Saturday, December 27, 2008

“Weird Christmas Tales” Chapter Three: The Simpsons… Weird Christmas at Halloween!

Previously, I defined the comic book “Weird Christmas Tale and why it is given a special place in our hearts, minds, and in this Blog. Then, we saw Bugs Bunny get a big (Weird) Christmas surprise and were ourselves surprised by The Flintstones. Once again, from my 2001 APA column The Issue at Hand # 57 , it’s time for some more “Weird Christmas Comic Book Fun”…

Not all “Weird Christmas Tales” are unintentionally so. Some, these days more often than not, are created as such from the start. Our next two, more contemporary, examples certainly bear this out.

Released: October, 1998. Published by Bongo Comics.

I don’t watch a great deal of network prime time television, so there are three outstanding events for me each fall season: Baseball playoffs and the World Series, NFL football, and the annual Halloween episode of THE SIMPSONS.

For well over a decade, network television’s longest-running prime time entertainment series, THE SIMPSONS, has, each year, presented a special Halloween episode, which decidedly departs from the series’ usual animated sit-com format. Usually divided into three vignettes, each segment takes the various Simpsons characters on a hilarious “journey into the weird”.
Another highlight is that virtually all of the names appearing in the show’s on-screen credits are “Halloween-ed up” to be presented as humorously macabre versions of the actual names. For instance, producer James L. Brooks is regularly credited as
James Hell Brooks, and the voice of Marge Simpson, Julie Kavner, has been billed as Julie Cadaver”.
BONGO COMICS, which appeared on the scene in 1993, is the brainchild of Simpsons creator Matt Groening, and is primarily devoted to presenting THE SIMPSONS and various related series in comic-book form.

Beginning in 1995, Bongo has adapted the format of the Simpsons Halloween TV specials to the comic book as Bart Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror. To date, six issues of this annual (trick or…) treat have been published, with # 7 expected to be on sale as you read this column. You could do worse for your $4.50… much worse!

I Faced Tahn-Enn-Bahm the Christmas Tree from Another World!” 13 pages. Script: “Depraved Chuck Dixon”. Pencils: “Odorous Phil Ortiz”. Inks: “Bilious Tim Bavington. Colors: “Nathan Killer Kane”. Letters: “Chris The Hunger Ungar”. Editor: “Bill The Horror, The Horror Morrison”. X-Mas Tree Hugger: “Gut Wrenching Matt Groening”. Nice carry-over of the TV style credits, eh?
When the poorly-stored Simpsons’ metal Christmas tree is found to be rusted through and through, environmentally conscious daughter Lisa suggests the family get a live tree “…One we can plant in the backyard when the holidays are over, and enjoy throughout the years!”. So, it’s off to the “Live and Let Live Christmas Tree Farm” they go.

As Homer grumbles over having to use a shovel instead of a chainsaw, Lisa spies the perfect Christmas tree, suspiciously bathed in an eerie
light from above,
and the tree is dug up with a healthy supply of soil for the trip home. Homer proceeds to ineptly string a multitude of dangerously configured electric light strands around the tree, as Lisa begins to question her choice when she fails to find a like species in her copy of “The Enormous Book of Trees we Love”.

Suspicious, she tiptoes down to the living room in the dead of night and is shocked to find that the tree has come to horrifying life – complete with glowering eyes and a maniacally slavering mouth of razor-sharp teeth!
The egregious evergreen introduces itself as “Tahn-Enn-Bahm”, the vanguard for an armada of conquering alien ships, now orbiting the Earth.
I come from a world your kind cannot even pronounce… because, if you accent the thirtieth syllable wrong, it means ‘big butt’! ”
After a preview of Tahn-Enn-Bahm’s plans, Lisa resolves to end the alien’s threat by grabbing an axe and chopping the fiend to pieces. However, the “ET-tree” counters with:
Can you really do that, Lisa? I’ve heard your worshipful tone when speaking of plant life. Can you chop down a tree? Even a planet-plundering pine like myself? ”
She can’t, of course, but is determined to find someone to do the job. Police Chief Wiggum, Mulder and Scully from THE X FILES, and even Homer refuse to believe her wild story. The latter in a magnificent bit which references previous oddball occurrences from actual Simpsons Halloween TV specials from years past…
You have to believe me, Dad!”
“…Like all your other lies? Daaaad, I created a universe in a margarine tub! Daaaad, the principal is cooking children in the cafeteria!”
Lisa admits defeat as Tahn-Enn-Bahm gloats, but then it comes time, at last, for Homer to water the live Christmas tree. Puffing and grumbling all the way with a huge bucket of water, Homer trips over an extension cord and thoroughly douses the needled-nemesis from tip to root. Combining the conductivity of that much water with frayed, unsafe electrical trimmings is just what it takes for the “would-be conqueror of Christmas Future” to perish in a spectacular exhibit of festive holiday lighting!


Stupid smoke detector!”
  That’s not the smoke detector, dad, that’s an alien death scream!”
  Stupid alien death scream!”
With their leader defeated, the terrible trees quickly depart our galaxy – as cowardly invading aliens are wont to do. The Earth is saved! At least until we fade out with the arrival of yet another alien armada, this time made up of sentient chocolate bunnies and marshmallow peeps (!) lying in wait to spoil the next major Christian religious holiday!
Writer Chuck Dixon is better known as a master of terse, action-oriented comic-book stories, primarily featuring Batman and Batman-related characters. I’d say the reasons were obvious for including this story in the pantheon of “Weird Christmas Tales”. An established writer superbly performing outside of his normal genre, providing a tale of “killer Christmas trees” would be enough… but how many times has a Christmas story of any kind ever appeared in a Halloween comic book?! Weird enough for me!

Next Time: “Weird Christmas Tales” Chapter Four with Impulse and Plastic Man! Yes, really!

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