Superman meets Santa: The Teamup of the Ages
It’s that time of the year again, when everyone gets together during the winter. Families gather, friends meet up, and everyone watches Aquaman in theaters, making for a surprisingly powerful outing for the former laughing stock of DC. Not to mention traditional holidays like Yule, Kwanza, Hanukkah, Boxing Day, the list goes on. There’s also Christmas as well, but who counts that?
DC certainly does. Or at least they did, back in 1983.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Marvel comics ran a pair of team-up books: Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-in-One, starring a bunch of heroes (and sometimes villains) who teamed up with Spider-Man and the Thing respectively. DC countered that with DC Comics Presents. Each issue, a variety of supers of the heroic and villainous variety would team up with Superman. However, Winter of 1983 brought us something unique in issue 67, titled ‘Twas the Fright Before Christmas!
Yeah, that’s Superman and Santa Claus. The man with the musket is the original version of the Toyman, Winslow Schott. While the cover is filled with whimsy, the actual book is actually filled with way more.
Len Wein scripts the issue while co-plotting with E. Nelson Bridwell. The best Superman artist of the 1970s Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson work on the visuals of pencil and ink, while Gene D’Angelo colors in the pages. Ben Oda letters the pages, and the end result of the entire crew is a complete Christmas classic.
Our tale begins on Christmas Eve in Metropolis, with a kid literally trying to stick up a Salvation Army Santa at gunpoint. Superman flies down to see what’s wrong, but this Santa is at least a relatively jolly sort until he pops Santa in the nose with his gun’s suction dart. Still harmless, right? Wrong! Superman notices the gun’s shooting a ‘low grade radiation’ at Santa! Realizing the child is hypnotized somehow, Superman flies the child to the Fortress of Solitude to see if he can fix this poor child.
Using what looks like an eye test machine, but for brainwaves, Superman is able to un-brainwash the kid. He’s named Timmy Dickins, and the truth comes out. Timmy doesn’t believe in Santa, and broke into his parents’ closet to check out his presents early. When he fired the dartgun…
After a brief hypnosis to find out what the self-destructing recorded message in the toy gun said, Superman knows that something strange is afoot. They fly away, aiming for Metropolis, but Timmy’s remaining toy shoots Superman in the face with a strange energy. Unable to keep aloft anymore, the two of them crash into the snow. Superman even passes out, leaving little Timmy alone to the elements.
...or is he?
Superman wakes up, inside a very cozy room in a cabin. Santa’s cabin, it turns out.
Santa knows what Superman also does, that Winslow Schott is up to no good. We also get to see that Santa’s elves have upgraded to the toys of the early 80s, and a bit of nostalgia from the king of happy memories himself.
Superman hitches a ride in Santa’s sleigh to Metropolis, as he’s still feeling woozy from Toyman’s trap earlier. Santa joins in on the fun, at first making sure Superman can get to the toy store, but then engaging in hijinks himself against the Toyman! Can the unlikely team-up of Superman and Santa Claus stop the Toyman from ruining Christmas?
The writing for this story is adorable in the best way. Santa is filled with humor and wistfulness without coming across as a pastiche of the holiday. There’s a small streak of melancholy in Santa when he talks about the older days of Christmas, and Len Wein does a great job expressing these feelings without going overboard. The story is, of course, a fairly simple one for the realm of a team-up comic, and is done in the same issue it begins. However, the pacing of the comic never feels too rushed, and there aren’t any real moments where the comic drags either. The concept is utterly silly, but it works within the realms of DC Comics.
Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson both utterly nail this issue with their crafts. It’s hard to imagine anyone but Swan drawing this issue, with the level of detail and care put into both Superman and Santa to make them feel like they could exist in the same world. In fact, Swan’s Santa is probably the literal image I think of when I imagine the Jolly Old Elf, aside from the ubiquitous Coca-Cola Santa Claus design, anyhow. The showdown between Superman and Toyman is a delight, seeing Superman rip his way through dozens of various public domain toys. Colors are bright and vibrant in this comic, a credit to Gene D’Angelo’s fine work. While there are many panels that lack details beyond the characters inside, D’Angelo does fill in those pages with some pleasant warm colors and uses shades of them along the page to try and guide the eye to the next panel without calling attention to the lack of detail. While my personal copy does have some problems with colors bleeding outside their lines, that seems to be a common printing problem of the era. The digitally remastered version, found on Comixology, actually retains these problems as they’re cleaned up printed pages rather than complete remasters.
This is easily my favorite DC Holiday Special comic, and one that holds some special value to me. It was a present from my grandmother and grandfather back in the day, and while they didn’t always understand my hobbies, comics were an easy sell for them. Almost every antique shop they hit had comics somewhere, and this was a prize from one of their many visits. While I have a ton of nostalgia for this comic, I can’t help but recommend picking up a copy, be it a used one from some eBay seller or a digital one for your tablet. It’s hard to regret spending a couple of bucks on some genuine charm, and a pretty solid Christmas story.
Now if only DC had done something back then for the other end-of-the-year celebrations.