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Spend “Superman’s Last Christmas” with the Parasite, a foster brother and a random newsreader – Superman #369

December 17, 2012

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Not only is this a Christmas-themed issue, with Superman and classic foe the Parasite slugging it out over Metropolis’ version of Rockefeller Center, knocking over the giant Christmas tree and scattering ornaments in every direction. It also has the personal distinction of being the earliest (I think) Superman comic book that I ever had. Well huzzah, huzzah. Going by the March, 1982 date in the indicia, I was three going on four years old when this comic came out, and this would still have been in that period when someone else, probably my parents, possibly my grandparents, had to buy my comics for me — I doubt anyone was dropping a buck into my hand, hustling me out the door and telling me to go entertain myself. So someone looked at this cover and thought a very nearly nude purple guy (the Parasite is one of the more naked villains out there – maybe it’s the purple) punching someone on Christmas was wholesome entertainment. Okey-dokey.

It’s the cover (art by Rich Buckler and Frank Giacoia) that I remember all these years later, and some of the imagery inside rings bells. Nothing about the story. There’s a reason for that, more than just the fog of time intervening and obscuring trivial things like comic book shenanigans. You see, this comic (written by Cary Bates, with art from Buckler and Frank McLaughlin) is a mess. An absolute, unadulterated mess. Which maybe would have made it more memorable had I been a more mature reader at my first encounter with it, but, being all of four years with limited reading abilities, it no doubt absolutely bewildered me. It does now. About a zillion things happen in this one, self-contained bit of story, with sub-plots, odd walk-on cameos, exposition and overly complex schemes galore. MERRY CHRISTMAS.

It starts with Superman saving a family from a sinkhole that’s about to swallow their house (“Mom, Dad, a sinkhole isn’t going to open up and kill us all, right?”). This interrupts the mission he’s on, which he returns to after depositing the threatened house at a safe remove. You see, Superman is roped in every year to flying the Metropolis Christmas tree to its ceremonial spot and trimming it in record time, and it’s a duty that he’s getting a bit tired of:

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While I think we all sympathize with Superman’s holiday lament, there are some prices you have to pay when you’re the most powerful do-gooder on Earth. Kind of like how, if you want to be President, you have to sit through a lot of very, VERY bad chicken dinners. LIVE WITH IT.

Hey, it wouldn’t be a Christmas comic book without an evil Santa Claus, right? (Spider-Man certainly thinks so…):

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I’m wary of Salvation Army Santas to this very day because of that sequence. More on that green-coated muggee in a moment, who goes by the name of Cory Renwald — and more on the Santa, for that matter.

His tiresome duties done, Superman retires to the Fortress of Solitude, where he relaxes in what looks to be a zero-gravity tanning booth — even Supermen need spa weekends, apparently. While kicking back he has some bittersweet memories of his childhood with Ma and Pa Kent (special cameo by Superbaby):

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(Sometimes I have to remind myself that both of the Kents had passed on in the old pre-Crisis continuity. Like now.)

Who interrupts this trip down memory lane? None other than the Parasite, who Superman quickly dispatches in a rather comical manner (special cameo by the giant golden key):

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If you can dodge a wrench Parasite, you can dodge a ball.

Have you ever wanted to know what a Daily Planet/WGBS holiday party looks like? Here you go, with an awkward eggnog-fueled make-out session thrown in to lend vérité:

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We really need Morgan Edge or Perry White dancing on a desk with a lampshade on their head to complete the tableau.

Now we come to one of the odder moments in the entire book. Lois has someone that she wants Clark to meet — a real person, as in a person that actually exists here on our Earth. New York readers may remember local NBC news anchor Carol Jenkins:

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I have no idea what lay behind this bizarre cameo. Ms. Jenkins probably knew someone, or knew someone who knew someone. Incidentally, she has a website, and she uses her appearance here as the header background. I would too.

It’s around this time that the story completely spins out of control. I won’t delve into it deeply because I don’t have the energy, nor do I want to “spoil” it for you, should you want to read something instead of, you know, ramming your head into the garbage disposal. Highlights: The Parasite was disguised as Santa, and was also pretending to be Cory Renwald’s contact (Cory’s a secret agent, btw) so he could use him as a stalking horse to break into Clark Kent’s apartment to help further his schemes to suck away Superman’s powers, though this particular gambit seems a tad overcomplicated, and Superman triumphs by poisoning himself. Did I mention there was a real newswoman named Carol Jenkins in this? I did?

For all the nonsense, there is actually a moment of some significance in these pages. Mr. Renwald later meets with Kent to share a secret. See, it turns out that he was ALSO cared for by the Kents as foster parents, if only for a few months, and that brief time turned his life around:

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So Clark is a little bit less alone, and this should leave us all with a warm, contented glow. Until you think for a minute and wonder why the Kents would never so much as mention Cory’s name to their adopted boy. No framed photographs? Nothing? Out of sight, out of mind? Did he break Martha’s family heirloom plates or something?

To steal a line from Top Gun, this comic writes checks that its body can’t cash. And backdates them. At times it’s like you’re about to drown in exposition and backstory — kind of like the new Hobbit movie, now that I think of it. The story is a mess (almost a glorious one, in its way), and I suppose I’m just lucky that young me didn’t cast this comic down and vow to never ever again decipher the senseless scribbles know as “writing.”

But hey, it’s the holiday season. Peace on Earth. Good will towards men. And comics. All is forgiven.

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