Picture this: a city without hope. A corrupt government. Citizens afraid to walk the streets at night. And one man who stands up; who takes to the rooftops to fight back against the dark forces eating his city alive.
Sounds like I’m talking about Batman, doesn’t it? Well I’m not. I’m talking about Santa.
That’s right, Santa Claus. The jolly red elf; or, in the case of the hero of Grant Morrison and Dan Mora’s Klaus, the jacked woodsman with a direwolf sidekick. Who is occasionally jolly. But also brings the pain. And who makes toys for kids. But also drops acid.
Confession time: I am, un-ironically, a big Santa fan. I’m not saying I think he’s real or anything, I just think he’s a cool guy. So when I heard that Morrison, my favorite working comics writer, was doing a limited series for Boom Studios reimagining the Santa myth, I was excited. Once the comic hit shelves, I was on board with what Morrison and artist Dan Mora were doing from the first page of issue one. But my enjoyment really took off around the third issue, when I realized that Morrison was basically using Klaus to tell a Batman story, with Santa in place of the Dark Knight.
The story opens as Klaus arrives in the city of Grimsvig, which is ruled over by a tyrannical baron. It’s Yuletime, but the baron has banned all celebration and confiscated every toy in the city for his brat son. The men of Grimsvig are being worked like slaves in a coal (yes, coal) mine, where the voice of an ominous spirit is demanding to be freed.
Enter Klaus. He sees the joyless state of Grimsvig and decides to do something about it. One drug assisted communion with the spirits of the north winds later and he’s building magic toys to distribute to the children of Grimsvig.
Here’s where the Batman parallels kick into gear. Klaus leaps across rooftops in the night, punching bad guys and bringing hope to a downtrodden city. The only real difference is that, instead of using fear as a weapon against those who prey on the fearful, Klaus uses happiness and joy to inspire people to rebel against the system. And also punching. For a comic about Santa Claus there’s definitely a Batman-level amount of punching.
Once you notice the Batman parallels, it’s impossible to stop noticing them. And in case you want to argue that it’s just a coincidence, let me point out two things, specifically. First, Grant Morrison spent seven years writing arguably the definitive modern take on Batman, so the character’s pretty much baked into his DNA at this point. Secondly, at one point in the fourth issue, Klaus pulls a textbook Batman disappearing act.
All these Batman parallels make Klaus fun from a meta perspective, but the real reason to enjoy it is simply the story that Morrison’s telling. It has all the familiar Santa trappings: the toys, the red suit (armor), elves (spirits), the sleigh, chimneys, coal, Krampus. The only thing missing is the milk and cookies. The trick is that Morrison places it all in a wildly different context than you’ve ever seen before. It’s just a really fun comic.
Dan Mora’s art is also a lot of fun. This is ultimately a comic about Santa, so for all the drama Morrison finds, you don’t want to take things too seriously, and Mora treads that line perfectly. His art strikes just the right balance of detailed and realistic settings, and slightly cartoony character designs. Mora also has the distinction of giving us the single greatest splash page in the history of comics, which I went back and forth on whether I wanted to spoil for you guys, but I think I’m gonna do it. It’s too good not to share.
Grant Morrison is an expert at taking a familiar story and turning it on it’s head. That’s exactly what he’s done with Klaus, turning the story of Santa Claus into an epic, psychedelic, punch-filled adventure. The fact that it also basically turned Klaus into a Batman story with a wolf-drawn flying sleigh is icing on the cake.
If you skipped Klaus because the idea of a comic about Santa sounded silly, let me reassure you: it is silly. But it’s exactly the right kind of silly. Klaus is one of the most fun comics I’ve read all year, and if you pick it up I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, too. I mean, honestly, who hates Christmas?