore such as Snow White and the Big Bad Wolf are, in fact, real, and have escaped an invasion of their homeworld to live in the “mundane” world. These Fables are powered and kept alive virtually forever by virtue of how much humans (or “mundys”) know and love their stories. So then there’s Santa Claus. Is he a Fable or not?
I’m going to leave it to the inimitable Mr. Willingham to answer that question. I’ve got a better question, one that’s really weighing on my mind.
Is Santa Claus a superhero?
To begin with, let’s define what, exactly, a superhero is. I personally like the Joe Casey definition, which (to paraphrase), is any character with a distinctive look or uniform who has great adventures battling evil. Now by this definition, “superhero” is a pretty broad term. James Bond, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter… heck, even Scrooge McDuck could all be labeled superheroes with easy justification. Squeezing Santa Claus in wouldn’t be any problem at all. So let’s look at him in terms that we comic geeks would find a bit more stringent. What’s the first question? Let’s look at this Official Handbook-style.
Powers and Abilities: The first and most obvious superhuman ability of the man we call “Santa Claus” is apparent immortality, or at the very least, extremely long life. By most accounts, Santa Claus was born under the name Nicholas in the 3rd century, eventually becoming the Bishop of Myra before faking his own death and beginning his centuries-long mission of gift-giving, making him at least 1700 years old, without having shown any signs of aging since his mid-60s. Furthermore, he is far more energetic than a man even of his apparent age. Santa also is apparently gifted with super-speed far exceeding even that of the Flash, having the ability to transport gifts from his Arctic Headquarters to families all over the world in a mere three nights every year. (See “Modus Opperandi”.) This ability to travel apparently extends to interdimensional transport, having been spotted interacting with heroes from multiple Earths including (but not limited to) Earth-1 (Superman), Earth-616 (She-Hulk), Earth-Walt (Scrooge McDuck), Earth-STAR (Gordon Shumway), Frosty the Snowman (Earth-Rankin/Bass) and Earth-Archie (Forsythe P. “Jughead” Jones). Santa is also evidently possessed of either shapeshifting or phasing abilities, or both, having the abilities to enter homes through even the narrowest of chimneys or, perhaps, no apparent entryways whatsoever. Santa also appears in various forms depending on the customs of the land he is visiting – in some countries he appears as a full-grown man, often drinking a bottle of Coca-Cola. In others he is a “right jolly old elf,” and in still others he appears in a female form and uses the name “La Befana.” (See “Secret Identity.”) Santa also has the ability to devour seemingly endless quantities of milk and cookies and the telepathic ability to keep track of who has been naughty and who has been nice.
Weapons and Paraphernalia: Santa’s most well-known paraphernalia includes his miniature sleigh and indeterminate number of reindeer. Santa Claus’s sleigh and the reindeer that pull it have the ability to fly, sharing his super-speed (perhaps the same way Flash Wally West had the ability to share his link with the Speed Force to other individuals). The number of reindeer is usually placed at eight, but on occasion a ninth reindeer identified as Rudolph is also employed for his extranormal ability to cause his nose to glow with such intensity that it serves to light Santa’s route through the night sky even in the densest fog or harshest weather conditions. Santa and his companions are also expert toymakers, with the ability to craft the highest quality toys, dolls, sporting equipment and games in quantities unheard of by any other terrestrial manufacturer. Often those toys have often been shown to be effective offensive weaponry on those instances when Christmas was threatened. (See “Feats.”) Santa has further developed an incoming mail system incomparable to any other on Earth, with the ability to receive and catalogue letters from children all over the world, even if those letters have no postage applied and, in fact, are never placed in a mailbox.
Uniform: Santa is usually depicted in North America wearing a red uniform with white fringe originally designed by painter Haddon Sundblom and first displayed to the public in a series of Coca-Cola advertisements in the 1930s. He does, however, appear in different robes of various styles and colors depending on the individual customs of the country he is visiting at the time.
Headquarters: Santa Claus makes his base of operations in a top-secret complex in the North Pole. There are varying reports as to how this base was established. According to The Autobiography of Santa Claus (as told to Jeff Guinn), the North Pole complex was designed by Leonardo DaVinci to solve the problem of having hidden toy factories across the United States and Europe. Other depictions of the story show Santa arriving there after being lost in a snowstorm and found by elves or fleeing there with the Kringle family that raised him to escape the clutches of the Bergermeister Meisterberger. The exact origin of the Arctic base remains in question, but most reliable sources agree on the general location.
Secret Identity and Modus Opperandi: The question of Santa Claus’s identity has been compromised over the years by the appearance of hundreds, if not thousands, of Santa Clauses throughout the shopping malls of North America, either greeting children, ringing bells for charity or attempting to sell electric razor blades. In truth, none of these are the true Santa Claus, and few are even associated with him. His birth name, as said before, was Nicholas of Myra, but as Nicholas decided his mission with his apparently eternal life was to deliver toys (and with them, hope) to the children of the world, he made the decision to adopt the legend of each land so as to be welcomed into as many homes as possible. As such, he is known by myriad names across the globe, including Father Christmas, Pere Noel, Sinterklauss, Befana, Kris Kringle, Nick St. Christopher (for undercover work) and countless others. In addition, Santa performs his good deeds on the date that is customary in each country as well, despite the belief of many in North America that he makes his annual rounds all in one night. In many countries, Santa makes his visits on Christmas Eve, but in others he makes his visits on the eve of St. Nicholas’s Day (December 6) and in still others he delivers his gifts on the eve of Epiphany, or “Twelfth Night” (January 6).
Group Affiliation: Santa is the head of a large organization headquartered at the North Pole. According to some reports (the aforementioned Autobiography of Santa Claus) the group also includes such notaries as Leonardo DaVinci, Benjamin Franklin, St. Francis of Assisi, King Arthur and Attila the Hun. Other accounts place him as the head of a group of hard-working elves with names such as “Jingles,” or “Hermie” (who abandoned his toy-making duties to become the North Pole’s first dentist) and fairies like Sugarplum. Almost all accounts include Santa’s wife, whose name varies from one account to another but whose firm but gentle hand helps keep him in line when he reaches for more cookies. Santa is also often depicted as being part of a coalition of holiday icons such as the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Cupid, the Great Pumpkin, Harry the Hanukah Goblin, Kwanzabot and Donald Trump.
Feats: Like all superheroes, the true measure of Santa Claus’s worth is in his individual feats of heroism. Aside from his yearly gifts to the children of Earth, Santa Claus’s adventures have frequently involved great danger. Among them: saving Superman from an attack by the Terrible Toyman and subsequently joining the man of steel in thwarting his enemy (DC Comics Presents #67), aiding the She-Hulk in capturing a serial killer (Sensational She-Hulk #8), transforming members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants into action figures to aid the X-Men (Marvel Holiday Special 1991), saving the planet Earth from an alien invasion (Santa Claus Conquers the Martians), restoring peace between estranged friends Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble (Fruity Pebbles commercial), saving Christmas from the toy-hating Bergermeister Meisterberger (Here Comes Santa Claus), bringing peace to warring stepbrothers Heatmiser and Snowmiser and bringing a white Christmas to South Town (The Year Without a Santa Claus) and otherwise saving Christmas on 1,972 separate documented occasions throughout multiple dimensions. Santa has, on occasion, also had to summon others for help, including enlisting Gordon “Alf” Shumway to help him deliver his toys when his reindeer contracted Lyme Disease (ALF Holiday Special #1), turning to the Shadowpact when he feared a terrorist organization was taking aim at his North Pole operation (DCU Infinite Holiday Special #1), turning to the retired superhero named Lightning to help slow down the rotation of the Earth after an infestation of Soul Wraiths sapped his powers (Lonely Miracle), and requesting video store clerk Randall Graves supply his elves with much-needed video entertainment to keep their spirits up (Clerks Holiday Special #1). In addition, Santa’s associates have also been known to aid him in saving Christmas, or sometimes save it on their own, including Rudolph (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer), his daughter Jingle Belle (in several Jingle Belle mini-series and specials by Paul Dini) and his wife, Layla (How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas by Jeff Guinn).
Conclusion: So to wrap up, does Santa Claus meet the requirements of being a superhero? Yes, Virginia, he most certainly does. Santa is a being of incredible power who frequently has to do battle with the forces of evil to protect the innocent. Even when not actively fighting evil, he continues his good works by making toys to deliver to all of the children of the world. His associates have joined him in saving Christmas innumerable times, and he has a perfect 1,972-0 win/loss record, a feat unparalleled by any other superhero in any dimension. Santa Claus is not only a superhero, but is arguably the most effective superhero of all, maintaining not only the safety of Christmas itself, but the hopes and dreams of children and adults alike all over the world. A world without a Santa Claus may truly be the saddest world of all.
From all of us here at Everything But Imaginary Global Headquarters – have a very Merry Christmas, and we’ll see you next week to run down some of the best and worst in comics for 2006!
If you’re sick of Santa Claus, go away, because I’m not done with him yet. Back in the 90s, Jeff Guinn wrote a magnificent book called The Autobiography of Santa Claus, in which he wove the factual story of Nicholas of Myra and other Santa Claus legends from around the world into a single, cohesive life story. The book became one of my favorites, and I read it again every December. Last year he followed it up with How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas, telling the story of how Layla saved Christmas from a Puritan reformation led by Oliver Cromwell in the 1640s, again mixing in historical fact with his fantasy. This year a third novel came out, The Great Santa Search, for the first time taking his story to the present day. Santa finds himself threatened when a reality TV show producer decides to make his newest show a competition to select the new “official” Santa Claus. The real Santa reluctantly decides the only way to preserve his secrecy and still prevent tragedy is to enter the competition himself – and win it. No, it’s not a comic book this week, but it was still absolutely fantastic. Go read it.
But if you really need a comic book pick, go grab Tales of the Unexpected #3. David Lapham is writing one of the best Spectre stories I’ve ever read, focusing on the character of Crispus Allen and how his mission is affecting him. This is a unique mystery, where you aren’t trying to figure out who the guilty party is (that’s known from the beginning), but Allen instead has to solve what the crime was so he can mete out just punishment. It’s an amazing series and this was a great issue.
Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast and the weekly audio fiction podcast Blake M. Petit’s Evercast. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.