AoA #2: Samurai Santa

Solson Christmas Special featuring Samurai Santa #1 (Solson Publications, 1986)

No opening salvo here, folks.  This is a wade through the bog of Solson Publications, the comics company that brought the world Reagan’s Raiders, The Amazing Wahzoo, Daffy Qaddafi, a hundred ninja comics and Rich Buckler Jr.  Was it the worst comics company in history, as some people claim?  It’s hard to say, but Solson was as bad as its reputation suggests.  Not everyone is going to take a chance on a title like Samurai Santa, and for good reason.  Solson was already filling the demand for Japanese swordsmen around this time with titles like The Bushido Blade of Zatoichi Walrus, Codename: Ninja, Ninjutsu: Art of the Ninja and Samurai the 13th.  Considering Solson’s exploitative nature, Samurai Santa fit like a glove.

Oh, the proper title of this comic suggests an ongoing series of Christmas specials like Samurai Santa.  Not long after, both ninjas and black-and-white comics stopped being trendy – due at least in part to the glut of horrible black-and-white comics about ninjas.  Solson stalwarts Gary Brodsky and Rich Buckler have since moved on to other pursuits like How to Pick Up Girls and surrealist erotic art.  It’s a great legacy, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Samurai Santa begins by introducing your artists for the comic, Don Secrease and…Jim Lee.  Yes, WildC.ATs creator and Wildstorm’s public face Jim Lee.  Samurai Santa is his first published work.  Let’s find out a little more about Secrease and Lee, shall we?

Americomics, Vista Graphics and Solson?  Hot damn!  What a talent!  Secrease is a journeyman who may or may not have survived the black-and-white comics boom.  He does most of Samurai Santa‘s art.

According to Wikipedia, Jim Lee only inked the cover to Samurai Santa.  Even if Jim Lee did ink more than the cover, Lee didn’t actually draw the comic.  For this he gets a shared art credit.  That he doesn’t show his face here might be his best career move ever.

Solson Christmas Special Featuring Samurai Santa #1 is published annually by Solson Publications, Inc.”  Is that a threat?

It’s Christmas season at Kruger’s.  A Mr. Endicott is being threatened to find a replacement Santa by a Mr. Osborn after the previous Santa comes in drunk to work.  No one else wants to play the role (a black character giving the excuse that “the kids don’t dig a black Santa”) until one of the wage slaves suggests “that new guy running the Jap robot counter”, Sam, as a possible stooge.  Enter our title character wearing a kimono.  As he is Japanese, he of course knows how to operate a Transformers action figure, which two kids then fight over.  Boy, the writing’s subtle.  Sam takes the job while talking in aphorisms.

Barely four pages in, I know the writing’s horrible.  The concept of a samurai working at a department store is bad enough, but Philip Clarke Jr. can’t even go four pages without piling on clichés.  It only gets worse from there, as Samurai Santa listens to spoiled children and their requests for toys.  Mr. Osborn is “impressed” with Endicott for finding Kruger’s first “Mongolian Santa Claus,” leaving the nebbishy underling sweating as he frequently does.

Is there an actual character in this comic book underneath all these archetypes?  Racism, generic “Christmas has been commercialized” sentiment and pop culture references!  Neato!  Never mind how Sam seems to have been hired without having to go through a background check!  Logic gets in the way of the story!

There’s an evil Santa Claus, too!  He tells some kids that their parents don’t love them enough to buy them new things like bicycles and footballs.  They then cry as Santa breaks their hearts.  Yojimbo has nothing on Samurai Santa!

Samurai Santa walks back to his apartment as two thugs try to mug a lady of no fixed age or character description.  Samurai Santa breaks out the weapons as the customary fight scene begins.

A black man with dreadlocks?  Platitudes?  Bad shading?  This comic has everything!

Not surprisingly, Samurai Santa becomes a hero, receiving a standing ovation from on-lookers and convincing Osborn to rethink his firing of Sam.  The greedy Osborn smells a marketing gimmick, of course, so subtle is the characterization in Samurai Santa.  Meanwhile, Endicott is faced with Sam’s resignation (cue Endicott sweating), which Endicott talks him out of.  Evil Santa Claus continues on his commercialization-and-despondency spree as more kids are told that their parents don’t love them.  Boy, I wonder if Evil Santa Claus is actually Mr. Osborn?

Several days later, Sam is conflicted with the true meaning of Christmas.  Osborn comes in and tells Endicott and Sam that sales are brisk and a toy giveaway to the underprivileged is underway.  This convinces Sam to continue being Santa.  As Sam goes home he meets a bum on the street and, in a rare display of good storytelling and art for Samurai Santa, gives of all but his kimono and pants for him.  It’s the one thing in Samurai Santa that’s actually touching.

Jonah Kruger flies to his New York store from Los Angeles to begin the next day’s festivities.  Turns out that Kruger’s just as commercially-minded as Osborn as the toy giveaway consists of unsalable crap.  Sam turns the tables on capitalism as he replaces the unsalable crap with copies of The Religious Soul.  The incensed Osborn exits stage left suddenly, for no…oh, to hell with it.  I hate spoilers.  Turns out that Mister Osborn is Evil Santa Claus.

It’s not Santa Claus, it’s…uh, Xanta Klaus?!  Wait, it’s a middle-aged man in a suit.  My mistake.

Seemingly unfazed by the fact that the manager of a department store in one of America’s major metropolitan areas just tried to kill an employee with a crossbow, Kruger tells Sam to give out the bargain-bin fare as promised.  Sam does not, as he chastises everyone (aside from himself, of course – he is a samurai) for helping to pervert the true meaning of Christmas.  As he leaves the store, Kruger tries to look for the samurai.  The footprints stop and a picture of the New York skyline is seen.

Boy, wasn’t that fun?  It ended in such an upbeat and non-didactic manner, too!  Samurai Santa taught me the true meaning of Christmas!

Somehow, I blame John Belushi for this comic.

Since this is Solson, there are no ads save for the usual Solson fare.  Solson put out a lot of fare.

Ooh, neat, a “subtle” Superman swipe.  And Ronald Reagan.  Hey, there’s some guy in the middle!

Ads for Solson product include Reagan’s Raiders #3, Amazing Wahzoo #2, Solson’s Call For Talent (that picture of Gary Brodsky’s face around his legions of comics sure did get used a lot) and Escape to the Stars.  I have no idea what Escape to the Stars is aside from there being a talking bear and Randomly Capitalized Concepts, but it’s by far the most professional comic in Solson’s repertoire (and only because it wasn’t originally created for Solson).  As for Codename: Ninja, it looks appropriately sleazy.  Interest is perked by the appearance of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but drops back down when the TMNT book turns out to be an “Authorized Martial Arts Training Manual” (it still managed to last six issues).  Ads also appear for “ninja secrets revealed” comic Ninjutsu: Art of the Ninja, random superhero comic Animism and “comic book trade secrets revealed” comic How to Publish Comics.  Why a man who sold piranha through the mail should have the moral authority to tell people how sleazy the comic book business is remains a mystery to almost everyone except Brodsky.

Finally, this curio appears on the back cover:

(Billing Not Contractual)

I grew out of the “overreact to every mildly strange thing I see” writing phase some time ago (some people never do), but this makes no sense.  Literally the only link Google provides for the film – or at least the notion of same – is at Ye Olde Comick Booke Blogge.  Did this film ever get made?  Somehow, I doubt the creators of Codename: Ninja ever got Last Hour of Honor off the ground.  Maybe they did considering the home video glut of the 1980s (Trans World Entertainment would have made this film in a heartbeat), but what a shitty ad for a possibly non-existent film.  Rich Buckler is a weird man.

Solson has continued to exist in some form since the 1980s.  Has the company progressed beyond this level of quality?  What do you think?

C. Archer
Le Social