I don’t celebrate Christmas. Not because I have anything against the holiday, to be clear – I’m Jewish, and our winter holiday is heavier on violent insurrection, and lighter on the gift-giving saint. Which means that, until now, I’ve held off from reading Grant Morrison and Dan Mora’s masterpiece, Klaus. I always thought that I wouldn’t have a connection with the book; that the inherently Christian nature of Santa Claus would mean that it would just bounce off of me.
I was very wrong. Klaus, you see, isn’t really a Santa Claus book. Oh, he does stuff on Christmas, he has a sleigh, he wears lots of red, but what Klaus really is about is Superman. It’s a book intensely in conversation with the previous entries in Morrison’s canon, and with comics in general.
Take, for instance, the first of the two stories in this volume, Klaus and the Crying Snowman. It follows the adventure of Klaus, his team of fellow international Santa Clauses (Santas Claus?), and a man transfigured into a snowman as they attempt to stop the invasion of alien demons arriving on a comet. (It’s more complicated than that, of course, but good enough).
It borrows elements from a half-dozen different Morrison stories, playing with those elements. For instance, the invaders themselves are a sort of twist on the end of JLA: they arrive bringing destruction and devastation ahead of them in a sphere of destruction akin to the mythic Ragnarok. It’s just like Maggeddon, but where Maggeddon is a force of cosmic death, entirely evil, the foes in Klaus are ultimately just misunderstood. The mythic tales that underlie World War III, in the conclusion of JLA, are subverted and commented upon, as Morrison returns to the theme once more.
Similarly, the other half of the book – Life & Times of Joe Christmas – is an intense set of commentary upon the rest of the comics world. It’s a silent issue of double-page vertical spreads told in reverse chronological order (something like three different comics gimmicks all fused together), almost all of which are comments upon other comics stories. One references Days of Future Past, another references Ghostbusters, and so on and so forth. But even in the context of that commentary, it’s still a fantastic piece of story-telling. It’s evocative, touching, and emotional, and does all of that in an extremely limited form of the medium. It’s really just impressive.
And if there’s been one good thing out of this hellhole of a year, it’s been that people have rightfully noticed that Dan Mora is one of the all-time masters of the art. His art is subtle yet evocative, his linework clear yet detailed, and I am torn, at times, between being reminded of artists like Evan Shaner or Chris Samnee, and Jerry Ordway or George Perez. Mora’s art dazzles on every page, and the second half of the book, the collection of two page spreads, is incredible just as a demonstration of Mora’s talents.
“Best” is an overused term when it comes to comic books, especially at the end of the year. But Klaus truly is one of the best comics you can read.
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