The Golden Age #4-Bravery When Battling The Enemy Within…

Ah, the end.

There’s something so bittersweet about the end.  We’ve been keeping up with The Golden Age here at The Unspoken Decade, and this tremendous tale is drawing to an end.  Despite its dour nature, despite how dark everything has been for our heroes, one cannot help but feel like the sun is about to come out and shine brightly upon this age.

Unfortunately, as we all know, it’s always darkest before the dawn, and for some of the Justice Society, it’s going to get so dark that the sun will never shine again.  For others, this will be a new beginning. For the readers, we will get both, as it’s going to be the end of something Golden and the start of something Silver.

All new births must hurt, though, as we are all well aware, and the birthing of the Silver Age would be no different, as the Golden Age’s death throes echo in me to this day.  The final issue of The Golden Age is a sort of perfect amalgam of pain and beauty, chaos and stability, and hope and despair.  One thing is for sure as we start off this issue: things don’t look good for the JSA right now.

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That’s correct, as we told you last time, American hero, Tex Thompson, Senator and WW2 Hero, is really the Ultra-Humanite.  The comic has thus far shied away from telling you who is in Daniel Dunbar’s body, and we will save that reveal for you as well, but you know that if they are only hinting then whoever it is must be rather dastardly…

The problem is that no one will listen to the JSA.  I see this happen all of the time in our real world.  Despite evidence that shows that this behavior is counterproductive, folks are always very willing to simply kowtow to leaders and pundits.  Folks seem ever so eager to believe the biggest and smallest of lies, provided that they are uttered from “official” sources.  Those that question or peruse “unofficial” sources are marginalized as quickly as is possible.  It’s fascinating to see the JSA in such dire straits, as they are usually portrayed and perceived as the elder statesmen of the DC Universe.  In fact, in one of my prior articles here at the Unspoken Decade, I mention that even Superman revered these guys.  To see them on the opposite side is fascinating!

The first few issues of this fantastic mini-series dealt with the character of the JSA and their Golden Age pals.  This issue is no different,  as the few heroes in possession of this secret are testing their own character in order to forge some sort of plan that would give them a of chance against Ultra-Humanite and Daniel Dunbar…

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The HUAC continues to dog Alan Scott as well, and as the government and country that he has held so dearly continues its hideous assault against him and his character, his character deepens, thrives, and becomes as strong as steel.  No committee, whether it was the committees we established here in the USA to witch hunt the different people we dared not attempt to understand, nor a communist pogrom would have had the ability to pierce the spectacular moral fortitude Alan Scott possesses.

All that matters to Alan Scott is what is right and just.  All that matters to Alan Scott is that he stand up for it.  All that matters to Alan Scott should be all that matters to us…

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In my regular life, many people have seen me stand up many times against oppressive forces.  Obviously, I never stared down a committee like HUAC, but many times, I have stood up to entities that looked to hold me, my family, my co-workers, or my society down.

In my case though, any dirt on my adversaries that I got, I was more than happy to use.  The moral fiber of Alan Scott is truly tough, as I think very few would face the committee as head-on as he plans too.

Of course, the challenges and obstacles we all face are never the same.  Just as Alan Scott stands poised and ready to face HUAC with a most noble streak, Libby Lawrence has her own cross to bear, but in her case, it is trying to find the courage to break free of something bad.

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Vices and people with vices can easily get a hold on any of us.  In Libby’s case, she allowed herself to become complacent and to submerge her dreams as her boyfriend, Jonathan Law (Tarantula) has drowned his and tried to beat hers out of her.  She’s finding the courage to not just break apart from Law, but to also say yes to herself.  Too many of us never find that courage.  In his defense, Law is sorry and is finding courage of his own, but it seems to be too little, too late…

In the meantime, the heroes gather, as they always do.  From the moment I found myself hopelessly in love with the garishly colored superheroes, I have been a sucker for the moments when all the heroes gather together and stand around in their costumes, moments before uniting to combat a threat to the world, the galaxy, the universe, or reality itself.  These are the times when we naturally see the heroes as people rather than just a bunch of loud costumes with a bunch of powers.  These are the times, much like us, when pals get together, and just like us, those times for the heroes seem to be fleeting and rare, and the gatherings only occur during the best and the worst of times.

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Of course, one of the most special things about superheroes, and the mystery men of the Second World War is that they represent hope for the future.  The future is always happening, even when folks aren’t aware of it yet.  Here, we see the unbridled ambition of youth, that devil-may-care spirit, and that eagerness that youth has to prove itself so that it can belong, and we see it in the form of an as yet to be named Superhero that none of the other folks have heard of yet.  That matters little to him; what matters is that he has a place to belong, even if many of the others don’t quite realize it yet.

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I think at one point we were all that young man.  We were all so angry, so eager, so dejected, so determined, and since I was young in the 90’s, so EXTREME.  What we all now know, and what this young man will soon learn, is that maybe we should not be in such a hurry to grow up.  Growing up means hard choices, facing tragedies, and never really knowing or understanding why your life goes the way that it does.  Many of the heroes assembled here are going to be wondering what happened shortly, as a force of nature is about to upend their entire status quo, as it does for many of us adults.

In the meantime, the heroes with the skinny on what is actually going down with the Ultra-Humanite are beginning to put their plan into motion.  One of them, however, calls an audible.  One of them had decided she just hasn’t done enough to thwart this plan.  One of them is going to jumpstart the plan on her own.  One of them won’t survive her gambit, although she certainly inspires many of her fellow heroes to take up arms against their oppressor.

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American culture is jazz and baseball, although I think we have to add in pro wrestling and superheroes as well.  These things are inherently ours.  We brought them to the world.  I know folks would like to believe in a lot more of what she said, but, well, as an anarchist, I think it is a pipe dream.  The state is the state, whether it is called The USA, the USSR, the UAE, or Uganda.  We will see that even as our heroes expose the corruption of Thompson and how he is actually the Ultra-Humanite, that things will go along in a similar fashion, as the Joe McCarthy of this Earth rises to fill the vacuum Thompson leaves.  He will engage in the same red-baiting that Thompson did, just as McCarthy did on our Earth.  No nation, regardless of the ideals it purports to espouse, is immune from the power mongers and the need for the elites to maintain the status quo at the expense of the non-elite.

Robotman, as you see, has no qualms with this.  I love Robotman (especially the often-forgotten Golden Age Robotman), and it is a shame to see him make such a dastardly heel turn, although it makes perfect sense.  Robotman would be cold and efficient due to the dichotomy between his organic brain and his steel body, and one of the heroes most likely to buy into the law and order nonsense of those like Thompson or McCarthy.  So it is he who smashes Miss America in a vain attempt to silence her truth.  She dies; the truth lives on.

The government’s witch hunt against Alan Scott and others like him is continuing even as the Ultra-Humanite is being revealed.  Scott is defiant, and he, like me, has nothing but contempt for government apparatuses that are utilized to hold down those who would dare to be different and question the integrity of the powers-that-be.  I wonder if this cycle will ever stop.  Alan Scott and I both certainly hope so.

As he faces down those small-minded men, the mystery men go to war with Dunbar, and to say they did not fare well would be such an understatement…

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I have heard that the bright colored superheroes are like our gods and mythology, and there are few moments that reinforces that notion better than this one.  Here we see the gods rise up as they attempt to crush their challenges, but like many of the powers that would face a god, Dunbar is in possession of a nearly limitless power all his own.  We see Hawkman, Black Condor, and The Ray attempt to subdue Dunbar, and their story isn’t over.

Some gods stay grounded, looking in vain for advantages against overwhelming odds.  Some gods look for inspiration in  the Earth, the sky, or themselves, but some look for inspiration in the cold realm of vengeance…

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Robotman vs. Tigress seems a one-sided affair, but how could one not admire the vehemence with which Paula Brooks attacks the steel monstrosity in the name of vengeance for her friend?   Despite how Robotman just murdered her pal with nary a second thought, Tigress is displaying nerves of steel that despite being made of metal, Robotman could only wish he had.

The Ultra-Humanite, running low on cards in this high-stakes, high-powered game of poker, pulls a pair of kings. Just like all the demagogues of the ages, the Ultra-Humanite uses misdirection and manipulation to create rifts between friends and heroes.  Johnny Thunder and The Atom, recruits in the Ultra-Humanite’s wave of the future, have fallen victim to him and his lies.  Of course, who could blame them?  As the outcasts of the JSA, they felt like they found a place to belong under Ulta-Humanite, and so they fight.

They fight their own family, as families do on occasion.  Some would say families only stop fighting when they have someone else to fight, but here, even though the JSA has plenty on its hands now, The Atom and Johnny Thunder fight.  Thunder even commits an act so despicable that I find it shocking; his pet Thunderbolt finds it even more so…

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The family makes up and unites against a common foe, but certain parts of the family remain apart from the rest, engaging in the tasks that make others in the tribe cringe.  Vengeance once again shows up, as Paul Kirk finds Ultra-Humanite, and he is going to get revenge for his friend, Tex Thompson!

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Still the Tigress and Captain Triumph struggle against Robotman, searching for a way to honor their fallen friend, Miss America.  Captain Triumph also struggles against the ghost of his brother, and whether he wins or loses said struggle, is really up to the reader.  One thing is for sure, he wins the struggle with Robotman…

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Captain Triumph will no longer be bothered by his brother.  Other heroes attack Dunbar in waves, one at a time, or from afar.  None of it seems to matter, as the death toll climbs and climbs.  At least Captain Triumph and his brother won’t be lonely as Dunbar sends so many to greet them…

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Wouldn’t that be awful?  To see one’s moral opposite showing more courage than one’s self?  Especially if one was supposed to be a hero, and had looked down on his opposite with such disdain.  Surely, Alan Scott has no choice but to join the battle, because if he was willing to come out of retirement to stop Sportsmaster, now he has to come out to avenge his death…and to prove he has the courage he has been showing in standing up to HUAC, this time in another arena.

And it is a good thing he does arrive, as the heroes keep falling, including Johnny Quick.  Green Lantern hits Dunbar with a right fist that not only removes a few of Dunbar’s teeth, but it also instills something the JSA has lost a lot of very quickly…hope.

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Even Alan Scott falls, however, and the heroes last hope against Dunbar appears to be Starman, mental illness be damned. We see Johnny Quick rushing off to grab him above, and this echoes one of the best things about superheroes to me, which is that no matter how down things look, there’s always one last chance.  This is why so many sports appeal to me as well.  Your team’s down a touchdown with 0:03 on the clock?  Maybe they can hit that Hail Mary pass to the end zone.  Down one run in the 9th?  Maybe your team will score two.

The JSA is down a lot more than touchdown, however, and unfortunately, it will take more than the bipolar genius of Ted Knight to win this day…

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Just when it seems that all is lost, the forgotten weapon of this story, the young man who wanted to be a hero at the start of this tale, joins the fray, and while he may not be the one who delivers the killing blow, his demeanor in the face of what appeared to be absolute defeat lives on in the minds of his world.  For if only each and every one of us were to stand up to those whose tyranny we are told is inevitable.

And let’s not discount Liberty Belle and her role in the victory.  Her ingenuity and resourcefulness save the day, and isn’t that how it usually goes?  Youth, in combination with the defiance that goes along with it and the ingenuity of a lady with very few powers in comparison to many of the heavy hitters who had tackled Dunbar prior, saves the day.  More importantly, it saves the future…but you will have to get the book to see that and to see how Paul Kirk dealt with the Ultra-Humanite.

The Golden Age is unfairly overlooked.  I truly wish that these characters and their reality were as embraced as other critical darlings of the era, such as Kingdom Come or Marvels.  I wish that with all of the hullabaloo at DC right now in regards to their “Multiversity” that Grant Morrison or someone of that ilk would look back to The Unspoken Decade for a universe that is ever so real and hurtful in so many ways, with so many delightful characters to incorporate into “Greater DC.”

Or they could at least bring Dynaman back.

You’re doing yourself a tremendous disservice  if you do not go buy this right now. This is truly a masterpiece. If this had come out in 1985 or 2005, it would be revered.  Since it came out in the 90’s, it is tossed aside and possibly even reviled.  That’s more than a damn shame, as James Robinson and Paul Smith truly capture the horror, wonder, and charm that is superheroes.  Perhaps, that’s the same horror, wonder, and charm that is America…

It’s the Most Punishing Time of the Year!-Punisher Holiday Special #1

Hello, Legions of the Unspoken!  Merry Christmas!  Happy Hanukkah!  Happy Solstice, Yule, Kwanzaa, or whatever you celebrate!  If you hate the season, I hope you are making it through as best you can! Emily sure did a fantastic job yesterday with her look at the Marvel Holiday Special from 1992!  Make sure you take a gander at it right here!

Emily mentioned this in her article yesterday, but it is really important to remember that many folks don’t have a great time during the holiday season.  Try and spare a kind word for them, and when it comes to food charity, I encourage you to not only give during the holidays, but it would be swell if you could give during the entire year when you can.  People ain’t just hungry at Christmas.

Many comic book characters also do not have a particularly swell time during Christmas, although most have a bad time for reasons other than hunger.  Characters like Batman or Punisher don’t care for Christmas for obvious reasons and reasons many in the real world can relate to as well.  Having lost family can put a damper on the whole holiday thing.

Which is why it is sort of surprising that Marvel put out three Punisher Holiday specials, and he was prominently featured in several Marvel Holiday Specials in the 90’s as well.  The other side of that, though, is that Punisher was so popular then that they milked him for everything he was worth.  There were Punisher Summer and Back to School Specials as well during this time, which also don’t seem like prime specials to be propped up by a psychopathic serial killer like Frank Castle.

But that doesn’t mean that this Holiday special has to be bad.  In fact, the opposite is very much true.  Thanks to the hard work of the creators involved with this special, we have a lot of fun.  The first story is a little like the movie Die Hard in that there is lots of action with the trappings of Christmas permeating the background.  Also, since this is the 90’s, the special has a gimmick cover.

Stephen (why it isn’t spelled Steven as it should be is a mystery that the world may never know the answer to) Grant writes this fun tale, where we get introduced the world’s whiniest mobster.

That mob guy sort of looks like he could be Murderface's cousin.  You don't know who Murderface is?  For shame, good sir, for shame.
That mob guy sort of looks like he could be Murderface’s cousin. You don’t know who Murderface is? For shame, good sir, for shame.

Well, the good news is that apparently even mobsters celebrate Christmas.  The bad news is that they have no idea how it is done.  Little Tony sounds like such a whiny little douche.  We all know someone like him, right?  Someone who always gets their way and then the first time they don’t, they wind up making you go deaf from their ability to alternate between screams so shrill they could pierce the dimensional barrier and whines so pathetic that they almost create their own emo albums.  One could only assume that all of these qualities would only be worse in the son of a prominent mob boss.

So, these guys set up a plan to ambush Punisher, which he learns about from a drug dealer who appears to have stepped straight out of the Chick tract, The Gay Blade.  Don’t get that reference?  Well, you can see this work of hilarious hate right here, but compare the following two images and tell me that the guy Punisher is squeezing for information would look out of place at all next to these two:

As an extra I left in Lambda being a "gay symbol" so that you can be on the lookout.  Man,m those Chick Tract folks are nuts...and entertainingly so!
That lady is reacting like a zombie is going reaching up for her in a Tales from the Crypt comic.

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So now that Punisher has dealt with this hippie drug dealer, he has to head to the mall to cut off this plan.  Something tells me that the meeting between Punisher and these mooks won’t be quite the same experience as the one I had playing this board game with my little sister.

This game is brutal, and we still play it every now and again.  Why?  Because we hate ourselves.
This game is brutal, and we still play it every now and again. Why? Because we hate ourselves.

The only problem with this plan by Punisher is that Little Tony’s mooks are actually in control of the mall, which seems ludicrous.  I love it.  When it comes to Christmas Action-Adventure stories, they have to take place at the mall or a Santa theme park.  For these stories to work, they almost need Christmas decorations saturating the edges and the background.  That way, we never forget that it is Christmas, but we also don’t have to have the main characters addressing it all the time.

The bad guys apparently feel like they were REALLY BAD this year, and Anti-Santa must have noticed, as they are quite gleeful that Punisher is walking into their mall-trap.  We as readers know that a criminal being happy over luring the Punisher to them would be the same as a mouse being ecstatic that it had lured a cat to it.  That doesn’t stop these guys, though.

Also, Punisher mulls the evolution of mankind.  I can't tell if he thinks we have come a long way or if he thinks we are too far behind, but I can totally tell he hates the mall, which might be the last human quality Punisher has.
Also, Punisher mulls the evolution of mankind. I can’t tell if he thinks we have come a long way or if he thinks we are too far behind, but I can totally tell he hates the mall, which might be the last human quality Punisher has.

Punisher ditches his bag and sets himself up in proper position to stop the robbery he has been informed about.  The mooks put their plan in motion as Punisher has one of those Admiral Ackbar moments; you know the one.

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Man, I am unsure why that joke never gets old to me, but it never does.  That will stay funny even after it gets ruined in the new Star Wars movies coming out.  Or it gets elevated into new heights of grandeur.  Those were the only two positions people took on the internet about them.  But I digress.

With the trap set and Punisher dead in the middle of it, he starts putting on his awesome gloves and taking care of business.  Using some small arms fire (because the bad guys took the bag he stashed) and an ingenious car trap, he manages to take out a few of the mooks encroaching on him. They do manage to wound Castle.  He also gets to drive one of those mall display cars IN THE MALL, which is just another of many reasons that despite being a bloodthirsty and psycopathic serial killer, Punisher is more awesome than anything else.  Don’t deny it; you’ve always wanted to drive one of those cars in the mall.  Hell, the fact that this dream might come true for any of us might be the sole reason to keep malls open in the Amazon age.

Things get complicated when the bad guys happen upon a runaway at the mall, who they momentarily hold hostage.  Punisher offs a mook (Most of these mooks are dressed as mall security guards, by the by, which sort of precludes them as mooks, right?) which enables her to get away…and in Punisher’s way.

Isn’t there always a runaway at Christmas?  Don’t they always mess everything up before it gets saved?  Maybe I am just superimposing that girl from Ernest Saves Christmas into every Christmas movie, but man, it seems like a trope that gets in just in time for Christmas, sort of like  your uncle.  Point being, though, that this young lady is now caught in this death trap with Punisher, which bodes well for neither of them.

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Punisher shows us exactly why he went into vigilantism instead of counseling, as his only consolation for this teenager runaway victim of some sort of domestic abuse is to let her know that he would rue killing her.  Of course, while she sees what she has been doing as surviving, Frank Castle may only see it as stealing.  This is the black and white viewpoint that makes Punisher so fascinating to me, even if he is the most unlikely character to get a Christmas special this side of Anton Lavey.

Also, somehow, the head mook just makes me laugh so much as he blows away his own mall with weapons he and his men do not understand, planning to recoup his loss thanks to insurance.  I mean, I am sure I am not spoiling anything by letting you know that does not happen, as there is a Punisher:  Holiday Special #2, but no The Mook Who Killed Punisher Holiday Special.  I also love how these hardcore security guards also do not seem to understand most of his armory, which seems basic to me.  They’re grenades, guys.  You’re welcome.

Of course, the seminal moment of the book happens as Punisher is running low on weapons, ammo, and in addition to his munitions shortfall issues, he has been wounded again.  This forces improvisation that leads to what is arguably the greatest moment in both Punisher and Christmas history.

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When you see the reindeer appearing on the horizon in the dark, does it remind you of that meme where the deer is looking in the window with the macros “SOON” across it? Oh you don’t know that? Never mind.

Yes, Punisher killed someone with a toy reindeer.  That canon, folks.

Punisher sends the young runaway to the car he crashed earlier as he attempts to deal with the other mooks.  Believe it or not, she gets captured as Frank Castle deals with a henchman whose reputation he knows.  Of course, Castle is still in improvisation mode, so we see a use for hardware that I am sure is not approved by Home Depot.

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While Home Depot may not approve of use of a a saw in such a manner, I must say that S-Mart from Evil Dead most certainly does.

Punisher also manages to distract these mooks with one of the greatest and oldest tricks in the book, as these hardcore henchmen just seem to falter left and right in the wake of Punisher’s unyielding onslaught.  Maybe it is because they are dressed as mall security guards, as such an unimposing position would surely cause one to lose one’s edge.  Or maybe Punisher is just so bad ass that he can use trees as hang gliders.

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Best use of a dummy since Mannequin 2: On the Move.
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Check out that one mook/mall cop who went GANGSTA by turning that hat around. You’re cool, bro.

That leaves Punisher, the runaway, and the head mook in the mall, and as I spoiled for you earlier, one of these three doesn’t make it out alive.  You can guess which one it is.  As far as the young runaway, she returns home, just as Pat Benatar did in her “Love is a Battlefield” video, as both of these stalwart runaways valiantly battled evil, although Pat Benatar never got to team up with Punisher, although that is a team-up I would read.  I’d especially be down for that team-up if they fought Nazis like Pat Benatar did in “Shadows of the Night”.  Man, for a 90’s comic book blog, I sure have talked about 80’s videos a lot in this paragraph.

Also, to make sure that all is well that ends well, Little Tony gets a present after all. Santa Claus ain’t the one that brings it, though.

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Hey, you got a present here too!  I’d like to think it is slightly better than Little Tony’s, although that’s really up to you!  Be here Monday for The Golden Age #4!  Merry Christmas, everybody!

Have Yourself a Marvel Little Christmas by Emily Scott

Happy holidays, Legions of the Unspoken! Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, the Solstice, Festivus, or a holiday of your own creation, I hope you find yourself surrounded by good friends, good food, and good fun. On the other hand, if you find yourself bereft of companionship or, say, in the company of a drunken relative who you’d gladly string up with some tree lights, I hope this article can bring you some semblance of holiday cheer. No matter the season, we here at The Unspoken Decade strive to find something in the realm of 90s comics to be jolly about.

I find the notion of a superhero Christmas story inherently silly, but to be fair, my previous exposure to them is limited to the X-Men cartoon Christmas special. (It’s not a bad episode of what truly is a great show, but it isn’t helped by 1. focusing entirely too much on Jubilee and 2. devoting a fair amount of screen time to Gambit and Jean Grey bickering over how much to season Christmas dinner, one of the only instances in that cartoon in which Jean Grey using her powers didn’t cause her to immediately moan loudly and pass out.)

Rogue Storm Mall
Don’t think they’re only at the mall because they’re Christmas shopping. I swear half the episodes of this show start with Rogue and Storm getting attacked at the mall.

The comic we’ll be looking at, 1992’s Marvel Holiday Special, is thankfully lacking in both Jubilee and telekinetically-thrown vegetables. What it’s not lacking in is a good mix of funny, heartwarming, and melancholy stories, some of which integrate their superhero subjects into a holiday setting better than others. For instance, if someone had told me that a Thanos Christmas story would be one of the more emotionally affecting moments in this book, I would have been perplexed, but we’ll get to that. First up is Wolverine in Zounds of Silence!

This story opens with several pages, sans dialogue, of Wolverine fighting a bevy of big baddies, from cyborg soldiers to a giant dinosaur. Then, in an ending I enjoyed no less for seeing it coming a mile away, it is revealed that Wolverine’s trials are the product of a child’s imagination, an action figure slipping from his grasp as the child is pulled away by an irate parent. This story put a smile on my face until I noticed what a state they left the vendor’s stall in:

Seriously, if you’re annoyed with your kid for making such a mess, how about, I don’t know, having him clean it up? I like to think Wolverine’s claws are coming out in the last panel so he can go deal with Faceless Entitled Mom.

Another fun story in this collection comes courtesy of Spider-Man, who, as usual, is running late to meet Mary Jane. He finds her just in time for them to watch the lighting of the famous Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, a ceremony that is, of course, interrupted by a villainous grinch. Electro shuts down the power to the tree and threatens to make Christmas be neither merry nor bright unless he receives a payoff.

Did Mike Myers read this comic before writing Dr. Evil? Even in 1992, isn't that a ludicrously small sum of money to demand in exchange for not blacking out New York City?
Did Mike Myers read this comic before writing Dr. Evil? Even in 1992, isn’t that a ludicrously small sum of money to demand in exchange for not blacking out New York City?

I would say he has no holiday spirit, but the argument could be made that by demanding a wad of cash, getting into the Christmas spirit is exactly what Electro is doing. Spider-Man employs his own methods in an attempt to turn Electro into a holiday spirit, slinging insults and ornaments at his foe in equal measure. The giant tree’s topper and a dose of Electro’s own voltage put an end to the crisis, and Spider-Man is free to return to his evening of paying for being Spider-Man.

Seriously, I do not understand the appeal of this relationship for Peter Parker. Every time I have ever seen him with Mary Jane, she is giving him a hard time for making the world a safe place for kids to enjoy comically large candy canes. Maybe it was one thing when he was keeping his web crawling ways a secret, but past that, you knew what you were getting into, lady.

Of course, I don’t blame the character so much as the well-worn trope of the lady character whose sole job it is to get annoyed with her fellow for doing whatever it is he has do, affecting everyone from Mary Jane Watson to Skyler White on Breaking Bad. (If you ever doubt that lady characters get the short end of the stick, check out the amount of vitriol directed at the latter because she didn’t want her husband to be a meth kingpin.) But that’s a discussion for another time. For now, let’s just get back to puzzling over that child kissing rather than eating his candy cane.

Maybe Mary Jane should just drive up to Westchester and go to the mall with Storm and Rogue.

The Punisher is up next, and while I scoffed at the idea of a Punisher Christmas story, it works much better than it might by not having the Punisher experience some sort of schmaltzy softening. Christmas does serve as the setting for the story, but it’s still just Punisher being Punisher. No saving orphans or handing out gifts to doe-eyed street urchins here. He does take a decidedly less fatal route than usual to solving his problems, but only because of a bet rather than some sort of forced holiday epiphany.

Punisher wants his pal Microchip to fix up his van to take down some drug dealers, but Microchip will only acquiesce if Punisher can take down a ring of Salvation Army bucket thieves by non-lethal means. There may not be anything sentimentally Christmas-y in this story, but we do get Punisher in a Santa suit.

I would read a comic of nothing but the Punisher awkwardly making small talk as a bell ringer for seven hours.
I would read a comic of nothing but the Punisher awkwardly making small talk as a bell ringer for seven hours.

Punisher tracks down the organizer of the bucket raids and sticks to the letter of the bet with Microchip, using a combination of tactics, such as standing there and smiling while the dude throws everything in his office at him and spraying himself with a solvent that will paralyze him when it comes into contact with his skin. Microchip argues that his methods violate the spirit of their bet, but Punisher, well, just doesn’t give a fuck.

I’m honestly not sure how Microchip expected him to take the guy down. To be fair to Punisher, he does actually try asking him nicely to turn himself in, but that goes about as well as you’d expect. It’s commendable of Microchip to attempt to get Punisher to be less murder-y, but the showdown went about as non-violently as he ever could have hoped, and he totally owes Punisher those van upgrades in my opinion.

If the Punisher can acknowledge people celebrate holidays other than Christmas, anyone can.
If the Punisher can acknowledge that people celebrate holidays other than Christmas, anyone can.

Perhaps my favorite segment in this collection involves a character that I, as someone relatively new to comic book fandom, have had very little exposure to, Doc Samson.  Samson visits his former yeshiva to tell the kids the story of Hanukkah, but because small children are pretty much assholes, he is forced to spice up his tale with some of his super-powered colleagues. This story had me chuckling from start to finish, and there’s not much I could add to it that would make it funnier than it already is, so here’s a few pages sans snarky commentary to give you a taste:

Samson 1Samson 2

I laugh every time I look at Wolverine studying that bottle of 10w30.
I laugh every time I look at Wolverine studying that bottle of 10w30.

I say that these kids are assholes, and they are, but they also remind me a little of myself when it comes to the kinds of stories I enjoy these days. It’s funny how, once you started reading comic books or genre literature, it’s difficult to go back to stories where, like, people just talk and do regular things. I think as fantasy, sci fi, etc. get more popular, we have become far accepting as a society of the idea that these genre works can have just as much depth or show us just as much about the human condition, only with the added bonus of dragons and zombies and people who can shoot lasers out of their hands. If given the choice, why wouldn’t you read those stories instead?

The most bittersweet story in this comic comes courtesy of an unlikely source, Thanos. (I was certainly not expecting this tale to hit me right in the feels, but I suppose it’s because it’s unexpected that the emotion was so affecting.) While cleaning out an old headquarters like he’s having a garage sale, Thanos comes across an old doll he gave to Gamora when she was a child and reflects on memories long past.

The birthdays and Christmas may be for Gamora's benefit, but those tea parties were all for Thanos.
The birthdays and Christmas may be for Gamora’s benefit, but those tea parties were all for Thanos.

Sometimes while reading I get caught up in frivolous background details, and in this case, I couldn’t help but wonder how the Mad Titan himself procured Christmas presents for a small child. Did he thumb through the toy section of the Sears catalog? Did he send one of his robot minions to Macy’s? What criteria did a godlike being use to decide what a five-year-old girl would like to play with?

This is fun stuff to ponder, but it can lead you down a rabbit hold that leads to some weird places, and the next thing you know, you’re contemplating how he had “the talk” with Gamora or who bought her tampons for the first time. I’m probably the only one who went off on that particular tangent, and Christmas can be scarring enough as it is, so I’ll just get back to the story then, shall I?

Thanos recounts how a creature with a vendetta attempts to take him out, only for Gamora to throw her doll and distract the would-be assassin long enough for Thanos to off him instead.

I still can't figure out how you got one green doll - where are you going to get another one??
I still can’t figure out how you got one green doll – where are you going to get another one??

Thanos says that he should have known from her sentimentality that Gamora was going to make a bad assassin and orders that the doll be incinerated with all the rest of the stuff he does not have time to take to Goodwill. He acts as though he is indifferent to Gamora turning against him, but his manner betrays him. He is clearly lying both to himself and the minion with whom he apparently shares intimate memories.

Strong men also cry…strong men also cry.

Christmas is such a dichotomous holiday, existing both as “the most wonderful time of the year” and the loneliest. Sometimes all the things we get only make what we’ve lost stand out in stark contrast, and being surrounded by loved ones only highlights who isn’t there. The idea that even a creature of unimaginable strength and power is susceptible to these feelings is both comforting and humbling, and ultimately there is great beauty in the notion that the ability to care for others cannot be wished or willed away.

So learn a lesson from Thanos this holiday season and give all the love there is in your heart to those who deserve it most. Don’t forget to include yourself on that list too! This is one of the few times of year most people actually get some time off to recuperate, so treat yourself to something fun!

Since few things are more fun than 90s comics, be sure to come back tomorrow for Dean’s article on some more holiday Punisher stories. That’s right, our gift to you this festive week is even more of your favorite heroes and their holiday hijinks! It’s been a real pleasure to take a close look with you at some of the best comics the 90s had to offer, and I can’t wait to do it again in the year ahead. See you then!