RETRO REVIEW: Christmas With The Super-Heroes #2 (December 1989)

by

Or – “Comics From Another Time…

When I was young, comic books were a bit different than what you read today.  Sure, DC had just rebooted their entire universe, and Marvel was in the spasms of major change because of new ownership and… 

Actually, now that you mention it, you’re probably up to speed with that part.  One thing was different, though:  They could still mention Christmas by name on the cover of the big holiday celebration issues (and perhaps a surprise or two waited inside the books as well.)  Your Major Spoilers Super Holiday Spectacular Retro Review awaits!

ChristmasCoverCHRISTMAS WITH THE SUPER-HEROES #2
Writer: Paul Chadwick/Dave Gibbons/Eric Shanower/John Byrne/Bill Loebs/Alan Brennert
Penciler: Paul Chadwick/Gray Morrow/Eric Shanower/John Byrne/Colleen Doran/Dick Giordano
Inker: John Nyberg/Gray Morrow/Eric Shanower/Andy Kubert/Ty Templton/Dick Giordano
Colorist: Tom McCraw/Gray Morrow/Glenn Whitmore
Letterer: John Costanza/Eric Shanower/Albert De Guzman/Steve Haynie
Editor: Mark Waid
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $2.95
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $4.00

Previously, in Christmas With The Super-Heroes:  The Crisis On Infinite Earths, Faithful Spoilerites, was more than just another crossover.  Sure, it’s easy to look back at it now and find the whole thing antiquated, but Wolfman & Perez’s 12-issue epic was more than just a way to pop summer sales for the corporate bigwigs. DC Comics was a venerated entity in 1986, nearly half a century old, and the editorial team was willing to make huge leaps of faith to update their universe for the fans who seemed to prefer Marvel Comics.  They rebooted Superman, started Wonder Woman fresh, and killed off Barry Allen and Supergirl, and altered nearly every aspect of their shared universe.  It was a gamble that paid off, and by 1989, DC’s oldest and stodgiest characters were imbued with new life, while the cracks in the foundation were still small enough to ignore for another half-decade or so.  This book came out during that ’89 sweet spot, the year that I met Stephen, moved away from home and discovered the magic of being the Dungeon Master for the first time, and it’s stuck with me ever since.  We open our festivities with a pretty depressing tableau, as a weary traveler fails to flag down a passing vehicle for help, and decides to take drastic steps…

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The man looks up to see none other than Superman himself standing outside his window, casually asking, “May I get in with you?”  The Man of Steel begins using his heat vision to warm both the weary man and his vehicle, and bluntly brings up the fact that he was about to commit suicide.  Their discussion reveals his loneliness, his alienation from friends and family, and the disease that causes him chronic pain, but Superman gently prods him to try to reconnect with his family, not to give up hope.  “I’d like to think I didn’t stop here for nothing,” Superman says gently…Christmas2

The story ends with a sign that proclaims Smallville to be the next exit, and the man swears to Superman that he’ll keep their secret.  In the wrong hands, this tale could have been a really saccharine affair, or worse, a tone-deaf preachy PSA.  Instead, it serves to underline what was best about post-Crisis Superman, the fact that he was a regular man with awesome power rather than a god walking among the peons.  After a quick tale about the Bat-cave (which actually gives us some good Batman family character moments), we see the new-and-improved post-Crisis Wonder Woman in action, as she visits with her friend Julia and meets another of Julia’s friends, a woman suffering a crisis of faith…

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This story is just plain beautiful to look at, fantastic work by Eric Shanower, as Diana helps Sharon with her crisis and Sharon helps her in return, serving as another lovely quiet reminder of the humanity at the core of even the oldest DC characters.  Of course, things aren’t quite as pleasant for Hans von Hammer, the Enemy Ace, as he arrives in a small war-torn village where an under-supplied hospital is celebrating their Christmas Eve…

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There is no dialogue at all in the tale, so I’m not entirely sure where the village is or if it really matters, but thanks to Enemy Ace, the wounded and forlorn have at least a decent meal.  Of course, it is a war, and war comes with casualties, notably von Hammer’s peace of mind…

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The Enemy Ace is sent away by the very men he has come to help, flying off into the freezing night skies…  It’s a very strange and compact little war story, in keeping with the Enemy Ace’s tone, with some impressive art by the unusual team of John Byrne and Andy Kubert (whose father Joe Kubert helped to create the character.)  A slightly less depressing Christmas is had by Hal Jordan and Barry Allen (who is, by the way, dead as a doornail at this point in DC history, making this a retro tale) encountering a rich man who has lost his Christmas spirit…

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Fenster’s run as Santa Claus doesn’t entirely dispel his ‘Bah, humbug!’ attitude, and the heroes take off, with one family yet unaccounted for.  Fenster suddenly realizes the truth of the situation, and knocks on a nearby car window, only to find the missing family within.  When the man, now homeless, explains that he’s happy, as long as his family is alive, Fenster offers to help him…  Cue the heroes!

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Well, they are red and green, after all.  It’s a cute story, and one that makes use of the two characters well (something that isn’t true of a lot of the tales after their mandated resurrections, I might add.)  Of course, if you know anything about this book, you probably know what makes it notable, and that story comes last in the book.  We open as Boston Brand, the Deadman, deals with a bit of holiday ennui of his own, spending another year as a bodiless phantom…

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Popping into a handy body, Boston enjoys an evening of skating, making out and a Christmas dinner as a complete stranger, a situation which only makes his own loneliness worse, adding into it a healthy portion of guilt…

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Deadman floats away into the night, angry at his lot in life and/or death, and rages against the world, injustice, and mostly Rama Kushna, the being who gave him his strange afterlife…

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No, I suppose you never have gotten along with magic, now have you, honey?  Stunned that someone can SEE him, Deadman continues his rant, wondering if he even makes a difference at all.  The woman asks if he’s really worried about making a difference, or whether it’s the recognition that he really craves.  He admits that he’s not all about the glory, and is sidetracked from the mystery of who it is he’s even talking to…

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“Even if no one remembers we ever existed…”  That line gave me goosebumps in 1989, and it’s doing it again right now, as the mysterious woman cuts straight the heart of Boston’s issues, and does for Deadman what he usually does for the people he interacts with.  As for the mystery of who she is?  Well, 20-odd years down the line, you probably already know…

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Kara…  Cue more goosebumps.  There’s still a little part of me that’s amazed that they ever got this story through editorial (although, since this issue was edited by Mark Waid, it may have been easier to do), especially since references to what happened BEFORE the Crisis seemed to be expressly forbidden at DC during the time-period.  Either way, this little story is one of my favorite tales ever, standing alongside “Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?” as perfect bookends for the lost Silver Age of Comics.  For the benefit of the young’ns (Hi, Zach!), I’ll point out what should be obvious:  This strange ghostly woman is Kara Zor-El, the retconned-away original Supergirl, a character whose loss was one of the great tragedies of the Crisis (both in-universe and out.)  Though they revived the Supergirl name, Kara herself was never recognizable as the character I grew up with again.  Christmas With The Super-Heroes #2 is probably only remembered because of this tale, but I suppose that’s okay, given that the whole point of the story is that you don’t have to be remembered to matter, leaving this book with a near-perfect 4.5 out of 5 stars overall. (Kara’s story gets a perfect five, but it’s an anthology, after all.)  It’s a nice holiday grab-bag, without any overt false notes, a rarity in holiday comics to being with, and it’s a lovely tribute to times gone… 

Here’s hoping that your Holiday is a good one!

Rating: ★★★★½

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