Thursday, December 11, 2014

Creepmas Day 11: Marvel Comics Christmas Specials (!?)

So this year I'm celebrating Creepmas! 

From the 13 Days of Creepmas website: 

"A reaction to the continuing incursion of Christmas into Autumn and Halloween, CREEPMAS is a good-natured chance for Halloween lovers to exact revenge by bringing some spooky good cheer into the holidays or, more appropriately, the Hallowdays..." Read more about the inspirations behind this 13 day celebration HERE

CREEPMAS : A Celebration of the Hallowdays

Today's entry may have a few of you scratching your heads and going, "Huh?" 

But I can assure you that sometimes there is nothing creepier in the Marvel Universe than the Holidays.

This first one is one of my favorite Christmas themed comic books ever. I got it back in 1991 and it is an 80 page GIANT collection of 8 stories and assorted pin-ups.

I'm going to just cherry pick the Creepmas-y stuff here, so if you're interested in the whole book I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed. The first story, "A Miracle A Few Blocks Down from 32nd Street," features Santa Claus as the most powerful mutant in the world with a truly disturbing power to apparently transform people into action figures... and wipe people's memories. And generally mess with reality. He's Proteus or the Beyonder in a red suit.

Next up is one of my all-time favorite Christmas stories involving super-heroes period. in "A Christmas Coda," we have a bizarre evening in the life of Franklin Richards where he meets the ghost of Jacob Marley and trades away his most prized possession (in this case an X-Mutant Killer Krocodile Christmas ornament that his mother bought him) in exchange for a magic key that will unlock his ghostly chains.

By the end of the story literally every choice Franklin makes is nullified because fate just WANTS him to own this ornament I guess, but along the way he get's to FEEL like he's making a sacrifice, and help out a ghost in need of redemption.

There's a Thor story, "'Twas a Midwinter's Night," with an evil troll-thing, and a Santa with a goat-drawn sleigh. Moving on...

My second favorite story in this collection, "Ghosts of Christmas Past," (a title chosen for resonance, not for relevance) stars Ghost Rider and a little blind boy named Willy. Willy's parents are rich and Willy has been kidnapped for ransom, but Ghost Rider saves him.

What really makes the story special however is that because Willy is blind, he mistakes the Spirit of Vengeance for the Spirit of Christmas.

He thinks the Ghost Rider is Santa Claus! And of course, because he's sort of like a demonic robot of justice, Ghost Buster sort of takes this all in with an emotionless stoicism.

As goofy as this whole premise seems, the touching part is in the faith the child has that this is indeed Santa, and how thankful he is to be saved.

Just the absurdity of the concept and the pure affection this kid shows towards Ghost Rider because he can't see the outer surface... makes this a classic story for me. 

The next collection is one that was actually given to me recently by my friend, Brian of Pop Pop! It's Trash Culture fame. It is the Marvel Holiday Special from 1994. There's not a whole lot that's Creepmas-y about it to be honest, except we get a fun little story, "Hopes and Fears," where Spider-Man tries to stop Mephisto from destroying the spirit of Christmas...

The whole thing is very "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas"-esque. But there is a wager between Spider-Man and Mephisto to see if he can save the spirit (he can't) and then we see the repercussions (there are pretty much none).

We find out this is a sort of ritual these two beings go through every Christmas, and it turns out the same way every time.

There is another Ghost Rider story, "Harvey Teabiscuit's Yule Log," in this issue as well, although its not nearly as endearing to me as the last one. But we see a put-upon average Joe get a little vengeance in his everyday dealings, courtesy of a little Christmas cheer.

The third special I'll feature here is an interesting one starring the Great Lakes Avengers X-Men. I used to really be into the GLAX but I kind of got over it. To be honest, I forgot I even owned this Christmas issue. But it has a few nice details included.

There's a villain named Dr. Tannenbaum who uses all Christmas-themed devices to fight and kill, including killer Christmas trees and wreaths that tighten around your throat and strangle you.

Doorman, a member of the team has recently become an angel of Death. He is home for the holidays and dealing with his persnickety father. He also meets Santa Claus.

Of course, being an angel of Death has its downfalls.

This Howard the Duck Holiday Special is from 1997. It is ridiculous. It's not particularly creepy in and of itself... but there was one thing I wanted to feature:

We find out that tinsel is made out of dead elves. 

The final issue I want to showcase tonight is this issue of Daredevil, #266 from May of 1989. May. This is a Christmas story the put out in May. Written by Anne Nocenti and illustrated by John Romita Jr., "A Beer With the Devil" is the name of this stand-alone tale.

It is Christmas is New York. The Inferno arc wrapped up in the last issue and Daredevil is fallen on some hard times. He is injured both physically and spiritually. I can't remember what time of year the Inferno event was supposed to have taken place in, but the world has moved on here.

Daredevil is spending Christmas in a bar elbow-to-elbow with some of the most pathetic low-lives the city has to offer.

Into this scene comes a haunting stranger that appears differently to everyone who looks upon him or her. In fact, even the sex and race of the stranger changes depending on the observer. This stranger is intent on seducing Daredevil with talk of betrayals and petty crimes. And kissing.

While these two are kissing, a murder takes place in the bar. The feeling here is that the stranger's presence and actions are somehow influencing the actions of two brothers sitting in a different part of the bar. One brother kills another while Daredevil makes out with:

Mephisto! This revelation completely exploded my 11 year old brain back in the day. The whole story is pretty simple though, Mephisto is testing to see how much Daredevil has given up. How ripe he is for taking over to the dark side. Nocenti's run on Daredevil was pretty heavy on the Mephisto/Blackheart stuff around this time (it's a pretty great run to be honest, with an Acts of Vengeance cameo by a multiple-personality suffering Ultron that actually made a lot of poetic sense in a bizarre way, and a demonic dentist taking center stage during one of the Inferno issues) and this was sort of an underlining of all that... but honestly this story works really well all on its own. We don't really need to know what the crisis of conscience is that Matt Murdock has been struggling with. It's a familiar feeling. We don't need to know Mephisto's ultimate goal in corrupting Matt. He's evil. We assume he's just one of those parasitic opportunists who try to kick you when you're down. And why Christmas? Because Christmas is classically one of those times when we struggle with morality and spirituality and its a perfect canvas to paint this story on.

John Romita Jr.'s Mephisto is my absolute favorite interpretation of the character EVER by the way. But this little Christmas morality play ends with a slight twist of hope. Mephisto can't quite take Daredevil under his wing just yet... and Daredevil crashes back to earth, tearing down a bunch of neighborhood decorations with him.

He lands in an alley where a couple of the pathetics from the bar find him and instead take him under their wings. They give Matt Murdock the sliver of hope an goodwill towards men that he was needing to keep his spirits up. And this is where the story ends. There's not really a heavy-handed moral to the tale to be honest, just a sort of ambiguity about how to feel about life in general and a sense of warning about losing your way. It's the idea that as long as we're all just sort of getting by then at least we're still human. We may not have perfect lives, but we can still manage decency. And for Daredevil at this point in his life... that was enough.

Happy 13 days of Creepmas! I'll be back tomorrow with another entry in the countdown, which may or may not involve a Goodwill Goody! Until then, Happy Hunting!

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