Gotham is a dark and terrifying place and yet, for some warped reason, there are an awful lot of Christmas stories featuring the Dark Knight and his rogues’ gallery! Join us now as we look back at just some of the times the Bat got festive!
Batman Returns (1992)
This dark sequel is visually stunning and features Danny De Vito offering to perform lewd sex acts with a flipper! If you haven’t seen this, shame on you. Introducing both Penguin and Catwoman to cinemas, Tim Burton’s direction and art style is as quirky and unique as always and the design of Gotham is beautiful. Set over the festive period, with Christmas trees and snow and everything else, it deserves a place on this list.
The film does have a start-stop-start to it as it flits from scene to scene but the story of Penguin and his thirst for revenge against Gotham is so strong and the performances so over-the-top and entertaining it really doesn’t matter.
Batman The Animated Series:
Christmas With The Joker (1992)
The animated Batman series from the early ’90s was incredible. Taking visual and musical cues from the Tim Burton movies, this brought Gotham to life in a way that was both suitable for a Saturday morning kids’ cartoon and for more mature fans. The Heart of Ice episode, for example, looking at the tragedy behind Mr Freeze, is a remarkable piece of work. The show itself influenced future comics and much was retconned into Batman’s history. Of course, we can’t forget that Harley Quinn was created for an episode of this show!
Christmas With The Joker starts off with the Clown Prince of Crime in prison singing ‘Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg… ‘ which we can all agree is a classic. He then escapes via a rocket disguised as a Christmas tree!
We then go to Wayne Manor where Dick ‘Robin’ Grayson is trying to convince Bruce to watch It’s A Wonderful Life. Dick (stop laughing) is convinced nobody will commit crimes at Christmas and makes a deal that if they go on patrol and the streets are quiet, they will go home to watch the film. They head out, seeing the people of Gotham heading about their festive business, and after a close shave where Batman mistakes a helpful young man for a mugger, they head back to Wayne Manor.
They settle in front of the television but, gasp, Joker has taken over the airwaves and reveals he has kidnapped Commissioner Gordon, Barbara Gordon and Detective Harvey Bullock! Batman is pleased he was right about crime never resting and so he and Robin leap into action. Soon, after rescuing passengers from a train that is hurtling towards a Joker-goon destroyed bridge, they track down where Joker is broadcasting from. After battling some mechanical toys and defeating some goons using a cuddly bear, Batman confronts Joker. The criminal is holding his hostages above a flaming pit and tells Batman to open his gift; a large neatly wrapped box. Batman does and this whole gambit turns out to be an excuse for Joker to slam a custard pie in Batman’s face! Batman, of course, then saves the day and the Joker is returned to Arkham.
It’s a great Christmas episode, full of festive imagery (snow, people ice skating, shoppers in the streets, Christmas decorations) and Mark Hamill is clearly having a whale of a time voicing the Joker.
The New Batman Adventures:
Holiday Knights (1997)
This spin-off from the BTAS series (above) was more focussed on the wider Bat-family so we get lots of Batgirl, Nightwing and Robin. We get three quick Christmas adventures in the episode titled – Holiday Knights.
Firstly, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn are looking for a little festive fun. What more fun could there be than kidnapping Gotham’s most famous son, Bruce Wayne?! Next, we see as Detectives Bullock and Montoya head out undercover and get some help from Batgirl when Clayface makes a surprise appearance. Finally, watch as Batman and Robin battle the Joker as he attempts to ruin New Year’s Eve.
These are short, fun episodes of a series that didn’t quite match its predecessor but which does have lots going for it. The Ivy/Harley story is as chaotic as you’d expect it to be and it’s nice to have the great Kevin Conroy allowed to use his Bruce Wayne voice more than usual. Bullock going undercover as Santa is as perfect as you can imagine, with Batgirl poking fun at him, and we get to hear the gravelly tones of Ron Perlman as Clayface (a role he’d played in the previous animated show).
Last, but never least, we have Joker. Played once again by Mark Hamill, (who has the best Joker laugh, hands down), he has decided to kill as many people as possible before the New Year. He even manages to shoot Batman in the arm at one point! Obviously, his dark deeds are thwarted but it’s a rather mature idea to have in what is at heart a kids’ cartoon.
Many fans were unhappy with some design changes that this series made but it’s a worthy addition to the Batman canon.
Detective Comics #826:
This comic book story, from the Batman-fuelled mind of Paul Dini, is a fantastic little short which features Joker in a Christmas hat! Robin (Tim Drake) is fighting criminals alone on the streets of Gotham and is becoming overwhelmed. He staggers into the street and clambers into the car of a member of the public who stopped and called out to him to get into their vehicle. As the car sets off, Robin sees that this good Samaritan is none other than the Joker!
After being rendered unconscious, Robin awakes to find himself bound and gagged in the passenger seat with the car’s original owners dead in the back. Joker, claiming to have been taken by surprise by this chance encounter and overcome with festive spirit, announces that he will let Robin go free. As he says this, he ploughs into an old man. It’s a horrific moment, seeing the man bounce off the front of the car, with Robin unable to do anything to stop it. Joker says they need to reverse the car to make sure the man is dead, and then proceeds to run people over as they drive through Gotham. Robin, struggling to break free, manages to loosen his gag and distracts the madman by responding to a question with a quote from a Marx Brothers movie. Impressed, Joker swerves away from the people he was about to crash into and starts talking about the classic comedy team. Robin, cleverly, attributes the quote to the wrong film, distracting Joker further, and this allows our hero to escape from his bonds and take the Joker by surprise as the car crosses a bridge. After a scuffle, Joker is hit by a truck and falls from the bridge…
The artwork is bright and fun, with a truly twisted-looking Joker who even turns up the heated seats in the car to torture Robin further. The sheer creepiness in his behaviour, acting as if he and Robin are just out for a nice drive and enjoying the evening together, is warped and shows how he simply does things to amuse himself. Tim, a young Robin here, shows his mental strength by refusing to panic and managing to outwit the fiend. It’s a great story and I recommend it highly.
Both written and drawn by Lee Bermejo, who is best known for his work with Brian Azzarello, this is an intelligent take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Narrated by one of Joker’s henchmen, who is being used as bait, this features Batman pursuing Joker across Gotham.
We see the three festive ghosts of Past, Present and Future represented here by Catwoman, Superman and finally the Joker himself. The interactions between each of these and Batman are creative and at how Batman became who he is and look at what he is fighting for.
The Batman depicted here is aggressive and determined, with this story set after the death of Jason Todd, and the detailed artwork highlights his grimace wonderfully. The scenes with Catwoman leap from the page and the bright colours of Superman’s costume stand out from the darkness of Gotham. The Joker confrontation is an important one, because through the events that happen we see that Batman learns something about himself and realises that it is a thin line between what he does and what criminals do.
Much like the best Christmas stories (Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Home Alone) this is a great story that just happens to take place during the festive season.
Arkham Origins (2013)
This video game is a sequel to the two earlier Batman Arkham games and was developed by WB Games Montreal rather than Rocksteady. Set on a harrowing Christmas Eve, after Batman has been fighting crime for a couple of years, we see that Black Mask has placed a $50 million bounty upon the vigilante’s head. Our hero has to avoid the costumed assassins who are out to get him, deal with the street-level crime that is going on, and somehow track down Black Mask and make him cancel the bounty. It’s a busy night for our boy Batsy!
The player goes up a variety of foes, from the physically imposing Bane to the gun-toting accuracy of Deadshot, and we also get a look at lesser-known villains such as the poisonous Copperhead or the pyromaniac Firefly.
It isn’t a big departure from the previous games in the series, with combat and movement through Gotham made fairly straightforward for any gamer worth their salt, and it’s a filled with side quests and things to discover and unlock. The snow and ice and overcast December weather adds a certain something to Gotham, with the architecture and streets looking both lovey and grim at the same time.
Seriously, why would anyone choose to live in Gotham?!
There are many more instances of Christmas coming to Gotham but we really don’t have the space to list them all. Part of the fun of reading comics and being absorbed in geek culture is discovering older things that are new to you, so we’ll let you find the rest for yourselves. Consider the gift of discovery a present from us to you!
Merry Christmas, everyone!
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