Christmas is a time where an overweight immortal man pilots a sleigh of flying reindeer across the globe, an angel shows a suicidal man the impact he’s had on the world, and spectral entities show misers the error of their ways. So, we’re used to Yuletide tales of strange and in some cases frightening phenomenon. Watching these tales unfold on the silver and small screens has become a holiday tradition for many, but there’s another medium that tells these kinds of stories in a powerful, unique, and exciting way that Hollywood can’t approach, and that’s comic books and graphic novels. We'll start this list with some hilarious, warped, and bloody Yuletide fun:
The Last Christmas by Brian Posehn & Gerry Duggan, artist Rick Remender
Imagine a mash up of Rankin-Bass Christmas specials, The Road Warrior, and The Walking Dead. If you're horrified by that, then move along! But if you like your Christmas cheer blended with twisted black humor and over-the-top violence…
Duggan, Posehn, and Remender's tale takes readers to a violent, post-apocalyptic world being ravaged by marauding gangs and zombie mutants. When the gangs hit the North Pole and murder Mrs. Claus, Santa decides to give up on Christmas and life, but the belief of one good boy keeps him alive. So will Santa be able to over come his personal demons to save the boy from an army of evil and bring back Christmas to the world? That's the central question in this story that blends festive delight and post-apocalyptic carnage into wickedly funny, perverse, and exciting holiday cocktail.
Happy! by Grant Morrison and artist Darick Robertson
Writer Grant Morrison is best known for telling superheroic tales, but in this surreal, hardboiled, tale of black humor, readers meet Nick Sax, an alcoholic ex-cop turned hitman. When a hit at Christmas time goes bad, Nick finds himself on the run from the mob with a bullet in his side. Making matters worse is the fact that a flying, blue, talking horse named Happy has begun to appear to Nick, and he needs the antihero's help to save a young girl from the clutches of a child-killer dressed as Santa Claus. So Happy! is a tale where the hope and innocence of childhood collides with the cynicism of a brutal world against the backdrop of Christmas. The end result is disturbing and strangely heartwarming tale
With the next entry on the list, we move away from delightfully warped to PG-13 style thrills.
Gotham Central: Book 2 Jokers and Madmen by Greg Rucka & Ed Brubaker, artist Michael Lark
Batman may be the most famous detective working in Gotham city, but he's not the only one trying to crack cases in the crime-ridden metropolis. Gotham Central was a fantastic and gritty police procedural by Rucka, Brubaker, and Lark that followed the exploits of the titular city's police detectives. This graphic novel features two cases, but it appears in this list because it collects a story called “Soft Targets,” a taut, fast-paced thriller where the detectives race to stop the Joker, who has embarked upon a serial sniper spree, from painting the streets of Gotham red with blood of holiday shoppers
The end result is an exciting and scary thriller that delivers the same impact as the season finale of a to- quality cable cop show. The characters all shine, especially the Joker who come across as a truly terrifying menace.
As we near the end of the list, we arrive at some books that are a little more hopeful and wondrous.
Batman: Noel by writer and artist Lee Bermejo
In Batman: Noel, Charles Dickens' immortal holiday classic A Christmas Carol is redone as a pulp superhero tale that thrusts an ill and hallucinating Batman into the role of Scrooge, a small-time crook trying to do right by his young son into the role of Bob Cratchit, and three Batman supporting characters into the roles of the ghostly figures that try to help the Dark Knight understand the meaning of the holiday season.
The story works as both a Batman tale and a Dickensian homage thanks to Bermejo's fantastic art and his understanding of the characters involved. The end result is a haunting, beautiful, and incredibly moving story about crime, obsession, darkness, and the hope of the holiday season.
Superman: Peace on Earth by Paul Dini and artist Alex Ross
Our final entry on this list is an oversized, beautifully-painted graphic novel that finds Superman confronted by a stark reality of the holiday season, the fact that people around the world are starving. So, the Man of Steel heroically sets out to prove to the world that the problem of starvation can be solved by making sure no one on his adopted planet goes hungry for 24 hours.
Peace on Earth is a tale where Superman's fantastic powers are on display, but the real star of the story is his biggest superpower, his heart. This exciting, powerful, and incredibly poignant tale shows you that Superman may be an alien, but it's his very human desire to create a better world that makes him such an inspiring character. In Peace on Earth, that idealism collides with the heartbreaking realities of the real world, but it's also a story about the power of hope, and what humanity can achieve if they come together in the name of compassion.
So if you’re looking for a distinct visual experience that can capture the weirdness and wonders of the holiday season in a variety of ways, try some of these Christmas-themed graphic novels.