Certainly one of the most unique Christmas comics on the shelves this season, "Krampus" combines a goofball's sense of humor with a geek's love of esoteric Christmas history. This first issue is too uneven and heavy-handed to truly delight, but it's clear that a lot of research and heart went into this project. Once it settles a little more solidly into its tone, it could be quite a treat.
The premise of this series is that the Sugar Plum Fairies have stolen St. Nicholas's skull, and thereby stolen the magic of all Santas worldwide. Trapped at the North Pole with no enchantments to escape, the Santas must ask the long-imprisoned Krampus to retrieve the skull.
The premise deserves so much space in this review because it's such a large part of the issue's charm. Jones has done his research into the history of Santa, and seeing which elements of Yuletide lore he chooses to pluck out, and how he combines them with more modern holiday mainstays, is a whole lot of fun.
For instance, when the Santas from all over the world meet together, I spent a good few minutes just looking at all the different figures and trying to ID them. Kotz differentiates the Santas by the cut of their beards and their varied traditional costumes, and the resulting crowd is quite delightful. Jones also does his part to make the Santas feel distinctive, from persnickety Sinterklaas to cold Mos Craciun, and he paints a believably crotchety meeting of dozens of grumpy old men. Readers who were already interested in this history will find themselves smiling at quite a few of Jones' ideas.
However, the execution is otherwise very uneven. It's unclear which demographic this series is gunning for (though the rating is 12+). Some of the humor is drawn in broad, juvenile strokes, such as Krampus' accent (complete with the use of zee, zat, and zese) or the name of the Naughty Bomb. Now, there is nothing wrong with slapstick humor, so long as it's part of a consistent aesthetic. However, this is also a series which tries to use the shock value of foul-mouthed Santas and elves saying things like, "bat-shit crazy" to get laughs.
Krampus' characterization is also a bit all over the place. At times, he seems jaded and dangerous; at other points, he's a complete clown. This makes it tricky to know how to read the scenes. It often took me out of the story I thought I was reading and made me ask, "Have I been reading everything wrong?"
To be fair, although a first issue is supposed to be the selling point for a series, it's also often the issue where the creative team is first feeling out what it wants to do. I really enjoy the premise of this series, and its idea to treat Krampus, who's usually a figure in scarier or grittier Christmas retellings, as a comic figure. But the premise isn't going to be enough if the execution doesn't get smoother
I like Christmas history, so I'll probably grab the next issue, but I'm hoping I'll get a clearer sense of what this team wants to deliver. There's a lot of promise here.