Braddy Reads Klaus: How Santa Claus Began

Hey, remember that old Rankin Bass stop motion cartoon, Santa Claus is Coming to Town? Remember how that short went out of its way to explain every little aspect of Santa’s character, like why he wears red, or why he crawls down chimneys, or where Christmas trees come from?

Okay, so Klaus: How Santa Claus Began is basically that story, only with about a million times more thematic Batman.

This book’s a couple of years old now. It’s been in the back of my mind ever since, mainly because the writer, Grant Morrison, happens to be a favorite of mine. I’ve always loved his slightly-trippy superhero plots, whether he writes about that time Superman got cancer and decided to create the Earth:

…or that time that he wrote a comic book that threatened to kill you, the reader:

…or that other Superman story, where he sang so hard that he destroyed all evil:

…or that one time he turned Batman into a time-hopping caveman Puritan private-eye pirate:

…yeah. So turning Santa Claus into Batman doesn’t actually feel that weird in the context of the rest of Morrison’s work.

Matter of fact, for the first several chapters, I felt somewhat let down by how conventional Klaus felt. Morrison’s Klaus is a disgraced former guardsman, framed for a crime he didn’t commit and exiled. He’s never strayed far from the town where he used to serve, and he’s never forgotten the love of his life, Dagmar. Dagmar is now married to Klaus’s rival, the local baron, who oppresses his people with a cruel and joyless regime. It’s up to Klaus to save the day and bring back happiness to the etc.

Then we get to the part where a literal hell-demon refers to Santa’s sleigh as “a bright machine from the 8-cornered orb! Forged of the rarest thought-metals by the hated elders of my kind!” That felt like the Grant Morrison I like.

Of course, Morrison isn’t on this journey alone. The artwork from Dan Mora depicts a pretty believable buff Santa, younger with a brown beard and muscles like a professional wrestler. The action scenes are paced well. Mora’s got particularly good timing with one gag where Klaus tosses a snowball onto the roof of a building, where the snowball… umm… snowballs until it’s large enough to take out some pursuing soldiers. It’s the sort of move that wouldn’t feel out of place in any child’s Batman story, but it’s pretty darn well executed here.

All said, the conventionality of Klaus is probably a strength. Said conventionality makes this a far more accessible comic than it might be otherwise, and that’s a good thing, because this is a story most people who like comics should probably read. What Klaus lacks in Morrisonian weirdness it more than makes up for in that odd Morrisonian optimism I never get tired of.

See, Dagmar’s son, Jonas, is a petty and sniveling child. He’s been spoiled rotten by his father, and he’s… well, he’s pretty much the worst.

But, you know, Klaus is a Christmas story, and if there’s one thing a Christmas story should do, it should encourage naughty children to be nice. Jonas’s redemption arc begins with a simple act of kindness – his mother shares one of Klaus’s toys with him, and together they play out a story that takes a much kinder turn than Jonas’s stories usually take.

That’s probably the best thing I can say about Klaus: it manages to take the toy, the symbol of childish greed and selfishness, and turn it into a mechanism for positive change. A simple gift, sincerely given with love, can be the thing that transforms a person for good. It’s great, great stuff that manages to imbue Christmas with more meaning and goodwill than possibly anything outside of the Nativity itself. Worth the read, any time of year.

…and we’ll go with that being the reason I’m writing about this now and not, say, in December.

Field of Loss

I admit: when I first started drawing these little dino people, I drew them in robes because I didn’t want to figure out how their limbs worked. After drawing a few statues of non-robed critters, I have a much better understanding of what my li’l boys and gals actually look like.

Original plans for this drawing were a lot more ambitious, with ruined buildings and sunsets… but then I got tired.

March Madness: Disney Songs Bracket

Not much time for preamble today. If you spend any time on Twitter at all, you’ve probably seen a slew of different brackets making the rounds, usually pitting great movies or Internet boyfriends against each other. Yet of all the brackets, though, only one truly begged for completion:

ROUND ONE

Now, I imagine I would have seeded this a little differently, but we play with the memes we’re dealt. First round went pretty quickly. Wherever possible, the edge went to the iconic song over the merely nostalgic.

A few items of note:

  • The behemoth “Let It Go” lost in an early season upset to “Part of Your World.” Whether this demonstrates the strength of longing over empowerment, or whether the judge was simply some random thirtysomething unable to set aside his childhood, we may never know.
  • Classic dad-rockers Phil Collins, Billy Joel, and Elton John all survive into Round 2. Joel is probably the biggest surprise there, but even “Why Should I Worry” performed well against the cut-rate Prince ripoff from The Goofy Movie.
  • The defeat of “I See the Light” hurt far more than I expected. Although Tangled is one of my all-time favorite animated movies, “Part of Your World” is easily among the best Disney songs ever composed and readily curbstomped the competition.
  • On the other hand, “Go the Distance” and “How Far I’ll Go” aren’t even close to the same level. The Hercules song is fine enough, but, thematically, Moana just hangs together so much better, and “How Far I’ll Go” plays an indispensable part in that film’s execution.
  • “You’re Welcome” and “Friend Like Me” made for a tougher competition than I expected. The difference came down to performance. The Rock does well enough, but there’s no world at all where he out-sings Robin Williams.

ROUND TWO

Something really interesting happened this round: I realized just how much I esteem the songs of A Little Mermaid. I can’t discount the fact that Mermaid was one of the first movies I ever saw in the theater, but I also suspect that there’s something objectively timeless and classic in the songs from that film.

Some more notes:

  • Perhaps no song in Disneydom is more revered than the villain song, and “Hellfire” is among the best of those, easily trouncing the iconic “Beauty and the Beast.” Given a choice between love and damnation, leave it to me to make the… questionable choice.
  • This same tendency is on display again on the other side of the bracket, as “Poor Unfortunate Souls” wins out over “Remember Me.”
  • Of the dad rockers, only Elton John endures. Likely this is due to the relatively weak competition. “Heffalumps and Woozles” worms its way into your brain, but “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” managed to pull ahead, perhaps demonstrating some awareness that it alone remains to represent the best film of Disney’s second golden age.

ROUND 3

Let’s jump straight to the commentary:

  • The Little Mermaid continues to impress, sending two of its numbers to the Final Four. Its third representative, “Part of Your World,” loses its footing against “Hellfire,” but it goes home with its head held high, having made a good showing to this point.
  • “When You Wish Upon a Star” may carry a questionable message, but it’s undoubtedly classic. Not even Elton John stands a chance.

ROUND FOUR

At this point, there is nothing more I can do but be true to myself. When forced to pick between a pair of villain songs, one of the most charming and romantic Disney songs of all time, and a song that is arguably the MOST Disney song of all time… how I could I not pick the villain songs?

And now, we come to…

ROUND FIVE – THE FINAL ROUND

“Poor Unfortunate Souls” is a delightfully, unapologetically wicked number, easily among the best Disney songs ever composed. Its opponent, “Hellfire,” lacks the tongue-in-cheek fun of “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” but it makes up for it with deep feeling and pathos. So who wins in the battle between earnestness and camp? In the end, there was really no question:

Well, I Guess I’m Old Now (or: How I Broke Myself Trying to Impress a Pretty Girl’s Family)

I texted my boss today:

I managed to sprain my ankle pretty badly this weekend. I should be okay to work, but I would like tomorrow off, just in case.

He responds:

Please do. A sprain is no joke, especially when we aren’t 12 years old anymore. Get wel.

And then:

Well

You know, like you do.

This probably isn’t the first time that I’ve sprained my ankle, but it’s definitely the first time I’ve sprained it so severely that I felt the need to run to urgent care. A few hours had passed since the injury, and I was trying to muscle through the pain with the help of a cheesy Netflix martial arts movie and some Little Caesar’s pizza (which I stood in line for fifteen minutes to get) (yes, that means I stood in line on a sprained ankle) (no, it was not worth it) (I mean, how could it be?). After a while, I decided I probably ought to at least wrap the thing up, and I think it was my frustration with trying to wrap my own ankle that finally led me to get in my car and drive to the urgent care, about twenty minutes away.

The doctor was nice. He wore a green scrubs top and khakis, and he had a very strong vibe that said, “As me about my trip to Amsterdam.” We bonded over a mutual interest in the “Yoga with Adriene” YouTube channel, and he joked about charging me hundreds of dollars more than he was supposed to. You know, normal doctor stuff. He did some X-rays to confirm that it was a sprain and not a break, gave me an ankle brace, and wished me luck. Pretty sure the luck was for dealing with the ankle brace. It’s a complicated tangle of cords and velcro that took both me and the nurse poring over the instructions to figure it out.

So I’ve been dating someone fairly seriously, which is incredibly important to the story, because of COURSE me hurting myself involves trying to impress a girl, right? Well, only sort of. See, at this point, we’ve been dating for about ten months, which I think is probably enough time for her to see right through any attempts at flattery. Her family, on the other hand, doesn’t know me that well yet. So this is really about me trying to impress them. Specifically, the two people whose negative opinion of me would put our continued couplehood in jeopardy.

No, not them. I’m referring to her six-year-old nephew and her four-year-old niece.

Saturday night finds me with my lady friend at her cousin’s wedding reception. Her niece and nephew, hopped up on youth and wedding brownies, decided that they were done sitting around and wanted to run outside to play. The girlfriend and I joined them, and we tracked around the grounds surrounding the church where the reception took place, our feet unsteady in the wet grass.

“Boy, this ground sure is soft,” I said, demonstrating a little principle known as dramatic tension.

The game we wound up playing is a popular one among all kids of a certain age. It’s called, “Watch the grown-ups do silly things.” The grown-up in this case was me, and the silly thing was attempting to chop down a tree using a bunch of those long, brown seed pods. You know, these ones:

Darn things are everywhere.

After slapping the side of the tree a few times, the pods would break, leaving me with a comically short stub pinched between my fingers. The kiddos, of course, thought this was hilarious, and I, pleased with the impression I was making, started playing up the comedy by employing increasingly ludicrous wind ups. Truly, a great time was had by all…until I bashed my hand into the tree.

The shock and pain from the impact sent me staggering back a couple of steps, where my ankle decided to do a Gordon Hayward (don’t look that up). My memory of the immediate aftermath is a little fuzzy, but I’m reasonably sure that’s right when my ladyfriend’s parents came out to get us for the cutting of the cake. Which means that they, and the girlfriend, and her niece and nephew, all beheld the exact moment I realized that I’m not a kid anymore.

When I was younger, of course, I’d walk of a rolled ankle like it was no big deal, because it wasn’t. I tried to play it off the same way last night, turning down my girlfriend’s offer to pick up some drugs and an ankle brace from Wal-Mart. I even lied to myself about it (hence the standing in line at Little Caesar’s). Eventually, though, I realized that I no longer have the resiliency of a six-year-old, and so I drove myself to urgent care.

When the girlfriend found out, she was… frustrated, to say the least:

Dude!!!! Why didn’t you call me?? Sheesh, you shouldn’t be driving.

And:

Oh brother. If you weren’t hurt I’d be so mad at you right now. But you are hurt and it’s kind of my fault so I can’t get mad.

And:

Ugh. Men are the WORST.

So there you go. I guess part of the process of getting older is learning to accept help again after striving so hard to be independent for so long. I eventually accepted some help from my parents, who brought me ace bandages and an old prescription for Ibuprofen 800 mg, which is GREAT STUFF.

Seriously, I’m not much for taking medicine, even when I need it, but nowadays, I’m all singing, “Ibuprofen! He be profen! She be profen! We’re all profen! Wouldn’t you like to be a profen too?”*

I even let the girlfriend finally help me – she brought me a pair of crutches, which was absolutely lovely of her to do. I could have saved myself a big headache by simply accepting her help in the first place. Which means.. which means… all that time spent watching Home Improvement as a kid taught me not a blasted thing.

Thanks for nothing, Tim Allen!

===

Apologies to Dr. Pepper.

Opera Night: Pagliacci

When I was a child, I remember seeing this commercial on PBS on a Saturday afternoon about opera. Specifically, about how ridiculous it is that the opera has a reputation for being “boring,” especially since the most famous operas are chock full of sex, violence, and murder. I get where that reputation comes from. It’s difficult to get engaged in a plot where you don’t understand anything the major characters are saying. Heck, I went to the opera once in the Czech Republic. The singing was in Italian, while the supertitles were in Czech, so I was utterly lost in two languages at once.

That said, I’ve been at least curious about getting into this opera thing for years. For example, a song from Madame Butterfly inspired the only bit of writing I ever got paid for (a poem which netted me a whole dollar bill!). I’ve attended a broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera, which was great, although somewhat pricey. However, when I finally got the chance to go see a real, live opera (with supertitles I could actually understand), I leapt at the opportunity.

Utah Opera put on a double feature at the Capital Theater. One of the shows, a comedic little episode called Gianni Schicchi, provides some much needed context to the operatic standard “O Mio Babbino Caro.” It is not, as I first suspected, a lullaby sung by a mother to her baby. Rather, it’s a plaintive plea from a young girl to her father, claiming that she will die if she can’t be with the man she loves. It’s, you know, dramatic and all, but in the context of a comedic opera, it carries about as much depth of emotion as Veruca Salt demanding that daddy buy her a goose that lays golden eggs NOW.

The real draw to me, though, was the classic Pagliacci. I’m pretty sure everyone’s heard of Pagliacci by this point. You know, it’s the opera about the sad clown.

I first encountered Pagliacci in that one episode of Batman: The Animated Series where the Penguin tries to show off for his date by singing “Vesti la Giubba.” From there, I associated the song with the cliches of opera – stilted, boring, overly dramatic, and inaccessible. And yet… in the context of the show, “Vesti la Giubba” is really unbelievable. A brutish man, completely and utterly destroyed by his wife’s infidelity, has to dress up in a clown outfit and make a buffoon of himself, because that’s what show business demands. It’s a real gut punch of a number, and it’s absolutely worth checking out.

But go to a live show, if you can. Operatic recordings are nice and all, but there’s something to be said for seeing the production live. If nothing else, watching the singers overpower the orchestra with nothing but their voices (no mics) is truly awe-inspiring.

Also, in commemoration of the occasion, I drew a sad clown:

New Gods, Old Fears

News broke today that Ava DuVernay, director of the divisive (but visually-stunning) A Wrinkle in Time will now also direct New Gods, an upcoming entry in the DC Comics cinematic universe. As this is news involving a superhero movie, you might expect that I have some opinions on the matter. And you would be right.

I am 100%, absolutely, totally excited for this jazz!

See, New Gods is based on the “Fourth World” saga, which is easily one of my favorite comics, one of the best things DC ever published. The story begins as something of a Superman spin-off, but it quickly turns into its own thing, combining The Lord of the Rings with the soft sci-fi of superhero comics and a liberal dose of hippy-dippy social allegory. And, with art and writing by Jack Kirby, it’s a truly beautiful thing to behold.

Kirby is one of the most influential artists in comics for good reason. The artistic mind behind some of the most popular superheroes in the world (Iron Man, The Fantastic Four, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, the X-Men…), Kirby had a flair for wild, imaginative visuals. The Fourth World is one of Kirby’s most important creations, and he filled those pages with some of the weirdest and most wonderful drawings he ever did. This is material that is perfect for a visual-oriented director like Ava DuVernay.

But it’s not just about the visuals. The Fourth World is full of some of the richest, most colorful characters to ever grace the comics page:

  • Mister Miracle – a high-tech escape artist and conscientious objector in the war between light and darkness
  • Orion – the son of an evil god, whose dark nature makes him the perfect soldier for the forces of good
  • Granny Goodness – a motherly figure who “nurtures” all the free will out of her charges
  • Glorious Godfrey – basically just Alex Jones, but somehow even worse
  • Steppenwolfe – a warrior who… Wait, we’ve seen this guy recently, haven’t we?

Oh… Oh crap.

Um… so, yeah, before I get too excited about this project, I need to remind myself that New Gods is slated to be part of the DC Extended Universe, a cinematic monstrosity that now includes five films, of which only one and a half are any dang good at all (and those are Wonder Woman and maybe a quarter part each of Man of Steel and Justice League). I know, I just know, that there’s going to be a real temptation to follow in Zach Snyder’s deconstructionist grimdark footsteps. That’s a huge problem for the material, which is so straightforward and earnest that it literally named its chief antagonist Darkseid.

He wears a minidress, so he is clearly the best and most evillest.

Darkseid is probably the best known of all of the New Gods. He’s popped up in a few major Superman adaptations over the years, including that one time someone decided that the best way to make Superman relatable was to have him date Kristin Kreuk. He is also (and I know I’m using this word a lot recently) my favorite super villain of all time.

There’s a lot of great stuff about Darkseid. He’s every bit the physical match of the heroes he faces off against. He can easily beat the tar out of Superman or Wonder Woman, and he actually killed Batman once (and by “killed” I mean “turned into a caveman”… long story). But the best stories about Darkseid don’t involve him throwing a single punch. Darkseid wins the same way evil wins in the real world: by slow, imperceptible, inevitable corruption.

See, Darkseid preys on the “dark side” of human nature. He seeks, like so many do, to “take over the world,” but he’s a theological villain more than a standard super villain. He doesn’t control people using mind beams or hypnosis. Rather, he controls them by appealing to their weakest, most shameful elements – their fear, their selfishness, their anger and pettiness. In the world of the New Gods, he is the devil.

If you ask me, the last great Darkseid story was Final Crisis, a 2008 comics series by writer Grant Morrison. In this story, Darkseid succeeds in placing the world under his control. The heroes of the DC Universe have to unite to fight a war that, frankly, they’ve already lost. Their great strength, their ability to punch evil into submission, is of no practical use here. The big fist fight between Superman and Darkseid never happens in this story. In fact, Darkseid is probably at his physical low point here, having possessed a weak mortal body. He even wears leg braces the whole time, apparently unable to stand on his own.

And yet… he’s never been more terrifying than he is in this story.

I remember that the end of Final Crisis drew a fair bit of criticism, as Darkseid was ultimately defeated by Superman singing a song at him. It’s slightly less ridiculous than it sounds, but only slightly. But I think that ending illustrates an important point: the darkness in humanity cannot be overcome through violence.

That’s a difficult message to portray in superhero stories, where violence is almost as much a part of the medium as ink and paper. However, the fact that Darkseid is an antagonist in a superhero comic means one thing for certain: he will always lose, in the end. That makes for a pretty inspiring message, if you think about it. The literal “dark side” of human nature can be beaten, and goodness and virtue can win, no matter how bad things get.

As much as I love the New Gods and the character of Darkseid in particular, I’m very nervous about how these characters will appear on the big screen. See, I can now, very easily, picture Henry Cavill trying on his best Christopher Reeve smile and saying, “Well, Darkseid, time to send you to the ‘dark side’ of the moon!” before punching him in the face and sending him shooting into the stratosphere, while Darkseid (played by yet another wildly inappropriate actor… I’mma say Colin Firth) screams “Noooooooooo!” before finally disappearing with a distant twinkle, Team Rocket style.

…actually, now that I’ve typed that out, it really doesn’t sound that bad.

My point is this: the New Gods don’t really function the same way other superhero characters do. They aren’t about over the top action sequences and quippy comedy. They’re a Book-of-Genesis style myth about the nature of good and evil within humanity. In other words, they’re the one place the whole “Superman is disaffected Jesus” thing might actually work (but seriously please don’t try that again).

The New Gods are going to be really, really difficult to film. I think DuVernay is up to the task. At the very least, the film should be pretty. But if what we get is just another “pretty and competent” superhero beat-’em-up, then we’ll have wasted a lot of potential, and that would be too bad.

Rejection

It’s amazing how much emotion can be expressed in very simplistic faces. Kinda phoned it in when it cam time to add texture to the trees and the bird. But, you know, it’s a Sunday afternoon, and I need a nap.