The Christmas season is upon us, and that means there will be tons of Christmas-themed episodes on TV — and that includes superhero shows. There are more TV superhero series on the air than ever, so let's take this opportunity to look back at some favorite classic holiday episodes from both DC and Marvel.
1. 'Lexmas' — Smallville
By the fifth season of Smallville, viewers had become accustomed to a Lex Luthor who was not quite the villain we know from other media. He was complicated to put it lightly. This episode, however, was the turning point — and set Lex on course to become the archenemy to Clark Kent/Superman.
After a mugging, Lex is put into a coma, during which time he imagines that he is married to Lana Lang, expecting a child with her, and has the admiration of every other character...except for his father, the one person's admiration he craves the most.
Paying homage to It's A Wonderful Life is a trope that has been played to the point of being cliche, but here it serves a purpose. Smallville was primarily a show about the rise of Clark Kent becoming Superman, but it was also a show about Lex Luthor becoming the evil genius we all love to loathe. As mentioned before, this was the episode where Lex decided to become a full-fledged villain.
Lana is dying in the coma dream, and there is nothing that Lex can do about it. Instead of coming out of the dream a better person, Lex decides that he must be in control of everything that surrounds him, setting him on the path to villainy. So while it is not a typical Christmas episode in the sense that there is a happy ending, we see the tragedy behind one of comics' greatest villains.
(There is also a fun subplot where Clark encounters — and even fills in for — Santa Claus himself.)
2. 'On Angel's Wings' — X-Men: Evolution
If you're a mutant with wings who just happens to resemble an angel, then you might have a bigger impact on Christmas than you would think. This is the plot of the X-Men: Evolution episode "On Angel's Wings," as we are introduced to Warren Worthington III, also known as Angel. Wanting to use his abilities to help people — and garnering a massive amount of attention — this does not jive well with Magneto, who wants to use mutant powers to help instigate a war between mankind and mutantkind.
In an episode that was more subtle and quiet than other episodes in the series, we see the diversity of the X-Men (and not just in regards to their powers). We learn that Kitty Pryde is Jewish, there are Bible quotes spoken by scientists such as Hank McCoy/Beast, and the whole plot revolves around people believing Warren is an actual angel. Warren wants no part of the X-Men or Magneto, as he just wants to do good in the world.
We also see just how the X-Men spend their holidays. Logan/Wolverine spends it alone in a bar, others spend it visiting their families, others such as Rogue and Cyclops who are orphans are stuck at the Xavier Institute along with Xavier and Beast, who have no families of their own. If you're a fan of the X-Men, this is a worthwhile episode to watch. It covers a lot in the X-Men mythos in a short amount of time.
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3. 'Frozen Out' — Static Shock
Static Shock was always a show that was never afraid to face real-life social issues. It covered topics from racism to gang violence in inner cities. So when it came time for the Christmas episode, the subjects of homelessness and mental health were appropriate. The DC Animated Universe never delved too much into religion, besides subtle things here and there. This episode also fully explored many characters' religious beliefs:
Vergil a.k.a. Static meets with a local reverend and learns more about the major homelessness problem that is facing the city (and the city's general indifference to the people). He encounters a homeless girl and at first is indifferent to her, but when he realizes the ice attacks hitting the city are coming from her, it does not turn into a simple "hero vs. villain" battle.
Compassion is what wins the day. Static learns more about the girl and the hard life that she has had, and offers her a hug instead of a fight. Though he is a superhero, he learns what it takes to be a real-world hero — and he learns what the holidays are really about.
4. 'Reinforcement' — The Spectacular Spider-Man
This really isn't a Christmas episode per se, as much as it is an episode set during Christmas. But if you're a Spider-Man fan, it is a great episode to watch. The Sinister Six have returned to get rid of Spider-Man once and for all. They are all under the leadership of the mysterious Master Planner. So while Peter Parker has his hands full with six of his deadliest enemies attacking him at once, he also has to juggle the holiday season and all of the personal issues that come with that.
It is easy to forget sometimes, especially in an animated series, that Peter Parker lives in New York City. We see him and his peers ice skating at the famous rink at Rockefeller Center. It is nice, subtle moments such as these that help round out the series and make it feel more authentic.
There is also nice running gag where Peter burns his tongue with some hot cocoa right before his big fight with the Sinister Six, and thus speaks with a lisp that his enemies all comment on.
The episode ends on a bittersweet note as Peter gifts Aunt May with a newly framed photo of Peter, May and Ben. This is their first Christmas after Uncle Ben's death earlier in the year. So while the man may be gone, his presence will continue to live on with the most important people in the man's life.
5. 'Christmas with The Joker' — Batman: The Animated Series
Production-wise, this is the first episode that featured The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series, starting with The Joker singing the infamous, "Jingle Bells, Batman Smells" melody, waving goodbye to Charles Manson and escaping Arkham Asylum with a rocket disguised as a Christmas tree.
Batman is his usual self, despite Robin wanting him to change his attitude for the holidays. Making a bet that if no crime happens on patrol, they will go home to watch It's A Wonderful Life, a movie that Batman admits to never watching as he "can't get past the title."
After witnessing a potential robbery turn out to be an actual good deed, Batman seems almost depressed that there is no crime to fight. But wouldn't you know it, The Joker has hijacked the airwaves and kidnapped Commissioner Gordon, Detective Harvey Bullock and investigative television journalist Summer Gleeson. Batman and Robin must find The Joker by midnight or else the hostages will die...plus, The Joker has rigged multiple life-threatening obstacles in the way.
This was also the first episode production-wise to feature Robin, and makes a strong case as to why Batman needs him — bringing levity to our grim hero and showing that while Batman is a highly trained man, he cannot do everything by himself.
The Joker, while being his usual murderous self, is top-notch here; you never lose a sense of his menace, despite him using nothing but Christmas toys and gags. By the end, The Joker is once again locked up and singing Christmas songs to himself. Batman and Robin finish watching It's A Wonderful Life, ending on a positive note when Batman comments that the film "has its moments."
6. 'Comfort And Joy' — Justice League
The only Christmas themed episode of Justice League where it is light on action and plot, but heavy on character. Batman sits out this episode, as not only has he had many Christmas episodes beforehand, he "begged to be put on Watchtower duty."
So the episode focuses much more on the other members of the team, except for Wonder Woman, whose absence goes unexplained. Superman decides to take Martian Manhunter to the Kent household for Christmas, The Flash spends time with orphans with a surprise guest, and Green Lantern and Hawkgirl spend time at an alien bar.
We see how accommodating the Kents are to the Martian Manhunter, as they are "no stranger to aliens." Superman may or may not still believe in Santa, while all of his gifts are lead-lined due to his x-ray vision. Using his telepathy, Martian Manhunter fulfills a young girl's desire to know that Santa exists — and after hearing Christmas carols, demonstrates his own Martian version of one.
The growing relationship between Green Lantern and Hawkgirl was a running plot throughout the Justice League series. So when the two decide to go to an alien bar and do what Hawkgirl loves, which is fighting, the relationship reaches a nice point before it really takes off. Lantern is passed out from the fight; Hawkgirl wakes up, kisses him on the cheek and wishes him a merry Christmas before falling asleep on his shoulder.
Those are some of the most memorable Christmas episodes in superhero television. There are many more out there, and definitely plenty more to come as well, so tell us in the comments — what's your favorite superhero Christmas story?