Generally speaking, we don’t tend to associate Batman with Christmas. It makes sense; after all, the tragic vigilante whose parents were murdered in front of him as a child doesn’t exactly shout out the Christmas spirit. However, The Dark Knight has been kicking around for 75 years and Christmas is one hell of a selling point for anything that makes a profit. So, there have been a great number of Batman/Christmas crossovers throughout the years and some pretty damn great ones too. As you cuddle up to a fire with roasting chestnuts and sip spiked eggnog as sugarplums dance in your head this year, why not celebrate the season with the caped crusader? He is one hell of a superhero after all. Maybe even the best. So this year, go ahead and dedicate Christmas to Batman by diving into one or all of these ten greatest hits from Batman’s ongoing Christmas adventures. You won’t regret it. Even if you do, c’mon it’s Christmas! Lighten up.
Given the adorably gimmicky nature of the 60s camptastic Batman TV series, it’s a shock that Adam West’s caped crusader never produced a straight up Christmas special. It seems unthinkable in hindsight and probably a result of the series’ relatively brief three season run on television. Thankfully, there was at least a morsel of Christmas cheer during that legendary TV series. One of the show’s most beloved gimmicks was the stream of celebrity cameos who appeared whenever Batman and Robin scaled a wall in a delightfully tacky special effect. In the 32nd episode of the second season, that cameo slot was filled by none other than Santa himself, who wanted to let Bats n’ Robin know how much he appreciates their good work. It’s a deeply stupid moment, but a hilarious one in the style of the show and a perfect way to kick off this list.
Truth be told, this little Batman holiday special isn’t a particularly great comic. It’s a perfectly acceptable little yarn about Batman discovering that a shopping mall Santa is being used as an inside man for holiday heist. It’s cute. It’s fine. However, it’s the people responsible that make it special. The story was written by Denny O’Neil, a comic legend who saved Batman from the campy 60s and even better the art was done by a young whippersnapper known as Frank Miller. That’s right, the first time that Frank Miller ever drew Batman was for this one off Christmas special written by the editor who would soon greenlight The Dark Knight Returns. So, the little story is something of a passing of the guard between the most important Batman writer of the 70s to the most important Batman writer of the 80s. You might even call it a Christmas miracle. Ok, that’s going too far. But it’s still pretty cool.
Arkham Origins might be the weak link in the pretty astounding Arkham franchise that changed the way we all thought of superhero video games. However, the weak link in that series is still better than 95% of all superhero videogames. We’re not exactly talking about E.T. The Game here. It’s a good time. More importantly, the early Batman tale about the caped crusader fighting off a collection of would-be assassins takes place during Christmas. Gotham is covered with a gentle snowfall and tacky decorations as you lead the masked vigilante through a series of interactive ass-kickings. If beating people up as Batman isn’t a fantastic way to celebrate Christmas, then I don’t know what is.
The title says it all with this one. It’s Christmas, the Joker cuts loose, good times follow. Truthfully, it’s a deeply mediocre episode of the absolutely brilliant 90s Batman Animated Series, but that’s mostly just because the quality of the Joker episodes from that series was so damn high. It was also the first Joker episode produced by Bruce Timm’s team and the second episode of the entire series, so they were still figuring things out. In fact, the episode was delayed to broadcast because Tim Curry originally voiced the clown prince of crime and wasn’t replaced by Mark Hammil until a few episodes later, requiring a quick re-dub of all the Joker lines before this puppy could air. So, even if this isn’t a spectacular episode of BTAS, it is an important and interesting one for fans. Plus it’s got the Joker getting up to no good on Christmas, which is always a good thing. Keep reading if you don’t believe me.
Ed Brubaker is one of the darlings of comics these days thanks to his Winter Soldier run on Captain America (sound familiar?), Criminal, Fatale, Sleeper, Incognito, and oh so many other masterpieces of the medium. However, despite so much of Brubaker’s catalogue selling in big numbers, DC has never bothered to package his many Batman stories into a trade paperback. It was his first mainstream comics gig and he delivered some fantastic stories about our beloved Batty. Like…say…Santa Klaus Is Coming To Town, featuring a Brubaker created villain who thinks he’s Santa. This tale takes place leading up to the big ol’ festival holiday. The psychotic Santa Klaus breaks out of Arkham, kidnaps two kids, and forces them to be elves handing out explosive presents to shoppers that Klaus considers “naughty.” It’s a dark, creepy, and strange little Christmas tale that takes all of the cheer out of the holiday season in the best possible way. Brubaker even suggests that Klaus might have powers to psychically identify the naughty before blowing them up real good. A great way to cure yourself of an overdose of festive spirit, featuring an original Batman villain who really should come back one day.
It was inevitable that one day Batman would be given the Scrooge treatment. The parallels between Charles Dickens’ classic jerk-with-a-heart-of-gold and the crustiest, darkest, and richest of all superheroes are just too good to resist. Thankfully, when the Very Batman Christmas Carol finally appeared as Batman: Noel, the results were far better than anyone could have predicted. Lee Bermerjo (the man who did the artwork for Brian Azzarello’s deeply disturbing Joker) frames it all as a gritty crime story with the ghost of Jason Todd subbing in for Bob Marley, a secretive back-story revealing Catwoman acting as The Ghost Of Christmas Past, an X-ray vision rocking Superman stepping in for The Ghost Of Christmas Present, and (of course) The Joker coming off like The Ghost Of Christmas Future with his latest twisted plot. The book hits all of the right beats of A Christmas Carol, while refashioning the narrative into a Batman mystery. Not to mention the fact that every page of Bermerjo’s art is stunning. You probably assumed when you started reading this list that there would be a Batman/Scrooge story somewhere, but I assure you that Batman: Noel is a far better adaptation than you’d imagine.
This Batman Animated Series 2.0 run generally isn’t considered the highlight of show and indeed it does have some horrible lows as well as a far more kid-friendly focus. Thankfully, it’s also got some of best episodes of the entire series and certainly the best animated Batman Christmas special. Based on an award-winning comic written by Paul Dini and drawn by Bruce Timm during their hiatus between BTAS seasons, this was actually the premiere episode for the new series. It’s a three part anthology ep featuring one short involving Harley and Ivy kidnapping Bruce Wayne for a holiday shopping spree, Batgirl fighting off Clayface amidst a sea of Christmas shoppers in a mall, and a dastardly New Year’s Eve plot from The Joker. This represents the Batman Animated Series at its silliest and thankfully, it’s one of the best of the funny episodes. The beauty of Timm’s show was that it could balance the darkness and lightness of the Dark Knight with ease and there’s no better time to do that in an X-mas special.
I haven’t been able to watch a full episode of the new Gotham TV series because it just can’t compare to Ed Brubaker and Greg Ruka’s dearly missed Gotham Central comic series. It was a mini-masterpiece that played like The Wire in Gotham City rather than the cheesy collection of cop drama clichés that make up Gotham. Arguably the highlight of the run came in the Christmas-set Soft Targets storyline. It all starts with a mysterious sniper taking out political figures around the city through automated rifles. Eventually it turns out that the Joker set that all up and he turns himself into the police station. Much like in Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight, that’s all part of the plan (Soft Targets is one of the many classic storylines that Nolan borrowed liberally from for his movie trilogy). The Joker’s eventual plan involves a bomb in a toy store on a particularly busy Christmas eve. Pretty sick stuff and what makes this comic arc so effective is that it’s told through the perspective of a powerless police force being manipulated by the Joker rather than Batman. It gives a sense of just how overmatched the Gotham cops are when it comes to The Joker and it’s easily one of the greatest stories ever written about the greatest villain in comics. That fact that it all takes place on Christmas adds just one more layer of disturbance to a story defined by it.
Speaking of the greatest Joker stories ever told, here’s another one (told ya the Joker and Christmas are a magical match). Written by BTAS legend Paul Dini, this comic essentially plays like a masterful episode that was too hot for TV (you can’t help but hear Mark Hamill’s voice in your head every time the clown speaks). The one-shot story opens on Tim Drake’s Robin being pursued by an unknown gang. Struggling to escape, he jumps into a car driven by a stranger offering help. Unfortunately, that stranger turns out to be the Joker, who promptly gasses Robin. When Robin wakes up, he’s tied to the passenger seat of the car, while a Santa-hat-sporting Joker drives over Christmas shoppers, forcing the Boy Wonder to watch. It’s a deliciously twisted and darkly funny little Joker yarn that easily would have been one of the best episodes of the Batman Animated Series had it been fit to air. It wasn’t of course, but thankfully Dini got control of Detective Comics for a little while and was able to deliver a handful of classic Batman comics like this mini-masterpiece.
As much as I love the last nine Batman X-mas endeavors, there was always only one possible choice to top this list. Batman Returns is more of a Tim Burton movie than a Batman movie. Many Bat-purists dismiss it for that reason, which I’ve always considered a mistake. The flick plays like one of those Batman graphic novels in which a strong-willed author jumps out of continuity to bend the iconic hero to his will. Burton turns Batman’s universe into a collection of lovable freaks fighting for attention in Gotham. It’s a movie where Christopher Walken is the least damaged and most human character on screen, which is a pretty unique achievement. The nasty little Batman dark comedy was set at Christmas during a period when Burton couldn’t stop releasing fairy tale nightmares about the holiday. Few things are more delightfully unChristmasy than a bondage Catwoman, depressed loner Batman, black-bile spewing monster Penguin, and corrupt Christopher Walken taking turns being nasty to each other. It’s a damn entertaining blockbuster that holds up incredibly well and one hell of a way to celebrate Christmas with Batman. In fact, you might even say it’s the best way. I just did. Feel free to look into the SNES sidescroller beat em’ up based on the movie as well. That’s one of the most underrated games of the 16-bit era (just don’t play the Sega version. Eck!).