Each month, hundreds of comics are released to stores for the hungry masses of fans around the world. To stand out on the shelves, you have to put the great art up front. You can judge a book by its cover. Yet some of those covers last for the ages…
Happy holidays, everyone! Welcome back to our continuing monthly column. Except we missed last month, so we thought we’d do something a bit special this year. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Christmas themed covers. Some of them are perfectly normal, cheery, borderline Norman Rockwell stuff. Others are a little…different. What we’ve got here is a collection of Christmas covers that made us look twice, look away, or we just want you to look at.
This is Cover Story: Christmas Edition.
Uncanny X-Men #143 (Marvel) – Artist: Terry Austin and Rick Parker (March 1981)
Smack bang in the middle of Chris Claremont’s classic run, this Kitty centric cover is from a very Kitty centric issue in which something akin to Ridley Scott’s Alien stalks the X-Men HQ. Not shown: Kitty wrecking the mansion, something they are still cleaning up months later. If it weren’t for the Christmas tree, this would just be one of the more disturbing covers of the last few decades.
GLX-Mas Special #1 (Marvel) – Artist: Paul Pelletier (December 2005)
You know who is under-represented at Christmas? The Great Lakes Avengers. With the return of Squirrel Girl next year, it’s a time to celebrate this mighty character, and her army of rein-squirrels that are just nuts.
Batman #239 (DC Comics) – Artist: Neal Adams (February 1972)
Picture this. Gotham City. 1972. Christmas. You’re clearly in an impoverished situation with a dad that is suffering some kind of depression. A knock comes at the door. It’s Batman with a beard. Is your first thought “Yay, Christmas is saved!” or “Jesus Christ, I must’ve been really naughty this year”? (For the record, the three chipper stories in the volume are called “Silent Night, Deadly Night” (not to be confused with the excellent horror schlock), “The Loneliest Men in the World” and (wait for it) “Soul-Pit”. We’re not planning to celebrate Christmas with Batman anytime soon – see below).
Saved By the Bell Holiday Special #1 (Harvey) – (March 1993)
Given this TV series ended in 1993, and it’s possible to have been born and turned 21 years old in the time since the last episode dropped, this one might take some explaining, kittens. You see there was this NBC sitcom, high school hijinks and there was a Screech. This cover seems to speak for itself, and typify the dream of the ’90s in ways we never could.
The Brave and the Bold #184 (DC Comics) – Artist: Jim Aparo (March 1982)
We totally understand that Christmas isn’t a great time for Batman. Without any knowledge of the story or why Huntress is hiding behind a tombstone, we can only conclude that Bruce has finally realised what we’ve all been thinking for years.
Spider-Man: Christmas in Dallas (Marvel for the Dallas Times Herald) – Artist: Alan Kupperberg (1983)
Marvel’s series of giveaways for the Dallas Times Herald got real with the Kingpin showing his love for Spidey at Christmas with the gift of bullets. It’s guns-a-plenty in this issue too, with a retelling of Spider-Man’s origin.
Glory and Friends Christmas Special #1 (Image Comics) – Artist: Mike Deodato Jr (December 1995)
Subtlety. It’s defined by Merriam-Webster as “the quality or state of being subtle; a small detail that is usually important but not obvious.” Here this rather curvy and impossibly proportioned lass is positioned on her knees in front of a snowman, holding his carrot in one hand, and a dripping wad of snow in the other. This is the opposite of that definition.
Jonah Hex #34 (DC Comics) – Artist: Luis Dominguez (March 1980)
If there’s one thing you associate Jonah Hex with, it’s the festive season. Late 1970s covers often gave a false impression of what was inside the issue, but Hex really does force the Santa – his own Pappy! – to be the town’s Kris Kringle. We also get the touching tale of Jonah’s own childhood abuse at the hands of said Pappy. Doesn’t it just warm the cockles of yer hearts, pilgrims?
Judge Dredd #36 (Fleetway Quality) – Artist: Brett Ewins (March 1987)
Parent: are you struggling to find the right way to tell your kids the truth about Santa Claus? Why not let Mega City’s finest tackle the sticky subject for you.
Batman #33 (DC Comics) – Artist: Dick Sprang (February 1946)
The world may have been coming out of a war, but that wacky Robin still couldn’t keep his balance. Years before Bruce forgot how to smile, he either seems amused by the antics or gleefully welcoming the untimely death of yet another Boy Wonder. (This attitude would clearly fade over the next 40 years – see above).
Archie Giant Series Magazine (Archie Comics) – (January 1970)
As the dying embers of the 1960s flower power movement warmed the collective Archie family souls in the Christmas of 1969, this has all the makings of the freakiest porn parody you’ve ever seen.
DC Universe Holiday Special (DC Comics) – Artist: Frank Quitely (February 2009)
DC had an annual Holiday Special for a number of years, and this one doesn’t truly fit our “crazy” criteria. It’s just that we wanted to include a Frank Quitely cover, because he’s rad.
Captain Marvel Adventures #19 (Fawcett/DC Comics) – Artist: C.C. Beck (January 1943)
This wartime bit of cheery fun only becomes disturbing if you think about Santa riding Captain Marvel/Shazam around the world in a single night. More so when you think about poor Billy and Mary Batson, who just had their illusions about Santa shattered in a single heroic act of kindness.
Katy Keene #33 (Archie Comics) – Artist: John S. Lucas (February 1990)
Not exactly a household name, but America’s Queen of Pin-Ups and Fashions has been at Archie Comics since 1945. Her revival in the 1980s, thanks partly to artist John S. Lucas, came to a halt in the early 1990s. With this issue, in fact, which was the last Katy Keene regular issue before she went into retirement (save for an appearance in 1994’s Archie Meets the Punisher) until 2005. You know it’s the ’90s, because Santa thinks the tree is “totally rad.”
Flash #87 (DC Comics) – Artist: Alan Davis (Feburary 1994)
A heatwave and a crime wave in Keystone send Santa(s) into short pants, apparently having just been on a shopping spree through Lowe’s. The world’s fastest man has stopped for target practice, clearly puzzled by the choice of pink sneakers from the punk in the front.
The Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special #1 (DC Comics) – Artist: Simon Bisley (December 1991)
This notorious comic features the Main Man decapitating Kris Kringle, and plays its hand right there on the cover’s warning label: “More Offensive Than Christmas Usually Is.” It’s even inspired a short low-budget 2002 film of the same name as part of the American Film Institute’s Director Series. Starring Andrew Bryniarski (who also appeared in Batman Returns) as Lobo, it is actually pretty awesome.
Batman Family #4 (DC Comics) – Artist: Pablo Marcos (April 1976)
At least since 1946 (see above), Robin has been experiencing trouble keeping balance at Christmas. He probably should have brought a snazzy motorised slipper like Batgirl. Other things to note: “The Phantom General” (aka Von Dort) in one of three appearance. Also: “Fatman” in his only appearance.
Spider-Man Holiday Special 1995 (Marvel) – Artist: Adam Kubert & Mark Farmer (December 1995)
Poor Venom. If it wasn’t enough that he was saddled with an alien symbiote that the owner struggles to control on a daily basis, he’s opened up his Christmas gifts to find multiple Spider-Men and a horribly distended Scorcher inside. His hat shows that, despite this, his continued commitment to the season is admirable.
Casper’s Ghostland #94 (Harvey World) – (February 1977)
Because when you think Christmas, you think about the ghost of a child conversing with a stuck Santa Claus.
Teen Titans #13 (DC Comics) – Artist: Nick Cardy (February 1968)
The legendary Nick Cardy, who sadly passed away last year, shows why he is the cover art master in this simple optical illusion. The Teen Titans are a Christmas tree in this “happening”, right? In actual fact, its a simple trick of the light, a single beam turning the colourful costumes of the titanic teens into a festive fern.
Batman #27 (DC Comics) – Artist: Jack Burnley (February 1945)
1940s Batman is the festive gift that keeps on giving. Here it’s Jack Burnley, the first artist to have drawn Superman after co-creator Joe Shuster. His first published assignment for DC was the cover illustration for New York World’s Fair 1940 (AKA World’s Fair Comics #2), the first time Superman, Batman, and Robin appeared on page together. Here a different trio is portrayed, showing Robin gleefully doing the heavy lifting (despite his balance difficulties above), and Batman comes off as a bit of a douche.
DC Comics Presents #67 – Superman and Santa Claus (DC Comics) – Artist: José Luis García-López (March 1984)
Such a classic Christmas scene. Santa, with his elves and reindeer, soaring overhead. The Man of Steel grinning by his side. Plus a man in an ill-advised stripey outfit ready to shoot them both with a shotgun of some kind. Can we also talk about how many of those presents the elves seem to be losing, and how little Superman is doing to help here?
Marvel Treasury Edition #13 (Marvel) – Artists: Gil Kane, John Romita & Joe Sinnott
These Treasury Editions of the 1970s and 1980s gave rise to two Christmas themed “Holiday Grab Bags”, and aside from the legendary talent involved on these covers, they are entirely worth your attention for two reasons. The first is the Hulk in a Santa suit, being trusted to have a little girl sit on his lap. Let’s just dwell on the occupational health and safety issues for a while. Then the more likely scenario of Ben Grimm (aka The Thing) in festive attire is undercut by the Hulk, who was Santa only a year before, being driven like a grinning gamma irradiated reindeer across the New York skyline.
Blade #4 (Marvel) – Artist: Marko Djurdjevic (February 2007)
Here, Santa has possibly discovered Blade’s tax evasion and has definitively put him on the “naughty” list.
Iron Man #254 (Marvel) – Artist: Bob Layton (March 1990)
‘Twas getting towards the end of Bob Layton’s second lengthy run on Iron Man. Now we’re not going to say there was a gap between Iron Man and his glory days here, but Santa is shooting him in the chest. ‘Nuff said.
The Vault of Horror #35 (EC Comics) – Artist: Johnny Craig (February 1954)
One of the most infamously disturbing covers of all time, Christmas or otherwise, is also a blatant kind of misogyny that parents groups, teachers, the clergy, and even psychologists were pointing to as everything that was wrong with comics and young minds. The self-regulatory Comics Magazine Association of America (CMAA) and the Comics Code Authority (CCA) expressly forbade the words “terror” and “horror” in titles (along with other spooky trappings), and by the end of 1954 (the year this was released) The Vault of Horror had been cancelled, and it disappeared with its other companion series the following year.
Super-Sized ALF Holiday Special #1 (Marvel) – Artist: Dave Manak (January 1989)
Remember ALF? He’s back! In comic form! So many questions here. How does Santa know ALF? How did this sustain a second Holiday Special, and a Spring Special to boot? Like Saved By the Bell (above), ALF was a popular sitcom that ran from 1986 to 1990 on network TV, and it’s success or appeal are difficult to explain to a generation that may never hear the word “Melmac.”
Clerks: Holiday Special #1 (Oni Press) – Artist: Art Adams (January 1998)
Speaking of the 1990s, before Kevin Smith tackled Daredevil and revived Green Arrow, he ran a series of comic books spinning off from his 1994 indie film Clerks. It would eventually spawn a sequel, an animated series and countless merch, but these comics allowed fans to continue to explore that universe through lost scenes and additional vignettes. Although Jim Mahfood did the interiors, the legendary Art Adams covered this Christmas cracker.
The Punisher: Silent Night (Marvel) – Artist: Mike Deodato Jr (February 2006)
Including a Punisher Christmas cover is a bit of a non-brainer, and there’s a surprisingly large amount of them. This one just drips a cross of Bad Santa and Silent Night, Deadly Night. There’s also that rather disturbing hint of hand in the corner…
Howard the Duck #3 (Marvel) – Artist: Jack Davis (February 1980)
Howard the Duck came back in a big way in a certain Marvel blockbuster this year, reminding us that he was once an edgy icon (of sorts) for Marvel. Six years before the Willard Huyck/George Lucas film, we wonder if having his own motion picture was on the wishlist (and if he regretted it later)? The cover was done by the insanely talented Jack Davis, best known for his MAD Magazine work and countless pieces of television related art, magazine covers, album covert art and other pop culture madness. His works are “are characterized by extremely distorted anatomy, including big heads, skinny legs and extremely large feet”, so what better creature for him to tackle than a duck?
Marvel in the 1970s and 80s was just more fun, wasn’t it? Marvel Preview, the book that launched the characters of Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon, became Bizarre Adventures in 1981 as it began its final 10 issues. Taking on a more horror-centric tone, editor Denny O’Neil insisted on at least one humour section in the issue to make things less spooky. Howard the Duck saw a Christmas short in this issue, none of which detracts from the iconic nature of this cover.
If you are an iTunes user, subscribe to our weekly podcast free here and please leave us feedback. That’s how we get more attention on the Interwebs and move up the iTunes charts!