Columns > Published on December 10th, 2015

Gather 'Round For Tales From Marvel's Holiday Specials

What's that up on the house top? Why it's some Marvel Holiday Specials.

Yes, in the spirit of the holidays, Marvel cranked out some special comic books, featuring all of your favorite characters in short, holiday-themed tales. 

Consider me your personal Rudolph, guiding you through the hazy winter of the Marvel Holiday Specials. My nose is red (drunken bar fight), and kids were real jerks to me, so I'm pretty well-qualified.

I've clipped for you excerpts from 1991, 1993, 1994, 1994 (again, somehow), 1996, and 2006. Plus a couple bonus books.

So, without further ado:

Let's. Get. Merry.

Ghost Rider Dashes Through The Snow

Right off the bat, one of the stranger features was Marvel's insistence on using characters like Ghost Rider in Holiday Specials. A biker with a skull head that's always on fire. Sounds like the perfect dude to grace the pages and get us into the holiday spirit. I guess he's the Spirit of Vengeance, so just replace "Vengeance" with "Cheer" and we're there!

Ghost Rider stars in one of my hands-down favorite stories

See how this one strikes you:

A blind kid and Ghost Rider walk into a graveyard.

Setup for a terrible joke? No. Setup for a Marvel Holiday tale? You betcha!

This little blind kid gets kidnapped on Christmas Eve. He's crying, and he's wearing teddy bear pajamas and everything. He calls out for Santa to rescue him. And just when you're at the brink of feeling like maybe it's cruel to make fun of a little blind kid on Christmas, Ghost Rider comes to the rescue. 

And because the kid is blind, he mistakes Ghost Rider for your buddy and mine, Kris Kringle.

Chains? No, no. Those must be jingle bells. Jingle bells that Santa uses to beat a man severely, but damn it, they jingle.

How about the flames? Well, of course Santa is warm, what with the rosy cheeks.

And the sound of a motorcycle that's got flame for tires? Boy, the reindeer sure must be hungry. I can hear their tummies growl.

On the one hand, stupid as hell. On the other hand, I guess we trick kids into thinking Santa is a real dude without ANY manifestation whatsoever, so how outlandish is it?

It's a decent little story, and not bad for a Ghost Rider Christmas story. 

But that's not Ghost Rider's last holiday appearance.

In another tale, Ghosty is riding down the street when he accidentally scares the bejeezus out of an office drone. In very un-Ghost-Rider-like fashion, Ghost Rider returns, apologizes, and decides to make up for scaring the dude by scaring the hell out of his boss.

Ghost Rider succeeds in his role of Ghost of Christmas past or present or whichever one is closest to a hellbeast. Although Ghost Rider's looking a little dumpy, no? I mean, for a living skeleton, you'd think it would be easy to keep the holiday poundage a little lower.

Ho-Ho-Horrific Punishment

Ghost Rider, if you can believe it, isn't the grimmest character we encounter in these specials.

Of course, the Punisher. Disguised as Santa. The biggest giveaway that this ain't Santa would probably be the 1000-yard, Vietnam vet stare, but we can excuse that away. Surely, if Santa's traveling all over the world, he's seen some shit.

In this tale of goodwill towards men, Punisher promises his buddy Micro that he won't hit anyone. And in the spirit of the holidays, he doesn't. Technically. 

To work his way up a gang ladder, Punisher starts by welding a charity coin thing to the ground, pulling this kid off a bike so he can interrogate him.

Next, Punisher makes his way to the gang's muscle.

I feel...I feel like our friend Frank Castle is following the letter of his no-violence promise as opposed to the spirit. Although this spiked Santa belly is pretty rad, and as a person who has reluctantly played Santa for a work function, I think there's a market for it.

Finally, we get to the ultimate bad guy. The baddie punches Punisher, and Punisher just smiles back at him like a creep. So baddie punches some more and even hits Punisher with the handset of a rotary phone, which is a classic action movie fight move that's in danger of disappearing forever unless they start filming more action movie sequences in hip Brooklyn lofts.

Of course, Punisher eventually wins out:

Ah, a skin-penetrating tranquilizer. We'll leave this fella gift-wrapped for the cops!

Here Comes...Santa Claus!

Now, so far we've seen some Santa impersonators. But what about the real McCoy?

Kringle shows up to stop an X-Men fight at the mall, which he does by turning some evil mutants into action figures. Including The Blob.

"Mom, why is this action figure all greasy?"

Even though the theory that Santa is a mutant rocked my world as a boy, it's not the best Santa material in the Marvel U.

Some of you might recognize this character profile, complete with Power Grid, as a feature from The Official Handbook To The Marvel Universe. And here, profiled in full, we've got Santa.


His normal strength is augmented on Christmas Eve to lift (press) 2 tons.

That makes Santa almost as strong as Luke Cage on Christmas Eve. Sweet Christmas indeed.

Santa's full powers are unrevealed, though he prefers not to use them in combat or other struggles.

Santa Claus has access to a wide range of supernatural artifacts, which he uses to accomplish various feats of magic.

Though often depicted as Caucasian in appearance, Santa actually appears to most people in their own racial features, through he usually retains his white hair and beard.

Santa's magical sack is actually a... 

...tesseract serving as a portal to a sort of storage dimension.

And hey, it's not all Santa helping the Marvel U. It goes both ways. Such as this moment, when Deathlok takes a night off to help out Santa. And if Santa appears to most people with their own racial features, I guess Santa must appear to Deathlok as a cyborg killing machine.

And Now, Awards

With Santa well-handled, I'd like to give out a few quick awards to some individuals in these books:

Worst Gift-Giver: Nick Fury

"Here ya go, ol' Yellowtooth. Maybe go do this in the bathroom right now and come back out when I can stand the sight of you."

Laziest twist ending: This Rawhide Kid western tale:

GASP! This little kid's name is Isaac STARK!? And he's going to build a powerful suit of armor? Well, I never.

Biggest bringdown disguised as not a bringdown: Timmy's Brother

You may not remember this moment in Spider-History, but it's quite famous in the world of comics. Spider-Man visited a dying kid, even revealing his secret identity.

In this holiday story, kids in a children's hospital are trying to convince J. Jonah Jameson to let Spidey hang out, but JJJ is going on about the whole "menace" thing. And then this kid talks about his brother, Timmy, aka The Kid Who Collected Spider-Man, and what a good guy Spider-Man was to visit a dying child.

Why is it a bringdown? Well, Timmy is dead. And now his brother is in the children's ward of the hospital? Sounds like less-than happy holidays for this family. Gonna be a pretty Silent Night in their house with all the kids dead.

Ouch. Geez. Too far, Pete.

Clobberin' The Big Topics

I would accuse this girl of being a little dramatic, but a bunch of kids beat her up and steal her coat for no reason. Which is pretty bad, and then a bum gives up his coat for her to wear, which is a nice gesture but probably not the best Christmas memory. "Remember that time I got beat up and a Christmas miracle happened where a bum dressed me in his pee-saturated coat?"

Uhhh, then there's this. I mean, how do you make fun of this? Fa la la la la......

I mean, the good news is that this kind of problem has TOTALLY gone away since the writing of this comic in 1996.

Okay, I know. Let's look at some more casual racism.

It's a long story, but Beast and Iceman team up to play Santa and Elf to a group of underground lava people.

By the way, this was from the era of comics when, if you wanted someone to be smart, you just had them use the most complicated words you could think of. Instead of "Hurry up", go with "Vibrate a pedal extremity."

That kind of dialog is how we know it's DOCTOR Hank McCoy, thank you very much.

Beast and Iceman save the day, but they're a little unsure how closely Beast resembles Santa:

Ah, there we go. Now that's fun.

Let's Get Cosmic

There's the holiday spirit.

As if that wasn't bad enough, let's check out another story in which it's proven to the Surfer that the Star of Bethlehem is real.

We start off with the Surfer carrying Alicia Masters around on her charity errands:

Jeez. Surfer's kind of a dick. "I ignored the stares. Alicia Masters did too. I mean, she's blind, so it's not like she had a lot of options."

Anyway, The Watcher for another sector reveals that the Star of Bethlehem is real. But the big revelation, to me anyway, was that this other sector really got screwed in the Watcher lottery.

Our Watcher is a giant baby in a toga, but this guy is just a weird blob that seems to be plugged into the wall. If you're looking for something to be thankful for this season, just remember that a giant baby on the moon is watching you shower instead of a gross red blob.

Howard The Duck Christmas Special

In which all of our problems are solved by:

A swift punch to the lady parts:

And a nice, old-fashioned ass-kicking delivered to a child:

Punisher Christmas Special(s)

Yes, outside of the Marvel Specials, it was decided that Punisher should have his own specials. There have been a few of these, but this one's my favorite.

I tried to lighten the mood...
back in the 'Nam.

Holy shit. "Back in the 'Nam" is the best shutdown to anything. 

"Sure, I tried to be someone's buddy. Back in the 'Nam..."

"I tried looking forward to the future. It got me really far. Back in the 'Nam..."

But it's okay. Punisher finds a way to deliver a final blow of holiday joy after all:

Yes, an enemy is impaled by a metal Christmas tree decoration, the Punisher is dressed as an insane Santa, and a pinky-ringed mob boss rots in hell. And Punisher used an even better holiday line than "I'm dreaming of a RED Christmas."

The Best

Okay, all fun and good.

There are some pretty good stories in these, and I'd like to give them a moment.

The aforementioned Ghost Rider kidnapping story is silly, but it's not bad.

There's a wordless Wolverine story with robots, dinosaurs, a manic art style that's just off-model enough, and a pretty decent twist

We get a low-action, but very lovable story where Doc Samson is explaining the origin of Hanukah to a group of students, and the story spirals out of control to include Wolverine, the Hulk, Ultron, Elvis, and Captain America.

But my favorite is probably a Daredevil story. 

It's cheesy as hell, told from the POV of a toy lamb Daredevil delivers to a toy drive. But it's pretty different, and if there was ever a moment for a little cheese, this is it.

Plus, Daredevil delivers the requisite beating to some punk.

And to all a good night, indeed.

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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