In Grant Morrison and Dan Mora's "Klaus" #2, Santa Claus is a medieval superhero who's like a cross between Robin Hood and Conan. As such, this is an unusual year for writers known for their dark, extreme material. Like Mark Millar in "Huck," Morrison is foregoing satire, gore and the pushing of boundaries for some earnest, old-fashioned storytelling in "Klaus." When a writer's known for a dark vision, breaking the fourth wall or taking shots at genre conventions, one can forget that they're seasoned pros that are more than capable of turning out straightforward stories about a good man fighting evil.
In "Klaus" #2, Morrison and Mora flesh out their main character almost solely through action. He's shown to be as much a fighter as a man with a big heart, but also a guy with a lot of brains. In the opening scene, his gambit requires a grasp of classical mechanics worthy of a pool shark and, throughout the story, Klaus always thinks strategically.
The story has the classic "two guards talking to each other" trope, but quickly segues to Mora's visual progression of a snowball with clever panel design. The page design and the rows of gutters build up suspense and visual rhythm while also guiding the movement of the reader's eye. "Klaus" is action-heavy, but Mora never loses the reader. His transitions are smooth and he saves the dramatic changes in perspective for the surprises in Morrison's script.
Mora's colors make the winter weather feel visceral, and his palette shifts lend extra impact to the morning sun and Klaus' toys. His background details and facial expressions also give the story emotional depth, and his action scenes are fluid and exciting.
If there's a flaw in "Klaus," it's that the townspeople seem too uniformly cowed and pleasant, and that the Baron and his son Jonas are so over-the-top evil they're comical. Any gravitas they have is courtesy of Mora's artwork. Mora doesn't neglect the humor, but he also gives both father and son deadly pallor and unnatural expressions that make them look ghoulish and creepy.
There are other comic moments sprinkled throughout, from the guards' talk of a man with a "hunch" on his back to Jonas' whining about toys. The whole sequence with Olav, a beefy oaf, displays a blend of slapstick and irony. This is more like Morrison's usual stuff.
In the main character, though, he has something special: a hero who is good without a hint of being boring. Klaus feels like someone special, a figure both flesh and blood and larger than life, and that's feels in line with Morrison's intent to honor the myth and the story of Santa Claus.
Klaus' eventual victory is, of course, assured, so -- while the smaller gears of the story have some surprises -- the larger arc is predictable, and a showdown between the Baron and Klaus is inevitable. Despite these constraints, Morrison and Mora keep the suspense taut throughout with expert pacing. "Klaus" #2 is a great read, and its skillful reworking of myth is for all seasons.