Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Christmas Story

This story is not original. Credits at the end.

It came upon the midnight clear, a gloved hand traced over a computer screen, touching names and addresses, as the man who owned the hand made connections, saw patterns in police reports, and planned his nightly patrol so that Gotham City’s criminals would have the least chance of escaping justice. His route was determined, his car fueled, a warm cup of tea drunk, and Batman arose to go into the night, when suddenly he saw another figure, one who had somehow gotten close – here in the Batcave of all places! – without being heard. Batman instinctively ducked into a crouch and drew a batarang to throw at the red-suited man who was standing on a sleigh. It seemed to be Santa Claus, but obviously it could not, and whatever the explanation for this man’s presence was, it could as easily be dangerous as not. Until the man spoke in a calming voice.

“Bruce,” he said, “It’s good to see you. I know you’ve been a very good boy. Merry Christmas!”

Upon hearing the rich, deep voice, Batman lowered his guard. He knew this was no enemy. “Merry Christmas. It’s good to see you. But I can’t stay and visit. My patrol starts now.”

“Bruce,” Santa Claus said, “Gotham can always count on you. And I’ve been watching, all these years. All those thieves and muggers, the Joker, Mister Freeze and Penguin and Clayface. I’ve been watching people for a long time, and I don’t know anyone who’s better than you. So tonight, let me give you a present.”

“Leave it over there,” Batman said, striding towards his car.

But Santa Claus said, “I can’t leave the present here, Bruce. The present is that you get to stay. The present is that you get to have Christmas.”

“That’s very kind,” the man in the black cowl answered. “I would like to take a day off. But when I take a rest, crime goes on, and innocent people get hurt. So I have to go out.”

“Bruce,” Santa Claus said, beaming, “That’s what makes you so good, what makes you so deserving. Why you deserve Christmas more than anyone! So here’s your present: You get to stay home all day. And your work, your good work… you can return to it tomorrow.”

“It’s not that simple. I wish it were. But any time that I take off, any, that’s more crime that goes unchecked. This would be the worst day of all for me to stay home and leave the city unprotected.”

“Bruce,” Santa said, a little sadly. “When was the last time you had Christmas? A normal Christmas, opening presents, being with the people you love? Was it…?”

Touched, to the point it stung, Batman hesitated. “It was… then. Before they died.”

“Oh, Bruce. All of this, all you’ve done for everyone, and for them, too. Don’t you think they would want you to be happy? Don’t you think your parents would want you to have Christmas?”

Nothing else could make Batman feel so deeply as the subject of them, of the parents who had loved him, who gave him the only Christmases he’d known. Now, years later, it was hard for him to speak without showing more feeling than he could let himself show to the man in the red suit. “Of course…” Batman answered, and then he had to pause. “Yes. But my work.”

“Bruce,” Santa Claus said, “tonight your work will be done. Call Gordon.”

A moment later, with a red phone in his hand, Batman spoke with Commissioner Gordon. Santa watched with a knowing grin. When the call ended, Batman looked shocked. “He said there’s been no crime since earlier this evening. By this hour, there should have been eighteen crimes reported, but there’ve been… none. Not one.”

“And there will be none,” Santa said to Batman. “You have my word. At midnight tomorrow, you can go back out, go back to your good work. But tonight, and tomorrow, the city will be safe without you. That’s my present to you. Go to bed tonight. And in the morning, join the people you love. Call Dick. Call Tim. Call Alfred. Spend Christmas with them, spend it full of love. They can join you by the fire and together, you can celebrate Batman’s first Christmas.”

The caped crusader was unable to contain his emotion. Freed from his duties, for the first time in years, he was at a loss for how to speak or move, how to be Bruce Wayne, how to be himself, on Christmas. After a long pause, he answered, “I will.”

Santa Claus laughed his famous laugh. “I’m so glad, Bruce. Everyone deserves Christmas, but nobody…” he paused, and stretched out his hand “…nobody deserves Christmas more than you.”

His head down, Batman could not speak, not without showing more feeling than he could bear to let the other man see. He nodded, and while he was looking down, the other man and his sleigh disappeared.  When a minute has passed, Batman’s composure returned. Then Batman looked up in the direction of the faraway sky, and in a soft voice that only the man in the sleigh could hear, Batman whispered,

“Thanks, Clark.”

Acknowledgements

No idea in this story is mine. Most of the credit belongs to ItsJustSomeRandomGuy, who posted a video called Twas The Dark Knight Before Christmas in 2007. I saw the video and found it wonderful. It returned to my thoughts many times afterwards.

At some point, at least a year or two after my first viewing, I watched it again and found that one key idea that I had remembered from the story is not actually in the story at all. I was perplexed until I thought harder and realized that my foggy notion of Superman watching over Gotham City on Christmas was actually something about Supergirl, and then my memory lead me to the DC Universe Holiday Special with a cover date of February 2009. In that issue, a 5-page story by the great Joe Kelly contains the rest of the inspiration for my mis-remembered version of RandomGuy's video. Kelly's story has Gotham devoid of sirens on Christmas, an event largely narrated from Jim Gordon's perspective, with a cameo by Batman. At the end, we find out that the combined efforts of Barbara Gordon and Supergirl had kept Gotham crime-free for a single day. In Kelly's story, this gift was given anonymously, with no advance notice or explanation after the fact, to make Gotham's protectors believe that a miracle had given it a day without crime.

My memory had unconsciously worked that detail into my memory of the video, with Superman convincing Batman to take Christmas off, not merely with a "pep talk" but with the guarantee that Gotham would be safe during Batman's holiday. It seems more Batman-like to me that he would need that guarantee before canceling his Christmas patrol.

Almost all the rest of how I rendered the story here is from the video, particularly the twist ending. And part of what I found wonderful was imagining Superman's Christmas over Gotham, swooping down to stop crimes here and there, hustling back into the sky to watch for more crimes, beaming with the grandest smile, knowing that he was helping ordinary citizens, and doing something truly special for his friend.

What I find especially touching about this is the history of the Superman-Batman friendship, cemented in decades of comics, but later erased in stories by Frank Miller and John Byrne, before being revived in stories by Jeph Loeb and others. Because you don't know the continuity of a story like this one, you can't be sure what the status of the two superheroes' relationship is, but in a brilliant twist, you find out that they are friends in precisely the last word, which is the only place in the story that indicates that Superman is in the story at all.

Apologies to RandomGuy and Joe Kelly for co-opting their ideas. I felt that the mash-up of their stories was more powerful than either alone. I hope people enjoy.

9 comments:

  1. Excellently done. Wish the comics industry did more of these this time of year, as was once the norm. Happy holidays, Rikdad.

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  2. That's a nice point you make about the friendship between Superman and Batman at the end. Way too many writers went overboard with Miller's antagonistic take with the big two's relationship.

    I wish I had seen this post before Christmas, but I'm happy to have read it. I haven't read the original stories either, but this kind of innocent synthesis happens often in the world of literature. And I'm glad you shared this gift with your readers. Happy New Year!

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  3. ManWithTenEyes, thanks. I have certainly gotten a lot of enjoyment from contemplating these two stories, and the fusion of them that I unconsciously performed. I've seen a lot of holiday stories over the years, but these two really shine.

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  4. flaschemusik, thanks. The broader subject of the Superman/Batman friendship is an interesting one. Technically, they first appeared together on the cover of World's Best Comics when the characters were three and two years old, respectively, but their universes were not really joined until 1952. The last pre-Crisis issue of World's Finest showed the two heroes feuding, leaving a rift in their friendship that was never addressed before the continuity was erased by COIE.

    I think it's interesting how the interaction in this story "works" whichever of the past continuities one presumes. If they were best friends (a la 1982), it works. If they were often-antagonistic rivals (a la 1992), it still works.

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  5. There's a silver platter in Joker's hands filled with mystery...where's Rikdad's two cents?

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  6. don't give up on us now Rikdad. we're so closer to the end

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  7. I am alive! I'm also very busy, but I just posted on Morrison's Action run. Check it out!

    I might also have commented on Snyder's Batman run, but was alas too busy, and now yet another major story has come to an end, last week. I probably won't loop back to discuss that.

    Inc deserves more comment, and I'm sure I'll return to that in the coming weeks.

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  8. Brilliant!!! Great to have you back mate.

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