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.