Grant Morrison has a well-deserved reputation as an ideas man. So I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that he came up with the idea of doing an origin story for Santa Claus that takes the character back to his Germanic and Viking-related origins. Klaus was a captain in the Grimsvig guard until he was driven out by treachery. Returning years later as a hunter who is looking to sell his wares, Klaus finds that the town at yuletime is without cheer. This has happened under the rule of the bitterly scheming Lord Magnus who has also seized all the toys in town for his own ungrateful son. What’s to be done about this? Well, Klaus does have his own skill as a toymaker and his skills as a former guardsman turn out to be quite useful for sneaking into the town and running around on its rooftops. Where things go next are a mix of the obvious and unexpected, actually.
Stories that deal with Santa’s non-mythological past are pretty rare, but not quite unheard of. The innovation Morrison has brought to this story essentially involves recasting the character as a superhero. Klaus is the lone hero fighting against an oppressive regime to bring happiness and joy for all. Yet when his human limits finally catch up with him, Klaus transcends them in a way that fuses the idea of worker elves with an alien abduction story. This happens towards the end of the story, but it allows the narrative to go off in a joyously crazy direction as Klaus becomes a living myth in order to beat the living crap out of the Krampus.
Yes, the evil anti-Santa of legend is in this story too. Why? Likely because Morrison rightly hit upon the thought that Good Santa vs. Evil Santa was too awesome of an idea to pass up here. He’s absolutely right as their fight is a highlight of the book that further underscores the writer’s approach to the title character as superhero. By the end of the story, Klaus has his powers, an arch-enemy, and a badass other-dimensional sleigh pulled by wolves (a change the writer has admitted because he felt it made for a more badass visual). Cynics may scoff, but the idea just feels right seeing it on the page. Watching Klaus leap into action against Krampus while exclaiming “THERE ARE NO BAD CHILDREN!” is as glorious a superhero moment as anything you’ll read in “One-Punch Man” this year.
I’d like to say everything in this story works just as well, except that’s not quite the case. Some of this does feel like Morrison is indulging his usual reality-bending tendencies. While I liked the elves/aliens conflation here, people less familiar with the writer’s work may be confused by what’s going on there. Others may just go, “That’s Morrison being Morrison” again. I can see why they’d say that, but their criticism would be better directed at a moment later on where Klaus’ sleigh is referred to as a bright machine from the eight-colored orb. Whatever that means.
A good deal of the writer’s dialogue also comes off as feeling more expository in nature rather than something actual people would say. Bits like the exchanges between Klaus and the barkeep and town guards when he returns to Grimsvig, as well as a good portion of Magnus’ exchanges with his wife and child feel stilted in that their only purpose was to explicitly convey information. Not all the dialogue is like this, thankfully, even if this does seem to be a trend within his creator-owned books as of late.
I’d also knock the writer for the generally predictable arc of this story, but that would be selling his work here short. Klaus’ rise, fall, and transcendence as savior of Grimsberg pretty much plays out as you’d expect. Yet it’s still involving because Morrison does the proper work in developing his cast. Klaus himself is as fierce and courageous a protagonist you could want for this kind of story, and one who isn’t without a sense of fun regarding the work he’s committed to doing. There are also some nice “A-ha!” moments regarding the Santa mythos, such as where he gets the idea to make his deliveries via chimneys. Just as impressive is the work done with Magnus, who initially comes off as a dark-hued villain that is Evil with a capital “E.” That would be all well and good for this kind of story, except that Morrison knows that there’s still something human in the worst of us. By the end of his role in the story, it’s hard not to feel just a little bit sad for the man and how he wound up that way.
Though Morrison’s name may have been what drew me to this project, there’s no denying that the art from Dan Mora helps make all of this craziness work on the page. Mora’s work boasts an impressive level of detail that’s evident from the first few pages, and he can pull off an impressive psychedelic freakout as well. (I imagine this is something Morrison looks for in all of the artists he works with.) The artist also has a great eye for action, with a frantic chase between Klaus and the Grimsvig guard late in the story being an adrenaline-fueled standout. I also appreciated how easy-to-follow his storytelling was, with many of the big moments of the story easily standing out on the page. That “A-ha!” moment I mentioned about Klaus and chimneys? It’s a two-page spread that works because of how clear it is to grasp the idea as Mora illustrates it.
“Klaus” is an energetic, joyous reinvention of Santa that really only trips over some clunky expositional dialogue along the way. Portraying St. Nick as a superhero feels so right in the way it’s developed by Morrison and rendered by Mora. You may wonder why no one has thought to do something like this before, but I’m glad we got to see these talented creators do it first. The fact that there’s more to come from their take on this subject -- the “Klaus and the Witch of Winter” one-shot is shipping soon -- comes off as more welcome holiday cheer.