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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Cover Story - Top 10 More Christmas Covers

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Happy holidays and good tidings y’all, Lord knows we could all use some better days this year.  Yes, once again it tis the Christmas season and once again I’ll be diving into the deep well of Christmas comics.  I don’t actually celebrate Christmas myself but seeing as there’s a real dearth of Hanukkah comics to delve into I figured it’d be better to stick with Christmas.  

After all, the yuletide season is such an ingrained part of the yearly calendar it ends up forced into nearly every comic book at some point, and that can make for some pretty hilarious and horrible mismatched covers, as we’re about to see.  So let’s all get in the Christmas spirit for a bit with the top 10 MORE Christmas Comic Covers.

I’m honestly still a little conflicted on this cover, but it’s so ubiquitous and pitch perfect to this list it’d be a shame not to spotlight it.  For those of you too young to know, this is Lobo, the Main Man.  Lobo is a parody character and might best be summarized as “Deadpool before Deadpool,” though he shares that title with the character Ambush Bug, but that’s a story for another day.  Lobo’s whole thing was being a rude and obnoxious parody of the kind of over-muscled, over-macho characters that punctuated a lot of comics through the late ‘80s and ‘90s. 

As such, try not to take this cover where he literally butchers Santa Claus too seriously because God knows the creators probably weren’t.  I’m still a little hesitant to actually declare this funny rather than deeply disturbing, mainly because the artwork is by Simon Bisley.  Bisley’s mostly made a name for himself doing a kind of grungy ‘90s take on Frank Frazetta work but the way he draws blood has always been deeply disturbing to me.  Tangent topic as I wrap things up, this special was later adapted into a 13-minute quasi-official movie by Scott Leberecht- the art director of the Spawn movie. 

Meet Warrior, the one-time identity of former Green Lantern Guy Gardner that he adopted during the Dark Age of comics.  Warrior was pretty much exactly the kind of muscle-bound idiot Lobo existed to parody at the time but he’s always held a place of fondness in my black flinty heart.  

Gardner’s easily my favorite GL because of his loud and obnoxious attitude so just jacking him up with weird tribal tattoos and the ability to turn his hands into guns more or less won me over, even while accepting his book is incredibly stupid. 

As for this cover, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better distillation of what ‘90s comics were really like- stupid, but in an egalitarian kind of way that’s also pretty damn funny.  Warrior himself is straining his neck muscles so hard it looks like his head’s about to pop off and I’m fairly sure his upper torso is not fitting down that chimney.  Then there’s Arisia, the lady behind him, whose waste has shrunk to be smaller than her head because, again, this was the ‘90s goddamn it.  

I’m not sure what in the hell she’s doing, just that it’s in no way sexy no matter how suggestive the intent.  Really though, my favorite part of this cover would have to be Warrior’s big bag of superhero memorabilia including Aquaman’s hook hand, Lobo’s chain weapon, and a Kyle Rayner Green Lantern plushy. 

We now jump back from the ‘90s to the ‘70s during that brief period where Howard the Duck was actually yellow.  For those who’ve only encountered Howard through his movies or the recent comic, this is what the original ‘70s comic was like.  The whole thing popped up in this strange milieu of ‘70s malaise and counter-cultural urban angst that helped birth the indie, black and white comics boom of that decade.  Howard the Duck was how Marvel tried to get in on the trend, with Howard as an angsty, neurotic, sexually frustrated duck in the big city, sort of like if Woody Allen and George Costanza were the same person but also a duck. 

As such, this cover is actually a perfect encapsulation of that whole comic series, with Howard railing angrily against the injustice of being offered presents.  The whole book was seriously self-aware that way without ever slipping into out and out cynicism or jadedness.  It was all very tongue-in-cheek about the kind of subjects presented in off-beat urbane indie books of the era as if to say “yeah, this is important, but let’s all keep a little perspective.”  I also really like the Mad Magazine-inspired design of this artwork, especially the look on Santa’s face, though I have no idea what’s going on with his feet. 

If you’ve ever wondered why Green Lantern has had such a hard time finding crossover appeal, stories like this are pretty much exactly why.  Seriously, even as someone who likes Green Lantern, having him spend so much time fighting dopey Earth-based baddies like Dr. Light really didn’t help sell the concept as dynamic blockbuster material.  

However, it did make for some amazing cover art because this is some Doctor Who season 2 nonsense right here.  I think my favorite part of this cover is that there’s no actual indication the Christmas Tree has come to life or is even trying that hard to attack Hal other than the lights tangled about him.  

For all we know, GL just stumbled into this Christmas tree and has entangled himself like a fish caught in a plastic six-pack ring.  I’m guessing the yellow crackling energy behind Hal is meant to be keeping him from using his ring to escape but it’s honestly pretty clear and really just adds to the sense of “Hal is an incompetent dope who got himself caught in a Christmas tree.”  It’s not surprising this was right before they had him turn evil and get replaced with the new hotness of Kyle Rayner. 

You didn’t think we were getting through this Christmas without Nazis in some capacity, did you?  This is actually a really strange cover for Sergeant Rock, DC’s preeminent war hero.  Rock usually encountered more realistic situations fighting the Nazis, with a lot of the high-concept weirdness and fantastical elements saved for his contemporaries like the Blackhawks, G.I. Robot, or the Creature Commandos.  Actually, the comic this cover is most reminiscent of is Weird War Stories, a DC war comic about supernatural and horror-infused happenings on the battlefield that I’ll probably spotlight on here one of these days. 

As for this cover, it’s a Joe Kubert cover so it was basically guaranteed a spot on this list.  Kubert is one of the greatest comics artists to ever live and I think his work speaks for itself but what I really love about this design is the way the undead Nazi is wearing a false Santa beard.  

You would’ve thought skeleton powers would extend to facial hair but maybe the fake beard’s for effect.  Actually, for the curious, the Nazis made a big deal of trying to complete re-write Christmas to make it non-religious and support their own ideals so this covers actually fairly on point.

I’m actually not totally sure this is a Christmas cover but given that St. Nick and/or Chris Kringle is on the cover I’m willing to count it.  Granted, Nick Chris looks to be what would happen if Santa Claus knocked up a leprechaun, but I guess there’s also nothing in the stories that says Santa has to be tall (or maybe there is, I'm not really an expert.)  In any event, he’s got a flowing white beard, fat belly, red coat, a pipe, and shares at least three names with Santa Claus so I’m counting it, mainly as it gives me a chance to talk about She-Hulk.

This cover comes from the 1989 She-Hulk comic where the character was re-launched with a different central premise from before.  Where previously She-Hulk was a traditional adventure hero in her own comic as well as during her time with the Fantastic Four and Avengers, Sensational She-Hulk was a comedy series sporting self-awareness.  

Aside from Deadpool She-Hulk is pretty much the one other Marvel hero who’s actually aware of her status as a fictional character and would even argue with her writers, like she’s doing on this cover.  It was a screwy but fun concept and made for a lot of solid comedy mocking the goofiness of her own premise and comics overall, again, much like this cover is doing right now.

Hey, another Hulk cover and this one featuring the Red Hulk AKA Rulk.  Rulk is one of those characters I’ve meant to talk about for awhile now because he’s both weird and stupid, so it’s kind of perfect he’d show up here on Cover Story.  Basically, the Rulk is what would happen if the Hulk maintained some of his intelligence but was also kind of evil but maybe a parody of absurd machismo, essentially his Lobo again but with the satire part of the concept being on way shakier ground.  

At the very least I’m sure the artwork on Rulk has always been meant to be very tongue-in-cheek. Hence his look here with more muscles than anything has ever had in their arms.  One thing I’ve also always loved about the Rulk is that transforming causes his fingernails to turn black for no reason that’s ever been states.  In this case, this is a pretty fun, basic cover concept made better just by the presence of a cool character, also that expression of dull surprise, mild disgust, and pre-smashing is just priceless. 

Look, sooner or later all superheroes either fight or become Santa Claus, sometimes both, it’s best to just accept it now and move on.  As for this cover, I kind of love the staggering amount of ridiculousness on panel here.  Firstly, we’ve got Iron Man showing off his shockingly bendable solid metal exo-skeleton here, somehow able to show his chest and his butt at the same time, that’s pretty impressive.  Then there’s the Santa Claus who seems to be sporting some kind of ray-gun/Uzi.  

Seriously, there’s every indication that’s a regular gun based on the shape of it, yet it’s firing an energy beam that actively splits on Iron Man’s armpit for unaccountable reasons.  I also seriously wonder what black void this is meant to be taking place in but at some point you just have to accept these things.  But really, the cherry on top of this Sunday would have to be that inter-title: ho-ho-homicide.  How lucky are we the fancy word for murdered started with ‘Ho,’ thus providing generation after generation with easy Christmas killing puns. 

Even accepting that this cover is meant to be strange and out there, this is an incredibly bizarre thing to have been produced.  This comes to us from that charming era where ‘50s sci-fi weirdness was giving way to ‘60s pop art and psychedelia so it makes a degree of sense we’d get weirdo covers like this one.  

What I want to know is whether or not these titular invaders from the ice world naturally looked like snowmen or are actively disguising themselves.  I mean seriously, how much sense would it make for there to be a distant parallel species that also invented corncob pipes and carrot noses.  

One thing’s for sure though, the fact they can shoot heat vision out of their eyes without melting is very impressive, most snow people wouldn’t be able to manage that.  Speaking of, if these creatures are made of snow and not just conveniently camouflaged I really wonder what exactly makes them “invincible.”  Still a better Christmas snowman horror than Jack Frost though. 

Well, I mean what else was going to be #1 other than a sunglass wearing, cigarette smoking, fingerless glove, pistol wielding Santa Claus complete with his own lame Christmas reference.  I honestly have no idea why they decided to go with this cover for the very Spider-Man Christmas, but I’m pretty glad they did personally, if only because it’s such a bizarre thing for Spider-Man to encounter.  

At first, I thought this was a Punisher crossover book given that “dude with guns” is much more in his wheelhouse and he’s dressed up as Santa in the past but nope, Spidey is just going toe-to-toe with a gun totting Santa imposter. 

Now you might think I’m just appreciating this cover in an ironic sort of way, but that’s really not the case.  I genuinely love this cover as I think it captures an element of Christmas that’s become oddly treasured lately.  We all know that Christmas is “really about family” or whatever but if you look at the actual mechanics of the Holiday it’s about crime and punishment.  Those who are good are rewarded, and those who are bad are punished, that’s why so much Christmas fiction extends along these same lines.  

These days, the idea of “bad person gets punished by the highest authority” is a pretty common fantasy, that’s why Krampus is suddenly a thing we all love.  So, if that means cranking up the machismo, giving Santa a laser site pistol like the Terminator, and telling him to “get busy” well, I think that’d be a merry Christmas we all get behind. 

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