Every December, heroes and heroines around the superhero world are pulled into unusually seasonal experiences, that draw upon their powers of goodwill and cheer as much as their super strength. It’s only a matter of pages before the appearance of Jolly Old Saint Nick himself, Santa Claus, to remind everyone to think good thoughts if they want a happy morning this Dec. 25.
You don’t want to know quite how many yuletide tales I have in my comic collection — and yet despite their overwhelming number, there are those out there who are of the opinion that such stories don’t actually count. People firmly believe, in their two-sizes-too-small hearts, that any story in which Superman, Batman, Spider-Man or whoever teams up with Father Christmas isn’t actually canon. To those people, there’s just one thing to say in response: humbug!
Santa is canon. And I can prove it.
Santa’s Big Two comics career actually got started at DC, way back in 1940’s Superman’s Christmas Adventure. The one-shot teams the Man of Steel and the Man With The Big White Beard against the wonderfully named Dr. Grouch and Mr. Meaney, two old men for whom Ebeneezer Scrooge was clearly a personal inspiration. Christmas Adventure — written by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, with art from Jack Burnley — manages to create a framework that a significant number of later stories would follow, even if they would lack the beautifully purple prose that Siegel offers the lucky reader.
“Yuletide! Period of gaiety and good will among men! It seems hardly possible that anyone could be so mean as to sabotage such a beloved event, but Dr. Grouch, gloomy killjoy, plans to do just that.” And that’s just half of the first caption.
Across the next 80 years, Santa has shown up in a number of different DC comics, including titles as diverse as Sgt. Rock and The Spectre. He teamed with Superman again in DC Comics Presents (the story is, wonderfully, titled “‘Twas the Fright Before Christmas!”). He was given a grim and gritty 1980s makeover in 1985’s Ambush Bug Stocking Stuffer (pictured). Perhaps most excitingly of all, he appeared in 1991’s Lobo’s Paramilitary Christmas Special, where he fought off the eponymous Main Man himself after the latter was hired to assassinate Santa by a jealous Easter Bunny (it was all done with an seasonally generous lack of restraint on the part of Keith Giffen, Alan Grant and Simon Bisley).
Perhaps the comic that most clearly confirms Santa’s canonicity in the DCU in the modern era is 2001’s JLA #60, “Merry Christmas, Justice League — Now Die!.” The book was DC’s biggest superhero title of the time, putting it squarely in what was considered “real” for the DCU. The majority of the issue is made up of a story Plastic Man tells a kid about a fictional team-up between Santa and the JLA, but the coda features the actual Santa chuckling at what he’s just seen seals the deal: Santa is definitively real in the DCU.
When it comes to the Marvel Universe, the argument is even easier to make. Lacking a sizable reboot of its lengthy history, every story Marvel’s ever published featuring Kris Kringle is part of Marvel canon. That includes 1991’s Marvel Holiday Special short in which the X-Men discover that Santa Claus is one of the most powerful mutants on Earth — Jonathan Hickman, the ball’s in your court. And 2016’s Power Man and Iron Fist: Sweet Christmas #1, where Santa shows up in a flashback, keeping the demonic Krampus at bay years before Luke Cage and Danny Rand had the same gig. Even Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #112, a one-off issue from 1985 where Santa shows up to shame a thief dressed in a Santa costume, is part of the official history of the Marvel Universe.
Admittedly, there are some stories where the canonicity can be doubtful; a 1992 short from Marvel Age #109 where Captain America remembers rescuing Santa from the Nazis in the middle of World War II may or may not be part of official Marvel history. Not because of Santa’s involvement, but because it was one of the generally out of continuity humor strips from cartoonist Fred Hembeck, for example. (It is, however, a great idea nonetheless.) Regardless, Santa’s place in Marvel canon is pretty secure, given the evidence on hand.
So entrenched in the Marvel Universe is he, in fact, that there’s even a non-Christmas comic where he appears. 1988’s Sensational She-Hulk #8 answers the question of what Santa does when he’s not delivering toys around the globe on an annual basis: Turns out, he’s the world’s greatest detective, going by the name of Nick St. Christopher — a man who, as he cheerfully explains, “always know[s] who’s been naughty… and nice…” (“I can’t wait to see how they write this one up in [The Official Handbook to the] Marvel Universe,” the fourth-wall-breaking She-Hulk comments as the story ends.)
To the chagrin of all super-Grinches out there, the tradition of including Santa Claus in Marvel and DC comics is far from a thing in the past; a 2018 issue of Deadpool set the Merc with the Mouth after Father Christmas in a story not entirely dissimilar to DC’s Lobo special from a quarter century earlier — this time, though, it was some disgruntled kids who wanted Santa’s jolly head on a plate — and last year’s New Year’s Evil one-shot from DC had an appearance from Ni’Klaus of Myra, a powerful wizard who was literally Santa using yet another name. Both of those are, it should be added, canonical appearances.
As long as there are Marvel and DC comics — not to mention the holiday season, although that should perhaps be taken for granted given the context — it seems guaranteed that Santa Claus will continue to show up in both universes on an irregular basis, spreading good cheer and reminding audiences that, at heart, superhero comics are filled with ridiculous, unrealistic characters created to bring smiles to the faces of children. For those that have a problem with that, there’s a lump of coal with your name on it.
Happy holidays, or else.