I love comic book holiday specials. They are my favourite guilty pleasure; I don’t really celebrate the holidays as much as I enjoy reading the absolutely bizarre holiday twists from comic book creators. It’s cheesy, and corny, and always a very-not-subtle play with the emotions. It doesn’t even have to be specifically for Christmas, as there are at least a dozen festive holidays celebrated during December alone. Holiday Specials are an opportunity for creators to let loose and try something different. And THAT, I love.
To be clear, Holiday Specials aren’t just for the big-name comic book companies. Marvel and DC definitely have more than their share of festive rip-offs. My first comic book holiday special was an Archie Comics back in the early 1990s. To be fair, I don’t remember much of the storyline or the artwork. But I do remember it being just silly enough to make me giggle. It lightened the mood at the end of a chaotic year and left me with feel-good vibes. Since then, my holiday collection has expanded a little. It’s not all light-hearted jokes and corny classics. Sometimes, the best comic book holiday specials are pure emotion — both good and bad. It just needs to be a great finish to the year.
So, here’s my list of 12 Best Comic Book Holiday Specials. A mix of new and old, superheroes and regular folks. And definitely not limited to corny Christmas Specials.
Marvel Holiday Specials
Let’s start with the Marvel Holiday Specials, a popular choice with its first issue published in 1992. That was the issue that established Santa Claus as a mutant within the Marvel Universe. Far more believable than most of the other stories I’ve heard over the years. The series is also a standout for celebrating more than Christmas as a holiday. In 2009, Stan Lee wrote a story where Thing finally discussed his Jewish faith and celebrated Hannukah — 48 years after his comics debut!
Marvel Holiday Special: Year of the Wong by Amy Chu, E.J. Su, and Antonio Fabela
My favourite of the Marvel Holiday Specials actually includes three (3) separate issues across the holiday season, from December to February. For Christmas fans, there was Happy Holidays, Mr Howlett by Ryan North, Nathan Stockman, Chris O’Halloran, and VC Joe Sabino. For the Lunar New Year, we had Year of the Wong by Amy Chu, E.J. Su, and Antonio Fabela. For Valentine’s Day, we could fall in love with Ghost Ridin’ to Love by Jason Loo, Lebeau Underwood, and Alba Glez. All issues were edited by Annalise Bissa and exclusively released on the digital Marvel Unlimited Service. I loved how they spread across the whole season and gave different vibes in each.
Hawkeye Vol.2: Little Hits by Matt Fraction, art by David Aja, Francesco Francavilla, Steve Liever, Jesse Hamm, and Annie Wu
My other favourite Marvel Holiday Special. It inspired the hit Disney+ series Hawkeye — including the magnificent Christmas setting. But, to be fair, we don’t really receive our Christmas presents until issue #6 with “Six Days in the Life of.” It captures the everydayness of Clint Barton, especially during the Holiday Season when everything is definitely NOT “Everyday.” Bonus points because it has one of the best Valentine’s Day issues: “Doomed Love.” And if you’re a Kate Bishop fan (if you’re not, you’re wrong), then you’ll agree with our earlier article that Kate Bishop is Too Good for the Avengers.
DC Holiday Specials
Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb, art by Tim Sale
It’s not exactly your quintessential holiday special, but it does tie in nicely with everything I love about our year-long fascination with holidays. It’s also the perfect comic for reminding us about Batman’s drive to eliminate mobsters and solve crime mysteries. This one has both: someone is going around killing the associates of Gotham City’s crime lord, Carmine Falcone. But only on holidays. Over the course of a year, we see Batman deal with a collection of the best criminals from his rogue gallery. A perfect end to the year.
The Batman Adventures Holiday Special #1 by Paul Dini, Kevin Altieri, Ronni del Carmen, Glen Murakami, Dan Riba, and Bruce Timm
Okay. So it’s a little bad form to make both of my DC Holiday Specials about Batman, but they really are the best comic book holiday specials. As a one-hot special, this volume includes five (5) different holiday stories that later inspired the episode “Holiday Knights” from Season 4 of Batman: The Animated Series. Special mention for my fave power couple, Harley and Poison Ivy.
The Best Comic Book Holiday Specials Outside the Big Two
Creepshow Holiday Special, featuring “The Christmas Man” by Daniel Kraus with art by Jonathan Wayshak, and “Package Thief” by James Asmus with art by Letizia Cadonic
Based on the TV series Shudder, this special issue is published by Image Comics and available starting 6 December 2023. If you like blending your Halloween Horror with Christmas Cheer, then this is the comic for you. The variant covers alone give me the chills. There are no warm-and-fuzzy vibes here! The first story introduces a new character for the holiday season, while the second story is a great deterrent for anyone thinking of ‘appropriating’ our packages.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch Holiday Special by Kelly Thompson, Veronica Fish, Andy Fish, Danielle Paige, Veronica Johnson, Matt Herms, and Jack Morelli
I’m here for the young Zelda and Hilda’s backstory, tied with the ghosts of Solstice past. Those wacky sisters have always been my faves, and I love how their polar opposite personalities bring balance to every story. It’s also nice to see the Solstice get some comic book
presents presence. Both stories celebrate the Solstice not just as a ‘witchy holiday,’ but as The Longest Night with all of the seasonal touches you may recognise in other celebrations.
Klaus by Grant Morrison, art by Dan Mora
Shout out to my old comic-book reading group, Queens of Kings. Without your amazing taste and history with comic books, I would never have come across this holiday gem. After seven years, it is still one of my favourites to read during the holidays. Santa has never looked so sexy. But let’s focus on the story: drawing on Santa’s roots in Viking lore and Siberian shamanism, Badass Santa fights evil using magical toys to defeat a demon-controlled king. BTW, this one is not safe for kids.
Hellboy: A Christmas Underground by Mike Mignola
Published in 1999, this is one of those holiday specials where it’s not all yuletide and cheer, but it still feels like holiday spirit. Don’t be fooled by the Christmas title. There is still plenty of Hellboy action and snark, all wrapped up in a supernatural bow. Hellboy takes on the task of charging into the underworld to save a dying woman’s daughter from her demon kidnapper. It’s short. It’s sweet. It’s Hellboy. And it remains one of my faves.
Giant Days 2016 Holiday Special by John Allison, Lissa Treiman, Sarah Stern, Canaan Grall, Jeremy Lawson, and Jim Campbell
There are actually two Giant Days Holiday Specials, but I think the original is the best. It features the original artist, Lissa Treiman, who really captures the spirit of the main girls. It also features a great ‘alternate timeline’ story, looking at what would happen if Susan, Esther, and Daisy hadn’t become friends on their first day of university? I mean, don’t we all consider our alternate timelines at the end of the year? Fans of the original series will enjoy seeing the girls still explore their core personalities but find new ways to make it work in everyday life.
Jingle Belle: The Whole Package by Paul Dini, J. Bone, Stephanie Buscema, Stephen Destefano, Jose Garibaldi, and Stephanie Gladden
At the risk of doubling up on Paul Dini, I simply cannot resist Jingle Belle Kringle: Santa’s own rebellious teenage daughter. It’s impossible not to see elements of Harley Quinn (Dini’s other rebellious female favourite), but we know what we want, and what we want is more of THIS! Plenty of stories blending mischief and mayhem with emotion and defiance. It’s a big collection of Christmas-inspired nonsense, including battles with the villainous Blizzard Wizard and battling for glory with the all-elf hockey team. Settle in with some hot chocolate and enjoy!
My Little Pony Holiday Special by Katie Cooke, art by Brenda Hickey, Agnes Garbowska, and Andy Price, edited by Bobby Curnow
The Party of the Year is at Pinkie Pie’s house. Twilight and Spike are stranded because of a snowstorm, so they pass the time reading books at the coffee pony’s cart. They are kids/’little filly’ stories, but each of them gives us a different look at our favourite My Little Pony characters. For example, Rudolph’s story features Rainbow as a flying reindeer. It creates a beautiful opportunity to show us how all the different ponies celebrate the holidays in their own ways through each story. A sweet book to add to the Holiday Special pile.
Faith’s Winter Wonderland Special #1 by Marguerite Sauvage, Francis Portela, and MJ Kim
A final choice to round out the selection and a great one to remind me not to be too caught up in the Silly Season. Faith falls down the ‘rabbit hole’ and lands in a winter wonderland. However, it all seems a little perfect, and soon Faith realises the sparkle doesn’t really shine in the same way anymore. The story has a rich message to remind us of the power of imagination over commercialisation, and how the presents we create can mean so much more than the presents we consume.
Holiday Specials have a vibe that can really cut through the chaos we all experience at this time of year. Grab a stack from our best comic book holiday specials, and give yourself some reading time away from it all. If this isn’t enough, fellow Book Rioters Mara has more with her 8 Best Superhero Comic Holiday Specials here.