Every year, there’s an annual tradition in American comics — legendary creator Grant Morrison will get together with rockstar artist Dan Mora to bring us a new Klaus one-shot. This is Santa as superhero comics. This is the sexy beefcake take on Santa you never knew you wanted. And it’s one that’s always in the perfect sync with the spirit of the holidays, delivering tales of warmth, kindness, forgiveness and miracles.
This year, the team, due to a lack of time on Morrison’s part, has come out with a bit of a fun experimental one-shot that’s basically a calendar, with dates and moments in time, illustrated as big splash imagery by Dan Mora. A lot of these pages are poster or calendar merch worthy. But all of them, ultimately, are so much more. Laid out in reverse, going backwards in time, they’re structured in a fun, intricate manner to tell the story of an entire lifetime. These aren’t just fun moments, these are the sum totality of a life well lived, a life well loved. These are the great highs and lows, the ups and downs, that make up a lifetime. And they’re not just any lifetime, they’re that of Klaus’ kid sidekick, Joe Christmas.
At its heart, every choice made in the Klaus books, which span one mini-series and now four one-shots, is informed by one thing: Santa as a superhero. So you have the pet super-wolf, Lilli, who’s like Klaus’ Krypto. You have the cosmic sleigh, which is like his Bat-Mobile. Even Santa’s ‘HoHoHo’ is turned into a superheroic line uttered in moments of iconic significance. The idea is to make a superhero franchise and figure that is wild and malleable, as good and great and designed-to-be eternal as Superman or Batman or a Doctor Who. And so part of that superheroic equation is ‘legacy’. Sidekicks are a classic staple and so that’s what this issue is built off of. We have the orphaned boy Joe Christmas, who becomes Klaus’ partner-in-heroics and he’s the Dick Grayson, the Robin, or the Bucky Barnes of the character. And we get to witness his entire life unfold before our eyes, told in reverse, as up to three years are consistently skipped over, unveiling a new moment and with them a new day of the calendar format.
And so what you get is this really, genuinely touching, poignant tale of a baby who becomes a boy, who becomes a young man, who then becomes a middle-aged man, then an old man and then finally passes away. We see him laugh, we see him cry, we see him fly, we see him fall and throughout all of it, we see Klaus, what Klaus is to him, what he means to him. And Klaus is very much both the spiritual father and this big-brother, who does not age a day, while Joe keeps getting older. Once upon a time, they all lived happily ever after. But the time is always now and now outlives all of us and so Joe Christmas is but a single ember in contrast to the eternal flame of Klaus. Despite that, it’s all so meaningful because it is fleeting. It’s joyous because you never know if this will last, it’s so great because you only live once and you only get to live like this with Klaus for so long.
What could easily be a heartbreaking tragedy in other hands becomes a sweet story that’s about the radiance, the beauty and glory of life, of the ultimate gift, existence and even when all seems cold and dark, you remember that. And that reminder is what Klaus symbolizes here, being the kindly, gentle gift-giver, who heals, helps and like time, watches you change. Mora’s artwork is nothing sort of magical here, as he renders both high-concept sci-fi imagery and psychedelic imagery with relative ease, while bringing genuine heart and emotion to the page. He can capture all those little nuances in expression or body language, which say so much. And given this book is a silent issue with no words, no letterer Ed Dukeshire, the storytelling is solely on Mora. And the clarity that he achieves here through each image is just astonishing. But what’s even greater is each page is just so packed, loaded with gifts, almost, for the readers to dig through. There’s tons of things to infer, interpret or unpack just placed carefully in the whole thing.
And while it’s doing all that, the one-shot works as almost a psuedo-history of this wild universe of gift-givers. We see Klaus fighting in World War II along with Joe Christmas, taking on the role of heroes like Captain America and Wonder Woman, then we see him form The League of Santas in the ’50s, this universe’s equivalent of The Justice League, The Avengers or what have you, blended with The Batmen of All Nations. And Morrison peppers in tons of pop culture references or Easter eggs and other fun ideas here, such as but not limited to Klaus giving an autograph to The Beatles. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Morrison lets out a storm of ideas, one after other, striking in rapid succession page after page, teasing things about this wider superheroic universe and all the strange, bizarre wondrous things it has to offer. We even get a sneak peek of the much-teased and anticipated Lunar War, where in Klaus faces The Moondogs and Kobolts, who are evil sentient missiles and umbrellas that live on the moon (seriously). There’s such a lovely dash of the strange and the surreal here that it’s deeply charming and the work asks the reader to read the issue and then re-read it again and then perhaps read it backwards, to get a greater sense of story. In any case, this is a one-shot that is a cocooned in joy — it’s like an injection with delight that’s sure to give you a jolt for the holidays or heck, any day. Klaus is the best parts of Superman, Batman and The Doctor and it is eternally a joy to revisit him and his world.
It’s also worth mentioning, if you want a sense of the level of fun the creative team is having here, look no further than a massive X-Men homage (I’ll keep the specifics a surprise) image inside, which is immediately hilarious.
Despite the beginning being death, there’s a genuine exuberance to The Life and Times of Joe Christmas. It’s this holler in the face of everything, it’s yelling “I’m alive! I was here!” and it runs through such a gamut of experiences. And amidst all of that, we’re blessed with more super-pets action, as we meet Joe’s super-cat, Tiger, who can size-shift and has a pirate-eye patch. He’s like Nick Fury, but a size-shifting cat. And he pals around with Lilli and other animals from the Grimm tales and ostensibly has celestial super missions with The League of Santa-Pets. That’s the kind of comic this is and if you’re in anyway interested, go pick it up.
You needn’t have read anything prior to this — that’s the rather wonderful perk of Klaus. Every story is separate and standalone. All you need to know is ‘Hot heroic Santa’ and you’re good. You’ll get it. It’s accessible, it’s fun and it’s perfect for the holidays. Grab this if you want a smile and something you can show to anyone, if only for Dan Mora’s spellbinding artwork and colors.
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