christmas comics cavalcade: the 1993 marvel holiday special

Today we’re looking at The Marvel Holiday Special from 1992.

1992 was one of the first Christmases where I had saved my own money to buy people presents. I bought my father a sci-fi paperback titled The Price of the Stars from the Waldenbooks in the Newburgh Mall. I chose that book as a present for Dad based entirely on the cover of the book, which had a lady in some kind of space-pirate outfit, replete with eyepatch. I guarantee Dad never read that book, but I can at least say that my other purchase went to good use, as I picked up this comic for myself.

Adorned in a truly excellent Art Adams cover, the Marvel Holiday Special contains eighty pages of original holiday themed stories featuring Marvel’s best and brightest superheroes. As I grew older and into a more jaded comics reader, I gradually came to the realization that most of the annuals that Marvel put out in the 1990’s seemed to consist of stories they’d had sitting in a dusty drawer somewhere for ten years. Annuals were where younger new artists and writers were given a chance to prove themselves… which as a practice is great for the novice, but not always fun for the reader.

I say that because ’92’s Marvel Holiday Special is jam-packed with actual, recognizable talent, starting off with a Wolverine story written by Larry Hama and drawn by Michael Golden. Golden’s one of those artists who perhaps isn’t as famous as he should be, but he’s insanely revered by other artists… and in this eight-page story, it’s easy to see why.

Golden errs more toward stylized characters rather than realism (which is my preference when I’m reading a story about unrealistically hairy dudes who have knives protruding from their hands) and he can really draft an action sequence. It’s a strong start to the book, although looking at it eighteen years later, it doesn’t have much of “holiday” connection, outside of a small twist at the end. It’s just a good, solid action piece from two top-shelf creators.

Next comes a 12 page New Warriors story from writer Fabian Nicieza, with art from Darick Robertson. Robertson’s best known these days for his collaboration with Warren Ellis on Transmetropolitan, but he’s been known to tell a ripping superhero story now and then.

I’ll be honest with you and say “Present Tense” is my favorite kind of superhero story, in that it’s mostly character-based stuff. I like a good Michael Golden action sequence as much as the next guy, but I guess I’m really just a softie at heart because when it comes to capes and tights, I like me some soap opera! There’s all sorts of character stuff going on here, from Speedball and Rage’s Christmas shopping

to several other subplots spun out from the regular New Warriors.

I cannot compliment this story enough, in that Nicieza takes everything a newbie needs to know about The New Warriors and with ease and style, sets up a nice short story. Honestly, I had never read one word of a New Warriors comic book, and this short section of the Holiday Special made me a fan.

After that we get a Spider-Man story written by none other than STAN LEE wherein Electro tries to mess with the tree at Rockefeller Center.

Art by Steve Lightle, a guy who was mainly a cover artist by the time I was reading comics, but this story always made me wish for the opportunity to see more of his interior work.

Next up is a Punisher story which is, for me, the clunker of the bunch.

I should say that the story is fine and a perfectly serviceable Punisher story with a twist (due to a bet, The Punisher cannot inflict violence on anyone). I’ve just never been much a fan of The Punisher. Even when he was guest-starring in all of Marvel’s books as a bad-ass antihero, he never struck me as a great lead.

Moving on to Revisionist History, a lovely story from Peter David about the origins of Hanukkah, Marvel-style.

This might have been the first time I read a Peter David story and even looking at it now, it’s a hoot! Hulk ally Leonard Sampson returns to his old yeshiva to tell the current students the story of Hanukkah, but when they become bored, he spices it up with a fantasy take on the holiday featuring

Judea as Krypton (nice that Marvel let him get away with that reference!) and a new take on the miracle of Hannukah.

Honestly, after the New Warriors story, this is my favorite section of the book. It’s just a FUN story, and for those who are quick to remember, “Comic books in 1993” and “fun” did not go hand in hand all that often. It was a time of gritted teeth, grim-n-gritty, antisocial “heroes,” a fact that David explicitly makes fun of in this story by making the Maccabees all gun-toting soldiers of that persuasion. It’s awesome.

Three more stories make up the balance of the book: A quite good (if exceedingly strange) Thanos story which, much like the New Warriors tale, plops readers down in the middle of what was going on in Adam Warlock and the Infinity Watch.

I’ve never been much of a cosmic adventure guy, but it’s a nice story, well told by Jim Starlin, with art by Ron Lim. Still, “Thanos” and “Christmas” are a weird fit.

Next is an Iron Man story… which is actually the first Iron Man comic I ever read as a kid.

Finally, it wouldn’t be a quasi-JuedoChristian holiday if Daredevil didn’t bum his lapsed Catholic behind around New York City for a couple of pages! The last story in the book is “The Rapt Lamb” by longtime Daredevil scribe Ann Nocenti, pencils by Tom Grindberg. Told entirely from the point of view of a toy lamb that Daredevil intends to donate to a toy drive, this has to be the most peculiar story of the bunch. We get a lot of the “outsider” perspective of a superhero, and I love the way that Nocenti dirties up EVERYONE in the story. The first page is just lovely.

Grindberg’s a guy who never seemed to have a steady gig in superhero comics, although he’s done a LOT of books sporadically. I’ve always liked the scrawled, sketchy feel of his pencils whenever I run across his work.

As if that wasn’t enough also included in the Holiday Special are tons of pin-ups (including a nice Dave Cockrum/Excalibur drawing) and a text piece on past holiday themed comics that Marvel’s published. All that for $3 bucks, a holiday value if I ever heard of one. Marvel still published holiday specials every year, but for me, the magic of these early books is gone. They’ve seemingly reverted back to their “let’s try out this untested artist!” ways and are being presented in more of a “magazine” format. That’s actually kind of cool, now that I think about it.

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