These are trying times. We’re all social distancing and in quarantine. Virtually no new comics releases will be arriving for this whole month, even on digital. The path ahead for comics seems uncertain. So what the hell, let’s talk and look at some fun comics to catch up on and revisit!
What we’ll be going over here today is a really comfy, warm and fun comic and beyond that, just a fun world of comics. It’s incredibly feel-good, designed for Christmas season, but it works great no matter what time of the year it is. It’s the sort of thing that, especially during difficult moments like now, is a reliable source of joy.
You may be familiar with the terrific Dan Mora from the recent hit Once & Future with Kieron Gillen, you may know him from his Power Rangers work or other BOOM! projects. But his real big moment of arrival–when he came to the public’s attention and began his ascent to being one of the best artists in the business–began with 2015’s Klaus. Teaming up with Grant Morrison, Mora re-invented Santa as a superhero in a fantasy world.
Ever since that original 7-issue mini, Morrison and Mora have maintained an annual tradition: every year, in December, no matter what, a new Klaus one-shot drops. They’re usually anywhere from 25 to 50 pages and are great one-and-done stories, which have recurring elements and expand upon the crazy world this Santa inhabits. If you enjoy Mora or Morrison, the stories are a lovely purchase. They’re a load of fun and a hell of a comfort read.
If you have no idea what to expect or need the incentive and reason to get you interested though, look no further! That’s what we’re here for.
A General Primer: Klaus 101
The basic concept of the whole enterprise is simple, as described above: Santa as a superhero.
So what you get is a wild, weird and accessible Morrisonian spin on folklore and myth, brought to life by Mora’s art, alongside letterer Ed Dukeshire. Klaus is somewhat of a cross between Superman, Batman and Doctor Who, and he’s absolutely a superhero. Thus you have the old gift-giver re-imagined by Mora as a sexy immortal beefcake hero for the ages. Let’s take a look at some of the wild insanity that inhabits his world.
Lilli, The Super-Wolf
Essentially his Krypto The Super-Dog. She’s immortal, much like him, and his ever-loyal ally. The one will always stand by him and ride with him, even on the darkest day, in the blackest hour.
The Legion of Santa-Pets
Led by Lilli, we have the gang. On the side, you see Lilli’s good pal, Tiger The Size-Shifting Cat. Tiger is like Nick Fury if he were a cat with superpowers. Alongside Tiger, the roster also includes the animal musicians from the Grimm’s Fairy Tale The Musician of Bremen, because why the hell not?
The Cosmic Sleigh
The sleigh is effectively his Bat-Mobile, or the TARDIS if you like. Made up of mystical Thought-Metals from higher dimensions, it’s a wondrous thing. And this sleigh ain’t pulled by no reindeer, dear lord no. It’s pulled by wolves, as is fitting for this shamanic superhero.
Very much Klaus’ Bat-Caves/Fortresses Of Solitude. These are where he keeps his great trophies, his back-up equipment and other things that need storage. They’re his offices, really.
A Long History + Sidekicks and Apprentices
Klaus has an absolutely wild history as a hero, having fought in World War II like Captain America and having been around for centuries. He’s been a mentor to many, having taken on many apprentices, including but not limited to Geppetto, the creator of Pinocchio. He even had a sidekick who grew up, a Robin ala Batman really, much like Dick Grayson or Bucky Barnes. Much like The Doctor, Klaus has had a lot of companions.
The League of Santas
He has his own super-team, his own Justice League or The Avengers, who formed way back in the ’50s and are all still around in some capacity, albeit changed by the course of time. They’re like the International Batmen crossed with the classic superheroic archetypes, with members like, but not limited to Grandfather Frost, Snowmaiden, Father Christmas, Sinterklaas and more. This is a complex Christmas mythology of superheroes and we’re only on the tip of the iceberg.
The Rogues Gallery
Klaus also has his own, wild, weird gallery of foes across the ages, like Anti-Klaus from The Underworld, who’s effectively his Earth-3/Anti-Matter counterpart, The Ultraman/Owlman to his Superman/Batman, and The Krampus, who’s basically his Joker and there’s plenty more. Much like The Doctor, Klaus’ world has plenty of monsters for him to confront and stand up to.
His world has its own wild cosmology and mythology, from Lunarlopolis to The Mars-Bubbles and Animatropolis of Titan. There are space automatons and cosmic clocks of the universe, there are mythic aliens and higher dimensional entities, just a whole host of stuff. It’s really imaginative and fun. It’s a proper universe of superheroic adventure and tradition, which you slowly get to learn more about and engage with. Every new issue is a dive further into this amazing world.
The Stories: The Foundations
The plan is to keep expanding the Klaus universe with each new story — introducing new villains, new allies, new setting — to give it a scope and richness that generates new adventures. – Grant Morrison
Klaus #1-7– The Origin
This is the Year One or Birthright or Secret Origin, basically. It’s the birth of the hero, the inception. Klaus is a wild man in the 1600’s Europe and he arrives at a settlement called Grimsvig, which is a totalitarian town run by a tyrant Baron. So what you get is a sort of Robin Hood-esque spin on the hero, as he strikes against the powerful and the privileged by bringing joy and gifts to the poor. You see him hunted and he’s very Batman-esque, as he perches on rooftops, flees authority and has his own Jim Gordon in his version of Gotham.
It’s the story of a man becoming a myth and it’s very much taking the of image of the ‘brutal, badass, barbarian’ and subverting it, by having him not be a brooding, cold jerk, but a gentle, kind, grinning hero. Klaus is a story of a man who has every reason to be angry and vengeful, but never is and his narrative is never framed as such. He’s like The Doctor. He’s just…kind. He helps however he can and he’s selfless as all get out. He’s the loving, caring father figure, he’s the best parts of Morrison’s Batman and Superman, with more than a dash of The Doctor.
Klaus and The Witch Of Winter #1– The Rebirth
This is essentially the ‘revival’, the ‘return’ or ‘rebirth’, if you will. Doctor Who is an obvious and massive influence here and so Morrison does the classic conceit of the revamp here, which is a similarity of both DW and superhero comics. And so you get the hero having been missing for a while and now he’s finally back and resettling, kicking things off again.
He’s a man who’s been through something and has to re-acclimate. Much like The Doctor and The Time War, Klaus has The Lunar War. He’s been away in the war on the moon, a civil war, which lasted decades. We’re not quite sure what happened, as hints are dropped and teases are thrown out. Whatever happened was big and it was the final standoff of The League Of Santas and Klaus. This thread of ‘What really happened in The Lunar War?’ is, much like in Who with The Time War, a recurring mystery and looms large over the series as a whole.
This really establishes Klaus in the modern-day, the 21st century, laying out his new status quo and has him taking stock of some of the changes that have occurred in his absence. It’s basically a ‘modern’ relaunch of the character. And like all Klaus stories, ultimately it is about warmth in the cold and being emotional, vulnerable and kind rather than detached. Klaus is a positive role model figure that helps young people be the best they can be.
Klaus and The Crisis in Xmasville #1– The Crisis
The epic, cosmic time of change, where opposites meet and clash! This takes us back to the ’80s and is a bit of a period piece, focusing on the consumerism of that era. One of the key threats here is the Coca Cola Corpora- I mean, Pola Cola Corporation, sorry! Totally-Not-Coca Cola! No lawsuit!
Pola Cola is very much a recurring foe of Klaus and he’s faced them in the ’30s, back when they tried to ‘own’ Christmas and the concept of ‘Santa’. You don’t turn the man into an IP! There was an epic siege, a war that waged for days! And Klaus won. Now, the Pola Cola Corporation’s back and want to own Christmas for good. And this time, they intend to make their own Corporate Santa, who dresses in blue and prints money for shareholders. And they want to make it be Christmas all year long, so they can maximize profit!
Pola Cola try to do it by forming an alliance with The Anti-Klaus Of The Underworld. If Klaus is a gift-giver, Anti-Klaus is a gift-taker. If Klaus is selfless, Anti-Klaus is selfish. He’s like Lobo Santa, with a brutal heavy metal Cosmic Bike instead of a Sleigh. And so you get the one man against the greedy corporation, multiversal doppelgangers that embody capitalism and more. It’s the idea of ‘Crisis‘ done-in-one. Mora also always evolves and tries new stuff on the series and in this one-shot, he opts for water-colors. It looks absolutely gorgeous. Mora getting to color himself is one of the biggest draws of the whole enterprise, really.
This one’s about the other key aspect of Santa: Imagination and specifically the imagination of children. The power of that, the need for that, in the face of a world that is stagnant and wants you to just be another gear in a profit-making machine to serve the lords of capitalistic greed.
Klaus and The Crying Snowman #1– The Ragnarok
The epic apocalypse, the end of days. Or so it seems. Tackling Norse myth, dropping more hints as to what really happened in the past, Morrison basically does an ‘everything is canon’ approach to Santa, to create a rich texture and sense of history for the hero. He’s fought Pola Cola in the ’30s, he faced The Martians in the ’60s (because of the movie), he fought The Anti-Klaus in the ’80s and more, as we get a grasp of the timeline that makes up this alternate history of gift-giving heroes. But past that, Morrison brings the story back to modern-day and sheds some light on why an immortal hero has aged. It all becomes about the return of The Nightborn, the cosmic horde from the Ragnarok myths, whom Thor and his pantheon faced.
In the end, it’s a story about how even the ultimate mythologized apocalypses and ends don’t necessarily have to be the end, so long as we can learn from the past, be better and move forward. It approaches this great cosmic tale through the perspective of a snowman and it’s ultimately a story of fathers and sons. Also, Klaus here looks like Chris Hemsworth Thor, because Mora knows what the people want.
Here, the other central element of the Santa is emphasized. The Santa forgives. He’s compassionate. He offers second chances. He’s a man of great power, who regularly chooses to do nice things, just because he can.
Klaus and The Life and Times Of Joe Christmas #1– The Legacy
The great legacy story. The whole lifetime of Klaus’ sidekick, Joe Christmas and his relationship to his mentor/father figure/older brother/best friend. It’s also very much The Doctor and The Companion story. Joe ages and changes, as Klaus stays ever the same. It’s a bit of Up, as you see a whole life, its ups, and downs and see what the Santa means to this one young man, who becomes not so young with time.
It’s shorter than the usual 50-page one-shots, but is a big wide-screen calendar issue, laid out as a silent comic with each page as a big splash image. It’s a fun experiment, with a unique structure, that tells a story through a series of big pictures, which you assemble into a larger meaning and the more you notice in each, the more you understand. It also operates as a pseudo-history of the universe, but through a singular perspective. It’s a great deal of fun and it’s a celebration of the sidekick hero and legacy at large. It’s about what this companion meant to Klaus and conversely, what Klaus meant to this companion.
The Collections: Reading Order
Collects: Klaus #1-7
Collects: The Witch Of Winter #1 and Crisis In Xmasville #1
Collects: The Crying Snowman #1 and The Life and Times Of Joe Christmas #1
(Note: Each heading above links to the respective issue or collection, so feel free to grab some fun comics! The Life & Times Of Santa Claus, aka Book 3, finally comes out on December 30th of this year digitally, and January 5th of 2021 physically. It will mark the first time all of Klaus has been collected fully. Grab it when it releases!)
Ultimately, this whole enterprise is basically a creator-owned superhero universe based around Christmas mythology. It’s Morrison doing to larger folklore and myth what they did for DC mythology. And it’s one that expands every year and is really sentimental, sweet, heartwarming and hits all the spots you want a great Superman or Doctor Who story to hit, with the sheer coolness of the Bat-world.
It’s a huge cosmic universe designed by and brought to life by Dan Mora, and it’s both his and Morrison’s most personal work in a lot of ways. The closest comparisons to this would be Mike Mignola’s Hellboy or Jeff Lemire’s Hammerverse, in terms of what they are for the creators. It’s a lovely world with a cool cast of characters, tons of mysteries, a vast history with potential for stories of any kind, in any time or place. It’s Santa as a cool cosmic superhero, riding a sleigh pulled by wolves. I recommend checking it out. You’re bound to have a fun time.