Just in time for the holidays, Brian Joines and Dean Kotz deliver a terrific anti-Christmas caper. It’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” meets a action thiller, and more than that, it’s just plain fun.
Written by Brian Joines
Illustrated by Dean Kotz
Meet the Secret Society of Santa Clauses. For centuries, Father Christmas, Ded Moroz, Hoteiosho, and others have magically distributed Christmas cheer to children around the world. But when the source of their power is stolen, a desperate Society turns to an usual source for help: the dreaded Krampus, child-punishing demon of holiday lore. Free of his cell for the first time in decades, will the Krampus uncover the truth behind the Santas’ depowering or leave his jailers to their ultimate fate? It’s Snake Plissken by way of the Grinch as the darkly comedic adventure begins here.
There’s two sides to every coin. For every good thing, there must be an opposite, an antagonist. That central conceit forms the basis of almost all story, especially those of the comic book variety. In the case of good natured Santa Claus, the jolly old man known the world over for delivering presents to nice little kiddos come December 25th, that opposite is the Krampus. A demonic figure of eastern European origin, Krampus punishes wicked children by kidnapping and, on occasion, eating them. He’s about as anti-Santa as you can get.
Westerners might not be familiar with the rich variety of Christmas and Yuletide myth, which Joines and Kotz utilize so brilliantly in “Krampus!”. Essentially a mystery crime caper, the story finds the “Secret Society of Santa Clauses” in dire straits after the desecration of the bones of St. Nicholas disrupts the Santa mojo. Their only hope is the Krampus, a menace imprisoned by the Santas decade ago. It’s a simple and familiar set up, but the unusual setting sets it apart.
Joines gets a lot of mileage reinterpreting Christmas myths. Key aspects like elves, flying reindeer, and sugar plum fairies are handled with a wry, sardonic wit. The best part is hilarious interactions between the national Santa variants. Joines exploits cultural stereotypes without coming off as crass or irreverent. I mean, everyone knows old Kris Kringle loves his milk and cookies. As cool as it is to see all these Santas in a room together, it does get a bit confusing. With a cast of this size, one rooted in cultural myth, it would’ve been nice to have a character guide in the backmatter, something in the vein of “Manhattan Projects.”
That’s not to say Kotz fails at differentiated the characters. Rather, the artist does a fantastic job bringing these lesser known characters to life. From the grizzled Sinterklaas to the energetic and sharply dressed Hoteiosho, there’s a terrific variety on display, outside of red coats and white beards. Of course, the Krampus is the star of the show, and he’s Kotz shining achievement on the book. A Shrek-esque oaf with a tad more bite, Kotz’s Krampus is quite as menacing as you would envision a child-gobbling demon, but it fits perfectly with the tone of the story. And, as a protagonist, it’s far easier to get behind a Krampus that binges Downton Abbey.
Modern day Christmas stories often lack the spark and creativity of tried and true classics, but Joines and Kotz have touched on an overlooked aspect of the holidays. While the concept is mostly played for laughs, the plot and characters remain engaging. “Krampus” tells a solid story on its own merits, in spite of its Christmas trappings, which should help it remain a worthwhile read, even after the New Year has rung.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – Buy. Don’t let “Krampus” get lost in the holiday shuffle.