Quick, name a superhero with a more cynical perspective than Batman. Okay, sure there’s Spawn, but I meant in mainstream comics. Yeah, Punisher, but how about in DC Comics? Sure, there’s John Constantine. But I mean a character less suitable for Christmas stories. What’s that you say? Constantine once crushed the bones of St. Nicolas and snorted them into a powder? And Lobo murdered Santa?
Okay, the point is that Batman doesn’t seem like the type of guy who would make for a good Christmas story. Spider-Man can deliver presents while swinging across New York City and Superman has carried Santa’s slay more than once, but Mr. Vengeance doesn’t even like leaving Gotham. Why would he bother with the North Pole?
And yet, Batman has been at the center of several Christmas stories over the year, and some of them are pretty great. Here are the 10 best Batman Christmas stories for anyone looking for a Silent Night Dark Knight.
“Christmas,” Batman #9 (1941)
For the first Batman Christmas adventure, writer Bill Finger doesn’t stray far from the standard formula. “Christmas” from 1941’s Batman #9 — penciled by Bob Kane, inked by Jerry Robinson and George Roussos, who also provided letters — features an innocent man, a mob boss named Hal Fink, and even a death trap from which Batman and Robin must escape. However, it all comes via a holiday-themed caper, in which the Dynamic Duo learns about a boy (named Tim Cratchit, nodding to A Christmas Carol) whose father (Bob Cratchit, of course) has been framed and imprisoned.
The two go about taking down Fink and proving Cratchit’s innocence with a plot that fits better among the Silver Age stories that would come the next decade. Batman pretends to be a ghost to spook Fink into a confession, a bit of ostentatious subterfuge that literally involves putting a mask over his mask. Despite its excesses, “Christmas” proves that Batman and the Yuletide have always gone well together.
“The Night The Mob Stole Xmas!” The Brave and the Bold #148 (1979)
Between the two of them, one would expect Batman to come down with a case of the holiday blues before the wacky shapeshifter Plastic Man. But in the Brave and the Bold story “The Night the Mob Stole Xmas,” it’s Batman who has to cheer up ol’ Plas. Written by Bob Haney with art from Silver Age legends Joe Staton and Jim Aparo, with colors from Jerry Serpe, “The Night the Mob Stole Xmas” begins with Batman taking on some of his less-pressing cases, namely cigarette smuggling and ornament stealing. The case drives Batman and Plastic Man to that most unChristmas-y of places, Florida.
Despite that goofy synopsis, “The Night the Mob Stole Xmas” doesn’t play out with a wink. Even at this early juncture, Stanton’s pencils had a cartoon-y quality, but Haney’s script and Aparo’s inks keep things firmly in the realm of superhero action. That tonal tension doesn’t prevent the story from building to a heartwarming conclusion, making “The Night the Mob Stole Xmas” an excellent holiday hero story.
Robin II: The Joker’s Wild (1991-1992)
1992 was a banner year for Bat-themed Christmas stories, starting with the second Robin solo series. Just four years earlier, the Joker killed Jason Todd in a story that famously allowed readers to decide the second Boy Wonder’s fate by casting votes through a 900 number. In Robin II: The Joker’s Wild, the third Robin Tim Drake tries to avoid his predecessor’s fate when the Joker escapes from Arkham during Batman’s absence from Gotham. Writer Chuck Dixon and artist Tom Lyle — joined by inker Bob Smith, colorist Adrienne Roy, and letterer Tim Harkins — stage the confrontation in a snowy Gotham, giving the Joker reason to once again sing the “Batman Smells” song.
Obvious jokes and the gimmick covers that featured holographic variants aside, Robin II tells a solid thriller that underscores Robin’s strengths. Tim Drake operates as a computer whiz and a detective, using his smarts to take down Batman’s deadliest opponent.
Batman Returns (1992)
At the time it released, viewers knocked Batman Returns as a disappointing follow-up to the mega-blockbuster Batman. Not only did the over-stuffed plot push Michael Keaton’s Batman aside for Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), the Penguin (Danny DeVito), and Max Schreck (Christopher Walken), but it allowed director Tim Burton and screenwriter Daniel Waters to indulge their freaky sides. From Catwoman’s purring sensuality to the utterly grotesque Penguin, Batman Returns turns the stomach more than it quickens the pulse.
That said, Burton does cut the glum gray landscapes with plenty of gaudy holiday cheer. Batman battles the Red Triangle Gang at a Christmas parade and Penguin frames Batman for killing the Ice Princess in front of a Christmas tree. Batman Returns never attempts to reconcile its conflicting settings, but that only makes it all the more weird and wonderful.
“Christmas With the Joker,” Batman: The Animated Series (1992)
Let’s get this out of the way. Yes, the Batman: The Animated Series season one episode “Christmas With the Joker” does feature Joker singing the ol’ “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells” classic. Now that we’ve covered that, we can talk about the other wonderful parts of this festive episode. In addition to the great voice acting from Mark Hamill as the Joker and Kevin Conroy as Batman, as well as Loren Lester’s Robin, “Christmas With the Joker” rests on a basic Batman concept. Robin wants Batman to take the night off and watch It’s A Wonderful Life, but the doubtful Dark Knight insists that crime never takes a holiday.
The episode, written by Eddie Gorodetsky and directed by Kent Butterworth, seems to support Batman’s pessimism when Joker escapes from Arkham on a flying Christmas tree and goes on a rampage across the city. However, it’s hard to hate even his most dastardly deeds, such as kidnapping Commissioner Gordon and Vicki Vale or blowing up a Gotham bridge. After the Dynamic Duo fight through armies of toy soldiers and exploding teddies, they apprehend the Clown Prince of Crime and peace is restored. They even get to settle down to watch that Christmas movie by the end, a heartwarming conclusion that feels earned.
“Yes, Tyrone There Is a Santa Claus,” DCU Infinite Holiday Special (2007)
Okay, to be fair, “Yes, Tyrone There Is a Santa Claus” plays more like a Superman story than a Batman story. In fact, when Batman shows up early in this comic book tale from writer Kelly Puckett and artist Pete Woods, with inks from Phil Balsam and colors from Brad Anderson, he castigates the Man of Steel for wasting time delivering presents instead of using his mighty strength to save the world. Little does Batman realize that Superman on a mission to restore a boy’s hope, the titular Tyrone, who wrote the Daily Planet a letter wondering if Santa is real. In true Superman fashion, the Man of Steel dresses up as Santa in order to show Tyrone the true meaning of Christmas.
I won’t spoil the rest of Batman’s involvement in the story, suffice to say that it builds to a wonderful affirmation of his Christmas spirit. However, I will praise the delightful Silver Age tone of the tale, from Superman’s Santa suit to Batman’s jet pack. These whimsical flourishes make “Yes, Tyrone” feel like a lost story from DC’s checkerboard header days, which have their own kind of holiday joy.
“Slayride” Detective Comics #826 (2007)
Once again, Tim Drake meets the Joker. And once again, it happens in the winter. Part of the excellent Detective Comics run from Batman: The Animated Series co-creator Paul Dini, “Slayride” features a more frightening holiday encounter. When the Joker gets the drop on Robin, he binds the Boy Wonder in Christmas lights and lets him ride shotgun as Joker goes on a killing spree in a stolen car.
“Slayride” certainly has its dark moments, as when the Joker casually runs over some holiday shoppers. But Dini doesn’t forget to make the Joker a comedian either, which penciler Don Kramer and inker Wayne Faucher render with chilling realism. Combined with John Kalisz’s subdued colors and Jared K. Fletcher’s clear, constrained lettering, “Slayride” serves as one of the scariest Christmas stories ever told and a testament to Robin’s heroism.
“Invasion of the Secret Santas,” Batman: The Brave and The Bold (2008)
As with “The Night the Mob Stole Xmas” in the comic book The Brave and the Bold, “Invasion of the Secret Santas” from the animated series of the same name teams Batman with a red-hued hero to explore the meaning of Christmas. The crimson crusader in question is Red Tornado, the weather-controlling android who tries his best to fit into human society. Disappointed by his inability to feel the Christmas Spirit, Red Tornado reaches out to his pal Batman for help. However, their existential sleuthing comes to a stop when robot Santas and flying saucers descend upon Gotham, all thanks to the villainous Fun Haus (on off-brand version of the Toyman).
Like the rest of the underrated Batman: The Brave and the Bold, “Invasion of the Secret Santas” draws heavily from the Jerry Robinson and Dick Sprang era of Batman comics, with more than a little Adam West in Diedrich Bader’s vocal performance as an upright Caped Crusader. The episode comes from veteran writer Adam Beechen and director Brandon Vietti, who make the most of Corey Burton’s soulful take on Red Tornado. The episode tells a sweet story about discovering the true meaning of Christmas, and even begins with a mini-adventure with Batman and Blue Beetle Jamie Reyes.
Merry Little Batman (2023)
The second Christmas-themed Batman movie takes a very different approach from the outlandish Batman Returns. Merry Little Batman imagines Batman as a lovable but overprotective dad, complete with a beard and flannel wardrobe, and Damian Wayne as his sweet, precocious son. Batman thinks that he cleaned up Gotham for good years ago, making the city safe for his darling little boy. But when the Dark Knight gets stranded in the arctic, the Joker reveals his devious plot, in which he and other baddies — including Mr. Freeze, the Penguin, Poison Ivy, and Bane — have been laying low, waiting for the right moment to attack.
Directed by Mike Roth of The Regular Show and written by Morgan Evans and Jase Ricci, Merry Little Batman offers a very different take on Bruce (Luke Wilson) and Damian (Yonas Kibreab), in which the younger Wayne takes on the identity of Batman instead of Robin. Thanks to the madcap Christmas shenanigans of the Joker (David Hornsby) and his fellow villains, Merry Little Batman provides a welcome Yultide reprieve from the Batman and the Damian Wayne Robin’s usual glum demeanor.
Batman/Santa Claus: Silent Knight (2023)
Let’s be honest, Batman/Santa Claus: Silent Knight sounds like a disaster. The four-issue miniseries teams Batman and Santa Claus, along with Robin and most of the Justice League, against the Krampus and his minions. Despite the fact that it features a buff Santa who rides a reindeer through hordes of minions, this story actually plays the lore more or less straight. This Santa says “Ho ho ho” and introduces himself to people by listing their name, address, and one of their wishes. And you know what? We dig it.
All credit belongs to writer Jeff Parker for threading that difficult needle, keeping the tone of a superhero action comic while still letting Santa feel like Santa (best recurring bit: other heroes who get upset at Batman for not telling them that he knows Santa). The comic would work a bit better if artist Michele Bandini could pencil all four issues, as the shifts to other artists do distract. Despite this shortcoming, Batman/Santa Claus proves to be a delightful and unexpected Christmas gift.