If there’s one thing I love in comic books, it’s a holiday special, and if there are two comic book series I love above all others, it’s Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. Lucky for me, those two things overlap a lot. Marvel loves a holiday special, and Fantastic Four’s family nature and Spider-Man’s traditional Parker Luck both make for great storytelling.
There are many Marvel holiday specials that are near and dear to my heart, from the Fantastic tackling antisemitic taggers at the Thing’s synagogue in “Rock of Ages” in Marvel Digital Holiday Special (2009), to Spider-Man taking Nate Grey home for the holidays—after Nate psychically tears Spidey’s clothes off, that is—in Amazing Spider-Man #420, to Spider-Man enlisting Wolverine for one of his lesser known talents in Marvel Holiday Special 2007. Wolverine’s the best he is at what he does, and what he does is make a beautiful cake for Spider-Man’s Aunt May’s holiday party.
While 2018 marked the return of the Fantastic Four to the Marvel universe and Christmas brings us the wedding of the Thing and his longtime love Alicia Masters, there was conspicuously no holiday special starring the Fantastic Four this year, a missed opportunity to reunite the family with their close friend Spider-Man in a more personal way. The release of the Into the Spider-Verse tie-in album, A Very Spidey Christmas, only makes the absence of a holiday comic more conspicuous. Granted, Into the Spider-Verse is a Sony property released in association with Marvel, and not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Similar film rights squabbles led to the cancellation of Fantastic Four comics in 2015, though Marvel has (badly) attempted to deny this.
The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man have always been specially bound together by the friendship between Johnny Storm and Peter Parker. From their first meeting in Amazing Spider-Man #1, the two have been rivals, reluctant partners, and eventually best friends. They’re so close they even have their own special holiday tradition at the top of the Statue of Liberty and multiple holiday special stories have been dedicated to deepening their relationship.
Marvel Team Up (1972) #1, written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Ross Andru, marks the beginning of Spider- Man and the Human Torch’s Christmas meet ups. In “Have Yourself a Sandman Little Christmas,” Sandman terrorizes the Polar Bear Club, leading Peter Parker to seek a down and out Johnny Storm’s help in stopping the villain. There’s plenty of bickering as our heroes chase after the Sandman, which comes to an abrupt stop when they find themselves tied up back to back in a water tower, rigged up so that only one of them can breathe at a time.
Peter has to put his trust in Johnny, staying under water long enough for the Torch to dry off and free them both, but it’s worth it at the end when they learn the meaning of the holiday spirit—and get so wrapped up in each other they accidentally let the Sandman go. Sidenote: this issue also marks the first appearance of Misty Knight when Spider-Man saves her from an attempted mugging on Christmas Eve.
Peter and Johnny’s Christmas trysts continue in Spider-Man Christmas Special 1995’s “Merry Christmas Mister Storm,” written by Sholly Firsch and illustrated by Robert Brown and Joshua Hood. This story reveals that for years, Peter and Johnny have been meeting early every Christmas morning at the top of the Statue of Liberty, their “usual place” to have cocoa and chat.
After talking about the ups and downs (mostly downs) of the past year, Peter makes a decision and attempts to remove his mask, which would have finally revealed his civilian identity to Johnny after a decade of friendship. Johnny, sensing Peter’s hesitation to finally show his face, stops him last second, assuring him that he doesn’t need to know his name or his face, that it’s just enough to know he’s his friend. Later in the issue, Peter’s clone Ben Reilly learns about Peter and Johnny’s Christmas Day tradition and briefly takes Peter’s place, keeping Johnny company on what would otherwise have been a lonely Christmas morning.
Then, like with so many things in comics, this holiday tradition fell by the wayside. The last time we saw Spider-Man and the Human Torch celebrate Christmas together was in Spider-Man/Human Torch #5, written by Dan Slott and illustrated by Ty Templeton and published almost 15 years ago in 2005. Dan Slott’s characterization of Spider-Man is far from my favorite, but at least he knows his continuity. When another crisis arises that requires Peter to trust Johnny will pick up on his nonverbal communication, just like in Marvel Team Up (1972) #1, Peter reveals his identity as Spider-Man to him—by miming the itsy bitsy spider.
The two team up and have an explosive conversation at the Statue of Liberty that ends with their friendship on stronger ground than ever. Peter introduces Mary Jane and Aunt May formally to the Fantastic Four and both families form a bond. The issue closes on a family photo album of them all sharing Christmas together—inside this time. Peter and Johnny even get each other gifts for their first Christmas morning spent in the Baxter Building: Johnny gets Peter bug spray and Peter gets Johnny a fire extinguisher. With the Fantastic Four finally returned to the stands after three young years of publication exile, I’d love to see this holiday tradition similarly resurrected next year.