Leave it to Grant Morrison to devise a wild Santa origin with Klaus.
In an unspecified past, a grizzled wilderness man enters the Nordic town of Grimsvig to find the once happy burg has become a desolate, repressive place under the heel of the local power-mad baron. Klaus has a history with the town, and the Baron’s wife, that drives him to delve into the town’s maladies. When communion with the forest spirits leaves him with a mass of enchanted toys, Klaus secretly delivers them to poor families, hoping to brighten their Yule feasts. That act of kindness sparks a rebellion and a legend. Klaus finds himself in an inevitable conflict with the baron, unearthing sins of the past as a horrifying demon prepares to destroy the entire town.
Morrison devises a rather clever spin on the Santa Claus mythos with this engaging tale. Recasting Saint Nick as a grizzled wilderness brawler who traffics with forest spirits is certainly a unique spin on the legend. Morrison does a nice job of teasing out Klaus’s inherent decency and his will to stand up to injustice. Over the course of the story, the writer finds inventive ways to incorporate such familiar touchstones as sleighs, reindeer, rooftop travels, red and white fur, letters to Santa, sacks of gifts and decorated trees, among many others. He even whips up his own take on the Krampus legend to provide a suitable challenge for this “Forest Warrior” take on Santa.
While Morrison makes Klaus a powerful central figure, he carefully crafts an intriguing ensemble to surround him and provides some rousing action, fantasy and horror beats along the way. Mercifully, he eschews any attempt at approximating a faux period patois and instead goes with modern speech. With a healthy dose of humor and a gleefully irreverent take on various aspects of Christmas mythology, Morrison gives readers a Santa they never knew they needed.
Dan Mora makes a strong impression on art. His “grizzled warrior” designs show off some impressive conceptual ideas, even as he subtly works numerous bits of traditional iconography into the panels in inventive and sometimes subversive ways. Mora grounds the action in a sort of “past out of time” setting that could fit in any number of bygone eras. He choreographs the action very effectively and uses off-kilter angles and perspective in imaginative ways that enhance the feeling of energy and motion. In the moments when the lead finds himself entrenched in the supernatural, Mora really cuts loose, crafting some swirling, phantasmagorical displays that verge on psychedelic. He adeptly shifts from gritty, shadow-drenched scenes to snow-colored vistas burning with bright tones. The work is impeccably crafted, providing a commanding visual match to Morrison’s singular narrative.
Klaus isn’t what many readers might expect. But it’s a creative, beautiful-looking fantasy adventure that’s a perfect seasonal alternative.