Feature: Bill the Magnificent
Times Past, 1944
Santa Got Pickled
A Quality Laffs story
That crackpot scientist Professor Twerp is back with another weird experiment, but this time he’s endangering Santa Claus himself! Can Bill the Magnificent act fast enough to save the Christmas of 1944?
Santa Claus was in a pickle — literally. Yes, the jolly old fat man was trapped in an honest-to-gosh, stork-endorsed, giant gherkin.
And now that you are enthralled, and too worried about Ol’ Saint Nick to quit reading, let’s go back twenty-four hours and see what brought us to this point.
The time: 11:55 PM, the date: December 23, 1944, the place: The North Pole.
The temperature: Colder than a witch’s boob in a brass bra in Antarctica in the winter. A strong wind was coming up from the south — hey, it’s the North Pole, so all winds come from the south (neat — we’ve introduced both science and comedy, and we still don’t know how Santa found himself in his current predicament).
The more specific place: Santa Claus’ inner office at the workshop:
Santa Claus was at his desk, his booted feet propped up on the edge, and a large stein of marshmallow-laced hot cocoa in his grip. He took a sip, wiped the marshmallow from his mustache with the back of his hand, and then nodded to the three elves standing before him.
“So,” he said, glancing at a map of the world, “which poor town gets to be the final stop this year?”
The elves, Twinkee, Dinkee, and Hubert, made up Santa’s handpicked committee in charge of deciding that very question each year. Their sole responsibility was to spend the entire year studying maps, weather conditions, and a host of other scientific variables to determine where their boss should go last. This usually amounted to them carousing and womanizing three-hundred and sixty-four days a year, and then, at the last minute before their meeting with the big guy, throwing a dart at the map.
“This year,” Twinkee said, “our analysis points to Middleburg, USA, as your final stop.”
Santa nodded and took another sip of cocoa. “What about the naughty list?”
Dinkee pulled a list from his pocket and began to study it intently. He tossed out a few “hmmms” and “ahhhhs” while Santa waited patiently, unaware that his trusted adviser was merely perusing a list of women with whom he might possibly carouse in the coming year.
“It looks promising,” the elf finally said. “There were a few for whom the year started out a bit rough, but they turned things around in time to make the nice list.”
Again, Santa nodded. “Do we have any on the bubble? As I recall, there was a scientist, Professor Twerp, who bounced back and forth from naughty to nice so much we started putting his name down in pencil. Any word on him?”
Hubert slipped a coin out of his pocket and put his hands behind his back. Deftly, and without the man in red having slightest inkling of anything being out of sorts, he tossed it, caught it, and brought his hands back in front of him. When Santa took another sip, the elf took a quick peek at the coin and saw Santa’s embossed face smiling back up at him. “Well, your jolliness, he is most definitely on the nice list this year.”
Santa Claus tipped his stein back and drained the last of his hot cocoa down his throat. He ran his finger around the inside of the mug to make certain none of the marshmallow went to waste. Once he was satisfied, he looked at the committee. “Good job, boys. I’ll see you back here next year.”
Right on time, a rather large clock somewhere struck midnight. Christmas Eve had arrived.
“Oh, and boys…” Santa called out just as they were reaching the door.
“Yes, Santa?” they asked in unison.
“Try not to work so hard this coming year. You look positively tuckered.”
Now, needless to say, Santa Claus’ Christmas Eve flight went absolutely smashing. Every present was delivered promptly, and to the correct address, despite flying under wartime conditions. From little Ajani in Africa to young Xuan in Vietnam, everyone was happy. Then he came to Middleburg.
“There she is, Rudolph,” Santa said. “Middleburg, USA, dead ahead.”
Guided by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the only reindeer to achieve popular status, the sleigh angled downward and cut through the clouds like a knife through hot butter. (Well, more like a knife through pudding. Hot butter is a liquid, after all, and you can’t really cut a liquid.)
Anyway, the first rays of Christmas Day were only a few minutes behind Saint Nick as he hurriedly made his rounds. He paused as he exited the chimney of Middleburg’s sheriff, Sheriff Witmer Poodle, and checked his list; only two more to go. The first was Professor Twerp, and the second was Bill Hanson.
Removing a flask of hot apple cider from his coat pocket, Santa took a swig, then climbed back into the sleigh.
“OK, team,” he said. “Let’s head over to Professor Twerp’s.”
The reindeer (you know… Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen) looked at each other and then at their boss.
Santa knew what they were thinking. The Christmas of ’38 was still fresh in their minds; it had become the story that adult reindeer would tell their young in years to come to get them to behave.
Prancer, a slave to his own vanity, had been lured away by Professor Twerp just days before Christmas. The professor was curious as to what made the reindeer fly and was prepared to dissect Prancer, if necessary, to find out the answer to this question. If not for the intervention of a team of highly trained Christmas seals, the beginning of the song may have been slightly different. It was why he was the only reindeer who had to wear blinders.
“I have it on good authority that Twerp made it to the nice list this year,” Santa said, trying to sound reassuring.
The reindeer weren’t convinced, but they knew they weren’t in charge. With great apprehension, they were landing on the professor’s roof in no time.
With his bag of goodies slung over his shoulder, Santa walked to the chimney and hopped in. When he reached the bottom, he got the surprise of his life.
Unbeknownst to the jolly old fat man, at that very moment Professor Twerp was in the midst of an experiment. He was attempting to increase the size of food, mainly because he preferred larger portions than the manufacturers gave him. He also knew that there could be other, more altruistic uses down the road, but right now, he want bigger pickles.
(It’s starting to make sense now, isn’t it?)
The moment Santa stepped from the fireplace, his “ho, ho, ho” died on his lips. Before he had a chance to lay a finger aside of his nose and go back up the chimney, the energy-ray from Twerp’s machine enveloped him and the pickle that was its original target. As it grew and grew, the sweet gherkin began to grow around him. Dropping his bag, he quickly began to eat. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for him, all he was able to do was to create a cavity within the pickle large enough for him to stand in.
“Oh, my,” Professor Twerp said. “Please forgive me, Santa. I did not see you there.”
“Aside from a slight stomach ache,” Santa replied, “there’s been no real harm done. If you will just help me out of this predicament, I can give you your gifts and be on my way.”
“Oh, certainly,” the professor said. “Let me just grab…” His eyes then fell upon Santa’s sack of goodies.
“Here, now,” Santa said. “Put that down and help me out of here.”
“Just think,” Professor Twerp said, lost in his own little world. “If I could figure out how one large sack can hold the presents of every person in the world, I could become rich and famous.”
“Twerp?” Santa called. “Help me, Twerp. Put that down. Don’t open it, Twerp.”
But his pleas had all fallen on deaf ears.
Back up on the roof, the reindeer were growing impatient. They were certain their initial apprehensions were well-grounded, in fact. Something had gone wrong. Looking over their shoulders, they could see that morning was not far off. There was no time to fly to the North Pole and back for help, so they did the only thing they could think of. They flew to the last house on the list. Bill Hanson was about to receive the oddest waking of his life.
When the reindeer arrived on the lawn outside his bedroom window, Bill was still enjoying dreamland. He was resting on a cloud while Jean and Peggy, the twin loves of his life (not counting Hedy Lamarr) fed him grapes.
“Oh, Bill,” said Peggy, a beautiful strawberry blonde in red, “we were so wrong to ever want you to choose between us.”
Jean, another beautiful strawberry blonde in red, smiled. “Yes. We have decided that we both want to be your girlfriend.”
“Garsh!” said Bill, himself a redhead, with a grin.
As the two girls leaned in to kiss him on his cheeks, something deep in Bill’s mind told him he wasn’t imagining the kisses. When his eyes opened, Vixen and Cupid were at his side, licking his face.
“Yikes!” he exclaimed as the two reindeer stepped away from his bed. “How in the world did two reindeer get in my bedroom? Wait a gosh darn minute! Reindeer? That must mean that Santa’s here. Santa!”
Jumping out of bed, he grabbed his fedora from the bedpost and tossed it on his head. His hat in no way matched his red-and-white-striped nightshirt, but that didn’t matter: Santa was in his house.
Only Santa wasn’t in his house. In fact, Santa was nowhere to be found.
Bill stopped and rubbed his chin. “If Santa isn’t here, but his reindeer are…” He rushed into the living room and looked at his Christmas tree. His shoulders slumped when he saw nary a single present anywhere.
“Jeepers creepers,” he blurted out, downhearted.
Vixen and Cupid sensed the change immediately. Bill stood straighter, his chin up, and his chest out. His uncertain steps were now taken with confidence. He even seemed a bit less confused. He had become, in fact, more magnificent.
What the reindeer didn’t know (and probably the reader as well) was that whenever Bill said the phrase jeepers creepers, he gained super-strength, speed, and invulnerability, becoming a better version of himself nicknamed Bill the Magnificent. Unfortunately, whenever he was hit on the head, this all went away, and he retained no memory of what happened while he had these powers. Amazingly enough, no one — not even Bill himself — had any idea how or why this presumed magic transformed Bill under these peculiar circumstances, for he had never been given a secret origin story. This redheaded copy boy at the Middleburg Herald — a young man previously declared Class 4-F and thus ineligible for military service by the local draft board — had inexplicably started becoming magnificent in 1942 and had never known why. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Bill the Magnificent, Hit Comics #25 (December, 1942).]
“If you are here without Santa,” Bill said coolly as he petted the reindeer, “then that means he is in trouble somewhere between here and his last stop.”
The reindeer bobbed their heads.
Bill led them toward the door. “Can you lead me to him?”
Again, the reindeer nodded.
Bill looked down and saw that he was still in his nightshirt. Two minutes later, the lanky young man was dressed in his usual suit and tie and was out on the lawn with the rest of the reindeer. “I’m not even going to ask how you got loose,” he said as he hooked Vixen and Cupid back up to the sleigh.
Climbing aboard, he kicked back in the seat and put his feet up. “Let’s go find Santa.”
In less time than it took to write this sentence, the reindeer delivered Bill the Magnificent to the lawn of Professor Twerp.
“I have had dealings with Twerp before,” Bill said, remembering when the professor had tried to figure out how he gained his abilities. (*) It wasn’t something he remembered all that well when he didn’t have them.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Bill the Magnificent, Hit Comics #28 (July, 1943) and Bill the Magnificent, Hit Comics #29 (September, 1943).]
The reindeer shared a look, remembering the Christmas of ’38.
After instructing the reindeer to wait there on the lawn, Bill walked to the front door and knocked. The door, not built to handle a superhuman knock, fell inward, its hinges ripped from the door facing.
“Since it is open,” Bill the Magnificent said with a shrug, “I might as well go on in.”
Professor Twerp’s home was a quaint little cottage. Because it was so little, the scientist had his current experiment, the one that put Santa in the pickle, set up in the living room.
“Release Santa Claus this instant,” Bill demanded.
Professor Twerp smoothed his thick, brush-like black mustache — something he shared with his older and even more eccentric cousin, Burp the Twerp — and didn’t even bother to look up. (*) “Oh, you can have him,” he said, offhanded.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Presenting Burp the Twerp,” Police Comics #2 (September, 1941).]
Bill shrugged. “That was easy enough.”
“Stop him, Bill!” Santa exclaimed. “He’s trying to figure out how my bag holds everything. If he does, it could ruin Christmas forever!”
Bill the Magnificent leaped over the couch and snatched Twerp up by the collar with one hand. With the other, he grabbed the bag and tossed it toward the giant pickle. Once Santa had it safe and secure, Bill dropped Twerp unceremoniously to the floor.
“You are going to be on the naughty list for quite a while after this stunt,” Santa said as Bill ripped the giant gherkin apart.
Professor Twerp climbed to his feet. “I know. I couldn’t help myself,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
“However, since you were already on the nice list for this year,” Santa said, reaching into his bag, “I’ll go ahead and let you have this.” He tossed a brightly wrapped package to the scientist.
Shamefaced, the scientist thanked Santa.
Moments later, Santa Claus, Bill the Magnificent, and the reindeer were back at Bill’s house. To show his gratitude, Santa pulled gift after gift from his bag and placed them under Bill’s tree.
The reindeer knew the events of the past hour were not something any human should know, so as Santa was placing the presents, Vixen gently bit the sleeve of Bill’s jacket and tugged. Bill followed the reindeer outside, still puzzling as to how the reindeer got unhooked from the sleigh in the first place.
As he stepped out the door, Blitzen reared up, then came down hard, his hoof crashing into the top of Bill’s head. Bill slumped to the ground just as Santa walked out.
“Good job,” he said as he scooped the unconscious man up and placed him back in his bed.
A couple of hours later, Bill Hanson, back to his normal self and unaware of anything that had occurred during the time he was magnificent, awoke to find more presents under the tree than he could have ever imagined. He wasn’t sure what he had done to deserve such a haul, but he looked toward the north and smiled. “Thanks, Santa.”
And at the North Pole, this trip’s events were written down in the Christmas Annuls as the exciting Christmas of ’44.