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The Ultimate Comic Book Christmas Carol

I dearly love Charles Dickens’ classic story “A Christmas Carol.” I’ve loved it since I was a kid, almost certainly because I was attracted to its horror elements, and I’ve always loved horror.

Of course, I also love the fact that it almost single-handedly created what we now think of as the modern Christmas celebration. No one much celebrated Christmas when Dickens wrote this book — it had been considered a minor holiday ever since Oliver Cromwell banned it in the 1600s. “A Christmas Carol” was insanely popular when it was published — in London, it sold something like 6,000 copies a week, for at least a while, and it sparked a new interest in supposedly traditional celebrations of the Yuletide. If you like the idea of getting a day off at Christmas, you have Charles Dickens to thank for it — it was unheard of until “A Christmas Carol.”

No matter the reason I first discovered it, I do love the story now. I’ve read it multiple times, sometimes multiple times during a single Christmas season, and I’ve seen nearly all of the movies based on the book. (My favorite is the one from 1984 that starred George C. Scott. Lots of excellent scenery-chewing, plus David Warner, Edward Woodward — the Equalizer! — as Christmas Present, and an outstandingly terrifying Christmas Future.) I’ve even got significant chunks of the book memorized.

Now “A Christmas Carol” gets adapted to comic form pretty often, from close adaptations from “Classics Illustrated” to much looser adaptations starring the Teen Titans, the Outsiders, and, well, Scrooge McDuck. But let’s say you wanted to make a really loose adaptation of the book starring characters from multiple comic companies to make the Ultimate Comic Book Christmas Carol? Who would you put in it? Frankly, I don’t care, ’cause here’s who I’d pick as the stars.

Ebenezer Scrooge, portrayed by Tony Stark

Yeah, you thought it was gonna be Dr. Sivana or the Vulture, ’cause they’re old and creaky. Nope, the most important part of Scrooge’s character isn’t his age or even his miserliness — it’s his redemption. Can you imagine the Vulture or Thaddeus Bodog Sivana reforming? Heck, no! But let’s take Iron Man — he’s spent the last few years as Marvel’s most prominent villain. He ran around like Dick Cheney in powered armor, shot the Hulk into space, took over the S.H.I.E.L.D. spy agency, outlawed any superheroes who didn’t work for him, depowered the She-Hulk, and arrested Captain America.

This is definitely a guy who needs some serious redemption. And everyone knows he can do it, ’cause he’s been a hero before. But you can’t just go poof, pow, Iron Man’s back to normal, ’cause there’s no motive for him to change his ways. But if you got him visits by three spirits at Christmastime, maybe that’d be enough to get him to see where he’s gone wrong and resolve to be a good superhero again…

Marley’s Ghost, portrayed by the Phantom Stranger

And again, you were expecting someone different, weren’t you? Maybe Deadman or Ghost Rider or the Funky Phantom. But I’m going with the Phantom Stranger. Most depictions of Marley’s ghost focus on his ghostly aspects, which makes perfect sense, but Marley is also a figure of mercy — he arranges for the hauntings to save Scrooge from his own fate, and serves as an object lesson of the dangers of greed.

So where does the Phantom Stranger come in? Well, in the only origin of the character that matters (because it was written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Joe Orlando), he was once an angel who chose to sit on the fence during Lucifer’s revolt. He was cast out of Heaven, but was unwelcome in Hell, so he was doomed to wander forever, helping people where he may. He may not be frightening, and he may not drag heavy chains around, but he seems like he’d fit well into Marley’s spectral shoes.

The Ghost of Christmas Past, portrayed by Dazzler

Depictions of the Ghost of Christmas Past are pretty wildly varied — young, elfin children, elderly ladies, Cupid-like figures, even a Brooklyn cabbie. But Dickens’ story has the final say in the matter – Dickens depicts the ghost as a white-robed figure who has a bright, blinding light on his/her/its head, like a bright candle flame.

So the theme I’ll go with here is light, and Marvel’s mutant disco queen is the best-known light controller in comics. Not a ghost, not a spirit, but if Dickens’ story can survive having the character played by David Johansson, Kathy Griffin, Jiminy Cricket, and various old people dressed up in white robes, I think it can survive Dazzler.

The Ghost of Christmas Present, portrayed by Hercules

This one was the easiest pick I had. Dickens’ novel says the Ghost of Christmas Present is a jolly, boisterous, laughing giant with brown hair and a full beard. He wears a green robe and has a holly wreath on his head. He loves drink, feasting, and merriment.

And the Marvel Comics character Hercules is also a jolly, boisterous, laughing giant with brown hair and a full beard. He wears green and yellow clothing, and though he doesn’t have a holly wreath, his head is framed by headgear. He loves drink, feasting, and merriment. Hercules fits the Ghost of Christmas Present absolutely perfectly.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, portrayed by Death

I’m really going to break with tradition here. In virtually every adaptation of Dickens’ novel, the Ghost of Christmas Future is silent, shrouded, and wet-your-pants scary. I went through a ton of characters trying to find the right match. Darkness-controlling characters like the Shroud, Cloak, Nightshade, Obsidian, and the Shade weren’t scary enough. The best known comics characters who wear hoods or shrouds — the Time Trapper, Raven, Destiny of the Endless — also aren’t particularly terrifying. I considered Ghost Rider again, but though he’s scary enough, he’d be less likely to hint to Scrooge about his death and more likely to, you know, hit him with chains and run him over with his motorcycle several times.

But Christmas Future is also generally considered to be an incarnation of the Grim Reaper — Death incarnate. And I gotta admit, the idea of re-imagining the scariest spirit in the Dickens’ book as the Sandman’s older sister, a chipper goth girl who no one messes with because she’s still Death is something that really appeals to me. So what the heck, it’s my party, and I’ll cast Death as Christmas Future if I want to.

So there we go — there’s my new all-comics cast of “A Christmas Carol.” Don’t like it? Think I don’t understand Dickens’ novel correctly? Think I should’ve totally cast Spider-Man as Tiny Tim? Too bad, boyo, gitcher own blog!

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