Enchanting…” “A bittersweet, imaginative tour-de-force.”
Such are the pull quote on the cover of the eponymously titled “Xmasville” at the end of Crisis in Xmasville, the same story being told to the denizens within the fiction as to those of us outside of it, and Morrison’s own assessment of his work is absolutely accurate. Xmasville is indeed imaginative and enchanting. But the author of the book-within-a-book, acting as an avatar for Morrison himself, states at her signing, “I don’t consider myself a writer of fiction. That would take an imagination I don’t have.”
Set in the same universe as last December’s The Witch of Winter and the previous year’s secret origin simply titled Klaus, The Crisis in Xmasville – continuing my now favorite yuletide tradition of a new installment in the ongoing saga of the Superman-esque Santa, Klaus – is fundamentally about the power of imagination, not in any cliché, trite, or otherwise pandering manner, but as a suitably seasonal argument for the worldview Morrison elsewhere explicates.
On the one hand, Morrison can make a case that he’s not a fiction writer per se; much of the most exotic imagery he includes are autobiographical inserts. The Shining Ones Behind the Northern Lights (called Electrokind in All-Star Superman) which bestowed Klaus his gifts are the “mercurial hypersprites” Morrison claims to have seen in his Kathmandu experience, who similarly gave Grant his own mission and a gift for “5-D vision.” In this sense, his art is merely a reflection of reality, less so imaginative than it is informative, less fictive than factual, at least according to his own understanding.
Moreover, many of the elements included in Xmasville are not novel images conjured from Morrison’s mind but rather pre-existing pieces of the Santa Claus mythology. The Pola-Cola War that laid siege to Klaus’ workshop for a diluvial “forty days and nights” pays homage to the previously popular myth that Santa Claus’ red and white color scheme was first branded by the Coca-Cola company in the early ‘30s (in reality, such predates both Santa and even his predecessor Sinterklaas, coming directly from the red-with-white-trim bishops’ robes of Saint Nikolas himself). The notion of Klaus combating “so-called Martians” approximately twenty years prior to 1985 is likewise a reference to the 1964’s infamous Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, panned widely as the worst film ever made. Other familiar faces include Дед Мороз (Grandfather Frost) and Снежевиночка (Snowmaiden), the latter a Frosty the Snowman-like glacial Galatea, being the Slavic Santa’s sometimes-granddaughter, sometime sultry sidekick. Having heard her tale for four years in Russian classes throughout secondary school, I’d long been hoping for Morrison to include her in his Klaus comics, and his Viking Valkyrie version of the character doesn’t disappoint.
On the other hand, Morrison can argue that he’s not a fiction writer in the sense that he’s a hermetic shaman, using art not to reflect our world but rather to affect it. Indeed, immediately after the introduction of the Electrokind, a character in All-Star #4 states “If we can first unify the fundamental forces of our imagination, you see, all else will follow.” Appropriately, Morrison most effectively make the argument for the importance of imagination and its ability to affect us by being so imaginative in the pages of Xmasville and in that way working his spell upon us readers. Klaus can laugh a hearty “Ho, ho, ho!” in the face of the impossible because he can imagine a solution, even if what he imagines is simply a deus ex machina, precisely because imagination is the solution – and for we the readers, in imagining that to be the case, it becomes the case. Our emotional response to the well-earned eucatastrophe at the end has the effect that we are more likely to emulate Klaus’ optimism and ingenuity in the face of seeming-impossibility. All great fiction is similarly inspirational, but Morrison is unique in unifying so sublimely the thesis for which he’s arguing with the evidence for that argument.
And it could not have come at a better time. We’re in not some short season, soon gone in three mere months, but in the winter of our discontent and despair as a society – civility and common cause and even basic political norms having all given way to polarized partisanship, deepening divisions, and increased entrenchment, and most chillingly forecasted is the winds of nuclear winter even. Given such, the Emptykin aliens that serve among the antagonists of this issue are less so an invention or Morrison’s than a dramatization of our own reality. Of these demogorgic parasites, the satanic Santa states:
In them the power to dream grew rotten, cancerous, then died. Without imagination, they could conceive no further future for themselves. Only extinction.”
The Emptykin are not merely the enemy, they are what we might be, our Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come; as the evil Santa unto Klaus, they are our own dark doppelgängers from the Upside Down.
But the paradox of Christmas – and Yuletide, and Solstice, and Saturnalia – has always been that the darkest days of the year can simultaneously be the brightest and most Jovial, precisely because we are able to overlay onto our bleak and brute reality seemingly evanescent and ephemeral ideas such as hope, and in altering our perception really rearranging reality indeed. By believing, the dead of winter becomes a winter wonderland.
This was the first lesson Morrison learned as a child himself, and the one he’s still teaching today. A child of the ‘60s, he came of age in an era when society was similarly suffering unrest and upheaval; when the long night of nuclear winter likewise loomed large in the public imagination. He recalls in his autobiography:
Before it was the Bomb, the Bomb was an Idea.
“Superman, however, was a Faster, Stronger, Better Idea.
“It’s not that I needed Superman to be ‘real,’ I just needed him to be more real than the Idea of the Bomb that ravaged my dreams. I needn’t have worried; Superman is so indefatigable a product of human imagination, such a perfectly designed emblem of our highest, kindest, wisest, toughest selves, that my Idea of the Bomb had no defense against him.”
Klaus is Christmas’ Superman, replete with red cape, an indefatigable product of the greatest imagination of our generation, a perfectly designed emblem of highest selves. One which, even in the face of a harsh reality which parasitically preys upon our hopes and dreams, is so powerfully potent a symbol that we can’t but believe in.