Superhero Holiday Specials: Ranking the Top 10

Season’s Super Greetings!

[The Simpsons are watching a Star Trek holiday special]
Kirk:Report, Mr. Sulu!
Sulu: [As the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come looms] “Captain, there appears to be some sort of spirit from an Earth holiday past.”
Kirk: Mr. Scott, fire photon torpedos!
Scotty:It’s no use, captain! He’s showin’ visions of me future! God, I’m so fat!
Kirk:I SAID FIRE!

The Simpsons “Tis the Fifteenth Season” (Season 15, Episode 7)

Many holidays bring the year to a close in December. Some view it as a time for togetherness and family. Others find it a solemn time to contemplate the past year. Some simply enjoy the festivities and the atmosphere of peace on Earth and goodwill to all. So how do superheroes handle the holidays?

Many heroes star in holiday specials. Perhaps they have to help a downtrodden person rediscover their holiday spirit. Maybe a brooding hero will be harassed by a trio of ghosts seeking to teach them a lesson. And of course, someone has to go save Santa Claus from whatever is threatening the jolly old guy this year. So what are the best Superhero Holiday Specials? Let’s find out.

#10 Beebo the God of War

Series: DC’s Legends of Tomorrow
Holidays: Christmas, Chanukah (Briefly Beebo Day and Odin’s Day)

Ava:The Legends fixing a level 12 [Anachronism] under normal circumstances would be a Beebo Day Miracle.
Sara:I’m sorry, did you sayBeebo Day?
Ava:December 25th, Beebo Day. Where families exchange gifts and sing silly songs and realize they can no longer live under the same roof. [beat] Beebo Day’s part of the Anachronism, isn’t it?
Sara:Yeah.
Ava:Yeah, never felt right.

Legends of Tomorrow “Beebo the God of War” (Season 3, Episode 9)

Let’s start with a fairly normal, down to Earth Superhero Holiday Special. A simple seasonal atmosphere, interspersed with time travel, Vikings, and a demonic cult trying to wipe Christmas from the history books. A normal Tuesday as far as holiday specials go.

Synopsis:
A young man finds the last of a popular sold out doll for his daughter’s Chanukah present. While fleeing shoppers who want the toy, he is accidentally transported to the past and captured by Vikings. The doll is mistaken for a god and worshipped by the Vikings, who conquer North America. The Legends of Tomorrow must get history back on track while their enemies plot against them.

Why This Special:  Legends of Tomorrow had a lot of fun comparing the shopping craze for their version of Tickle Me Elmo to the worship of gods by ancient cultures. Oddly, the Vikings were portrayed as less dangerous than the shoppers. Time traveling superheroes fighting Vikings and a demonic cult to save Christmas is just goofy enough for the holiday season. 

While this episode is mostly silly, it does explore the more solemn part of the holidays. Citizen Cold struggles to get Heat Wave sober, much to the latter’s annoyance. The rest of the Legends try to cope with the recent murder of their teammate Martin Stein, exacerbated by his past self joining them for the adventure. One of them even tries to save Marty from his oncoming death with a letter detailing instructions in an explicit reference to Back to the Future.

#9 On Angel’s Wings

Series: X-Men: Evolution
Holiday: Christmas, Chanukah

[the team has heard rumors of an angel saving people]
Beast:Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
Professor Xavier:Shakespeare?
Beast:The Bible. There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophies.”
Rogue:Now that’s Shakespeare.

X-Men Evolution: (Season 2, Episode 7)

It can be hard to remain spiritual when the holiday season starts. Everyone is more concerned with the gifts and glitz than the original meaning of the holidays. Just saying, it’s a lot easier when there’s an angel flying around.

Synopsis:
While most of the X-Men have separated for the holidays, Cyclops and Rogue learn of a guardian angel saving people in New York. They investigate and discover that he is a Mutant named Warren Worthington. They try to convince him to join the X-Men while Magneto schemes to bring Angel to his side.

Why This Special: On Angel’s Wings focuses more on the religious elements of the holidays than most superhero holiday specials. Many bystanders express delight in an angel seemingly descending to save them. Cyclops even admits to struggling with his faith after losing his family, and briefly wonders if Angel might be the real deal.

The special also explores how the X-Men spend the holidays, from Shadowcat lighting a menorah with her family to Storm and Spyke getting into a snowball fight. A short clash with Magneto adds a nice action twist to a good holiday special.

#8 Christmas With The Joker

Series: Batman: the Animated Series
Holiday: Christmas

The Joker:Jingle Bells, Batman smells
Robin laid an egg
The Batmobile lost a wheel
And The Joker got away!
[grabs onto a Christmas tree that turns into a rocket]
Crashing through the roof
In a one-horse open tree
Busting out I go
Laughing all the waaaay!”

Batman: the Animated Series “Christmas With The Joker” (Season 1, Episode 2)

Most series produce at least a few episodes before releasing a holiday special, but Batman: the Animated Series decided its second episode was the perfect time to celebrate the holidays and introduce Batman’s archenemy.

Synopsis: Robin learns that Batman has never seen “It’s A Wonderful Life” and tries to convince him to watch it. Unfortunately, The Joker prevents that by escaping from Arkham Asylum, kidnapping Commissioner Gordon, and putting on a variety show. He’ll kill Gordon during the show if Batman can’t find him in time.

Why this Special?: This Superhero Holiday Special embraces the holidays’ cozy parts. Criminals who would normally be committing crimes are helping little old ladies across the street or singing carols. For once, Gotham is quiet enough that even Batman is willing to call it a night. Then the Clown Prince of Crime earns countless pieces of coal with his cruel Christmas-themed crimes.

This episode was also the first time that Star Wars’ Mark Hamill voiced The Joker. He would go on to reprise the role in dozens of shows, movies, and games through the present day. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving.

#7 Uncanny X-Men #143

Series: Uncanny X-Men
Holidays: Christmas, Chanukah

Shadowcat: [thinking] “If this were a movie, the monster would be waiting right outside the door, ready to bite my head off the second I show myself. Isn’t that a cheery thought? Oh well, here goes nothing.

Uncanny X-Men #143

Bah, all this cheery seasonal merriment is giving me a headache. Superhero Holiday Specials can be set during the holidays without focusing too much on it, like in Die Hard. How about one of those stories?

Synopsis: Newly recruited X-Man Shadowcat is left behind as the team goes caroling. She struggles with homesickness before being attacked by a demon with a grudge against the team. Shadowcat isn’t strong enough to fight the monster directly and enters into a cat and mouse chase as she seeks a way to escape and summon her team.

Why This Special?: Many people forget that the holiday season can get spooky. The nights are long, dark, and so very cold. That would be enough to give anyone the shivers, even without a demon trying to eat their face.

The story is a trial by fire for the X-Men’s newest recruit, letting her showcase her powers and cunning without the safety net of her teammates. It is also an extended reference to the movie Alien. The N’Garai demon is based on the Xenomorphs while Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley character was the direct inspiration for Shadowcat. She even defeats the demon the same way Ripley killed the Xenomorph.

#6 All-New Batman: the Brave and the Bold #14

Series: Batman: the Brave and the Bold
Holidays: Chanukah

Ragman: [narrating] “Ragman may not be the strongest or flashiest superhero, but The Rabbi was right. Small miracles are important too. And even though we don’t always get what we want, we always get what we need.”

All-New Batman: the Brave and the Bold #14

Synopsis: A lesser-known hero called Ragman helps Batman fend off criminals attacking a poor Jewish neighborhood. Ragman has been struggling with his faith because of the homelessness and poverty in his community as well as his own perceived weakness. Can Batman and a local rabbi get through to him?

Why This Special? Superhero Holiday Specials are predominantly based around Christmas, but this is one of the rare few that puts Chanukah in the spotlight. Even better, it features a hero that many won’t have heard of with an interesting design and powerset.

A rabbi plays a large part in this special, regaling Batman and Ragman with the story of The Miracle of the Cruse of Oil to explain that while their community may not have much, they have what they need. The rabbi’s speech is moving enough that Batman anonymously donates enough to repair a damaged synagogue and Ragman’s faith is restored.

#5 Frozen Out

Series: Static Shock
Holidays: Christmas, Kwanzaa

Maureen:The voices in the dark, they call me something…. Permafrost.”

Static Shock “Frozen Out” (Season 2, Episode 5)

Superhero Holiday Specials are usually left for the popular characters. People are interested when Batman and Spider-Man get involved, but might not care about second stringers. Static Shock is one of the rare exceptions.

Synopsis: Static is run ragged stopping disasters and crimes so he can attend an interfaith holiday party with his girlfriend. He encounters a young woman called Permafrost who creates blizzards wherever she goes. Static’s investigation reveal that she is homeless and on the run from an abusive home. Can he get through to Permafrost and stop the blizzard?

Why This Special?: The holiday season is a time for togetherness with friends, family, or even strangers, something that Static shows by juggling his commitments to his friends, protecting the city, and trying to save Permafrost from herself.

Frozen Out” also explores several issues such as homelessness, abuse, and the loss of loved ones. In the end, it is Static and his friends reaching out to Permafrost and showing empathy that saves the day instead of violence.

#4 Batman Noel

Series: N/A
Holiday: Christmas

Superman:If the father is involved, he could go to prison or worse. He could-
Batman:Then we only decrease the surplus criminal population.

Batman: Noel

Y’know, this Superhero Holiday Special reminds me of something, but I have no idea what the Dickens it could be. Oh well, I’m sure it will come to me.

Synopsis: A small-time crook named Bob does an errand for The Joker so that he can pay his son Tim’s medical bills. Batman, sick with pneumonia and hallucinating, interrogates Bob for information about Joker’s plan. Catwoman and Superman try to help him while he sees visions of a future where he is gone and Gotham falls. But are these the shadows of things that will be, or things that may be, only?

Why this Special?: This special shows Batman at a low point. He frequently hallucinates the ghost of his partner, Jason Todd. Batman clashes with Catwoman over past deeds, debates his plans for Bob and Tim while flying around with Superman, and faces a vision of his own grave with The Joker. The journey breaks him out of his depression, allowing Batman to be his heroic self once more.

Wait a moment. A rich but curmudgeonly protagonist. A poor man named Bob. A sickly child named Tim. A dead partner. A woman who reminds the protagonist of his past. A large man who shows him the present day. A specter of death looming in his future. Of course! Batman Noel is a send up to The Muppet Christmas Carol! They even have a connection because Sir Michael Caine has played both Alfred and Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s so obvious in hindsight.

#3 Holiday Knights

Series: The New Batman Adventures
Holidays: Christmas, New Year’s Eve

[Officer Bullock is dressed as Santa for an undercover sting]
Bratty Child:You ain’t the real Santy Clause!”
Bullock: “Sure I am! Wanna see my gun? [Montoya slaps him] Ow!

The New Batman Adventures “Holiday Knights” (Season 1, Episode 1)

Batman sure does have a lot of Superhero Holiday Specials. This is the last one to exclusively focus on him, so let’s send The Bat off with an anthology.

Synopsis: The first section features Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy brainwashing Bruce Wayne into paying for a shopping spree. The second has Gotham detectives Harvey Bullock and Renee Montoya take on Clayface with help from Batgirl. The final story sees The Joker make a New Year’s resolution to go one year without murdering anyone and struggle to get in a few final kills before the year ends.

Why This Special?:Holiday Knights” is a delight with several different styles. The first section is a comedy as Bruce grows quietly angrier at Harley and Ivy’s antics. The second puts the spotlight on minor characters and shows a more human side for the boorish Bullock. The final is a high-stakes adventure that ends with a quiet toast to surviving another year between Batman and Commissioner Gordon.

#2 Christmas With the Superheroes #2

Series: N/A
Holidays: Christmas

Kara:We don’t do it for the glory. We don’t do it for the recognition. We do it because it needs to be done. Because if we don’t, no one else will. And we do it even if no one knows we did it. Even if no one knows we exist. Even if no one remembers that we ever existed.”

Christmas With the Superheroes #2

An anthology worked well for Batman, so what if there was an anthology featuring several superheroes? Let’s see how this Superhero Holiday Special will go.

Synopsis: The first story has Superman consoling a suicidal man whose car has broken down on Christmas Eve. The second covers the history of the Batcave and several Christmases for the Bat-Family. The third has Wonder Woman discuss theology and personal issues with a recently divorced minister.

Other stories feature Flash and Green Lantern trying to rekindle the Christmas spirit in a bitter old man, Enemy Ace on a mission of mercy during the Christmas Truce of 1916, and ghostly hero Deadman struggling with depression and being consoled by a mysterious woman.

Why This Special?: You would be hard-pressed to find a better selection of takes on the holiday season than Christmas with the Superheroes. The heroes show their holiday spirit when Superman is there for a suicidal man, Wonder Woman, discusses her faith, and in the Hallmark-y Green Lantern and Flash story.

There are also two standout stories.

Enemy Ace’s tale is told entirely without words. He brings desperately needed supplies to an Allied field hospital, enjoys a holiday meal with the wounded, and even salutes a memorial to KIA pilots before rising tensions force him to leave. 

Deadman’s story has him possessing people to experience Christmas but feeling guilt over stealing the experience from his victims. He’s cheered up by a young woman named Kara, an oblique final appearance from the original Supergirl after her death and subsequent erasure from continuity in the Crisis on Infinite Earths.

#1 Comfort and Joy

Series: Justice League
Holidays: Christmas

Ultra-Humanite: “You’ll be happy to know, Flash, that your words – jejune though they were – did not fall on deaf ears. I appreciate the sentiment behind them, and therefore call a truce in honor of the season.”
The Flash: “Seriously?”
Ultra-Humanite: “You’ll have the toy to give to your young friends. I’m improving it, too.”
The Flash: “It’s not gonna blow up or anything?
Ultra-Humanite: “Flash. It is Christmas.”

Justice League “Comfort and Joy” (Season 2, Episode 23)

There are many Superhero Holiday Specials out there, but we believe this one best captures the holiday spirit.

Synopsis: After stopping a plan to conquer the world, the Justice League splits up to celebrate the holidays. Superman invites Martian Manhunter to his parents’ house for Christmas. Green Lantern and Hawkgirl bond over their holiday traditions. Meanwhile, Flash promises to get a popular toy for an orphanage and encounters one of the League’s enemies, The Ultra-Humanite.

Why This Special?Comfort and Joy” is the lightest of these specials. There is no threat of widespread destruction or apocalyptic consequences, just the heroes taking a well-deserved break. This could be as simple as Superman helping his parents decorate a tree or as exotic as Hawkgirl taking GL to her favorite alien bar for a drink and a brawl.

Flash and Martian Manhunter get the lion’s share of screen time. Flash struggles to find a sold-out toy and breaks the only one he finds while fighting the Ultra-Humanite. They agree to a truce to make the kids happy, even upgrading the obnoxious toy to play Ultra-Humanite reciting The Nutcracker and The Mouse King.

Martian Manhunter is welcomed to the Kent Farm with open arms, but feels out of place and unsure of the holiday. He wanders through Smallville on Christmas Eve, taking in the holiday’s sights and sounds while performing a few good deeds. The experience makes him feel like he belongs and convinces him to serenade the Kent Farm with a Martian hymn.

What is your favorite superhero holiday special? Is there one better than these? Tell us in the comments. Happy holidays, everyone. See you next year.

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