The first issue of Boom Studios’ Klaus – written by Grant Morrison, with art by Dan Mora, and letters by Ed Dukeshire – opens on a ferocious looking man trudging through the snow with a sled dragged behind him and a fire in his eyes. He brings some furs and wood into the foreboding walls of a large town. When he enters a pub and orders an ale, we get the sense that this mysterious stranger has been here before. “Where are all the men?” he asks. “The men are in the mines. Working,” the barman responds. “Didn’t they used to stop working during the Yuletime festival?” the stranger continues. The barman grunts out a reply. “Coal’s needed. Take it up with the Baron if you want. My advice: Stop asking questions.”
It’s not long before the visitor is taken aside by town guards. They confiscate his goods and simply say “Everything within the walls of Grimsvig is the Baron’s property,” and throw him back out into the snowy wilderness. The guards bind him and begin beating him to death before a large white wolf bounds out of the blizzard and to his rescue. “There was a time when Grimsvig was bright with light and song!” the wildman whispers to his canine companion. “What happened here?”
And so, Morrison and Mora have introduced us to the major players of this story. Klaus, a man who has learned to survive in harsh conditions out on the ice, and the Baron whose tyrannical control extends out from his comfortable castle and into the homes of Grimsvig’s poor. One man is destined to become the sleigh-riding Christmas spirit we’ve all come to know and love, a.k.a Santa Claus. The other is about as cuddly as a cactus and as charming as an eel. The biggest difference between them, though, is how they seek fulfillment. Morrison and Mora, in the spirit of all good Christmas classics, suggest that true fulfillment comes from looking out for others more so than yourself.
Klaus’ Weapon of Choice: Joy
The first thing you’ll notice about Mora’s character design for Klaus is that this is a man who is not to be messed with. His burly arms aren’t covered by sleeves or furs. His hands are often clenched in fists. He looks hardened by years of fending for himself against an unforgiving environment. His arctic wolf, Lilli, is similarly frightening. She’s a hulking heap of sinew, with sharp teeth and gleaming eyes. The second thing you’ll notice about the two of them, and it seems almost paradoxical at first, is that they have a look of kindness about them.
When we finally see the Baron, he’s hunched and scrawny. His face is twisted in a permanent scowl. The Baron, it turns out, has a personal vendetta against our leading man. At first glance, this comic would appear to be the setup of a typical revenge narrative. Our protagonist is obviously more capable than he’s given credit, and the big baddie is a man who sees himself as untouchable. You’d expect this to be a bloody story that ends with the coup of an evil despot. This story is about a coup, but not a bloody one.
When Klaus sneaks back into the town of Grimsvig, it’s not to get back at the soldiers who mercilessly pummeled him only twenty pages earlier. Klaus almost seems to have forgotten them. Instead, he’s come with a bag of toys that he intends to leave for every girl and boy who lives in Grimsvig, in honor of the Yuletide festival they ought to have been celebrating – were it not for the Baron’s canceling of the holiday.
Klaus has every right to seize vengeance – or even justice – for himself. But instead of taking, he chooses to give. Mora shows him crouching on a rooftop as people discover his handiwork, a sly smile across his face. By giving from what little he has, Klaus feels satisfied.
The Baron Wants Everything
The Baron could not be more fundamentally different from our hero. Our first mention of him, as stated before, is that “Everything within the walls of Grimsvig is the Baron’s property.” It becomes abundantly clear that this attitude extends to Grimsvig’s citizens as well. Not only does the Baron starve his people so that he can have elaborate feasts, but he also has his guards collect all of the toys in town so that they can be given to his son.
His boy, Jonas, is an ungrateful twerp. He sets fire to his Yuletime presents and crushes them underfoot. His refrain is always “Why is nothing ever good enough? Why?” When his father witnesses this tantrum, Jonas isn’t disciplined or admonished. Instead, the Baron says “I ask myself the very same question, over and over again, Jonas.” Sitting at one end of an ornate table that’s covered in lavish food, the Baron just scowls. He’s deeply unhappy and everything he acquires to fill the void inside him only leaves him feeling emptier than before – just like his son. He has so much and yet he smiles so little.
We soon learn that generosity and joy is a more powerful tool than greed and fear mongering. With joy, Klaus brings hope back into the hearts of the browbeaten denizens of Grimsvig and sets in motion events that could lead the town to being a place that’s “bright with light and song” again.
You Reap What You Sow
When it comes down to it, Klaus is really a story that’s as old as time. It’s about the ways that focusing entirely on ourselves leads us to miss the big picture. Klaus is constantly putting himself in harm’s way for the sake of others. When the Baron posts guards at every door, seeking to stop the late night present deliveries, Klaus seems more thrilled by the challenge than anything else. And when he’s in his darkest moment, it’s a child who had been blessed by one of Klaus’ gifts that tries to come to his aid. Everyone that Klaus helps – including his pooch Lilli – all try to find ways to help him when he needs it. When you give, you have no idea just how much you’re going to receive. The Baron, however, can’t even hold onto what he has. His quest for power and domination leads nowhere. But there’s always time to change.
Morrison and Mora went on to make a whole universe out of Klaus, with their version of Santa Claus showing up in Klaus and The Witch in Winter, Klaus and The Crisis in Xmasville, Klaus and The Crying Snowman, and Klaus and The Life and Times of Joe Christmas, expanding into bigger and wilder stories as they went. If you’re looking for a cozy Christmas read, something that inspires you to be generous and kind in this cold season, then Klaus is for you!