christmas comic cavalcade: the 1994 marvel holiday special

Last year, I wrote about one of my favorite holiday comic books ever, The 1993 Marvel Holiday Special. It was one of the first comic books I bought with my own money and thought it was worth every penny. I was therefore quite excited to pick up The 1994 Marvel Holiday Special the following year.

Unfortunately,’94 couldn’t hold a candle to ’93. Fewer characters, less interesting creators, and a couple of stories which made no sense added up to a disappointment.

Steven Grant and Pat Broderick contribute Hopes and Fears,  a Spider-Man story full of the religious symbolism befitting Christmas. The elevator pitch: Spidey gets involved with protecting a fallen angel from the forces of darkness. The whole story is a bit of a misfire, but it’s one I wryly remembered a few years ago, as it features a meeting between Spidey and the Marvel Universe version of ol’ Scratch, Mephisto.

Mephisto is not a good fit as a Spider-Man villain; he’s basically omnipotent whereas Spidey is a street-level hero with very little defense against the Lord of Darkness. In hindsight, this story is interesting in that Mephisto took a key role in the recent One More Day storyline wherein (Spoiler Alert!) Peter Parker and Mary Jane’s longtime marriage was undone by means of black magic and bad writing. OMD was a divisive story that essentially rebooted the entire Spider-Man franchise… but you can get a preview of it here!

The next tale is Down Time, a Nick Fury story by comic innovator Howard Chaykin.

Chaykin’s rough pencils and propensity for lantern jawed he-men characters is on full display in Down Time, but Chaykin does the best job of considering the melancholy of the holiday season and pairing it with Marvel’s resident super-spy. We’ve seen “grumpy guy who doesn’t like the holidays is changed for the better” a thousand times in Christmas stories going back to Dickens, but Chaykin marries that trope with the long history of Fury to great effect. It’s a touching tale and the best of the batch.

If Down Time is the best story, we now come to the absolute worst, a Captain Ultra short written by longtime X-Men scribe Scott Lobdell.

I don’t know much about the ins and outs of comic book production, but I know this: occasionally comic companies will buy stories they do not publish. Some of these stories are tryouts for new talent… some of them are projects which, for one reason or another, are not put in turnaround. Instead of being published, they’re stuffed in a drawer somewhere and left to sit until a convenient time comes to publish that work. I believe what we have in this Captain Ultra story is that very thing. The editor dug out of their drawer and slapped into this special out of either necessity or to exploit Lobdell’s fans.

I can’t say enough bad things about this story. The art stinks. The story makes no sense and what’s worse, outside of a weirdly worded panel that establishes the time of year, it has NO connection whatsoever to the holidays. Captain Ultra’s costume is awful and he fights an absolutely stupid villian, the muck-encrusted Mud Pi.

My disappointment in this story was beyond the pale when I bought it as a kid… and it looks even worse in 2011.

Ann Nocenti and Tom Grindberg contributed a wonderfully weird Daredevil story in the 1993 Holiday Special and they come back in ’94 with “Harvey Teabiscut’s Yule Log”, a Ghost Rider story. I’ve never been a great Ghost Rider fan; the cool visual has never quite been able to overcome the innate silliness of the concept for me.

That being said, Nocenti delivers a cracked Christmas story with shades of A Christmas Carol and Grindberg’s pencils are perfect for the character.

Peter David, another ’93 Holiday Special alum, delivers a Christmas/holiday story featuring The Incredible Hulk, with art by Ron Lim. David was the writer of Hulk at this point and his story reflects many of the plot threads he was playing with in that run- the “smart” version of The Hulk working at The Pantheon features prominently.

In 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 committing suicide.

It’s interesting to see how David approaches this topic, a lot less delicately than Chadwick’s Superman, and with a much more brutal honesty. Befitting of The Incredible Hulk, I suppose. David also offers a happy ending of a kind:

Also included are several holiday pin-up pages (most featuring Wolverine) and a two-page riff on O Henry’s The Gift of the Magi, starring then-Editor in Chief Tom DeFalco and Mark Gruenwald. The story unwittingly provides some commentary on the sorry state of Marvel Comics’ financials during the early to mid 1990’s, when the company was swimming in red ink.

As I said, when compared to last year’s Holiday Special, the 1994 edition is a big disappointment. There are some diamonds in the rough here though- Chaykin’s Nick Fury being a particular highlight.

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One Response to “christmas comic cavalcade: the 1994 marvel holiday special”

  1. The best part of these 90’s Marvel Comics Holiday Specials were the covers 🙂

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