Thursday, December 24, 2015

Fancifully Festive Grit: Klaus #2

The following is my review of Klaus #2, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


It used to be that most holiday-themed comics revolved around Superman teaming up with Santa Claus to fight an army of evil elves created by Lex Luthor. It seems at times that every comic is trying in vain to capture the same spirit of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. Time and again, comics have failed, further reinforcing that nobody not named or related to Charles Shutlz can ever capture that spirit.

Grant Morrison might not be related to Charles Shutlz, but he doesn't attempt to succeed where so many others had failed. Instead, he finds a way to succeed in an entirely new way with Klaus #2. This is not a made-for-TV holiday movie that only airs twice a year on the Disney Channel. This isn't even a Christmas themed episode of Superfriends. Klaus is a wholly re-imagined Christmas story that combines the grit of Batman with the fantasy of Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. It's one of those combinations that you don't expect to be so potent, but like the first person who decided to put chocolate chips on a cookies, it makes for a pleasant holiday treat.

There's nothing biblically, historically, or culturally accurate about the world of Klaus. It doesn't try to incorporate one particular tradition over the other. Instead, it takes a handful of familiar Christmas themes and incorporates them into a narrative that feels fresh, engaging, and festive. Fans of both Charlie Brown and Game of Thrones will find plenty to like about this world that Grant Morrison crafts. And Klaus #2 cements this appeal by taking the act of giving toys to needy children and making it badass.

The kingdom of Grimsvig is basically a Christmas dystopia that even Ebeneezer Scrooge would find depressing. It's run by Lord Magnus, a less intimidating version of Voldermort who governs with philosophy that would be right at home in North Korea. He's decided in his Scrooge-like wisdom that there should be no festivities or merriment. The entire town of Grimsvig exists only for him to plunder like a kid in a chocolate factory. If this means making every citizen miserable on the holidays, so be it.

This kind of misery during the holidays doesn't sit well with Klaus, who is less a jovial fat guy and more a rugged frontiersman that Tom Hardy might play in a Western. But for him to make a difference, he can't be jovial or fat. He has to be daring and cunning. He basically has to be Batman. But instead of beating up criminals and making Ben Affleck look good, he uses his skills to deliver toys to children. It might not endear him to Lord Magnus, but it certainly won't put him in conflict with Superman anytime soon.

The one child that Klaus goes out of his way to avoid also happens to be Lord Magnus' son, Jonas. This child is about as lovable as Joffrey Baratheon. He establishes himself as one of those spoiled brats who would probably complain that the Lamborghini his father bought him was the wrong color. He's the reason why children aren't allowed toys in Grimsvig. If he can't be happy with toys, then no one can be happy, period.

It's this utter disregard for the holiday spirit that acts as a catalyst for the fantasy elements of this story. There is magic involved. It's not Harry Potter level wizardry, but it perfectly consistent with classic holiday themes. The toys Klaus delivers to the children of Grimsvig all have magical properties. It acts as a metaphor of sorts for how getting toys on Christmas morning has such a magical effect on children. It's right up there with the effect of a teenager getting a new smartphone.

The only person this magic doesn't effect is Lord Magnus' mini-Joffrey of a son. As soon as Lord Magnus gets news that children are playing with toys on the holidays, he goes omega-level Scrooge and confiscates them. But when Jonas gets his hands on these toys, the magic is gone. They give him about as much holiday joy as a lump of coal wrapped in a pair of old socks.

This narrative fits in nicely with many holiday themes. The poor and disadvantaged are given magical gifts while the rich and spoiled get nothing. The magic that we associate with the holidays is palpable and real through the children that embrace it. This keeps the story from getting too grim and gritty, but that doesn't stop Grant Morrison from injecting a few Die Hard elements into the mix.

Klaus might not be John McClane, but Lord Magnus is very much Hans Gruber. Since he hasn't one-upped Scrooge enough, he decides to do more than just hoard all the toys for his son. He sends his troops to capture whoever dares to spread joy and cheer during the holidays. Klaus might not have a machine gun, but he has a sort of playful cunning that would be right at home in a Home Alone movie.

The strength of the story isn't just in seeing Klaus give the good children of Grimsvig some holiday cheer. It's also the challenge he faces in accomplishing this task. Lord Magnus makes it clear that he's way worse than the Grinch. No amount of Ghosts of Christmas Past are going to make him any less festive. His idea of holiday fun is sending soldiers and wolves to attack Klaus. And he's armed only with a bag of toys. Yet somehow, it feels like a fair fight.

Add a little holiday music in the background with a little eggnog on the side and Klaus #2 hits all the right notes. It has all the right themes. It effectively mixes classic fairy tales with modern grit to create a fitting holiday treat, courtesy of Grant Morrison. What he's done with Christmas mythology here should put him on Santa's nice list for years to come.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

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