Comics legend, chaos magic practitioner, and writer of the best Superman story ever (All-Star Superman) Grant Morrison turns his attention to another pop culture icon: Santa Claus. However, Santa’s got muscles (and not in the sense of that forgettable Hulk Hogan film) in Klaus #1 as Morrison and artist Dan Mora turn him into a rugged, lone wanderer traveling the wastes of Scandinavia in search of some Yuletide cheer and customers for his furs, pelts, and meat. However, he happens to arrive at the aptly named Grimsvig (Danish for “ugly fraud”. Thanks Google Translate.) where the Yule season has been cancelled for the common people while their tyrannical Lord Magnus lives it up in his castle with his Joffrey-esque son, Jonas. There is more than a little Conan the Barbarian in Morrison and Mora’s portrayal of Klaus, but they temper it with just enough Yuletide whimsy and winks at the traditions surrounding Santa Claus and Christmas.
From the opening page and the first of several fantastic double page spreads, Dan Mora (Hexed) evokes a midwinter chill through his artwork and colors. His art style is lush and detailed without getting super photorealistic, and he uses lots of whites and blues to make Klaus #1 seem extra dreary. Some of his images may seem static, but Mora adds juice to panels with some huge facial expressions and speed lines for the issue’s fight scenes, like when Klaus gets angry at some guards for beating a kid for playing with a toy stone. (Yes, times are extremely tough in Grimsvig.) And towards the end of the issue, Mora goes into another gear with his colors and art reaching a different, more magical spectrum. His design for Klaus is spot-on as the wandering trader is incredibly muscular from wrestling bears and wolves (Mostly off-panel unfortunately.) with scars and a thick beard to show that he is at home with the elements.
Grant Morrison gives Klaus a variety of seemingly contradictory character traits in Klaus #1. He is a warrior, mage, and musician all wrapped into one and filled to the brim with mystery. Klaus also genuinely cares about the plight of children and people, who are exploited by the powerful in society. He’s partial to a nice pint of ale too, but not the watered down type. Morrison taps into some of his characterization of Superman in his first Action Comics for Klaus and makes him a hero of the people. He’s a guy who believes in a fair hours and pay and work/life balance in a medieval sense. Maybe, people shouldn’t be working the deep, dark coal mines in the dead of winter when there could be storms, possible cave-ins, or just plain frost bite. Even if Klaus is set in a world that looks like the cover of a fantasy novel, Morrison imbues the comic and his hero with a social conscience to go with his wolf summoning and brawling skills.
Klaus #1 is truly a unique comic. Its plot may seem like one of the bad Santa Clause sequels with a beleaguered, unlikely hero saving Christmas from a cackling, mustache twirling villain. (Mora gives Magnus the dark hair, pale drawn face look for maximum evil.) However, underneath the ice of the Northern winter, Klaus #1 has a vibrant beating heart, and Morrison plays the Santa Claus mostly straight with little dry nods to readers in a line of dialogue or so. Even though he is a violent and sometimes world weary character, Klaus’ use of force stems for his need to survive in this sub-Arctic wasteland, which is shown in a particularly striking and subversive splash page towards the middle of the comic. An early scene where Klaus fights valiantly to protect a little kid from getting beaten to death by Magnus’ guards will place him in readers’ sympathies even if the scene is a little silly until one sees how monstrous Jonas is.
Klaus #1 boasts bleak and magical fantasy illustration style art from Dan Mora and a rousing storyline from Grant Morrison that is part Christmas special and part sword and sorcery with a dash of social commentary wrapped in pulpy packaging. It will also be intriguing to see how a laconic, wandering barbarian rippling with muscles turns into an overweight, joyous present distributor, and Morrison does seed some elements of the familiar Santa Claus stories in this comic.