Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. And he’s a fucking bad-ass!
The most wonderful time of the year is finally upon us. The fully decorated Christmas tree in my living room, up since the day after Halloween, will certainly attest to such. So will this week’s publication of Klaus #1, Grant Morrison’s gritty reboot of the “jolly old elf,” albeit neither all that jolly or old in his telling. It’s part of a growing trend of reinfusing the historically darker elements back into the yuletide season, a trend which includes also the forthcoming films Krampus (about the demon Saint Nicolas enslaved) and Winter’s Knight.
Not that the real Santa is all that in need of a dark and gritty reboot. His actual origin story is less of a claymation children’s special and more the unrated Netflix Daredevil series. Like the later, the historic Nikolaos of Myra was a crimson-clad hero, driven by his catholic faith to go out at night and defend his city’s poor and destitute from enslavement and prostitution. The earliest legends about the saint had him avenging the gruesome deaths of three children that had been cannibalistically baked into mince-meat pies.
Morrison’s reindeer-slaying, direwolf-summoning, acid-tripping Klaus is actually somewhat tame by comparison. He’s more Clark Kent than Matt Murdock; a mountain of muscle that’s nevertheless mild-mannered, capable of winning any fight but always backing down from one. He even looks like a Scandinavian Superman: the size of a yeti and with six-pack abs instead of “a little round belly.” Even their stories bear more similarities than one would expect: a solitary figure traverses the artic snows, eventually making his way to a once-thriving city that now suffers under the thumb of a despotic plutocrat, setting the stage for our hero to fight for truth and justice, his work destined to be never-ending.
Of course, it’s tempting to read Superman into Klaus given Morrison’s prolific work on the former. The writer’s love for the sun-god from Smallville is legendary, famously calling him “the greatest idea humanity has ever had.” And it’s not as if biographical and bibliographical insights into Morrison don’t explain other seemingly novel elements of Klaus #1. The bizarre alien ghosts towards the book’s end referred to as “the shining family” bear a striking similarity the “electrokind” of All-Star Superman #4 because both ultimately derive from the beings he encountered during his Kathmandu experience. Per his autobiography Supergods,
“Perhaps someone else would call these rippling, dribbling blobs of pure holo-graphic meta-material angels or extraterrestrials. They were made of what might have been mercury or flowing liquid chrome.”
This was the defining experience of Morrison’s life, a turning point in which he had (whether in the spirit or in the flesh, neither he nor St. Paul knows) ascended to the heavens and received his life’s mission, returning to the mortal plane with a gospel he’d preach through individual floppies and graphic novels alike. Should it come as any surprise that Morrison’s Santa Claus should experience the same call to adventure at the outset of his own hero’s journey?
Dan Mora’s art is a Christmas gift come early. Despite a dark and gritty story, many of the pages are more colorful than a string of Christmas lights. Klaus’ hallucinogenic experience was absolutely synesthetic. Every landscape was a vista.
The real magic, however, came from his combination of classic comic book superhero anatomies for Klaus and the town guards but eyes for all the characters which were ever so slightly enlarged and “cartoony.” This perfectly visually communicated the book’s appropriation of a children’s character into an action hero.
Part Kris Kringle, part Daredevil, part Superman, and part Morrison himself, Klaus is an eclectic combination of ideas that work together perfectly. These ideas are brought to life like a snowman in an old silk hat by the gorgeous visuals provided by Mora. By the end of the first issue its already obvious that reading Klaus by the yule log with a strong cup of eggnog is destined to become the best new Christmas tradition since Die Hard.