The Story: "The Man Who Murdered Santa Claus!" by Len Wein, Dick Dillin, and Dick Giordano, with special thanks going out to "Green Lantern Fan Dufy Vohland."
We open with Superman and Batman arranging a special visit by Santa Claus to some local orphans. Santa picks up his bag of toys, enters the next room, when it explodes!
Here we're treated to one of the best JLA splash pages ever, which kicks the story off right just as any good splash page should:
...I can just hear the Dramatic Movie musical sting accompanying this image!
Anyway, a JLA distres signal goes out, and we get to see why some JLAers(like Flash, the Atom, Aquaman, and Elongated Man) can't make it, but others are, like Hal Jordan, who promptly falls in the shower, banging his head on the sink.
The power ring wastes no time in finding a replacement Lantern, John Stewart, which carts him off to the JLA satellite.
Batman shows the clue left in Santa's hand, and it leads them to a series of rundown inner city buildings to find Santa's murderer. Here the JLA faces a series of death traps, which leads each of the JLAers in turn having to sacrifice themselves to save the rest--starting with Superman, who heaves himself into a mini-Red Sun, killing himself in the process!
Black Canary is the next to die, and it's here we see the bad guy behind all this, watching the JLA get picked off, one by one...the villainous Key!
Next Batman and Green Arrow go, leaving only Red Tornado and Green Lantern, who are then overcome by the Key's army of robots. The Key begins to revel in his success...understandable, since he's managed to kill half the Justice League!
Unfortunately, the Key's victory party is cut short, by the sudden appearance of all the JLAers, safe and sound! Turns out they were all saved by...The Phantom Stranger! The Stranger went undercover as one of the Key's henchmen and helped each of the JLA only look like they were killed, so they could sneak up on the Key.
Before they can apprehend him, the Key sets off the "Doom-Bomb" implanted in his headquarters, and slips out a secret passageway. The JLA rounds up all the people living in the buildings, so they won't be killed in the explosion.
GL contains the explosion, but it still levels all the buildings. Fortunately, this GL thought ahead, and decided to give these lesser fortunate people an early Christmas gift:
The epilogue takes place back at the satellite, where the JLA are exchanging gifts. Black Canary gives Red Tornado a new costume, to help him understand the season, plus she was "tired of that grim, drab outfit you've been wearing."
Even the grumpy Green Arrow gets in the spirit, and the JLA wishes everyone a very Merry Christmas!
Roll Call: Superman, Batman, Green Lantern(John Stewart), Green Arrow, Black Canary, Red Tornado
Notable Moments: This is such a sweet tale; I love Green Lantern's solution at the end of the story in how he finds a way to help these poor families yet stay within the "rules" of being a Green Lantern. Ingenious on Mr. Wein's part.
This is the first issue to feature the "Here Come TV's Super-Friends!" on the cover--DC had not yet created the Super Friends comic, so this was as close as they could get.
It's also the first issue of the 100-Page "Super-Spectacular" format, which wasn't a big hit but the issues done this way remain a lot of fun, stuffed to the gills as they were with fun comic book-y goodness.
Case in point, this issue also features a Justice Society tale, "The Plight of A Nation!"(co-drawn by Carmine Infantino and Alex Toth!), a JLA crossword puzzle, "Z--As in Zatanna--and Zero Hour!" from JLA #51, a double-page JSA pin-up by Murphy Anderson, and a two-page edition of the JLA Mail Room! All this for a measly fifty cents!
I first read this story not in the original comic, but in The Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #22, "Christmas With the Superheroes." I remember buying this book right off the stands in Dec. 1981 at the beloved Voorhees News & Tobacco Shop.
All the stories in it are pretty good, but when I saw a JLA story where it looked like they were getting knocked off, one by one, the sale was made.