“Comfort And Joy” (season two, episode 21; originally aired December 13, 2003)
For some, the holidays are a time to relax and catch up with family and friends—a few days out of the year when other responsibilities can be forgotten and people can spend some time getting closer to each other. There isn’t much in the way of children’s entertainment that deals with the flip side of that: the melancholia that can overcome those who are alone during the holidays. Of course the green guy would be the Justice League’s resident Grinch, and while J’onn J’onzz might not openly despise the season, he’s definitely not feeling the spirit. “Comfort And Joy” is another Justice League tearjerker, a Paul Dini-penned episode that covers the full spectrum of holiday emotions.
J’onn is in a unique position on the Justice League—not just an exile and orphan, but also a father and husband grieving over his dead family. He’s lost more than anyone else on the team, which would explain his frosty personality, but Superman takes it upon himself to make J’onn feel like he has a new family. While Clark brings J’onn over to his parents’ house to show him what a family Christmas is like, Green Lantern and Hawkgirl’s flirting reaches fever pitch, and Flash has to live through a parent’s nightmare as she tries to get that sold-out, must-have toy for a group of Central City orphans. These three stories show how the holidays bring people together, whether it is as friends, lovers, or family, creating a heartwarming narrative that shows why this time of the year is so important.
After saving an alien civilization from annihilation, the League members split up to celebrate Christmas. J’onn is awkward upon first arriving at Clark’s childhood home, but the Kents know how to make aliens feel welcome. J’onn shacks up in Kara’s room, where she has a stuffed animal of Zook, the Martian Manhunter’s Silver Age sidekick. It’s not explicitly stated, but J’onn looks at the toy longingly so I like to think that he had Zook as a pet on Mars, which would explain why he feels an immediate attachment to the Kents’ tabby cat. J’onn begins to lighten up at dinner as he listens to Clark’s parents talk about past Christmases, and he even gets his own sweater that he can wear during the holidays from now on. But when dinner is over, J’onn’s sadness returns, and he has to escape the family environment that is now suffocating him with past memories.
J’onn is such a wonderfully layered character, and Dini really understands what makes him tick. J’onn leaves the Kent home and roams the streets of Smallville on Christmas Eve, taking human form for the first time on this series as he watches locals celebrate and mentally eavesdrops on kids waiting for Santa Claus. When he overhears the thoughts of a young girl doubting the existence of Santa, J’onn makes sure she hears his footsteps on the roof, and then sneaks a hand down her chimney and grabs one of the cookies left out for Santa. Even better, they’re Oreos, which just so happen to be J’onn’s favorite (see Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’ fantastic Justice League International). His walk ends at a church, where he hears the congregation singing a hymn, and the music is what finally shows J’onn the meaning of the holidays. The episode ends with J’onn in his true Martian form, sitting at the window in Kara’s room on Christmas morning, singing a song from his home planet as he strokes the Kent’s cat. The holidays are as much about remembering the past as they are about reconnecting with other people, an idea that is supported by the episode’s other two storylines.
During his annual visit to the Central City orphanage, Flash promises to get the kids DJ Rubber Ducky, a rapping toy duck with a severe flatulence problem, which is pretty much the best thing ever in Flash’s eyes. He takes on the task gladly, but quickly regrets it as he realizes the futility of his search. He ends up going straight to the factory where the toys are made and gets his hand on the very last one, but everything falls apart when he decides to stop a break-in at the Central City modern art museum. The Ultra-Humanite is enraged by the horrendous amount of public funding spent on this so-called “art,” which he considers an affront to any decent human aesthetic. As they fight, Flash and Ultra-Humanite have a discussion of the meaning of Christmas: Ultra-Humanite thinks it’s bullshit, all the good will and comfort and joy, but Flash understands the idea of fostering good will, especially in kids who need it. Hopefully, one day they’ll pass it along to others.
After the holiday lesson, Flash punches out the giant ape, knocking it right on to DJ Rubber Ducky and breaking it in half. It’s a blow that hurts Flash even more than the knockout hit Ultra-Humanite delivers, but when Flash wakes up, the villain has had a change of heart and is fixing the toy with a few improvements. Santa Flash has his foe don a top hat when they go to drop off the toy, which now recites The Nutcracker rather than rapping and farting. The kids are unsure at first, but are quickly enchanted by their new gift. Ultra-Humanite gets a gift of his own when he’s thrown back in prison, and Flash leaves him with an aluminum Christmas tree, just like the one he used to have as a child. Like the final shot of J’onn, the image of Ultra-Humanite sitting on his prison cot with the multi-colored light shining off his aluminum tree is both beautiful and tragic.
There’s no sadness in Hawkgirl and Green Lantern’s storyline, which has the two of them replacing sex with fighting as they take their relationship to the next level. Shayera never had Christmas on Thanagar, and she doesn’t understand what the fuss is about. The holidays remind John of sledding with his aunt, and he tries to recapture the feeling of those old days by showing Shayera how to make snow angels and getting into a snowball fight, which is foreplay for the brawling that will come later. It’s interesting to note that the snowball fight is one of the few times John gets more creative with his ring constructs, making a catapult as well as an army of hands to barrage Shayera with snow. She begins to understand the appeal of this tradition, and introduces John to one of hers, taking him to a party planet where they can celebrate their victory with a wormy brew and an epic bar fight. After the fight, John and Shayera are cuddled close in the arms of the giant alien they were fighting, exhausted from all the action. Shayera leans over, gives her sleeping hero a kiss on the cheek, and wishes John a merry Christmas. While the holidays are largely about reconnecting with the past, they’re also a time to reevaluate the future and assess priorities. And in that one kiss, Shayera makes a decision that is about to make her life a lot more difficult.
- Batman begged for monitor duty, but I bet he’s probably talking to Diana on the phone the whole time.
- Kara isn’t at home because she’s skiing with Barbara Gordon. I like to think Donna Troy’s with them and they’re actually in a Super Best Friends Forever episode.
- Ultra-Humanite thinks Flash should’ve gotten the orphans a book instead, like Voltaire. That’s why he doesn’t get invited to play Secret Santa.
- I love a giant ape with an oversized head who uses words like “jejune.”
- “I made Gorilla Grodd cry uncle, I’m sure Rubber Ducky will be no problem.”
- “Now that’s good flurm.”
- Flash: “Someone sure did a number on this place.” Ultra-Humanite: “Actually, I hadn’t even started.” Modern art joke!
- “It’s not gonna blow up or anything?”
- Flash: “But why’d you hit me?” Ultra-Humanite: “You hit me first.”
- “I kinda liked it when he made the poopy noise.” Michael Rosenbaum is so fantastic in this episode.