Santa Gone Bad: Saint Nick the supervillain

Having written a serious political piece just last week, I am now veering 180 degrees in the opposite direction, and barreling straight into the ridiculous. Nothing like a complete lack of consistency to really confuse anyone following this blog!

Today is Christmas Eve.  Perhaps it’s because I’m Jewish, but I find aspects of the Christmas holiday to be baffling.  It is intended to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who preached the virtues of humility, kindness, and a humble existence.  Somehow two thousand years later this is commemorated by, um, a fat guy in a red suit giving expensive gifts to all the good children of the world.  Wait, I thought good works were their own reward?  And didn’t Jesus warn about the dangers of wealth & materialism?  Hmmph, no wonder I am so skeptical of organized religions!

Obviously I am not the only one to find Santa Claus a ridiculous figure, since there are innumerable examples of people parodying Old Saint Nick.  One especially prevalent trend is to have Santa as the bad guy, the jolly old fellow turned villainous.  That’s especially the case in comic books.  The image of Santa as a supervillain, or at least as a violent anti-hero, seems irresistible to comic book creators.

Here are ten comic book covers featuring Santa Claus gone bad.  Forget jingle bells… this is more like hell’s bells.

Iron Man 254 cover

Iron Man #254 (March 1990) from Marvel Comics features Shellhead under attack from a pistol-packing Santa, courtesy of one of the Armored Avenger’s all time greatest artists, the legendary Bob Layton.  Of course, considering all of the naughty behavior that Tony Stark has gotten up to over the years, it’s quite possible that Kris Kringle actually has very good reason to be gunning for him.

Creepy 68 cover

As oversized black & white magazines, the horror comic books of Warren Publishing were free from the stifling standards of the Comics Code Authority, which frequently meant that they piled on the blood & guts with enthusiastic gusto.  Witness this cover to Creepy #68 (Jan 1975), featuring early work from now-renowned fantasy artist Ken Kelly.  Obviously this is one of those occasions when Saint Nick felt that a simple lump of coal wasn’t nearly punishment enough.

Santa Claws 1 cover

Speaking of early work, the very first job future superstar artist Mike Deodato Jr. had in American comic books was the one-shot Santa Claws published by Malibu / Eternity in December 1991. Well, everyone has to start somewhere!  Only three years later Deodato was red-hot, in demand across the entire industry, so it’s not surprising that this debut effort eventually got the reprint treatment, seeing a re-release in 1998.

The Last Christmas 2 cover

I tell you, nobody is safe from those seemingly-ubiquitous zombie apocalypses, not even Santa Claus!  The five issue miniseries The Last Christmas, published by Image Comics in 2006, sees the once-jolly one pitted against an army of the undead amidst the ruins of civilization.  It was written by Gerry Duggan & Brian Posehn, penciled by Rick Remender, and inked by Hilary Barta.  The cover to issue #2, penciled by Remender’s good pal Kieron Dwyer and inked by Barta, features zombie fighting, drunk driving Santa.

Witching Hour 28 cover

The Bronze Age horror anthologies published by DC Comics often featured incredibly striking, macabre covers.  One of the most prolific artists to contribute to those titles was the late, great Nick Cardy.  Here’s his ho-ho-horrifying cover to The Witching Hour #28 (February 1973).  I think the main reason why Santa is in such a bad mood here is because even as a skeleton he’s still fat!

Heavy Metal Dec 1977 cover

The December 1977 edition of sci-fi comic book anthology Heavy Metal must be one of the very few in the magazine’s entire history not to feature a sexy half-naked babe on the cover. But, um, I’ll give them a pass on this one.  It’s probably safer to do that than to argue with the very angry Santa Claus who’s glaring right at me.  French artist Jean Solé is the one who has brought us this heavily-armed Pere Noel.

Daredevil 229 cover

Has Daredevil ever had a Christmas that didn’t suck?  It seems like every time December 25th approaches Matt Murdock’s life goes right into the crapper.  That was never more the case than in the now-classic “Born Again” storyline by Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli.  His life destroyed by the ruthless Kingpin, the disgraced and destitute Matt finds himself wandering the streets of Manhattan.  To add insult to industry, Matt is mugged by Hell’s Kitchen lowlife thug Turk in a Santa Claus suit.  Mazzucchelli’s vivid cover for Daredevil #229 (April 1986) is just one of the many iconic images he crafted for the “Born Again” arc.

Sleigher 1 cover

Action Lab Entertainment has published some really fun comic books, as well as some really weird ones.  I will let you make up your own minds which category Sleigher: The Heavy Metal Santa Claus falls under.  The cover to issue #1 (July 2016) is credited to artist Axur Eneas, who has also contributed to Action Lab’s The Adventures of Aero-Girl.

Flash 87 cover

Can even the Fastest Man Alive defeat Evil Santa times three?  That’s the question you’ll be asking yourself when you see the cover to Flash #87 (Feb 1994) by the team of Alan Davis & Mark Farmer.  Well, either that, or you’ll be wondering why exactly this trio of Kris Kringles are clan in tee-shirts, shorts, and sneakers.  Hmmmm… maybe they’re from Australia?  After all, Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere takes place at the beginning of Summer.  I’m sure even Santa wants to dress appropriately for warm weather.

Incredible Hulk 378 cover

Peter David’s lengthy run on Incredible Hulk was characterized by equal parts heartbreaking drama and irreverent humor.  That was certainly the case with issue #378 (Feb 1991) which sees the Grey Hulk, aka Joe Fixit, slugging it out with none other than Father Christmas… okay, 28 year old spoilers, that’s actually the Rhino in the Santa outfit.  This cover is penciled by Bill Jaaska, a talented artist who passed away at the much too young age of 48 in 2009.  Inks are courtesy of Bob McLeod, one of the best embellishers in the biz.

Lobo Christmas Special pg 43

An honorable mention goes to the infamous Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special released by DC Comics in late 1990.  Keith Giffen, Alan Grant, Simon Bisley, Lovern Kindzierski & Gaspar Saladino reveal what happens when the Easter Bunny hires the Main Man to kill Santa Claus.  The brutal mercenary succeeds in offing Saint Nick… don’t worry, he had it coming.  This exceedingly violent story  comes to a close when Lobo decides to use the late Kris Kringle’s flying reindeer & sleigh to nuke the hell out of the entire planet.

Credit where credit is due department: This was inspired by Steve Bunche, who shared a few of these on Facebook.  Steve has probably the most absolutely NSFW Facebook feed you could possible imagine, so if you want to say “hello” to him wait until you’re in the privacy of your own home.  You’ve been warned.

Happy holidays to one and all.  Remember to be good for goodness sake… because, as these covers demonstrate, you really do not want to piss off that Santa guy!

Doctor Who reviews: Last Christmas

Happy New Year!   I see that this blog has a few new people following it.  Welcome, everyone.  Also, a big “thank you” to Cats at the Bar for promoting In My Not So Humble Opinion, along with a number of other excellent blogs, on The Weggie List.

I finally had an opportunity to watch the new Doctor Who Christmas special, “Last Christmas” written by Steven Moffat and starring Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald, and Nick Frost as Santa Claus.  Yes, “Last Christmas” actually features Santa Claus… well, kind of sort of.  As a number of the characters in this episode comment, “It’s a long story.”

The tone of “Last Christmas” is interesting.  It seems to draw influence from several different eras of Doctor Who: the “base under siege” serials of the late 1960s, the Gothic horror of the mid-1970s, the surreal, philosophical quality of the early 1980s, and the seasonal, celebratory quality of Moffat’s own past Christmas specials.  Moffat’s writing on “Last Christmas” very effectively entwines these disparate elements, creating a strong, cohesive episode.

Doctor Who Last Christmas Radio Times promo photo

So, to try to make that “long story” short: Clara, now back on Earth in 2014, is awakened in the middle of the night on December 24th to discover that Santa Claus, his sleigh, reindeer, and two elves named Wolf and Ian have all crashed onto the roof of her building.  Then the TARDIS reappears, and the Doctor urges her to ask no questions, and to get into his ship ASAP.

The two of them re-materialize at the North Pole, where a scientific expedition is under attack from alien life forms.  Four of the eight members of the team have been infected by creatures that have latched onto their faces.  It seems that the Doctor, Clara, and the other half of the team are going to meet with the same fate when Santa Claus, the elves, and an army of wind-up toys burst into the room, giving them all a chance to escape to another part of the base.

The Doctor identifies the creatures as Dream Crabs.  They are telepathic parasites that latch onto a host and literally eat their victim’s brain.  In order to render their victims compliant, the Dream Crabs “anesthetize” their hosts with incredibly realistic dreams.

The Dream Crabs bear a more than passing resemblance to a certain iconic sci-fi / horror creature designed by H.R. Giger.  Moffat lampshades this with some very humorous dialogue…

Albert: They’re a bit like facehuggers aren’t they?

The Doctor: Facehuggers?

Albert: You know, Alien. The horror movie, Alien.

The Doctor: There’s a horror movie called Alien? That’s really offensive. No wonder everyone keeps invading you.

Clara is attacked by one of the Crabs, which creates a dream world where she is back at home, it is Christmas Morning, and her boyfriend Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) is still alive.  It is exactly the sort of perfect, idyllic fantasy that she would never want to leave.  The Doctor is unable to reach Clara with his telepathy; she keeps ignoring the messages he sends her brain, so caught up is she in the construct.  The Doctor realizes his only hope is a desperate one: he allows himself to be infected by another one of the Crabs, which enables him to bring himself directly into Clara’s dream.

At first Clara refuses to listen to the Doctor.  She will not accept that Danny is dead, even though the Doctor insists that her boyfriend sacrificed himself to save the Earth.  And then, surprisingly, Dream Danny announces “I didn’t die saving the world, Doctor, I died saving Clara. The rest of you just got lucky.”

Obviously we all know that this isn’t the real Danny, that it is a fantasy.  If Danny is agreeing with the Doctor that he really is dead, it is actually that part of Clara’s psyche which recognizes that this is all a fantasy and that is attempting to make her realize that she must reject it and wake up.  But the dialogue between Clara and Dream Danny is so well written, and is played so well by Coleman and Anderson that it actually feels like Clara is having one final opportunity to see Danny, to find some closure.  It’s a moving scene.

Doctor Who Last Christmas Danny and Clara

(And I’m relieved that we were not treated to some sort of deus ex machina where Danny was brought back to life.  His death was tragic, but very dramatic.  Returning him to life to give Clara a happy ending would have been a real cheat.)

This also reveals just how much the Doctor, beneath his cynical façade, really does care about Clara.  He is willing to allow one of the Dream Crabs to infest his mind, risking his own death, in order to try to save Clara’s life.

Clara and the Doctor are able to escape from the dreamscape, and the Crabs fall off their faces, crumbling to dust.  But then the Doctor begins to wonder if any of that was real.  After all, everyone in the polar base should have been incapacitated by the Crabs when they attacked earlier; it was only Santa’s arrival that saved them.  And where did Santa, a fantasy figure, come from?  The Doctor guesses that they are all, in fact, trapped in a fantasy.  “Dreams within dreams – dream states nested inside each other. All perfectly possible, especially when we are dealing with creatures who have weaponized our dreams against us.”

This is all confirmed by Santa and his two elves.  “Oh, for Easter’s sake! Of course you’ve been dreaming! Haven’t you been paying attention?  …How much more obvious do you want me to make it? Because I can text the Easter Bunny, you know.”

Santa is actually a dream construct that they have all created in order to protect them, to point out the unreality of what is taking place.  Finally having convinced the others of what is going on, the Doctor, Clara and the four expedition members all wake up to find they are still being attacked by the Crabs.  Once again they flee to safety, locking the Crabs in another part of the base.

The Doctor, ever impatient, is ready to leave the North Pole, convinced that the other four members of the expedition who are still infected by the Crabs are beyond help.  But then Clara asks him, if Santa was nothing but a dream, then how was it possible for him to have been on her roof earlier.  And it suddenly hits the Doctor: everything that has happened since he was first reunited with Clara has been a dream.  It’s all been a fake.

Star Trek DS9 it's a fake

Yeah, that never gets old!

The expedition to the North Pole never took place.  The infected team members are actually the four people the Doctor and Clara met, all of them caught up in a shared fantasy created by the Crabs.  None of them are scientists, but total strangers who have been separately attacked by the Crabs, drawn into this false reality.  And the Doctor and Clara are themselves, respectively, back at the TARDIS and at home, each with a Crab latched to their faces.

Wow.  To quote a line from Family Guy, “This whole place is a giant mind fuck!”

One of the Crab’s victims, Albert, is killed.  The Doctor realized that if they do not all wake up immediately they are also doomed.  Surrounded by zombie doppelgangers of themselves, the Doctor announces “Come on, it’s Christmas, the North Pole, who you gonna call?”  Their combined willpower conjures up Santa Claus, who whisks them all away in his sleigh.  And, one by one, each of them finally awakens back in their own separate, real lives.

It was revealing to see the reserved, solemn Doctor having a chance to take the reins of Santa’s sleigh and fly it through the skies above London.  Capaldi acts very much like a giddy child.  It’s one of those rare moments when we see the Doctor let down his guard, allow the weight of the world to slip off his shoulders, and genuinely have fun.

For a character that is (probably) not real, Santa Claus is a real joy.  Nick Frost of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz fame is wonderful, having fun with the role.  It was definitely perfect casting.  Watching “Last Christmas,” I pondered how Frost’s frequent collaborator Simon Pegg sort of drew the short end up the stick when he appeared on Doctor Who a decade back in the underwhelming “The Long Game.”  I hope one of these days Pegg has an opportunity to return to the show in a better episode.

Doctor Who Last Christmas Santa sleigh

The ending of “Last Christmas” has a bit more misdirection.  At first it appears that it has actually been decades since the Doctor has last seen Clara, and that in the real world, awakened from the Dream Crabs’ fantasy, she is now an elderly woman.  But this turns out to be one more dream-within-a-dream, and in fact it has only been a few weeks since the Doctor and Clara parted ways at the end of “Death in Heaven.”

From everything I’ve heard, the original ending of “Last Christmas” was going to have the Doctor saying goodbye to the now-old Clara.  Jenna Coleman had tentative plans to leave the series with this episode, but then she changed her mind, necessitating a rewrite from Moffat that reunited the Doctor with a still-young Clara, who once again joins him on his travels in the TARDIS.

While the character of Clara was uneven over Series Eight, that was really down to inconsistent writing, one of the few weak points in an otherwise strong year.  Coleman seemed to do the best with the material she was given.  On the better-written episodes she definitely was great.  So I do not mind seeing her stay on for another season, just so long as the quality of the writing is more consistent going forward.  When they’ve been given really well-written scripts, Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman have made a superb team.

“Last Christmas” was definitely one of the better Doctor Who Christmas specials.  It was exciting and suspenseful and had a number of great twists.  It was sentimental and festive without being overly saccharine.  Moffat’s script was very strong, and the actors all gave great performances.

So that’s the wrap-up of Doctor Who in 2014.  However, we are left with a few lingering questions… Was the Promised Land that both the clockwork creatures from “Deep Breath” and the robots from “Robot of Sherwood” were seeking an actual place?  Since Danny is dead, does that mean his descendent Orson Pink who we met in “Listen” is now no longer going to exist?  In “Mummy on the Orient Express” who was the mysterious mastermind controlling the computer Gus and manipulating events from behind the scenes?  Let me know if I’ve forgotten any other subplots.