One of the best Christmas stories I ever read features a guy in a red cape.

A few of us on Facebook have been posting images of various super-heroes and their Christmas tributes. I posted this comic book cover, “Christmas With The Super-Heroes, Special #2” from 1988. This prompted me to dig up and re-read my copy, and rediscover one of my all-time favorite Christmas stories.

Paul Chadwick is an “alternative comics” writer and artist, famous for creating a fascinating character called Concrete. This series was just beginning to catch on when he signed on with “the big boys” at DC to write and draw this story, “Ex Machina.”

An older man is stranded and alone on the side of a highway, his car broken down on a bitterly cold and snowy Christmas night. After hours of trying to flag down some help, he can’t take it any more and is moved to extreme measures.

And Superman taps on the window. He gets into the car, warms up the man with his heat vision, then as he does the same for the car battery he asks about the gun. Doesn’t even ask the gentleman’s name.

It turns out the man has a degenerative disease, is estranged from his wife, and hasn’t spoken to his daughter in years. And they talk. Superman could have hoisted the car with the man in it on his shoulders and flown off to safety, but… they talk.

Superman says one thing he knows is that no person who has lost a parent wouldn’t like to get them back. He asks the man to contact his daughter: “I’d like to think I didn’t stop here for nothing.”

The gentleman agrees, because Superman made him warm again. Superman then gets the car running, and uses the back of the suicide note to write directions to the home of “an older couple he knows.” Hesitantly the man accepts the invitation and drives off toward the Smallville exit, wishing Superman a Merry Christmas. As Superman flies away, he crushes the gun.

Many web pages have discussed this story. I enjoy it because in just eight pages it shows the humanity and empathy of this “strange visitor from another planet.” Superman could have swooped man and car off to some warm safe place, stopping en route to tussle with Luthor and rescue Lois. But the two men just sat and talked about hurt, and loss, and loneliness, and the restorative powers of being connected with loved ones. If that isn’t what Christmas is about, then I don’t know what.

You can read it here.

Images from multiple sources.

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