Halloween is over, so I guess now it’s time to review a… Christmas comic?!
KLAUS 1 (of 6)
by Grant Morrison and Dan Mora
This book is silly. Really, intensely silly. And made all the more so by how seriously it seems to be taking itself.
“Seems” is the operative word here, though, because I don’t think this book’s nearly as serious as that cover might lead you to believe. That, it would seem, is the marketing veneer being used to sell the book in a comics market that’s more likely to buy the story of a grim bad ass warrior Santa Claus than it is a frankly rather silly Christmas story with a bit of punching.
But I’ve gotten ahead of myself here. Klaus (or, KLAUS, as I prefer to style it) is Grant Morrison’s attempt at doing All-Star Santa Claus. Or Ultimate Santa Claus, if you prefer. Santa Claus: Year One, perhaps. Or, if you’re really old school, Santa Claus: Who He Is, And How He Came To Be.
According to Morrison himself, he’s drawing on the original Germanic folklore that gave rise to the Santa Claus legend, and crafting an all-new origin story for modern audiences. Except, at least in this first issue, it seems to me that he’s really just doing an updating of the old Rankin-Bass stop-motion Christmas special Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.
No, seriously. Check this out:
Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town is about a strapping young man and his penguin companion, who rebel against the ruler of a small Bavarian village called Sombertown, a place where fun has been outlawed, so they work with a family of forest-dwelling sprites to bring toys to the children.
KLAUS is about a strapping young hunter and his wolf companion, who get roughed up by the rulers of a small Bavarian village called Grimsvig, a place where fun has been outlawed, leading him to call upon the spirits of the forest for inspiration, which comes in the form of a giant bag full of toys.
IT’S THE SAME FREAKING STORY!
Granted, Morrison’s version has a class warfare subtext that’s not really present in the Rankin-Bass…
…and it’s more violent, to boot…
…but otherwise, the story’s every bit as simple. I might even go so far as to say that Morrison’s villains, thus far, are actually less nuanced than Rankin-Bass’ grumpy tyrant the Burgermeister Meisterburger.
Honestly, if later issues include some kind of ice wizard…
…I’m gonna straight-up call it plagiarism.
Well, okay. I’m probably being too harsh. It’s entirely likely that Morrison, who grew up in Scotland, has never seen or heard of an American children’s TV special that hasn’t aired (outside of rare appearances on third-tier cable networks) since the 1970s. For all I know, both stories may be drawing on the same early Santa Claus tales, and Rankin-Bass just cleaned the material up to soften the “evil rich people” stuff. And to get rid of the paganism.
Of course, that’s the best part of KLAUS. Once Our Hero summons the Shining Family, things get seriously weird…
…and then you know you really are reading a Grant Morrison comic. I mean, faced with a concept like Santa’s Elves, do you really think he’s going to give you literal toy-making midgets? Hell, no! He’s gonna give you strange airy creatures of mysterious inspiration and psychedelic Yule-Conans!
So there you have it. KLAUS. A deeply silly comic about a deeply silly subject, drawn in lovely cartoon realism and spattered lightly with the writer’s pet themes. It is, by far, not Grant Morrison’s best work. But it’s light and fun, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, if you absolutely must have a gritty reboot of Santa Claus, I’d far prefer it to be a fun one.