Copyright 2018 by Michael Rickard II
The Christmas season was a grim time for many in 1942. With World War Two raging and many nations under occupation by the Axis Powers, there was little to be merry about. The war was nearly three years away from ending, and to many, there seemed no certainty of victory. The war’s impact was seen in the pages of comic strips throughout the United States, including the popular Superman comic strip. This included a 1942 story featuring the unthinkable—the Axis Powers kidnapping Santa Claus.
The strip’s creators were careful to note that this was an imaginary story (not using the term), perhaps careful not to upset younger readers who might mistakenly believe Saint Nick had been captured for real. Given the uncertainties of the war, anything was possible. The story begins with the following disclaimer:
This is a fantasy. The adventure upon which Superman is launched today is not real, and concrete. It is rather, an experience of the senses or of the heart and soul of humanity, if you will. In this season of approaching Christmastide, it deals with an apple-cheeked gentleman known as S. Claus who embodies the spirit of good will toward men on Earth…with certain characters of darkness whose dearest desire is the complete eradication of that same good will on Earth—and with Superman the active embodiment of an active form of goodness. Yes, this is a fantasy, but take it seriously, dear reader for it is more serious than you think.
And so began a storyline that run from November 23, 1942 until December 19, 1942.
This wasn’t the first time Superman had to bail out Kris Kringle. The promotional Superman comic book Superman’s Christmas Adventure features Superman saving Santa from some crooked businessmen (rare was the Superman story where businessmen were anything but crooked). There, Dr. Grouch and Mr. Meaney try to talk Santa out of wasting his industriousness manufacturing toys for free and to turn it to practical business purposes. When Santa gives them the bum’s rush, Grouch and Meaney decide to take things up a notch. he Man of Steel would be called upon to save Santa on more occasions, but this 1942 comic strip adventure is perhaps the most charming.
The story begins with a Nazi sneak attack on Santa’s workshop. Santa is taken captive with the Axis leaders Hitler, Tojo, and Mussolini gathering to celebrate their victory and announce their triumph. It’s a dark day for the world’s children, but Superman isn’t going to let this go unanswered. Wasting no time, Superman flies to Europe where he easily fights off the Axis military. He flies into Germany to track down Santa’s location, meeting with the German resistance. Superman reveals himself gaining their trust and the location of Santa Claus.
In the meantime, Santa isn’t taking any guff from the Axis and dresses them down after Hitler invites Santa to join his squad. Uncle Adolph appeals to Saint Nick’s Teutonic pride, telling him, “Herr Claus, I’m told you are of Teutonic descent-in fact were once known as Kris Kringle. As a true German, preach the doctrine of the New Order and you can become an important cog in our set-up.” As one might expect, Santa isn’t going for it and replies, “I am not a German, nor am I French, or American, or any other nationality. My nationality is universal. I live in the hearts of all good men.” Hitler asks Santa to reconsider, but is met by this reply, “Not interested, and as for you and you murderers, delude yourselves with visions of grandeur while you can. Your downfall-will be certain, and soon-you will go the way of all grasping tyrants…perish in bloody defeat.” Mussolini orders Santa to stop, but the man in red continues, “You heard me! You’re headed for destruction-and the sooner your followers give you the gate, the better it will be for them!”
Superman enjoys listening to Santa dress down Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo, but steps in when Hitler’s goosesteppers are about to drag Santa to a concentration camp. Supes saves some resistance fighters and flies Santa back to the North Pole where he then helps him deliver his presents. The story is fun and kept to a few weeks, providing a diversion for everyone affected by the war. Superman shows the readers that there are Germans fighting Hitler’s government while also painting the Axis as cowards and doomed to defeat. It’s an uplifting story for comic strip readers.
The storyline showcases how Superman was more of a lighthearted figure, engaging in adventures bordering on fantasy as well as science fiction. While the story dealt with the very real and deadly war going on, it also provided some laughs at the Axis’ expense. This particular storyline is a cultural treasure trove showcasing World War Two’s impact on all aspects of society and how entertainers (be they comic book creators, filmmakers, or musicians) did their best to encourage people and lift their spirits, particularly during the holidays.
Yes, dear reader, this is a fantasy, but ephemeral or real, it crystallizes the hope of all humanity. In this yuletide season we all wish as one for a better world, where men can live in peace with one another—where a gun is a museum piece, rather than a grim necessity, but peace not to be achieved without hardship and bloodshed and sacrifice. We of the United Nations vow to fight until victory…so that future generations won’t have to suffer under the hard heel of tyranny! A Merry Christmas to all from Superman, Jerry Siegel, & Joe Shuster
And on that note, I’d like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and season’s greetings! And special thanks to our armed forces and first responders keeping us safe this and every day.