In the DC comics world, there are few consistencies between the relatively optimistic early days of superheroes in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s and the grim and gritty world of Doomsday Clock and Heroes in Crisis in 2018. Yet, the more things change, the more things stay the same. Year after year, you can always count on one thing: Superman loves the holiday season, and Lois Lane does not.
Superman has been celebrating the holidays for decades, and there are many stories featuring a bizarrely optimistic Clark Kent trying to turn Lois’ cynicism around just in time for Christmas. In all fairness, the big blue boy scout and Santa Claus really do have a lot in common, and that’s why, when we think of Christmas, we think of Superman (and presents).
Superman's Christmas Adventure (1940)
This might be one of Superman’s very first Christmas stories, but it’s also one of the most truly bonkers holiday stories in all of comics. Clark and Lois find themselves wandering around Metropolis, doing what I would only tentatively refer to as “their jobs.” Lois observes that one little boy seems very sad that he is poor and we live in a world that doesn’t believe poor people deserve things. Superman decides the solution to this is to fly around one single rich kid and shame the living Hell out of him until later on he agrees to give away some of his old stuff, which is very nearly like charity from this small child who is so unbelievably rich he yells at his butler about how he needs to pick up a yacht for Christmas.
There are 2 inexplicably evil villains for the issue named, fittingly, Mr. Meanie and Mr. Grouch, and they kidnap Lois kind of for no reason, strap her to a rocket, and try to send her to deep space, even though that never works. Their motives are incredibly unclear except that they hate Christmas and children, which actually makes them two of the most relatable villains of the Golden age. Some elves attack them at one point, which is pretty cool. They smash a bunch of toys, but when Superman shows up they decide that they feel bad about it, so everyone has a nice Christmas. Yes, even the random guys that smashed a bunch of toys intended for orphans and tried to murder Lois Lane by rocketing her into space. In all fairness, villains attempt to murder Lois Lane often enough that she doesn’t really take it too personally anymore.
The New Adventures of Lois & Clark - "Season's Greedings"
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman had a few Christmas episodes and they are all highly worthwhile for fans of the weird collision of Superman-style naivete and ‘90s era cynicism that was this TV show, but the very best episode was "Season’s Greedings." A toymaker and his secretary are fired by a toy company and so they decide to create really unappealing rat toys filled with chemicals that make children very greedy and make adults act like children. It might not have been a well thought out plan, but it is a plan, and they are dedicated. The actors that play the villains here are the beloved Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford, primarily known for their roles on The Jeffersons. Straight up - George and Weezy Jefferson, only if they were Superman villains. These two stick to their previously established dynamic to a T, but if George had been highkey evil the whole time.
Lois and Clark start acting like children and fighting over toys, and I’m reasonably certain that filming those scenes was the most fun Hatcher and Cain ever had on the show because they really go for it. Their boss Perry White almost ruins his relationship, and Jimmy Olsen steals everyone's presents from the Secret Santa. The toymaker pours chemicals into Metropolis’ drinking supply, but it’s fine because… actually, I don’t know why it’s fine. It was stunningly easy to pull off, and poisoning the water supply of an entire city is a crime that you would get extremely punished for unless you were... most corporations that exist in the United States. Anyway, everyone is pretty forgiving of the whole thing, mostly because the plan fails and because orphans show up for a while and that warms everyone's heart. Let's face it, in fiction, orphans pretty much exist to bring more privileged people together at Christmas.
Also, Denise Richards is in this episode. I’m just saying. She plays ‘90s Jimmy Olsen’s love interest. Like most love interests, her job is basically to be shockingly, unreasonably, logic-defyingly interested in Jimmy Olsen, who was especially boring during this era. For that reason alone, she is a hero.
Supergirl - "Reign"
Supergirl has her own problems at Christmas, and it’s just about high time we took a look at them. The episode kicks off with her ex returning from the far-off future with a wife all of a sudden, so that is already not exactly a portent for a cheery holiday. Kara is one chill lady though, so she only openly freaks out about it two or three times.
Besides that, people keep warning her about the Worldkiller, and that does not sound great, so Kara is a little concerned about it. Jimmy Olsen makes out with his coworker at a holiday party because he is suddenly incredibly relatable, and Kara just gets tenser and tenser until she finally decides that the only way to deal with the problem is to throw down a serious monologue on a rooftop aimed directly at the Worldkiller. This is a brave action, but it definitely ends with her getting beaten up and knocked off a building in front of most of the city. Christmas, am I right?
This episode is high drama and there isn’t a very positive ending for it considering the fact that Kara pretty much just gets the beatdown of a lifetime and everyone else gets really sad about it. Santa Claus is dead! However, not all of us have a great time during the holidays, so if you’ve ever felt like you got your whole entire butt kicked by Christmas, guess what? You and Supergirl have something in common, although her case might be slightly more literal.
Not about to let Kara hog all that sweet holiday angst on her own, Superman himself has had at least one pretty bleak holiday tale. He meets Lois at a Metropolis Post Office on Christmas Eve, bemoaning the chore he has come to perform - reading every single letter anyone sent to Superman throughout the year and answering the ones he can.
Most of the letters are just asking him to help do illegal things, which clearly depresses him. He receives one from an Auschwitz survivor who asks to be reunited with her family, so he flies her on over. A young boy whose father is dying of a tumor writes, but when Superman visits, he discovers the parent has just passed away. The very angry kid yells insults at Superman and calls him worthless until Superman does his bonding thing and turns things around for their relationship, which only lasts this one single page but at least it leaves off on a good note.
When Superman finally gets home, he discovers that his long-time girlfriend Lana just got married to his old friend Pete. “Merry Christmas to Clark Kent,” he thinks bitterly to himself, gazing out the window at the snow. This one… is kind of depressing, but that was a mood in the ‘90s.
Christmas With The Super-Heroes (1988) - "The Fright Before Christmas"
This story stands out among Christmas stories because, well, it begins with a small child named Tim pulling a nerf-like gun that shoots radiation (?!) on a street corner Santa he tries to rob. Superman kind of wanders up and scolds Tim for being very uncool before he wraps him in a blanket and takes him to the Fortress of Solitude. Tim’s parents make zero appearances in this story.
When they go to return from the Fortress, Tim accidentally zaps Superman in the face with a ray that makes Santa Claus be real. Superman falls from the sky, but a bunch of elves come up and carry them to Santa Claus’ workshop. This segue doesn’t actually need to exist but it’s the Christmas tie-in, so okay. Superman fondly recollects his own favorite childhood toy, an instrument which he would use to create horrifying holographic images of monsters for Krypto to bark at while they hung out in a kiddie pool. “What a shame it was destroyed when Krypton exploded!” Superman laments. Yes, Superman, you losing your weird nightmare toy was absolutely the worst part of Krypton exploding.
Well, because it’s Christmas and sinister toys are the main foil of the issue, everyone has probably guessed by now that the villain behind it all is the Toyman, who is incredibly boring 90% of the time but absolutely terrifying 10% of the time. That doesn’t sound like a great percentage, but for a Superman villain - it really is. Superman gets to box with a bunch of toys, and it is delightful. Tim hits him with the ray beam again, and that’s about all she wrote. Superman questions if any of it ever even happened, because apparently Santa Claus really stretches a Kryptonian’s suspension of disbelief, but then he finds his weird horror toy in his cape. What now, Superman? Santa Claus is real!