Prequels to any work run the risk of superfluous expansion: do we really want or need an explanation for how the status quo was set up in the original story? Is there a good reason to show why the Wicked Witch became green, how the Thing ended up in the arctic, or how Hannibal became a cannibal. These details may be important to the original story but adding greater importance to them runs the risk of feeling contrived and convenient. Grant Morisson's Klaus takes superfluous prequels to a new extreme by telling the hugely forced story of Santa Clause's secret origin. In creating a prequel to a holiday icon (who by nature has no story), Morrison apparently feels compelled to force into place the few details that do exist. In the first two issues, we are presented with snowmen, naughty and nice children, a city without yuletide joy, and more references to toys than the story has any need of. Our resident hero and future jolly red gift-maker, Klaus (i.e. hunky Santa) has received a bounty of magical toys from magical tree spirits, and sets out to bring them to good girls and boys of the neighboring village (which as we are constantly reminded, is not allowed to have toys). Klaus breaks into the city to distribute his toys, and busts a few deserving heads along the way. As we learned in the first issue, the lord is stockpiling toys as a gift for his particularly spoiled child, and wants no one in town to have any as a consequence. If this sounds nonsensical, it is. Why anything considered a toy is a problem remains unclear and seems mainly like an excuse to theme a fantasy adventure around toys and gift-giving. Hunky Santa himself remains an entirely dull hero, well-intentioned but without motivation, and a mid-issue revelation that hints at romance future and past is hard to care about when we have so little characterization to grasp onto.
Frankly, Morrison has never been an excellent character writer. His books have functioned on big ideas and strange concepts taken to their extremes, something which is entirely lacking in Klaus beyond the aforementioned tree spirits who are not even mentioned in this issue. Without Morrison's name on the cover, one would likely never associate him with this dully by-the-numbers fantasy tale. In fact, a jolt of Morrison's usual heady sci-fi might alleviate some of the superfluousness of the series by creating a sense of wonder. For a book that purports to be the origin of a magical man who delivers toys via flying dear, the book has no sense of joys or festivity in any way (we do have some quality brooding though).
Perhaps the only highlight to Klaus is Dan Mora's warm, richly detailed art. Mora's character designs are stylized and evocative with a sense of playfulness that gives the book a little humor it would otherwise lack entirely. In general, the book does not seem to be tapping the potential that Mora shows, as his art could easily belong to a much better, more intelligent story. An early scene of Klaus breaking into the town interspersed with a snowball he tossed onto the roof becoming larger as it rolls towards unsuspecting guards. This is a deft piece of well-paced action plotting even if the payoff is physically a bit cartoonish for the book's otherwise painfully serious tone.
As is, Klaus seems intent on continuing to flesh out the back story of its muscular, pre-jolly hero and his fight to bring toys to helpless tots everywhere in as dull a manner as possible. Perhaps the inevitable introduction of his traditional red outfit and reindeer friends will be worth the wait, but at this point, I highly doubt it.
Klaus #2 Writer: Grant Morrison Artist: Dan Mora Publisher: BOOM! Studios Price: $3.99 Release Date: 12/16/15 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital