Christmas Comics Cavalcade: Christmas with the Super-Heroes Special #2

Alright, here it is. This is the whole reason I wanted to take the month of December to write about Christmas comics. Ladies and gentlemen

Christmas with the Super-Heroes Special #2, published in 1988 by DC Comics.

I was seven when this comic came out. As I’ve mentioned before, at seven I was FAR more interested in newspaper comic strips than comic books. As I’ve further mentioned, it was 1989’s Batman movie that got me interested in comic books and superheroes. For that reason alone, it is a little strange, my owning a copy of this book. Further, I have no idea how this book came into my possession. I have a feeling that my friend John lent it to me. John was into comic books before me, and he left them behind for other (read: GIRLS) pursuits, so he would likely have been my comic book connection.

I suppose all that matters little. You’re probably wondering why I wanted to write about this comic so badly. Well, I’ll get to that, but first let me quickly rundown some of the stories in this 80 page giant.

Dave Gibbons of Watchmen fame writes an all caption take on Batman and Robin that suffers quite a bit from the cheap production values of comics in the ’80’s. The artwork, while very good, is muddy and unclear in spots. You can tell it’s a printing problem as the pencils and inks of Gray Morrow are pretty fantastic. Morrow takes a realistic approach to Batman, which isn’t my favorite way to go when you’re talking dudes running around in spandex… but the art’s pretty nice. Gibbons’ prose is pretty purple, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I found out this was one of his first writing gigs.

Eric Shanower (of late kicking butt on Marvel’s Oz adaptations) gives us a “down to Earth” take on Wonder Woman. It’s an interesting take on a holiday story in that it doesn’t shy away from Wonder Woman’s mythical origins… and her understandable unfamiliarity with Christmas.

John Byrne and a very young Andy Kubert team for an awesome wordless Enemy Ace story titled “Silent Night” where the pictures do all the talking. Very nice stuff.

Bill Loebs and Colleen Doran do an absolutely terrific Flash/Green Lantern team-up where the superheroes get involved in a bet with a millionaire that they can prove that “Santa Claus” exists. Loebs is great with little character moments like this one:

I love the way that, in two panels, Loebs has told you something about Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Kid Flash… all effortlessly. The posing and acting in Doran’s artwork only embellishes this. Although I don’t know much about Colleen Doran’s work (never had a chance to read A Distant Soil) she does a nice version of Flash and GL.

There’s also a Deadman story which serves as an interesting footnote for most comic nerds in that it allows for a continuity injustice to be corrected. In brief: One of the big changed in the DC Universe after the world-shaking Crisis on Infinite Earths mini-series was that Supergirl as she had existed for forty years was written out of existence. After Crisis, there simply was no longer a Supergirl in the DCU. I had no problem with this but I could understand fan outrage at their favorite character being completely forgotten about.

Although a brief encounter, this comic gives readers some hope that Kara Zor-El has not been completely forgotten.

…and that’s the book, save for the FIRST story, which is the one I really want to talk about.

“Ex Machina” is a Superman story written by Paul Chadwick. Chadwick’s not a huge name in superhero comics, but in the black and white independent scene, he’s a giant. Paul Chadwick is the writer/artist on Dark Horse Comics’ Concrete series of books. An introspective take on superpowers, Concrete is a man who, through extraterrestrial circumstances, finds himself encased in a gigantic body made of rock. For twenty years, Chadwick has found interesting things to say about the human condition through his thoughtful, often befuddled man monster. He’s an awesome artist and writer and I’m a tremendous fan of his.

Of course, I didn’t know ANYTHING about Paul Chadwick or Concrete when I read this story. I was seven. I just tell you all that for context.

This eight page story isn’t your typical Superman tale. There’s no Lex Luthor or Brainiac. There’s no flying in outer space or making the Earth spin backwards to alter the flow of time. There isn’t even an appearance from Lois Lane. No, “Ex Machina” is mostly about an old man on the side of the road whose car has broken down. In desperation from the frigid cold, the man decided to commit suicide.

…which is where Superman comes in.

Everybody has their own idea of Superman. He’s a folk hero akin to Paul Bunyan. Your version might come from the various cartoons you watched as a kid, or the movie from the 1970’s… or maybe you’re only familiar with him from the myriad of merchandise that gets pumped out with his “S” symbol every year. For me? For me, this comic encapsulates who Superman is and why I love the character. He’s Super, yes… but he’s also a man.

Further, Superman’s humanity is the most important part of his character because it’s a choice. He chooses to be a human being, to walk among us. Folks have been ascribing Christian overtones to Big Blue for years, and while I’m fairly sure Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster weren’t thinking “Flying Jesus” when they came up with the character, it’s hard to deny that there are parallels.

Superman doesn’t pick up the car and fly it to Hawaii. He asks if he can sit down for a few minutes, uses his heat vision to warm up the car, and talks to this guy. Gradually, we realize that there’s more to this gentleman’s predicament than a broken engine. I hesitate to reveal any more about the story because I don’t want to be a spoilsport, but if ever there was a reason to go digging around longboxes for a comic from the 1980’s, this story is that reason.

Christmas stories are a dime a dozen, but this is one of my absolute favorites.

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2 Responses to “Christmas Comics Cavalcade: Christmas with the Super-Heroes Special #2”

  1. […] many ways, this is a good companion piece to another Christmas tale I wrote about last year, Paul Chadwick’s poingant Superman story in Christmas with the Super-Heroes. Hulk finds himself in the unenviable position of talking an employee of The Pantheon out of […]

  2. […] Nocon and Eric Luke contribute a Wonder Woman story that hits familiar beats to the Wonder Woman story in Christmas with the Superheroes. WW is an outsider to our culture’s holiday traditions, but she is more willing to learn than […]

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