Classic EBI #94: The Ghosts of Christmas Comics Present

This week, it’s time for the annual EBI Geek Gift Guide! Have a geek you love? Unsure what to give them for Christmas? Here are some suggestions from yours truly:

Everything But Imaginary #377: The 2010 Geek Gift Guide

For some time now, it’s been a tradition for me to do an EBI rundown of all the Christmas comics I can find each year. Here’s the very first such rundown, from Dec. 22 2004. (And hey, stay tuned for this year’s rundown, also on Dec. 22!)

Everything But Imaginary #94: The Ghosts of Christmas Comics Present (2004 edition)

Once upon a time, on a cold winter’s night, I walked among you, my children, and shared the tale of the Ghost of Christmas Comics Past. Specifically, I did it on Dec. 24 of last year, and you can read that column by clicking right here.

This year I’m going to revist the same topic and talk about some fun Christmas comics. Unlike last year, though, I don’t have to mine the past to do it. This year I’m going to talk about some yuletide treats that are available on the stands right now, and I’m going to start with the Marvel 2004 Holiday Special.

We got three stories in this one, some better than others. First up was yet another retelling of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, this time starring perennial boogeyman J. Jonah Jameson. In “Jonah’s Holiday Carol” (the word “Christmas” not being PC-enough for Marvel) Ol’ Jonah is being his usual curmudgeonly self, sending his staff out to work on Christmas Eve (particularly surprising in the case of Peter Parker, since he doesn’t work there anymore), cutting off funding for the Christmas party, and basically being a big humbug. Naturally, that is broken up when he’s visited by some familiar spirits. It’s an okay tale, but it kept making me think of a gag done way back in Marvel Comics Presents #18, when the ol’ Christmas ghost was supposed to pay J.J.J. a visit but, after losing his address in the wind, accidentally wound up haunting kind, sweet Willie Lumpkin instead. That was a much better story, if you can find it.

The next two stories were both by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, and both were a bit better. First up, “An X-Men X-Mas.” At Xavier‘s school, Cyclops and Emma Frost are preparing for a romantic holiday getaway with the school closed for Christmas, only to have their plans shattered when they realize one of their students has nowhere to go. They become surrogate parents to Kevin Ford (alias Wither of New X-Men: Academy X), whose power to kill all organic matter keeps him isolated from human contact. The story casts the X-Men in a different light, particularly Emma, and provides a sweet ending without getting overly sappy.

Finally there was the Fantastic Four tale, “The True Meaning Of…” in which little Franklin Richards went to each member of his family and asked what Christmas meant to them. This was a nice little character study (for Sue it’s a religious holiday, for Johnny it’s a secular one, for Ben there’s no Christmas at all, but rather Hanukkah, and Reed gives a response that’s pretty surprising for the scientist he is). It’s not great, but it’s nice, and that was enough to make this a good offering.

Gemstone comics put out two excellent volumes this year worth mentioning, although only one was a full-blown Christmas package. First was Uncle Scrooge #336, which featured “A Christmas For Shacktown” by the immortal Carl Barks. In this tale, Huey, Dewey and Louie are working with Daisy Duck to prepare a Christmas celebration for the poorest section of Duckburg, but find themselves $50 short of what they need to celebrate. They send poor Donald to beg Uncle Scrooge for the money. Scrooge is a miser, but he’s not utterly heartless. On the other hand, he can’t quite see the point of spending money on frivolities like a toy train, which half of the money is earmarked for. Scrooge agrees to pony up $25 for food, but only if Donald can raise the $25 for the train himself.

The story is an epic tale of the ducks scrambling to get the money to give Shacktown a Merry Christmas, plus giving Scrooge a dose of humble pie. What made Barks’s tale superior to so many others, though, is that he resisted the urge to hand out any sappy “moral of the story” to make Scrooge mend his ways. By the end of the tale Scrooge is the same miser he always was — but the reader knows that he’s wrong, and the characters with the open hearts (Daisy and the boys) were right all along.

Gemstone also gave us Walt Disney’s Christmas Parade #2, this time featuring a full 80 pages of Yuletide tales, but again headlined with a story by Barks. In “You Can’t Guess,” Huey, Dewey and Louie decide there’s not a single thing they need for Christmas, so they send Santa Claus a letter telling him to give their allotment of toys to needy children this year. (I swear, those Junior Woodchucks make the Boy Scouts look like a biker gang, don’t they?) Just after the letter is mailed, though, they realize they’ve made a terrible mistake — there is one toy they’ve always wanted, but never gotten: a building set.

Not wanting to go back on their word to Santa, the boys decide to ask their Uncle Donald for a building set for Christmas. Donald decides it should be more fun if they earn their present, so he makes them a deal (as demonstrated in the previous story, he gets this from the McDuck side of his heritage) — all they have to do to get what they want for Christmas is to guess what he wants. The boys compile a huge list, but don’t hit on the right gift, so they begin turning to their family and friends for help.

As seems to happen in these Barks stories, things spiral out of control and wind up with a big, over-the-top conclusion that fits perfectly.

Other stories in the volume starred Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Chip ‘n Dale and Grandma Duck. Several of them (especially the Christmas mystery starring Mickey and Goofy) are pretty good, but none are as memorable as the Barks story. While the folks at Gemstone still won’t listen to me about lowering the prices of their comics ($6.95 for Uncle Scrooge is way too much), even you casual fans ought to try to find the money for these two special issues. They’re well worth it.

For years now, Paul Dini has served up new stories of his Christmas Pixie every year, and this year is no different. Jingle Belle moves to Dark Horse Comics this year with a new miniseries, and in Jingle Belle #1 Santa’s rebellious teenage daughter, sick of the fact that no one knows who she is, makes her own TV special to spread her fame. When she brings it to the network, though, they try to homogenize it: replace the stop motion animation with CGI, make Jing a baby instead of a teenager, remove the cartoon violence that finishes the villain and – oh yeah — no mention of the “C-Word.” Man, this was a hysterical comic book. I’ve loved Dini’s tales of Jingle Belle for years, and since he works in television, you have to assume that a lot of this is based on personal experience. It cracked me up.

Finally, here comes a comic I picked up at the supermarket (they do still sell a few there) just for this occasion, Archie’s Holiday Fun Digest #9. This annual digest follows the same format as most Archie digests – one or two new stories and plenty of reprints – these just all have Christmas as the recurring theme. The headline story is “Only They Could Appreciate It” by Kathleen Webb and Tim Kennedy – a tale of Betty and Veronica braving the malls for their Christmas shopping. Other stories involve Jughead as the world’s skinniest Santa, Veronica and Cheryl Blossom fighting for the right to the best Christmas party, and a Secret Santa mix-up that sends Veronica’s romantic gift for Archie straight to Mr. Weatherbee. There’s also a good Cheryl story that does a take on It’s a Wonderful Life, with a surprisingly unique twist. They’re all funny stories, even if they aren’t comics that will stay with you through the years. But hey, it’s about 100 pages of comics for only $2.39 – Archie digests are still some of the best values in comics. (Incidentally, though, Archie execs – why do you only put credits on maybe two stories per digest? Okay, I can understand that you may not know who did some of the stories from the 50s and 60s, before they were credited, but you can’t tell me the Cheryl Blossom story or the one making fun of the Furbee craze of a few years ago were done anonymously).

Every holiday generates its own great comic book stories. As Christmas is my favorite time of year, it should come as no surprise that Christmas comics are my favorite as well. So what are some of yours?

FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: December 15, 2004

Six months later and it hasn’t left my thoughts. Identity Crisis #7 wrapped up the biggest mystery the DC Universe has faced in a very long time. It was strong, powerful, heartbreaking, and although it wasn’t a total home-run knockout like I hoped, it was more than enough to ensconce itself firmly in my mind as the comic book this week I’ll be thinking about long after all the others are in their longboxes.

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, and check out his new experiment in serial fiction at Tales of the Curtain.

2 Responses to “Classic EBI #94: The Ghosts of Christmas Comics Present”

  1. 1 JG
    December 9, 2010 at 11:07 am

    Too bad Wither was killed off in a sucky crossover 😦

    But maybe best not to dwell at such things this time of year.

    Merry Christmas!

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