Story #1: “Wanted: Santa Claus — Dead or Alive!”

Writer: Denny O’Neil
Artists: Frank Miller and Steve Mitchell
Letterer: Ben Oda
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Editor: Len Wein
Originally Published In: DC Special Series #21 (1979)

This ten page Batman story involves the Dark Knight looking for information about a boat that is going to be waiting in Gotham Harbor.  His investigation leads him to Matty Lasko, the man that arranged for said boat to be in the harbor.  After a brief fight and proving that he has abs of steel Batman is put on the trail of an old cell mate of Matty’s named Boomer Katz.  One disguise later the Dark Knight finds out that Boomer had been working as a Santa at Lee’s Department Store.  Batman assumes that Boomer is there to case the place for a future robbery and he isn’t far off.  Boomer is helping another criminal named Fats rob the place but has had a change of heart due to the manager of the store treating him so nicely.  Fats doesn’t care and forces Boomer to help anyway.  The Batman gets involved and after another fight scene a convenient burst of light reveals where Fats had been hiding with Boomer and the day is saved.

Pretty basic Batman story, right?  Well, there was one part that I didn’t mention.  At the beginning of the story Batman notices that the star from a Nativity Scene had been stolen leading to your typical, “crime doesn’t take a holiday,” thought balloon.  At the end of the story the light that gives away Fats and Boomer’s location comes through the hole in the vandalized Nativity Scene.  The star appears, shines its light on the bad guy and then disappears leading to a rather odd ending where Boomer notes that the star has gone and Batman adds that it has, “Gone home, Boomer!”  O’Neil even adds a biblical quote from Luke 1:78.

“To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

In many ways that quote at the end makes this the perfect Christmas story but at the same time it is also a quintessential Batman story as well.  There is detective work, disguises, a couple of really solid action scenes and shots of Batman swinging around or otherwise looking awesome.  My take is that O’Neil threw in the star thing at the end so that the story would have a miracle of sorts thus making it all Christmas like.

At first I thought the miracle was the star shining through the busted Nativity Scene  when it shouldn’t have been there but really the miracle is that Boomer, a convicted felon, would have a change of heart.  He took the job at Lee’s to set the place up to be robbed.  He takes a job as Santa to do this but doesn’t count on the kids making him feel good about himself or the staff treating him with respect.  He even cries a little bit because of the kindness he was shown.  The cynical part of me wants to dismiss this as cheesy and unrealistic but the part of me that buys into the idea that some people can be saved and rehabilitated because of the spirit of the season slapped the cynical part of me across the mouth and told him to shut it.  Why is it so hard to think that such a thing is beyond the realm of possibility?

Wait.  Don’t answer that.  It will ruin the mood.

All in all this is a neat little story with solid writing and art as well as having a nice message to it.  It won’t be the last Batman Christmas story we’ll be looking at this year but it might very well the best.

More to follow…

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