Comfort Food Comics Presents: Read Pile – Klaus Vol. 1 by Alex Smith-Petersen

Ding dong, ding dong

It’s almost Christmas

Alex Peterson read Klaus for the first time

So I slid in those DMs 

And asked him to write this

It’s a surprise Christmas Read Pile y’all 

This read pile is about Klaus: How Santa Claus Began, written by Grant Morrison, illustrated by Dan Mora, lettered by Ed Dukeshire, and designed by Scott Newman. Klaus is published by Boom! Studios

As I started reading Klaus for the first time, surrounded by Christmas lights to really solidify that holiday feeling, my first impression was that it felt like the classic special Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, but badass. I don’t think that’s entirely off-base to be honest. But it’s also more than that, and deserves its place as a comic worth re-reading every year around the holiday. I only wish that I had read it sooner so that I could have been doing that these last several years.

From its beautiful cover, you know you’re in for something that’s sure to be easy on the eyes to say the least. Dan Mora’s design for Klaus himself is formidable, strong, but gentle. He has a piercing gaze that still feels approachable, if you’re not an enemy. At the beginning of the journey, Klaus is little more than just a man. So you get to see the evolution fully, what actually makes a man into something mythic, something legendary. This takes a level of confident storytelling that only someone like Grant Morrison could sell you on.

In the beginning, Klaus seems to be a man who is just trying to survive, hunting and trading, moving from place to place. He’s not at all the usual archetype you’d conjure in your mind when thinking of what Santa was like before he was Santa. Also this is a Santa that drinks, which is made clear only several pages into the book. I couldn’t help but smirk when he calls the ale “watered down.” That’s right, it’s a feisty Santa. 

Klaus’ good nature asserts itself immediately when a child is threatened, and that’s really all it takes for him to take up arms against this tyrannical town he’s travelled to that he used to know. He does not do well against the several armed guards, while he himself wields only his fists, unfortunately, but it doesn’t stop him from trying. That’s the moment I began to get attached to the character, seeing the hero come out with a roar and a righteous fury.

He has a dog(wolf, whatever)! Grant Morrison makes some great comics around boys and their dogs. Their Action Comics run during the New 52 at DC is one such example, another comic that I deeply enjoy. The bond between animal and man is always heartwarming, and in a story where the man has no one else, it’s all the more profound. It’s a loyalty that ascends the relationship of master and pet, becoming that of family, genuine kinship.

When Klaus plays a melody for “The Shining Family” while recovering from his wounds, they are summoned forth in a brilliant display of colors smashing together, creating something wondrous to behold. They look almost like stereotypical aliens, but maintain a magical glow about them, making them feel more like spirits. They seem to be the reason Klaus wakes up in the morning having built a wide array of toys, though he had no memory of it. Their influence is immediately intriguing and suggests magic is a more natural part of this world that Morrison and Mora have envisioned. Plus they follow the core rule of magic in a comic book, which is to not explain how it works. Magic is magic, you don’t need an explanation, you only need to see the result.

The foil to Klaus is introduced in the form of Lord Magnus, a real asshole. He is not only indulgent of his son’s festering negativity, but actively endorses it. Also he hates joy and thinks it’s perfectly fine to beat up strangers who come to town, among other things. His wife, Lady Dagmar, seems very passive, detached, like the shell of a person who was once more lively. Their son of course is a jerk, but by design of his father so you can only put so much blame onto him, he’s only a child. Magnus’ relationship with his son is, above all else, what makes him such a perfect foil for Klaus. You have one man who is extremely protective of children, and seeks to foster the joy in their hearts, and then you have another who is infectious, poisoning his own child’s heart essentially. Magnus is made very easy to hate, that’s for sure, and there’s no time wasted in getting that established.

Christmas, in a sense, already exists in this place, it’s just called yuletime. It’s the annual gift-giving celebration of happiness that we’ve come to know and love, but divorced from any religious connotation. Embracing the holiday like this makes the whole story much more easily approachable, for my money. It tethers the spirit of Christmas to joy and goodwill solely, and it’s heartwarming to say the least.

The general tactics of Klaus feel almost Batman-like in nature. It’s not the same level of brutality, though that depends on the iteration of Batman you’re looking at. Klaus isn’t much of a detective either, but the way that he makes preparations and his skill with a variety of tools and resources just give him that Batman vibe when he’s sneaking around and getting the drop on the guardsmen. The way they fear him and talk about him like he’s a ghost or something unnatural, really locks that in. Though I will say his attitude is closer to Superman’s. Naturally, Grant has spent ample time with both.

The significance of the red and white suit is revealed as representing the snow of Grimsvig, and the blood of the people. Giving the suit itself a deeper meaning and anchoring it to Klaus’ love for his hometown is a wonderful touch. His greatest mission is to reignite the flame of joy for this town that has long since gone cold from the happiness being snuffed right out by their Lord Magnus. It’s a battle for the very soul of Grimsvig, which is brought to life in such loving detail by Dan Mora.

A greater threat is seeded in the background of the story. It’s something the men of the town are digging towards and it calls out from the darkness. Drawing a clear line between the forces of good and evil, and inevitably bringing them together for a fight with only one winner, is another way this tale distinguishes itself from other Christmas stories. Evil doesn’t ultimately come around, these are supremely dark forces and Grant Morrison doesn’t hold back on it. Dan Mora illustrates a memorably wicked and terrifying Krampus-like demon. They never give him a name, but he has all the visual hallmarks of the legend of Krampus. He’s horrifying and a very fitting recontextualization of the myth, brought forth to fight the reborn Klaus, in an epic finale that absolutely knocks the pants off of any other Christmas story I’ve ever read.

In the final fight between Klaus and the demon, each side escalates to becoming the epitome of light and dark. It’s a clash for the ages, as ultimate light struggles against ultimate darkness, but there is a line that Klaus yells as he charges forth, “There are no bad children!” That is my favorite line in the whole book, and convinces me beyond the shadow of a doubt that Grant Morrison was the perfect person to reinvent Santa like this. Christmas isn’t about the capitalism and spending, or the celebration of some religious savior, but the joy of children and the celebration of innocence. Children can’t be evil, they’re too young and there’s always time for them to change. The message that children are the very heart of Christmas, and that they all deserve the joy that the season brings, is a message I’m more than happy to see conveyed.

A great deal of Christmas specials and stories are largely aimed at children. People of all ages enjoy them, absolutely, but the target audience is more often than not for kids. They’re stories that entire families can enjoy, but there is room for more Christmas stories that are geared towards an older crowd. This is the audience that Klaus aims for. It’s a bit bloody and wicked for kids that are on the younger side, but otherwise it works perfectly for teens and up. As a 26-year-old adult, I still find tremendous value in reading the book, but I would also happily hand it to a 12-year-old and be confident that they would find a similar value in it. It’s beautiful beyond words, it’s uplifting, it warms my heart and makes me feel engrossed in the feelings of the season in a way that nothing else I’ve consumed this winter has been able to achieve. I can’t recommend this book enough if you haven’t read it, and if you have, I only chastise you for letting me make it this far without reading it sooner.

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Thanks for reading this surprise Read Pile! It was too perfect not to do, and I’m so happy Alex went for it. As always, contact me (@prince_organa on Twitter) to add to the tapestry that is Read Pile! 

Thanks for reading, and now the actual next one (probably, who knows obv) will be Austin Shinn on the first of the year(https://twitter.com/untitleduser?s=21) writing something about Superman! See you then!

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