Klaus and the Crying Snowman

2018-12-19 (1)

For me, Christmas has come to be defined by an eclectic and ever growing assortment of annual traditions, mostly of my own making and replacing those passed down by my parents. Having no wife or kids, the common Christmastide tradition of spending the holidays at home with family has given way to my Scrooge-ian insistence of punching the time card at work for that sweet, sweet overtime pay. Having no nativity set, I’ve let go to the wayside my parents’ peculiar tradition of hiding the Christ child till Christmas morn and only then laying the figurine in the manger. Likewise their tradition of a “Gift from God,” a religiously-themed present I’d receive each year that they stated was not from Santa but from God directly, albeit still wrapped and placed alongside the toys I’d actually asked for. And likewise the advent calendar, Christmas Eve candle lit midnight mass, and honey glazed country ham for Christmas Day dinner.

In their stead are a proud insistence on having my tree fully decorated every November 1st and working out at the gym to carrols ranging from “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” to Mr. Garrison’s “Merry Fucking Christmas to You.” And Christmas specials. So many Christmas specials. Which should be unsurprising of a professional cultural critic. In addition to the obligatory Die Hard and A Christmas Story, my personal docket includes every single seasonal special from South Park, Community, and Futurama, Black Mirror’s White Christmas, the Klaus comics, and as of this year, also from the mind of Morrison, season one of Happy! (which in turn has inspired a new tradition of trying to convince the Law and Order: SVU crowd that Happy! is a hard boiled cop drama while at the same time telling parents of young children that it’s a about a father who teams up with his daughter’s imaginary friend to solve a delightful Christmas caper.)

Given how self-referential Morrison’s work tends to be, I was surprised to find that this year’s Klaus and the Crying Snowman most closely resonated with one of the specials I rewatched last night, Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas, in which stop-motion versions of the Greendale Study Group discover that the true meaning of Christmas is the idea that Christmas can have meaning; it’s so fungible a concept that it can mean whatever we decide, running the gamut from “Jesus is the reason for the season” to “two weeks of video games” to “Christmas can even be a Hanukkah thing.” Morrison’s ever expanding ensemble cast has always come from all corners of Christmas traditions, but Crying Snowman includes some curious choices, even in a series in which aliens once used children as bongs to smoke their imaginations.

The first of these introduced is a figure out of Scandinavian folklore known as Julbocken (Joulepukki in Finland, in the text Joulepukka), or Yule Goat, whose origin – like many Yuletide traditions –  evidently predates Christianization, though afterward was one of the many pagan elements to see synchronization with Saint Nikolaus. The resulting synthesis was a Medieval-era Furry clad in a goat mask and bishop’s mitre every Childermas (December 28th), supposedly to symbolize Nikolaus’ power over Satan. This explains the Yule Goat in Crying Snowman suddenly transforming into a Baphomet-faced badass and incinerating an army of “tree-clopses” with a word.

Just as the Julbocken is representative of pre-Christian elements of Christmas, Moș Gerilă’s inclusion is representative of post-Christian celebrations, being a creation of communist propaganda to replace the religious sentiments surrounding Moș Crăciun and Christmas Day. Gerilă would even deliver gifts on December 30th, relegating the 25th to what Scrooge always saw it as, just another work day. Gerilă was a theft and re-appropriation of the concept of Santa Claus no less than Polar Cola’s plans to copyright their own true blue American Santa Claus in last year’s Crisis in Xmasville. Morrison’s inclusion of the communist character as one of Klaus’ companions is certainly curious, and illustrative of just how plastic he considers the Santa archetype.

Stranger still, another figure who many would count as a precursor to Sinterklaas is cast here as the true villain of the story. Though no more or less pagan than Julbocken, the Germanic god Wōtan – a bearded old man and famed gift-giver known to wander the northern wastes – is connected to Klaus* only in thematic juxtaposition, having encountered the same challenge centuries earlier and failed miserably, resulting in Ragnarök for the Æsir. When a comet called Loki carrying the fire jotunn Surtr arrived in the inner Solar System from the Oort Cloud as part of its roughly fifteen hundred year transit in order to harvest sunlight, Wotan took to piracy, this act of greed resulting directly in the downfall of the gods.

Contra Klaus, who though no less capable at combat than Odin, as so suggested by him many triumphs against equally impossible odds in past annuals, nevertheless approaches this new threat in his closest comparison to Santa Claus so far: giving gifts, and knowing who’s naughty and nice. Even the superficial elements of the character have red shifted towards the Kris Kringle we’re more familiar with. If his muscles are still as big and bulging, then they’re definitely more concealed by his new costume. And the distinguished streaks of white in his otherwise black hair have given way to a billowing beard bleached white by age. What caused the immortal and ageless Klaus, surely not long after his latest appearances in Witch of Winter and Xmasville, to have wizened in so short a time, and age even further yet by traveling back in time one day, are mysteries I’ve not been able to solve so far from the clues provided, or perhaps they’re intended to be shown at another time, like the oft mentioned but still unseen Lunar Civil War.

These explorations of each and every facet of the global and historical Santa mythology and their recontextualization into the pulp action of the medium has always been a point of success for the Klaus comics, but what makes the truly work is that Morison always centers that action on what he considers the core concepts of Christmas (regardless of how far flung the peripheral associations integrate into such). In his Secret Origin, the focus was on Joy. In the Witch of Winter, belief. In Xmasville, wonderment and imagination. Here in Crying Snowman, Morrison brings to the forefront two themes closely associated with the Christian Christmas and pagan Solstice, respectively: Peace on Earth, and the return of warmth and light and life.

The first is obvious in the negative peace Klaus achieves, there being the absence of a war that would otherwise have been utterly apocalyptic, thereby preventing any possibility of positive inner peace. That positive peace is achieved by the reconciliation of Sam the Snowman with his son and wife. The return of warmth and light associated with the days subsequent to the winter solstice lengthening can be seen as paralleled by Surtr and the Nightborn needing to harvest the heat of the Sun. In giving them this gift, Klaus is mythological enacting the same celestial beneficence our agrarian ancestors relied upon back when Yuletide meant something to someone for the very first time.

2018 has been a hell of a year in all the worse ways, personally speaking. I could use a return of light in my life, a fresh start in a new year, and a little inner peace in my world; as annually like cosmic clockwork, Morrison’s Klaus does indeed provide a small sliver of solace when the days are darkest.

 

*There is a character matching Odin’s description as the Grey Wanderer standing behind Klaus at the climactic confrontation, but this is given no explanation, and it may well just be Papa Nomuz, whose statue stood next to Joulepukka in the workshop, and like Klaus and Mus Gerila seems to be a deliberate misspelling on Morrison’s part, perhaps of Papa Noel.
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