Grant Morrison is a man of many obsessions. It would probably be more fair to say “interests.” At least that would avoid any appearance of psychological accusation. But there is something decidedly weak and unsatisfactory about the alternate term. So let us stipulate that the word “obsession” is not meant in its medical sense, but only in its less controversial meaning of an intense focus far beyond that attained and maintained by the average person. And in that sense, I repeat that Grant Morrison is obsessed with many things. He is obsessed with the history of comics, with the nature and possibilities of narrative expressed in the form of sequential art, with the meaning of heroism and hope in the modern world, with the nature and importance of imagination, and with children and childhood.
A story about the origin of Santa Claus obviously addresses the last two themes. However, it is never Morrison’s way to craft a tale around only one or two of his favored subjects. Klaus is a story about heroism as well, but one suspects heroism of an unusual kind. Or perhaps not. After all, a story about Santa Claus as an action hero is rather unusual in its own right.
This Klaus is neither a jolly, rotund man in a red suit nor a Christian bishop from Anatolia. He is a solitary hunter living in the forest outside the dour city of Grimsvig. On a trading mission there, he discovers the town’s ruler has forbidden the annual Yule Festival, as well as ruling that all toys in the city are the property of his own spoiled son. In many ways, the story echoes two films, 1968’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and 1970’s Santa Claus is Coming to Town. But the hunter eats reindeer rather than riding them, and associates with wolves. Nor are there any elves in evidence, but rather forest spirits who send Klaus into a phantasmagoric trance in which he spends a night magically manufacturing toys in defiance of Grimsvig’s laws.
Dan Mora renders the art in clear, simple forms and basic colors, heightening the resemblance to a Rankin-Bass cartoon from years gone by. This makes the contrast with the psychedelic experience of Klaus’ mystical trance all the more dramatic, and providing some shock value to the graphic scene of Klaus and his wolf companion killing a reindeer. The effective mixture of the comfortable and the bizarre holds us in the story while emphasizing that this is, indeed, a different kind of Klaus.
In the end, if this is a different kind of Santa, one feels it will not end up being too different. The appearance of the toys in the final scene promises that the traditions of Christmas are intact, if seen from a different vantage. In fact, the familiarity of the story, despite the wolves and forest spirits and reindeer killing, is a little disappointing. No one wants Santa Claus deconstructed, to use a bit of modern jargon. But a few more surprises would be a very welcome gift.