Superman has been featured in Christmas themed stories almost from the moment the character first hit the newsstands. It’s kind of a no-brainer when you think about it. Here is a character that embodies the concept of selflessness and here’s a holiday which has come to mean giving of yourself to not only your family and friends but to those less fortunate than you.
It’s the comic book version of, “You put your chocolate in my peanut butter.”
Of all the myriad Christmas themed stories I think one particular creator stands out more than others and that’s Dan Jurgens. Now I will admit to being a little biased here but when you look at the ten or so years Dan spent writing and/or drawing Superman he produced some of the most memorable Christmas based stories. He drew the Roger Stern written Home For The Holidays in Adventures of Superman #462, which is the touching story of the Daily Planet staff discovering that one of their own is not only homeless but has been living out of a storage closest. Metropolis Mailbag in Superman (Vol. 2) #64 was written by Jurgens with art by Jackson Guice revealed that around the holidays Superman visits the Metropolis Post Office and answers some of the mail that he receives. Jurgens followed this up the following year by writing and drawing Metropolis Mailbag II in Superman (Vol. 2) #76, which saw the heroes of the DC Universe getting together to keep the tradition of answering mail alive even after Superman died in the fight with Doomsday.
One of my favorite Jurgens fueled Christmas stories was a three page tale that appeared in DCU Holiday Bask II, which came out in 1998. The Gift is a deceptively simple story due in large part to the fact that it doesn’t contain any dialogue. All of the story telling comes through in the art and Jurgens sticks the landing time and again over the course of the three pages.
When I was a junior in high school I took a creative writing course and one of our assignments was to write a short story where we had to establish what season the story was taking place in without specifically writing that it was set in summer or winter or fall or spring. The idea was to be able to rely more on showing something rather than simply telling the audience outright. It’s easy to begin a story with, “On the twenty-fourth of December.” It’s more descriptive and leaves some of the work up to the audience to begin with, “A light dusting of snow could be seen through the living room window. The Christmas tree was fully decorated and nearly bursting with presents that would be opened the next day.”
Going with that idea and sticking with it Jurgens gives us everything we need to know about when this story was set not only in terms of the season but where it fits into the Post Crisis Superman’s history without a single caption. We know it’s winter because of the snow. We know it’s around Christmas because there is a giant replica candy cane in the background and the presents littering the street. We know it’s early in Superman’s career because Lex Luthor still has hair. We know that the battle with the robot was intense because Superman’s cape is in tatters. We know that while Superman is delivering the robot to Luthor the battle actually took place up and down the east coast thanks to the newspaper headline. It’s sequential storytelling at its finest and if you want to just breeze through the three pages you can but if you want to take your time with it Jurgens gives us a lot of meat on the bone, so to speak.
I also love the interaction Superman has with Lex. The first four panels on page 2 are the perfect encapsulation of the Superman/Lex dynamic from the first four years of the Post Crisis era. Superman has just stopped one of Luthor’s machinations that can’t possibly be connected to the billionaire, Superman gives Lex a taciturn expression, Lex feigns ignorance, Superman flies off, Lex glowers. Again, with no dialogue Jurgens manages to convey a range of emotions and lets you know the main beats of Lex and Superman’s relationship.
More than anything I love that last page. One of my favorite aspects of the Post Crisis era was Clark’s relationship with his adoptive parents. Letting them live into his adulthood gave him a place to come and be himself. On the farm he wasn’t a reporter and he wasn’t the world’s greatest super-hero. He was Jonathan and Martha’s son. The gift and the note from “Santa” fits perfectly with how the Kents were portrayed during this time period and I am enough of a softie to be touched by the sentimentality of the scene.
You know, I love the Metropolis Mailbag issues. I love Pre-Crisis Superman related Christmas stories, especially the DC Comics Presents issue where Superman teams up with Santa Claus. In fact I can’t think of a Christmas tale featuring the Man of Steel that I don’t like but this simple three page story is my absolute favorite. Not only does it hit me right in my Superman sweet spot but it’s also a good example of why comics are a unique form of storytelling. “Silent” stories (as in stories with no dialogue) were nothing new to the medium when DCU Holiday Bash II came out and to be honest I am not the biggest fan of them but this one is one of the exceptions that proves the rule, so to speak.
It also makes me smile every time I read it.
And maybe that’s the only reason I really need.