Grant Morrison and Dan Mora’s revisionist take on the “Santa Claus” mythos was one of the best comics I read back in 2016. This follow-up volume, which collects the two extra-sized one-shots the creators have released in its wake isn’t in the same league. That’s because both are the rare Morrison-written projects where he puts his crazy mad ideas first at the expense of grounding them in a relatable human story.
It’s especially true of the first story, “Klaus and the Witch of Winter,” which starts of with the title character casually mentioning that he was trapped on the moon for decades as part of the Lunarians’ civil war before he dives into the main story. You’d think something like that would warrant its own one-shot, and maybe it will, but it feels like too much to digest before the narrative has time to get started. That happens to be about two kids who were kidnapped by the new team running Klaus’ old workshop: The Witch of Winter and her right-hand elf Spoonlicker.
With enchanted wood golems, Gepetto, an evil elf that loves to lick spoons, an army of animatronic Santas, Klaus’ wolf Lilli singing -- the kind of madness that you’d expect from the writer is on full display here. Yet the story ultimately winds up feeling like an excuse to show it off with no real emotion to underpin it. While the story does have a subplot about two kidnapped kids, with one of them falling under the witch’s influence, it strictly adheres to the playbook for this kind of story without offering anything to distinguish itself. There are some fun lines, with global warming getting a few amusing nods, and Klaus’ charisma is undeniable on the page. It just isn’t enough to hold this particular story together.
Faring better is “Klaus and the Crisis in Xmasville,” which has a better emotional hook with a family losing their father to a town filled with Santas where Christmas is everyday. Xmasville was originally built by the owner of the Pola Cola company who wound up losing a literal trademark war with Klaus. Now the current owners of Pola Cola are looking to relaunch their brand, starting with the town and with some help from another Klaus who hails from a dark mirror universe.
That description of “Evil Klaus’” homeworld is my own, gleaned from Morrison’s text. “Crisis in Xmasville’s” biggest flaw is that it never gives the character an origin that makes thematic or plot sense. Instead, I’m left feeling that the character wandered in from the dimension that housed all of the bad things King Mob and company were fighting against in “The Invisibles.”
“Evil Klaus” does work on a primal level as an antagonist with his Lobo-esque viciousness and hairiness providing a great visual counterpart to Klaus’ look. Though the story ultimately succumbs to the same kind of piling-on-of-crazy that sunk the first tale, it’s still much easier to get involved in. What with its tale of a family needing to be saved, an evil corporation trying to take over Christmas, and a better introduction of characters like Grandfather Frost (who’s like a kinder, gentler “Batman” here) there’s a lot more to enjoy about “Crisis in Xmasville.”
Then there’s Mora’s artwork in both stories. Even when it wouldn’t be advisable, he’s clearly in sync with Morrison about everything the writer gives him to draw. He goes at the Witch, her minions, and workplace with gusto, making sure the visuals captivate even when the story doesn’t. Mora even changes up his style a bit, giving “Crisis in Xmasville” a more textured, almost painterly look reminiscent of Norman Rockwell, whose idyllic vision of America Morrison gleefully tweaks here.
“The New Adventures of Santa Claus” isn’t a complete misfire, but it’s disappointing that one of Morrison’s creator-owned works winds up being a shining example of his worst traits. As I understand it, he and Mora are planning to keep putting out “Klaus” one-shots like the ones collected here for the foreseeable future with “Klaus and the Crying Snowman” set to arrive soon. Much as I love the concept and character, Morrison would do well to dial the craziness back and give us some good human stories to help us relate to it better.