The first five pages of Grant Morrison and Dan Mora’s “Klaus” #4 fill the reader in on much of Klaus’ past. His origin story — that he was found in the winter wilderness in his mother’s arms — maintains some mystery about the character, but also reinforces his bonds to the coldest season and to the common man. It’s a neat trick, since Morrison is expanding on a folk tale and a tradition, and so far the story is indeed moving towards a “victory of the people.”
This flashback in the prologue is the most successful part of the story, in part because “Klaus” works best when it remains in the narrative mode of a legend. All of the characters remain stereotypes, which is fine in a folk tale or fable, but — when the story reverts to Klaus’ visit to the castle — the total lack of nuance is more of a problem. As a tale of good and evil, “Klaus” spells things out too much, though Mora’s art has some skillful visual storytelling. In one sequence, his perspective and color work indicate that a young Magnus poisoned King Alrik, while Morrison’s dialogue and captions only contain ironic Iago-like dialogue.
The plot is leading to some big showdown between Klaus and Magnus, but that’s been coming since the first issue. Ed Dukeshire’s lettering reinforces the melodrama of Magnus’ villainy in an enjoyable way. The problem is with the villain himself and all the people who put up with him and are taken in by his lies, especially Lady Dagmar. Magnus comes across like a Disney villain, all baleful glances and sharp angles. In real life, tyrants have more to recommend them.
Lady Dagmar is annoyingly weak as a character. She has little personality of her own and functions only as a good, pretty woman who is a dupe of the villain. Neither she nor any of her subjects — not even the “good” ones like Sergeant Karl Linkvist — have the spine or leadership to stand up to tyranny without Klaus’ initiative. It’s hard to believe that no one has suspected Magnus of a frame job given his unpopularity as a ruler. As a mother, Dagmar allowed Jonas to become the dysfunctional Mini-Me version of his father. The scene where she teaches Jonas about friendship and make-believe is too simplistic. Told at a greater remove, like in a fairy tale, Jonas’ rapid awakening and the beginnings of a moral transformation might have worked, but — from panel to panel — it’s difficult to believe that social and behavioral problems could be eased so quickly and simply.
It’s a stale trope to have the hero and the villain fight over the same girl, and Morrison doesn’t add anything to it in “Klaus” #4. It’s also hard for such a character like Dagmar to be seen as worthy of the hero, but all signs point to the lady being given a second chance to choose the right man in the future.
All the other characters are stacked up as weak and diminished, clearing the way for Klaus to look even better, but it feels like Morrison underestimates Klaus’ star quality. He’s a strong enough hero that he wouldn’t need to hog the spotlight. He’s the selling point of the story. So far, he’s the only character that is able to straddle the gulf between the legendary and the everyday. His goodness is believable, and he remains charming despite his lack of complexity. It’s sometimes hard to make goodness attractive in fiction, but Morrison pulls it off. Mora’s artwork nails the right balance. Klaus’ facial expressions body language show he’s strong but also gentle and compassionate. The sequence with the wolf cub is very cute; the way this moment of softness and mercy ties back into the plot is predictable but still satisfying, because of Morrison’s deft pacing and Mora’s page and panel composition.
The cliffhanger in the last page of “Klaus” #4 drips with menace, but the only suspense will be the mechanism of Magnus’ undoing. “Klaus” is a fun read, but it’s a pity that none of the characters besides Klaus himself are distinctive or memorable.