For any parent who may field questions about where Santa Claus comes from this holiday season, Grant Morrison has provided one possible answer in “Klaus” #1. Parents needn’t worry about Morrison’s thoughts on the idea, for the writer takes a decidedly accessible and mostly all-ages approach that’s beautifully and lavishly illustrated by Dan Mora. Younger children might be a little alarmed to see the man who would be Santa hunting reindeer and getting kicked around by some unfriendly members of a local village’s law enforcement, but Morrison’s story isn’t any kind of twisted reimagining or Dark Santa-type vision; instead, his character is clearly the noble sort that St. Nick should be, albeit with a little bit of a sharp edge.
The man called Klaus isn’t a reformed criminal or a grim-‘n-gritty anti-hero under Morrison’s watch; he’s clearly an honest and hardworking soul with a conscience, but not a pedestal-perfect protagonist who’s against stopping at a local drinking establishment for a brew. Yes, Santa drinks more than milk with his cookies, but that doesn’t mean he’s any kind of drunken ruffian looking for trouble; instead, trouble seems to find him, even as he attempts to make an honest living and stand up for the rights of children being wronged. Klaus may not be looking for a fight, but he’s certainly up for one if it’s brought to him, and it’s a refreshingly honest and delicate interpretation that Morrison brings forth; this early incarnation of Santa might not be perfect, but he’s certainly setting a good example nonetheless.
Mora’s interpretation of the Bavarian-esque village of Grimsvig and the surrounding landscape is both beautiful and chilling; the pale, snowy wilderness of the forest looks like the front of a Christmas card, but its unyielding climate makes survival in the midst of it a challenge for anyone — even Klaus. The equally pale yet nonetheless striking confines of the village shout beauty, but one that’s tempered by its largely deserted streets, oppressive police presence and posters of its grim ruler’s visage. Mora captures the mood of something which was once beautiful but has now been corrupted, evoking the spirit of Sombertown, the grim setting from Rankin-Bass’ classic take on Santa’s origin in the stop-motion “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
While Burgermeister Meisterburger was the iron-fisted ruler from that classic film, he at least had a comedic and buffoonish way about him that made him at least minimally endearing. Morrison gives Lord Magnus, the cold and heartless ruler of Grimsvig, no such traits; instead, he forces the men of his town to work endlessly despite it being the Yuletime season and is father to a despicably spoiled son who appreciates none of the gifts bestowed upon him. Morrison depicts a palpably tense dynamic between Magnus and his wife Lady Dagmar, who clearly enjoys Yuletime festivities amidst the bleakness of the surroundings and seems to be set up as another potential conflict for Magnus besides Klaus himself.
Morrison and Mora cap the issue with a somewhat surprising and rather psychedelic occurrence that presumably kicks off Klaus’ journey towards legendary greatness. It’s a beautifully illustrated and colored sequence that presents more questions than it answers about the character’s origin, but it’s only the first of six issues. “Klaus” #1 is an atypical yet wonderful and characteristic take on a beloved and timeless childhood legend. Morrison and Mora have created the beginning of a potential future classic.