Christmas With the Super-Heroes #2 (1989)



Christmas With the Super-Heroes #2 (1989)
Superman: “Ex-Machina”
Batman: “Land in the Depths”
Wonder Woman: “Gifts”
Enemy Ace: “Silent Night”
Flash & Green Lantern: “An Old-Fashioned Christmas”
Deadman: “Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot”
Writers – Paul Chadwick, Dave Gibbons, Eric Shanower, John Byrne, Bill Loebs, & Alan Brennert
Pencils – Paul Chadwick, Gray Morrow, Eric Shanower, John Byrne, Colleen Doran, & Dick Giordano
Inks – John Nyberg, Andy Kubert, & Ty Templeton, 
Letters – John Costanza, Albert DeGuzman, & Steve Haynie
Colors – Tom McCraw, Gray Morrow, & Glenn Whitmore 
Editor – Mark Waid, 
Cover Price: $2.95

Hey everybody!


Today we’re going to tie a red and green bow on the week of festive frivolity that was Christmas on Infinite Earths… in July!  I hope you all enjoyed the break from both the Summer heat and Action Comics Daily!  I know I’ve enjoyed the change in scenery… and, you know I’m a nut for Christmas!


Since the end of the week here at the Infinite Earths has become all about the Polls, I figured why not keep that going this time?  So next week, I’ll be sharing the results of two polls!


Best Story in Christmas With the Super-Heroes #2?

Superman

Batman

Wonder Woman

Enemy Ace

Flash & Green Lantern

Deadman


Shareable Poll Link: https://linkto.run/p/OIC65N5E

Again, I hope you all enjoyed!






Our first story opens… on an Eve around or on Christmas.  It’s snowing heavily, and there is a motorist stranded on the side of the bend of a road.  He tries flagging down passers-by, however, nobody stops.  Deciding he can no longer stand the cold, the man reenters his car… loads a pistol, and writes an apologetic suicide note.  Before he can act, however… there’s a knocking on his window.





It is, of course, Superman.  He asks if it’s okay for him to hop in the passenger seat, and begins warming the fella up with his heat vision.  After that, he turns his attention to thawing the frozen engine.  He discovers that the V-Belt is shredded, which has cut off the power supply… which ran down the battery.  He then asks the man about, ya know… the loaded gun.





The man tells him he just couldn’t take the cold anymore… compounded with the fact that no one would stop to help him was enough to push him over the edge.  Superman informs him that, since he’d broken down at the bend of the road, passers-by couldn’t see him until it was too late… and most wouldn’t dare to stomp on their brakes on these icy roads.  Superman also realizes that… offing yourself for breaking down on the side of the road is a flimsy excuse at best.  The other shoe drops, and the man reveals that he and his wife just split up.





He doesn’t go into much detail, not that it matters much.  Superman asks what he was planning to do for Christmas… to which, the fella doesn’t really have much of a clue.  When asked about family, he mentions an estranged daughter.  Superman prods him into extending an olive branch, citing how most children would love to reconnect with a lost parent.  The fella promises to think about it.





Superman finishes charging the man’s battery, however, before he leaves… jots down some directions on the back of the suicide note.  They are directions to a family who lives nearby who would love to share the Holidays with him.  The man squirms a bit, before agreeing to pay them a visit.





Superman wishes the man a Merry Christmas before taking his leave, and our story wraps up with the man exiting off the freeway… into Smallville.







This was very good.


A very low-key Superman story, where we get a look at how he can take a moment and save/change the life of a single man.  It was a nice character study.  Superman listened to the man… offered him help and inspiration.  Calling him out that his initial reasons for pulling the trigger were flimsy, in order to dig a bit deeper to find out exactly what might be ailing him.


This is the way I’d imagine Superman would handle such a crisis.  I mean, we’ve seen the other way it could go when we read Superman: Grounded.  Here, it’s all about looking on the bright side… it’s about looking for slivers of hope in the darkness.  Even the possibility of reconnecting with an estranged relative might prove to be enough to help this man carry on.  Superman knows all the buttons to push to illustrate that so long is there hope, there’s still a reason to carry on.  Very well done.


Paul Chadwick, who we’ve unfortunately not had much of an opportunity to discuss here on the blog, turns in some great work… both in words and pictures.  It’s a shame we didn’t get all that much more DC work out of him.  In doing our research for the Hal Jordan’s Action Comics series of Cosmic Treadmill Episodes, we learned that Paul was (reportedly) originally tapped to provide art for the Captain Atom feature in Blockbuster/Comics Cavalcade Weekly.  It’s too bad that didn’t come to pass.  It’s, admittedly, been a minute since I last read his Concrete… but, there was a time during the mid-late 2000’s where I was eating it up.  I’m probably due for a revisit… if only I could find those 25th-30th hours in a day.


Overall, a very nice little story… even if you’re not a sucker for Christmas comics (like I am), this one is definitely worth a look.

EDIT:  Some context for this story, provided by its creator: Paul Chadwick!














We open with young Bruce Wayne exploring the caves under the Manor.  He’s chasing a rabbit, and trips over some rocks.  By the time he sits up, a bat has swooped down and killed the bunny.  Ya see, what we’re trying to get at is… this is “dark”.  It’s darkness… enveloping, encompassing… dark, dark, darkity-dark.  This darkness followed Master Bruce into his adulthood… following the murder of his parents, and his adopting of his cape-n-cowl persona.





But then… light.  A young boy entered his life, and with him came hope and warmth.  We learn here that Dick Grayson received his first Robin costume as… a Christmas present.  Ah, I was wondering if and when Christmas would show up during this Christmas story.





So for a time, the Vengeance of the Dark Knight was replaced by the Adventures of the Dynamic Duo.  The darkness was lifted.





This all ended, however, when Dick Grayson went off to college… and, adopted his new grown-up hero identity.  His old Robin costume is displayed in the Bat Cave as a reminder of the “light”, however, it didn’t stop the darkness from creeping back in.





A couple pages follow illustrating more of the “darkness” before we wrap up with a literal robin landing in the cave… and nearly getting “swooped down upon” by a bat.  For whatever reason, the bat decides to spare the birdie… and it flies out of the cave into the night.







Well, this was kinda neat.  A wee bit precious to be sure, but neat all the same.  A nice look at the Bruce/Dick relationship… and how their perspectives contrast with/compliment one another.


It’s written almost like a poem… which, I mean, is fine… but, maybe just a little over reliant on “darkness”.  As a theme, it works… however, in actually reading through, it becomes a bit tiresome.  It almost reminds me of something I’d have written back in a high school creative writing class.


We don’t get all that much in the way of Christmas here… other than the revelation that Dick got a Robin costume as a Christmas Gift.  I suppose it works… but, I dunno… I kind of wanted a little bit more in the way of Holly-Jolly.


The art comes to us from Gray Morrow, who is always a treat.  I have no complaints about how this story looks.  I don’t even really have any quibbles about the story itself.  It’s just not exactly what I was hoping for.





We open with Wonder Woman being stirred awake by a nightmare.  Zeus keeps pushing “gifts” upon her… and, well… this clearly makes her uneasy.  Worth noting, we do get a dead-Myndi sighting here.  From here, we jump into the real world where Pastor Sharon SomethingorOther has arrived to celebrate the Holidays with the Kapatelis family.  I’m at a bit of a disadvantage here.  Not being much of a Wonder Woman reader, I can’t really say if these are long-standing characters.





We learn that Pastor Sharon is being cheated on by her husband… and is about to get a divorce.  This is a big no-no in the Church.  Divorcing Pastors have to be transferred to a new Congregation, and she’s just not sure she’s up for it.  She’s considering returning to school, perhaps earning her Doctorate.





Just then, Vanessa Kapatelis bursts in the room, finally free from school for a couple weeks.  She excitedly asks is Diana had arrived yet.  Ya see, she’s a hyooge Wonder Woman fan… which, as mentioned, might be old-hat if you’re actually reading the Wonder Woman title.





We jump to the next morning, and Sharon is standing in the backyard collecting her thoughts.  She is soon joined by Wonder Woman herself.  They talk about their respective “duties”, and although they worship different Gods, understand and respect each other’s point of view.  Wow, how very un-“current year”!  To be fair, Sharon takes a little convincing that the Greek Gods are a “thing”, Diana doesn’t go so far as to prove it… but assures her that she chats them up all the time.





We join the gals for their Christmas Eve… they bake cookies, break bread, and listen to carolers.  That night, Sharon is having trouble falling asleep… and so, she heads into the living room.  There, she finds Wonder Woman lost in her own thoughts.





Diana shares with Sharon her own fears and feelings of inferiority when it comes to working for and with the Gods.  Gotta remember, this is still very early in her post-Crisis career.  She feels as though no matter how hard she fights for Peace, Love, and Truth… that nobody’s listening.  Sharon assures her that the “hardest” work is the most important… which kinda sets off a light bulb in her own head.





We jump to Christmas Morning, where Sharon reveals that she will stick to her mission, and take the transfer to the new Congregation.







This was pretty good!  I feel like if I were more well-read in post-Crisis (or any) Wonder Woman, I might’ve gotten a bit more out of it… but I don’t feel like it really hurt me to come in “fresh”.


What we have here is a couple of personal “crises” running parallel.  I think it was Erikson who suggested (and I’m about to butcher this) that our development is predicated on crises.  It’s how we deal with and overcome that makes us who we are moving forward.  Here, both Sharon and Diana are faced with either change of… or adherence to “duty”.  Both are very trepidatious about what’s to come, and their roles moving forward.


In coming together and sharing their insecurities, they are both able to find the strength to carry on.  Sharon, ashamed that her husband had been fooling around with another woman in the Church… unsure if she can continue her “mission”.  Diana, tasked with ever-so-much from friggin’ ZEUS… finds herself only seeing the futility of her calling.  It’s pretty deep stuff, and I think it was handled quite well here.


There’s something to be said about coming-of-age stories occurring around Christmas.  That’s the time of year when it feels like most anything is possible… at least if you ask me.  I think placing this story during the Holidays really added a warm and familial element… which made it all the more special.


The story and art come to us from Eric Shanower… who, to be honest, I only know from Marvel’s “Oz” series-of-series’s that came out in the mid-2000’s.  I was actually rather surprised to see his name on this story.  He delivers a nice, personal story… and the art is really very good!  Vanessa might look a little demented, and Diana might’ve looked like she was enjoying her Christmas Eve chat with Sharon a bit too much… but, still… I really dug it!  It’s too bad we didn’t see more DC work from Shanower!


Overall, a nice story… and, one I’d recommend.










We open at a military hospital… there is a downed plane nearby.  Inside a man with a mostly-bandaged head sketches Von Hammer’s airplane… which his attending nurse seems to appreciate.  This is, however, not as appreciated by a one-legged fella with a mustache… who swats all of the art to the ground.





Time passes, and Enemy Ace himself arrives at the hospital.  He’s brought with him provisions to ensure the patients and residents can have themselves a nice Christmas meal.





After the food is prepared and the meal shared, Von Hammer has himself a dance with the attending nurse from earlier.  This doesn’t go unnoticed by the bandage-headed fella.





After the dance, Hans walks over to the list of patients being treated, maybe some casualties too… and salutes.  Just then, a man points a gun in his direction.





It’s the bandage-headed fella!  The one-legged mustachioed guy makes sure the situation doesn’t escalate any further.





He then suggests Hans take his leave… which he does.








Not gonna lie… this one took me a few tries.  I question the wisdom of making the Enemy Ace feature a “silent” story.  I mean, if it were Superman or Batman… or any “mainstream” DC character, I could see this working for anyone reading it.  With Enemy Ace though?  He’s just off the beaten-path enough to where I wasn’t sure who was who… and what was what.


I know Enemy Ace primarily from his distinctive mask.  You take that off… and give him a standard non-distinct Byrnian face, and he kinda gets lost in the crowd.  My first couple of times through this one, I wasn’t even sure if Hans stayed for dinner!


In subsequent re”reads”, the story became a bit more clear… but I still wouldn’t swear to anything I’m about to say.  I get the impression that many of the injuries and casualties that this remote hospital has seen were due to the actions of Enemy Ace himself.  We see the bandaged man sketching Hans’ Fokker Triplane… so, I think we can assume he’s the one who shot them down.


Hans, who I don’t know from Adam, seems like during combat he’s just “doing his duty”… following orders, and all that.  Otherwise, he might be a caring and empathetic guy.  We can see this in how he salutes the fallen after having a dance.  This story reminds me a bit of the Christmas Truce of 1914… where German and British troops had a brief ceasefire in the midst of World War I.


Before we cut out, let’s have a look at the art.  I’m a pretty big Byrne fan, though even I will admit that his faces tend to be a bit generic from time to time.  Having Andy Kubert provide finishes really jazzed up the work.  I feel like Byrne/Kubert might’ve been one heck of an artistic “marriage”.  Really solid stuff here… wish there was more of it!







We open, and it’s Christmas at the JLA Satellite.  Not only that, it’s a pre-Crisis Christmas, because our featured players here are Hal and Barry.  The latter is on monitor duty, and the former is keeping him company, while lamenting the fact that Ollie bought him yet another copy of Das Kapital… I think I’d feel the same way.  Anyhoo, the pair become restless and have a hankering for an “old-fashioned Christmas”, and so… Hal zaps them to a quiet burg where they might be able to find one.  Naturally, this doesn’t quite work out the way they’d hoped.





Just then, they come across a man being mugged.  After making short work of the baddies, Flash and Green Lantern are introduced to C.B. Fenster (yes, that C.B. Fenster… apparently).  C.B. tells them they should’ve just let him die… which begs the question as to why he was calling out for help not four panels earlier.  Anyhoo, this coot has issued a challenge to his hoi poloi pals: He’ll give five-million bucks to anyone who can prove that Santa Claus exists.





Well, that’s all our fellas needed to hear.  Before we know it, Fenster is decked out in red, and flying above the city in a one-Flash construct sleigh.





Ya see, Flash, GL, and C.B. are going to go all around the world giving gifts to all the good girls and boys.  Their first stop… well, it goes alright, but our Santa is definitely lacking in the “Ho, Ho, Ho” department… he even makes a child sign for a teddy bear!





Their next stop is in a rather posh neighborhood, where Santa Fenster meets a newly-single mother who is struggling to put together the bicycles her late-husband bought for their children.  He offers her a hand… and might be starting to learn a thing or two about “good will toward man”.



Another stop… I think we’re in Germany now… and Santa meets a very lonely guy, who is just looking for someone to talk to.  Fenster hands over a teddy bear… which, I suppose is better than a sharp stick in the eye.



After hitting every house (on the planet), Hal and Barry return Fenster to where they found him (I think…).  They came up one house short… ya see, this one family… the Harpers, they just weren’t able to track them down.  Their last known address was just a “burned-out house”.  The heroes apologize for wasting the millionaire’s time, and leave.



Fenster notices a nearby car, and knocks on the window… ya see, this is where the Harper are now living.  Mr. Harper exits the car and tells C.B. about some of his family’s recent struggles… while assuring him that they’ll be okay.  Fenster asks Harper to let him help.



Here’s the thing… Fenster himself was the Santa he’d been searching for.  The millionaire goes to hand over a five-million dollar check, which Hal refuses.  Yeah, that doesn’t seem in character.  I guess Christmas will make people act in strange ways.



We wrap up with Fenster throwing a big party for all the pals he just met… and Hal wishing Barry a Happy Hanukkah?!  I swear, I never knew that Barry was Jewish!  I guess that’s why he gets stuck with Monitor Duty on Christmas!





Sometimes, especially of late with our Action Comics Weekly “duties”, when I find myself reading an “anthology-length” story, I kinda get lost in it.  I forget that I’m reading an eight-pager, and by the time I’m done, I could swear that I’d just read an issue-length epic.  This is certainly one of those times.


So, whatta we got here?  Two old pals trying to have themselves an “old-fashioned” Christmas.  Worth noting, I don’t think this story is actually titled that, but it’s what the internet calls it… and that’s good enough for this guy.


What they find is a fella whose lost that “Christmas feeling”.  He’s a rich guy, so naturally, doesn’t know anything about the “real world”… and so, the heroes take him on a (literal) world tour so he can ultimately discover that there’s a little Santa Claus in each of us.  It’s cliche, yes… but, it works… and I quite enjoyed it.


It was, at times, touching… also, a bit funny.  Can’t ask for much more than that for this type of story.  Art comes to us from Colleen Doran, and despite the Harper children looking more like the offspring of Terry Long, it’s really very nice.  I’d recommend seeking this story out.







It’s Christmastime, and Deadman is being kind of naughty.  Ya see, he’s been scoping out a rather rich fella by the name of John Turner Danforth.  After taking possession of this dude’s body, Boston goes about using his immense (and arguably, ill-gotten) fortune to send gifts to his old friends at Hill Brothers Circus.  Pretty sneaky, pal.  That’s not the story we’re going to tell today, however.  No, no, no… this is a story about how during Christmas, Deadman is at his most lonely.  All that “good will toward men” in the air gives him a bit too much idle time.





Boston spots a skater on the ice… and decides to take possession in order to feel what it’s like to have the cold air on his face.  After a couple of axles, he spots… a most arousing (his words, not mine) woman.  He figures his next “stop” will be inside the body of her male companion.





The woman kisses him, because she doesn’t realize she’s, ya know, kissing a dead-man.  Together, they head to a friend’s house for a Christmas Party.  Boston is greeted, and treated as though he belongs there.  Again, this is because none of them realize that their buddy Paul is currently being possessed.



He loses himself in the fun, frivolity, and warmth of the occasion.  He takes in the sounds of laughter, and smells of food.  He reminisces about Christmases long long ago.  But then, the harsh reality of the situation sets in.  This isn’t his Christmas… it’s Paul’s.  And what he’s doing is robbing him of a wonderful experience… and ultimately, wonderful memories.



After one more scan of the table, and one more look into Kerry’s loving eyes, Boston decides to vacate.  He’s already taken too much from Paul, and doesn’t feel right taking any more.



Outside, he curses Rama for his lot in (after) life before sitting down to sulk.  The pity-party is interrupted by the arrival of a blonde stranger, who… oddly enough, can see Deadman.



She offers an unsolicited opinion, in that she suggests Deadman might be feeling the way he is because nobody can see all the good he’s done.  He’s very much an unsung hero… righting wrongs without ever getting recognition or credit.  Boston asks if anyone cares… to which, the stranger replies “Probably not.”  Ouch.



Deadman relates his feelings to when he was a circus performer.  He was fueled by applause… something he certainly doesn’t experience these days.  The Stranger removes Boston’s mask so she can look him in the eyes, and assures him that what they do isn’t for recognition.  They do what they do because no one else will.  They act in the interests of the greater good… even if no one remembers they ever existed.  Remember that last bit.



Deadman apologizes for his outburst, and tells the Stranger that she’s right.  After wishing our man a Merry Christmas, the Stranger goes to take her leave.  Before she can, however, Boston asks for her name… to which, she replies “Kara”… buuuuut, she doubts that means anything to him.



We wrap up with Boston floating away letting the situation set in.  He thinks to himself that Kara was right… that name didn’t mean anything to him.  He wishes her a Merry Christmas… whoever she is.






Okay, so we’ve got a little bit to unpack here, don’t we?


Before addressing the elephant in the room, I want to spend a few moments looking at the first-half of this story.  Maybe I’m too much of a Christmas-Softy, but this scene really got to me.  Deadman having the opportunity to take part in the love and warmth of a Christmas Gathering… with a woman who looks at him with nothing less than adoration on his arm.  Sounds like a pretty good time, don’t it?  Until, of course… he lets himself think about what he’s taking from the man who owns the body he’s currently occupying.


It’s heartbreaking.  I mean, again… this is coming from Christmas-Softy Chris, but… even taking the “Deadmannyness” out of the equation… it feels like every year we’re gently dropped into the festivity and warmth of Christmas… family gatherings, neighbor after neighbor decorating and lighting-up their homes, reconnecting with friends… then, suddenly… it’s over.  We’re yanked back to reality for another eleven months.  Family and friends go their own ways, the neighborhood returns to normal… the warmth kind of fades.


I think of that one line from Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas… one that never fails to move me.  Someday soon we all will be together – If the fates allow – Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow”.  So much of life can come down to “muddling through”… if we let it.


Which brings us back to Deadman.  He’s doomed to work in anonymity… doing what’s right for people who will never know he was there.  It doesn’t get much more “muddling through” than that… which is something that is all the more apparent during the “most wonderful time of the year”.  It’s only in meeting a stranger named Kara, that he begins to make peace with that.


I’m not blowing any minds here, and it’s never said outright… but, “Kara” is pretty clearly meant to represent the pre-Crisis Supergirl.  A Supergirl that no longer exists… and, in fact, never had!  She can identify with Deadman, in that everything she’d ever done… or ever will do, will be done without anyone acknowledging her existence.


This is also pretty heartbreaking.  While I’m certain I’d have been more “moved” by this scene had I grown up in the pre-Crisis era, the poignancy and tragedy of this meeting was not lost on me.  In a way, it reminded me of how I felt when reading those (mostly tepid) Convergence mini-series’ from 2015.  We were given a fleeting opportunity to say goodbye to “our” heroes… before returning to “muddle through” The New-52!


When I read those series’, I lingered on the final panels… realizing that this was very likely going to be “it”.  I was never going to see my Superman again… or my Titans… or my Outsiders.  Of course, some half-decade later, I’ve got a bit of egg on my face… but, that’s neither here nor there.  I gotta wonder how this sorta-kinda cameo was received by folks back in ye old 1989?  If you’re reading this, and were around… I’d love to know how seeing your Supergirl again felt!  Also, did you look at this character as Supergirl… or simply an “Easter Egg” of sorts?


Overall… there’s just a ton to love about this little story, and if you only read one from this 1989 Special, I would urge you to make it this one.





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6 Comments

  1. Deadman got my vote, but just because of the pre-Crisis Supergirl appearance. I almost went with Enemy Ace because I love obscure characters.

    • You just explained my *exact* mindset as I was trying to figure out which way to vote! This was certainly a solid little Special!

  2. Cant believe I am.doing this..but Deadman wins the day here. Yes this story did "Get Me"

    I can read sappy Xmas stories all day long!

  3. What a marvelous issue! And a nice change of pace from ACW, without going too off model.

    Hard to believe that only two of these stories have been reprinted — Enemy Ace in 2001's DC UNIVERSE CHRISTMAS TPB and Deadman in 2016's TALES OF THE BATMAN: ALAN BRENNERT HC. I'd love an omnibus edition collecting everything in this issue and a bunch of the other great holiday stories that DC has published over the years.

    BTW, I voted for Superman.

  4. I had to vote for Enemy Ace, but Paul Chadwick's Superman story was also a great one. It demonstrates the strength of Superman, he cares about an individual as much as saving the entire planet from a threat by villains such as Brainiac.

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