Santa as a superhero. It’s a simple, novel premise. An old, classical tale, a myth of great universal power and charm with various permutations, he’s a figure and an archetype that’s ripe for a spin on the superhero train. And that’s very much what Klaus offers. But given the creative team is Grant Morrison and Dan Mora, it might have just a bit more than what you might expect.
This is the book Dan Mora broke out with and made his name on and it’s easy to see why. There’s a wonderful, cartoony charm and warmth to Mora’s characters and designs, but they’re also packed with just enough detail to hit a nice balance. Mora can sell you beefcake supergod Santa in the snow and he can make the whole thing also feel grounded in some fashion. There’s just enough there to make you go ‘huh, that works’. Mora would go on to grow by leaps and bounds after the book, but this is the sort of big debut and all his sensibilities that would slowly propel him into stardom are right here. The narrative, being about Santa and set around Christmas, obviously deals with cold and thus also warmth, because it’s what we need in that time and that dichotomy of cold and warm, that sort of darkness of the night and the radiant brilliance of the sun, that’s important to the title. And it’s because Mora can effectively nail both that the book is a success. His villains are slender, mad-eyed and are almost parasitic, while his heroes and allies are full of passion, fear and life.
The match of Morrison and Mora here is a lovely one, as one leaps above the other with each issue, better acclimating to the others’ sensibilities. Morrison in general starts out fairly restrained and with every issue, as Mora delivers better and bigger, they ramp it up, leading to a finale wherein they get to cut loose and unleashes Mora’s magic. And that sort of slow approach is solid here. The pitch is essentially Santa: Year One or Santa: Birthright and the book absolutely delivers there. It’s 7-issues and you have Santa framed as a Robin Hood-esque figure, an outlaw bringing about joy and happiness and light to a town steeped in the obsidian darkness of its fascist ruler. It’s remarkably silly, of course; it’s Santa Claus as superhero written by Grant Morrison, how can it not be? And so you have a small town where in the men and women cannot have Christmas and must work like slaves on the ruler’s secret project. As for toys and gifts? Forbidden, reserved only for the broken boy that is the prince of this land. A cruel, vindictive and naughty child taking after his father, despite the best efforts of his kind mother, he becomes a central piece of the story.
Klaus is very much a Christmas story and thus alongside the motifs of cold/warmth, light/dark, there’s the other things you expect in here. The idea of forgiveness, second chances, kindness, miracles are clearly established here. They’ll go onto be fixtures of all the other Klaus narratives, but this is their starting point. And there’s, of course, the power of imagination. While the fascistic and oppressive ruler promotes only labor and servitude, Klaus promotes imagination, dreams and embracing wonder. Life is meant to be lived with love and passion, with hope, not for the benefit of a rich and privileged master. The narrative, of course, delves into Klaus’ own mysterious and secret past and his connections with the town, which reveal a lot and serve the story, emphasizing the core points. Klaus is kind, forgiving, self-less and rage-less, where as his foes are all but. Even as the story tells us the tragic details of his past, it’s hard not to be inspired by the grin on the man’s face.
There’s a lot of Doctor Who in this book. Grant Morrison’s never really had their own proper blockbuster superhero property, one that they own for themselves. And this reads like the answer to that predicament. It’s everything they love thrown into one big pot and mixed together. They were not kidding when they said ‘All-Star Santa’. This is equal parts Superman, as it is Batman and The Doctor. There’s Superman’s iconic, visual flair and power, bright red costume and all, the hunted self-less outlaw factor and the will of Batman and the almost imaginary-friend and friend of children aspect of The Doctor.
And if the sequels to this series are the Doctor Who revival, this is almost the classic series. It’s fairly basic and straightforward and in a very good way. It’s a nice, comfy, wholesome read that can be enjoyed by everyone, at Christmas time or otherwise. Klaus has his own awesome super-pet in the form of the super-wolf Lili, who’s like his Krypto, he has his great costume and his magical, cosmic sleigh, which is his Batmobile. It’s the coolest possible take on the classic myth of the gift-giver and it’s perfectly 2010’s.
While Morrison is known for weaving hugely ambitious metatextual masterpieces full of layers, which can be a bit intimidating for some, this is a perfect recommendation or starting point. It’s an easy first timer Morrison, because it has all the tropes and sensibilities one expects with Morrison, but communicated in an incredibly accessible, digestible fashion. You could hand this to a little kid and they’d totally get it and walk away thinking this was the coolest take on the fluffy old gift-giver of Christmas. And of course, with all its silliness, is the heart. There’s plenty of it, for how could there not be in a Christmas story, one about forgiveness, kindness and miracles? The ending, again illustrated with such passion and care by Mora, has some of the most touching sequences Morrison’s ever done and the entire book is an earnest read that makes you cheer by its end, as Santa rides his cosmic sleigh and inspires.
Klaus is an easy, perfect recommendation for any readers. Everybody knows or has heard of Santa and so this fun little take on him as a superhero, brought to life by Dan Mora, should thrill and surprise, while feeling just familiar and right enough to charm. It’s Morrison’s love of superheroes all synthesized into one single, universal mythic figure. It’s them and Mora laying the groundwork for a whole universe of heroic adventure with its own cosmology and rich history and this is the starting point. It’s the ground zero, the Year One. You want in on this. Klaus is Chris Hemsworth-Thor as your lovable dad and a romance hero you can’t help but adore. He’s your new favorite superhero.
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