The origin of Santa Claus is a legend that can be found from any number of sources, but it’s a story that has largely been limited to either children’s stories or comedies, albeit ones beloved by both children and adults alike. Grant Morrison and Dan Mora fully understand that there’s room in the mythology for a more thoughtful interpretation, though, and that’s exactly what they give us in BOOM! Studios’ seven-issue miniseries “Klaus,” which converts folklore into fiction with a respectful take of the legend of St. Nick. “Klaus” is a delightful and flavorful origin story that personalizes the character while avoiding may of the associated cliches.
Morrison envisions the young Klaus as a reclusive but heroic Northlander-type figure, a trope that might not be the first that comes to mind when envisioning the man who will become Santa. Nevertheless, it cleverly fits and is only the first of many refreshing departures Morrison makes with his version of the character. Knowing that every great hero of legend needs a foil to match, Morrison delivers a foe in the form of Lord Magnus, the cold-hearted and despotic baron of the village of Grimsvig, an equally cold and grey locale where “Yuletime” has been cruelly banned in favor of his own selfish interests — interests that clash with Klaus’ when an innocent bartering trip into town turns into a hostile encounter that leaves him robbed and injured.
Despair and cruelty abound within Grimsvig’s stone walls, as the men toil below ground in the city’s mines while its children endure a daily existence of drudgery with no fun to be had. Mora illustrates the village as a town bleached of its beauty, with granite and concrete replacing trees and gardens, and endless posters of Magnus’ grim visage plastering the walls. Magnus himself is given an evil, Tom Hiddleston-like quality by Mora, and — with a little effort — readers can envision “Thor’s” Chris Hemsworth adorned as Klaus himself.
What skeptical readers might be envisioning based on the above is little more than an elaborate reimagining of Rankin-Bass’ classic film “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and — while Morrison clearly seems inspired by that holiday special — he takes care to establish his story as something far more expansive. Morrison reveals a past connection between Klaus and the village during happier times, as well as Klaus and Magnus’ common interest. Morrison’s Klaus is characterized as a pure-hearted soul with an abundance of kindness, as one would expect, but he’s not sappy or overly pristine; he’s a fierce and sarcastic warrior and will engage in battle (and a brew) when the situation calls for it. Similarly, Magnus is far from a prototypical, one-dimensional Burgermeister; his motives go beyond a sadistic desire to be cruel and, in fact, almost pale in comparison to something far more frightening later on.
Morrison’s evolution of these and other characters is a delight; Lady Dagmar is the unhappy, discontented wife of Magnus, whose open love of Yuletime shines like a beacon of hope amidst an otherwise depressing setting. Dagmar also inspires their son Jonas, a seemingly flat archetype of the spoiled rich kid who’s nothing but despicable early on; however, when thawed by the light of his mother’s kind nature, he becomes symbolic of the story’s Christmas message. Mora gives Lady Dagmar a shining, colorful air, which punctuates her presence as a festive antidote to the gloom surrounding her.
The final issue of the series might have been published in the middle of summer, but Morrison’s story nevertheless evokes the Christmas spirit. From the small, seasonal touches — like Klaus rightfully humiliating Grimsvig’s fiercest warrior by turning him into a figurative snowman — to larger ones — like Jonas’ spiteful attitude resulting in a curious effect on his unloved toys — bring out that kind of seasonal magic that’s pervasive even under August’s blazing sun. Mora does his part by way of his rendering of Klaus’ bright, shiny Yuletide presents.
Other festive touches also bring out the spirit a few months early; one character refers to Klaus as the “Julernisse,” similar to the term “Julenissen,” the Santa figure in Scandinavian folklore. Klaus is guided by ethereal forms that readers could interpret as Christmas spirits, while Magnus finds himself in the thrall of another familiar Yuletide specter.
Throughout, Morrison peppers the story with powerful, emotional moments of joy, kindness and goodwill towards one’s fellow man. In order to hammer them home, he takes the story down a very grim and even disturbing path near the end, well beyond the dark setting established within Grimsvig. The dark turn not only sweetens the ultimate outcome, but also gives Morrison the opportunity to show Klaus’ abilities; not as a craftsman, which is largely eschewed in this story, but as a warrior. Morrison’s story doesn’t feature a great deal of action, nor does it need to, but the battle at the end is a high-powered, Christmas spirit-laden punch.
“Klaus” is a wonderful story and a unique take on a centuries-old character. The miniseries is sure to leave a mark on the legend of Santa Claus, given enough time and exposure. It’s the kind of work that’s destined to be a timeless classic, and — while it’s not the most child-friendly take on this beloved childhood figure — it will ultimately prove to be a delight for older kids and adults alike.