Santa Claus has been interpreted so many times over the years that you could argue any of a dozen versions could be the “definitive” one or the one you think is the best. The lanky stop-motion cartoon who delighted in angering the Burgermeister Meisterburger. Tim Allen’s ascension from selfish toy designer to jolly Saint Nick.
Viking Santa with a giant sword.
Yup, last year the creative team of Grant Morrison and Dan Mora unveiled a new take on Santa that brought in the original viking lore to the man who visits children every Christmas. What resulted was a delightfully wacky, Games of Thrones-esque take on Santa’s origins. Both creators have teamed up once more to release a new one shot special with their iteration of Santa, just in time for this year’s holiday season, entitled Klaus and the Witch of Winter.
This outing sees Klaus return from being imprisoned on the moon for years (stay with me) to find a pair of children have been abducted by ice monsters. Following their trail, Klaus returns to his long-abandoned original workshop to discover an army of said ice monsters being led by the dread Witch of Winter, who looks to overrun the world with her icy grasp in response to rising global temperatures.
Yes, it’s weird. Yes, it plays all of this straight. Yes, you should read it. Because when push comes to shove, this book feels just like another goofy holiday special you’d watch on TV with your family this time of year.
Break it down into its basic elements. You have Klaus, a viking Santa who isn’t afraid to show off his burly arms underneath his traditional red vest, sporting a very Jeffrey Dean Morgan hairstyle (complete with salt and pepper hair and beard) and a Golden Age Superman style of speaking (blended with Morrison’s usual “superhero speak” that he has down to a science). He teams up with an aging Geppetto, kept alive by icy magic and enchanted wood, to fight the Witch, whose ice monsters feel like something out of an episode of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (complete with Zord-sized monsters towards the end).
Try not to smile at how goofy all of that sounds.
While the wackiness runs wild throughout these pages, Morrison also brings a more traditional, emotional backbone to the story. Anchoring the scenes of Klaus punching out ice monsters is the story of two young children grappling with the changing world around them. “Is Santa real?”, the story element that many holiday stories have tackled when children are involved, is nicely balanced with the darker but nonetheless important question of “How do we keep going on without our mom?”
Arguably these emotional beats can be seen as being cliche (like I said, this isn’t the first story to tackle these issues with kids). But when you have a story that involves the absurdity of Klaus fighting alongside animatronic versions of himself, any emotional weight is appreciated.
Mora accompanies Morrison once more to keep a visual unity to the original series. What made the original series work so well artistically was the way Mora blended old world vistas and designs with elements of high fantasy and a bit of science fiction. This book brings the same elements to the forefront to help elevate this into an almost superhero-looking book with its clean lines and brightly colored characters. Bring in castle dungeons, snowy woods, and a “haunted” workshop, and Mora showcases why he would be just as comfortable drawing an issue of Superman as he would an issue of Klaus.
However, one of the things that is missing from the original series here is the sweeping depictions of the old world Klaus lived in. Half-page panels and two page spreads of snow-covered valleys and lone fires against the dark nights are replaced with multi-paneled pages crammed together keeping the plot moving. This can be attributed to needing to get the entire story out in one issue, but the lack of those visuals does take something magical away.
The Witch of Winter does also suffer from not being fully accessible for brand new readers. I haven’t read the entire Klaus miniseries (I’ve only read the first issue), so there were some elements here that threw me for a loop. Was I supposed to know Klaus and the witch’s henchman Spoonlicker have a history? Or that Klaus and Geppetto worked together in the past?
Admittedly, these things don’t detract from the main narrative too much. I still found myself enjoying myself immensely reading Witch of Winter. But elements from the original Klaus series, from Klaus’ “sidekick” being a white wolf named Lilli to his sleigh being a multicolored ride straight out of Tron pulled by wolves and not reindeer, may make the overall reading experience lesser without knowing the backstory. At least this might get more eyes onto the original series.
For those of you looking for any last-minute stocking stuffers, Klaus and the Witch of Winter might be just the thing for any comic-loving fan. At eight bucks it also feels like just the right price for a stocking item…not too expensive, but not dirt cheap either. Maybe you’ll even pick up a copy for yourself if you’re tired of seeing the same kinds of holiday movies and specials this year. This book will definitely help spread some holiday cheer.