In the past I’ve written a lot on this website about Christmas. I am a certified Christmas boy, lover of all aspects of the season. When my wife and I put up the tree now, in my brain it’s 1988 and my dad is watching a 4PM NFL game in the tv room while my sisters and I hang ornaments in the living room. A lot of my enduring Xmas loves are things that I experienced during childhood, such as Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas special or the Sears Wish Book, but there are also period appropriate properties that I first encountered as an adult in the last 10 years, such as Jingle All the Way and the television episode I want to talk about today, Justice League “Comfort and Joy,” one of the best episodes of any cartoon series in the last 25 years.
“Comfort and Joy” is unique among Justice League episodes in that it’s the only episode in the show’s two season run that isn’t at least a two-parter, and unique among superhero shows in that it dispenses with the saving the day action after the initial scene of the episode (and even then, the planet saving is presented in media res, without any build up) and spends the rest of the episode showing how the heroes spend their downtime.
Given that this is a Christmas episode, that downtime centers on holiday activities. After it’s explained that Batman wants nothing to do with Christmas and will spend the holiday monitoring for threats, the paths of the other members of the League are followed. Given that Batman got into the holiday spirit way back in the 1992 episode of Batman: The Animated Series episode “Christmas With the Joker,” spending the end of the episode watching It’s A Wonderful Life with Robin and Paul Dini wrote this Justice League episode, it’s safe to say that Batman losing the holiday spirit sometime between 1992 and the airing of this episode in 2003 is canon. Moving on from Batman, we see Green Lantern and Hawkgirl playing in the snow, then heading to an alien bar to do the two things Hawkgirl loves most after a mission, drinking alien booze and starting a barroom brawl. Their episode arc ends with them curled up after the brawl, Hawkgirl gazing lovingly at a sleeping John Stewart.
The Flash’s Christmas begins where it always begins, with a visit to the orphanage, where he asks the kids what they want for Christmas. The resounding response is “DJ Rubber Ducky!” the most popular toy on the market. He raps and farts, so his appeal is obvious. What Flash doesn’t yet know is that we’ve got ourselves a Tickle Me Elmo/Turbo-Man situation here; DJ Rubber Ducky is sold out everywhere. Of course, Flash has the advantage over Johnny Six Pack in that he’s the Flash, which sucks for Johnny’s kids but not for the orphans because Flash can go straight to the factory in Japan, where the factory owner presents Flash with the last available DJ Rubber Ducky in gratitude for all of the good Flash has done for the world. Johnny’s kids probably got a regular rubber ducky, which is also nice.
You might think Flash’s arc is complete and the kids are happy, but you’d be wrong because once Flash returns to Central City he happens upon a break-in at the modern art museum. He runs into Ultra-Humanite, a gorilla with a massive intellect and a love for classical art and literature, who is smashing up the place because of his disdain for modern art. I was not much of a DC reader and not a Justice League reader at all growing up, so I was not at all aware that there was another intelligent gorilla who is not Gorilla Grod and who sounds like Kelsey Grammar (actually voiced by Ian Buchanan, who primarily is a soap opera actor according to his IMDB). I have since grown to love Ultra-Humanite thanks to repeated viewings of this Christmas special. Anyway, Flash and Ultra-Humanite fight, DJ Rubber Ducky accidentally gets smashed, and Ultra-Humanite gets the jump on Flash, but Flash no longer cares because he doesn’t have the toy to bring back to the orphans anymore. Ultra-Humanite knocks Flash out and when he regains consciousness he finds the super intelligent gorilla repairing the toy. He explains to Flash that his selflessness and desire for the children to have a nice Christmas touched him and spurred him to help. Santa Flash and his elf Ultra-Humanite return to the orphanage and present the toy to the kids. DJ Rubber Ducky no longer raps and farts, instead he tells the story of The Nutcracker. Flash takes Ultra-Humanite to jail for destroying the modern art, but also places an aluminum tree in Ultra-Humanite’s cell so that he may have a bit of Christmas cheer.
The final arc of the episode is that of Superman and the Martian Manhunter (RIP Carl Lumbly). Being a Martian, Martian Manhunter has no concept of Christmas, and in order to try to make him feel welcome Clark brings him back to his parents’ house in Kansas with him. Martha Kent gifts Martian Manhunter a sweater and he is distressed that he didn’t bring a gift. Clark is a certified Christmas boy, and his gooberish love of the holiday marks the only time I’ve ever related to Superman. He gets upset that somebody other than him tries to put the star on the tree, he corrects Ma and Pa Kent that actually it’s Santa that brings the presents, and generally acts like an excitable 8 year old. The Martian Manhunter is surprised to see Superman acting this way, and Clark explains that this is who he really is, Superman is who he needs to be when it’s time to save the world. Martian Manhunter isn’t really vibing with the Christmas stuff and also the cat hissed at him which wasn’t cool of the cat to do, so he’s pretty bummed. Everybody goes to sleep and Martian Manhunter is still feeling pretty alone, so he flies into town and takes on the guise of a human. Everybody he encounters is very friendly, which improves his mood and when he telepathically hears a little girl questioning the existence of Santa Claus he flies down the chimney and eats the cookies that are left out. He also stops outside of a midnight mass and is moved by the singing he hears.
Christmas morning, the Kents awake to singing and discover Martian Manhunter in his natural form, singing a Martian song while petting the cat. Clark remarks, “and he said he didn’t bring a gift.”
This episode manages to address a range of emotions that people experience during the holidays, and in my opinion does so without feeling treacly. Often when the holiday season is depicted you see the experience of people like Clark, and the loneliness many people experience isn’t touched on. “Comfort and Joy” does a good job showing how many people do not feel like they’re part of the festivities, for religious reasons, not having family to spend it with, or other reasons. It also offers a reminder in Flash’s arc that a big part of the holidays is doing things for others, and the fulfillment that comes with that.
“Comfort and Joy” quickly became one of my favorite holiday viewing traditions, and even if you have no interest in cartoons or superheroes, I believe that it’s worth seeking out. Of course, I just spoiled the entire plot for you, but it’s available on HBO Max if you’d like to seek it out.
Whatever your traditions may be, have a peaceful holiday season, and thanks for reading.