Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christmas in the Crapbox: Klaus #1

It's "Game of Christmas" and winter is Definitely coming!

"Klaus: How Santa Claus Began"
Writer – Grant Morrison
Artist – Dan Mora
Letters – Ed Dukeshire
Designer – Scott Newman
Editors – Eric Harburn & Matt Gagnon
November 2015

I think I've sung Grant Morrison's praises once before in the Crapbox. Guy just gets a bunch of love from me. High marks for his Animal Man, All-Star Superman, Doom Patrol, Flash and well, that's a lot of books that I feel fond of. His writing gives the audience exactly what it wants even if it isn't in exactly the way they want it. That surprise factor actually makes it better.

What's better than to take a standard story trope and spin it a new way while still making it feel like something familiar?

Which is EXACTLY what we get with this first issue of Klaus, Morrison's take on a bloody wicked version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." Okay, so maybe it isn't exactly that story or maybe it is based on even older myths, but much of what transpires feels like it was lifted from there. Lifted, ran through a George R. R. Martin translator and then splashed upon the page.

And surprise, surprise! I love it.

I mean it is like getting salty and sweet in same bite.

We begin with this unnamed fur trader who is pulling a sled full of his wares into the town of Grimsvig. And doesn't he look like the most bad-ass, Hercules-version of Santa EVER. I mean, he is cut like Jason Momoa and that determined stare looks like heat vision.

And he only gets to look that good due to the artistry of Dan Mora, who amazes and astounds me with this issue. Dan's a Costa Rican native whose painted art truly makes you stop and pay attention. I mean look at this jaw-dropping panorama of Grimsvig that sets the tone and the seriousness of our hero's predicament when he enters those gates? Grimsvig is, for lack of a better descriptor, GRIM!

Mora breathes life into this work in a way that is spectacular and new. Looking at this portfolio you'll see "whatcould have been" shots of him doing more famous Marvel and DC characters and I have to state that I WANT those books. We have this story though, and it's a darn good one.

And right now in that story I like so much, our unnamed hero (who we can only infer must be Klaus) is making his way past the town guards in an effort to sell his wares in exchange for winter supplies. 

The guards let him through, but something about all this doesn't sit well with Klaus as he heads to the local tavern.

At the tavern, he encounters this dour fellow working the taps, who confirms many things. All the men in town appear to be working in the coal mines and they don't seem to have any say in taking time off for their families during the holiday du jour, Yulemas. In fact, reading between the barkeep's lines, it sounds a bit like they have been forced into the mines at the end of the guard's speartip.

Also the Klaus knew the prior barkeep, who Klaus terms to be a good man. By the new tavern owner's confession, appears he met a very permanent end for little more than saying the wrong thing.

It's about this time that the guards come looking for Klaus. That's not a good thing.

Klaus is hustled outside by the guards who have ransacked his wears and it is about this time that we know he's made a huge mistake in coming here. They accuse of have being a Lycan while confiscating all of his pelts. 

And then this happens and that Rankin/Bass holiday special parallel suddenly comes into crystal clear focus.

I got eerie little prickles of precognition when I read that the first time. This is Morrison's strong suit: taking a familiar tale and turning it on its head somewhat. You almost expect Burgermeister Meisterburger to make an appearance next. Or some "18+ only" version of him. 

When the toy "rock" is taken from the boy, the solider mentions a "Master Jonas" who won't turn out to be our fair Burgermeister, but something a mite bit worse. Jonas, as you will soon see, is a new bend around this traditional TV cartoon myth. What we do get is Klaus being told to go on his way, WITHOUT his furs, payment or his sled, which doesn't sit well with him. But he leaves, being outnumbered and outgunned, so to speak. 

However, he lets the guards actions get the better of him, although somehow I think we all knew this was going to happen before he made it outside the castle walls. First though, he gets to step in as a protector of children.

And then he gets pummeled and overpowered. I love the power and starkness that Mora brings to these scenes. He was absolutely the best choice to convey this tale.

Speaking of our tale, we are introduced to two characters who it is very clear will factor in later. First is Sergeant Linkvist, the last good cop in the corrupt town guard force. I get the feeling that he will eventually help Klaus turn the tables on the forces ruling this evil village. Oh! And speaking of that evil…

…meet Lord Magnus, the stand-in for Burgermeister. This wispy cloaked figure reminds me more of something from a horror movie or a Japanese anime than he does a fat Bavarian/German mayor. Either way, Morrison gets props for tweaking the formula yet again.

How's Klaus doing, you might be asking? Well, not so good.

He's stripped of his cloak and his hands are bound. Then the guards push him outside the gates and place bets on him to see if he will make the treeline. When he disappears, they send out a party to make sure he's dead.

And out of sight of the men on the wall, our hero is caught and just as things are looking grim…

…he calls in his kind and fluffy animal companions to help him defeat the evil Burgermeister's guards. Or rather to EAT the evil Burgermeister's guards. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Lilli – Klaus's dire wolf that sudden makes this feel like we've again wandered onto the back lot of Game of Thrones. Still it is pretty frick'n cool that we have a Santa with a giant wolf buddy.

Meanwhile we shift back to Lord Magnus, who is checking in on Master Janus who works out to be his spoiled brat of a son. 

Magnus and his wife have been forcing the craftsmen of the village to make toys for their son only and him being a stuck up twat destroys them in fits of rage and then sets them on fire because he's looking for something special. Something about "little people" who come alive and do as he bids. There is a foreshadowing element here that tells me he's going to get this at some point but not in a way that he expects or will enjoy.

The mother-figure in this odd family of crazy, Lady Dagmar, is introduced and then we swap back to Klaus, who Lady Dagmar has heard of as a "wild man" who eluded the guards. Klaus is busy getting breakfast and possibly some warm hide. Another gorgeous double-sized splash from Mora really shows this off. I could do without the inset boxes however.

Our injured Klaus decides to try some herbal treatment that may contain more magic mushroom than actual medicine. 

At least that would explain how when he decides to pull out a flute after eating it that suddenly this happens…

Ooookaaaaay….so Morrison decided the "elves" in his Santa mythos would actually be…

Yeah, or something like that. Whatever "they" are, they reach out to Klaus in his psychedelic fever-dream and put him into some kind of trance-induced stupor. 

Which just so happens to him doing a bit of whittling….

Leading to a morning of "wtf?" as Klaus wakes a bit sore and surrounded by moving toys. Yeah, sure they are going to factor into a comeuppance for young Master Janus. 

The stage is set now and all the major players are in place. I wish I had more of these or a line on the trade as they would make a great read on Christmas. I'm looking for them in my bin browsing and you should too.

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