We are joined by Ritesh Babu to do a deep dive into The League Of Santas in Klaus…
Santa Claus as a superhero. That’s the fundamental premise of Klaus. And what do all superheroes have? A superhero team!
Grant Morrison has done The Doom Patrol. They’ve done The Justice League. They’ve done The X-Men. They’ve done Seven Soldiers. It is safe to say that they know their way around doing superhero teams.
That people still hail the late ‘90s’ JLA revival by them and Howard Porter as the pinnacle of that title should be a hint. And historically speaking, Morrison has had a history of introducing a brand new superhero team in virtually every single superhero title they’ve done in some way shape or form. It holds true of their earliest works to the most modern, whether it be Zenith or Final Crisis. This is clearly a writer that loves an assembly of characters.
So it should surprise no one that eventually, inevitably, Morrison, alongside collaborators Dan Mora and Ed Dukeshire, would introduce a team of holiday heroes based around Christmas mythology. And it’s one that effectively distills down all the lessons and ideas Morrison’s applied to mainstream superhero teams for years. It’s one that has strands of everything they’ve done to date, whilst also being remarkably simple. It is Morrison doing to holiday folklore what they did to DC mythos.
The League Of Santas, originally formed on December 18th of 1951, is the united global alliance of gift-givers. Its riff on The Justice League ought to be obvious with that title, but it’s also at once The Club Of Heroes. It’s not just the assortment of the odd, different individuals, but also the global, international coalition of characters operating around similar central ideas, albeit with drastically different gimmicks and motifs.
But it’s also a conception of a big superhero team post-The Multiversity, the seminal work and concluding magnum opus of Morrison’s DC tenure. And there, as Grant does, they made another brand new super-team: The Justice Incarnate.
The Justice Incarnate, a multiversal S.O.S. response alliance, was very much Morrison’s explicit take on the question they’d been asked for over a decade: “What would Morrison’s Justice League look like now, in a modern era, as opposed to the ‘90s?”
And well, it’d look like this. It’d be, like their JL prior, very much a blatant riff on The Knights Of The Roundtable (they even have a literal roundtable), with the base as a Camelot-equivalent. But it’d also be bigger, spanning a membership of heroes from across the multiverse. And while that would be the case, its central line-up would be 9 members.
They wouldn’t be the typical post-Authority/Ultimates brand of super-team, the military task force that had grown popular. They would instead be closer to Cosmic Firefighters, putting out all the fires, answering S.O.S’, leaning into the most idyllic parts of noble knights with a code of honor and their grand quests to help the realm.
And that carries over into The League Of Santas big time. You’ll notice its prime membership is also just a solid 9. But beyond all of that, the other tangible strand of influence, very overtly, as it’s straight up in the title is this:
The League Of Santas then is, ostensibly Morrison’s take on a conceit akin to The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. While Victorian fiction and icons have long been Moore’s primary (not only) fascination, to the point that Moore did From Hell, a masterwork entirely dedicated to capturing the twilight of the 19th century (and thus, implicitly, the birth of the 20th), Morrison’s primary fascination has long been weird folklore. Thus, rather than the British icons, you get this international alliance of Santas, building some kind of weird superheroic unified theory of Christmas mythos.
And rather than being embroiled with the matter of Britain in the way the League due to its very nature of conception is, the Santas go broader, wider. Ages ago, Morrison said the following:
“The Justice League’s like The United Nations, The Avengers is like a Football Team, The Fantastic Four is a Family, The X-men are a School, and The Doom Patrol are a Therapy Group.”
This then begs the question: What is The League Of Santas?
And the answer is simple: They’re a group of Imaginary Friends.
Now, you’re probably wondering ‘Well, all of the above are real things to analogize to, while Imaginary Friends aren’t!’. And you know what? Fair. But also, allow me to disagree. Imaginary Friends are real. They might not ‘exist’ in the way you or I do, in flesh and blood, and certainly, they’re made up, fictional. But a great many of us had them, whether it be pretending a toy or a teddy bear had some measure of sentience, some value, to making up a being. And things needn’t be ‘real’ in the rigid sense most mean to have value or an impact.
All of which is to say, they’re the Agents Of The Imaginary. They’re that lovely thing sustained by belief, spirit, and faith of children, of collective human imagination. The willingness to engage with that which we clearly made-up, because it makes us feel a certain way.
In this sense, The League Of Santas are less akin to any proper superhero team published in Big Two comics, and much closer to Dreamworks’ Rise Of The Guardians:
They’re beings who face archetypal struggles on the imaginary plane, whilst also having a foot-hold in that which is ‘real’. They’re manifestations of our faith in certain notions, certain traditions, and assumptions. Closer to, say, The Endless, than The Avengers.
First assembled decades ago, the team’s ranks have grown across the years since then. They’ve split up, shifted, had ups and downs. But regardless, their greatest high and low, their grandest adventure (and horror) remains The Lunar Civil War. A massive mysterious event, akin to The Time War, between two species native to The Moon- The Kobolts and The Moondogs- it’s one that changed them forever.
Little is truly known about what occurred during their time there, except that they finally manage to stop the war after great effort.
What follows is a look at its prime membership over the years:
[Note: Klaus, the primary Santa, our lead character, as well as Joe Christmas, his apprentice, both seen above, are not granted listed entries here. Christmas’ association with The League is akin to Robin and The Justice League, thus the absence of an entry, while Klaus is the lead character that needs no introduction or explanation.]
Ded Moroz/Grandfather Frost
The Russian Santa, who resides in his icy palace-workshop, this is an iteration of the Santa myth that is ingrained into Russian culture, with roots going back to Slavic paganism. Everyone from Ukraine to Croatia ought to be familiar with the old Gramps as well, as the astonishing artist Dan Mora adheres pretty close to the classical design. He dresses in blue/white, with a symbolic star-staff to go with it.
Grandfather Frost is a man that’s at once Science-Hero and The Pulpy Myth. Both Atom and Batman. Which is to say…he’s Jack Kirby Batman as Santa. Thus he doesn’t brood. He grins wide, he’s a big guy, he has super-artifacts made of mythic metals, and he’s the smartest dude in the room. His Workshop is very much a ‘What if 70’s Kirby drew Santa Claus while designing The Forever People?’, for even his super Santa-Mobile is a Kirybian vehicle.
As his glowing hammer and office indicate, Ded Moroz is a master builder and The Super Scientist Hero. From maneuvering dimensional rifts, cosmic portals, to size-shifting and super-healing surgeries, he’s your guy. Oh, and, as you’d expect from his title, he is an actual, literal Grandfather.
Snowmaiden is the granddaughter of Grandfather Frost, and his heir apparent. The super-partner, the Nightwing to Frost’s Batman, except imagine Nightwing truly got to truly level up and lead The Justice League. Or, if you enjoy your Doctor Who, much like Morrison does, she’s a Companion in the vein of, say, Clara Oswald. A true equal of the hero who helped raise her. She’s the mystical elemental hero who is a proper second-generation gift-giving immortal. There’s no one quite like her.
The basic way Morrison/Mora is effectively ‘What if someone like Diana, Wonder Woman, had been raised by Jack Kirby Bat-Santa?’, so you get a character with a spirit evoking Dick and Diana, who’s also something different. While lacking the historic roots of a figure like Ded Moroz, the Snowmaiden remains a lovely bit of folklore that’s fun to engage in.
Mus Gerila/Moș Gerilă/Father Frost
The Romanian Santa, who looks like Golden Age Superman, except better, because he’s shirtless. Father Frost is the eternally youthful-looking hero who couldn’t touch, for how else would a man go shirtless all the time, but especially during the winters of Christmas?!
He’s a character who started out as a propaganda figure to replace the previous title and iteration of Santa, as that was deemed to be too religious in its connotations by the communists in-charge at the time. Mora and Morrison recast him to be a hunky beefcake hero whose relevance is no more in his home region. But alas, that will not stop this gift-giver!
And whereas Klaus has his Cosmic Sleigh for travel, Ded Moroz and Snowmaiden have their Santa/Snow-Mobile for travel, this Romanian good boy has a COSMIC TRACTOR. He drives about the cosmos on his stellar-tractor.
Ah, the English Santa Claus! The Man In Green! Inspired by the renowned John Leech depiction of ‘The Ghost Of Christmas Present’, he’s got a wreath on his head, and he’s decked out in green, with his chest on full display.
Father Christmas asks the question ‘What If Volstagg The Voluminous was both English and The Santa Claus?’ which is a fair question to ask, given the history of Father Christmas (before the almost complete erosion of distinctions between him and ‘classic’ Santa Claus) as a figure of celebrating and feasting. The man was a party animal before all the stronger ties to youth kicked in. But nevertheless, Father Christmas possesses a gentle and fair soul, and his wrath is not to be earned. He’s just hoping everyone has a grand ol’ time.
The Santa from Finland! The tiny elder man, who rides a goat! He is The Transforming Hero of the team, for every super-team needs that. He’s the Shazam, the Hulk. The goat and the man are two parts of the singular being. Sums of a greater whole. And that blue energy surrounding them? It’s what emerges when they transform.
With one magical act, the man and goat become one, turning into a sort of satanic, muscular goat-warrior. He’s the weary, grizzled, and grumpy figure of the gang. The goat-part of him specifically possesses the power of prophecy, which also comes in terribly handy, so Yule-Goat also operates as an oracle for the collective of gift-givers. (He and Gerila/Father Frost are good friends.)
Arguably the most sinister of the lot, Sinterklaas is the Dutch iteration of the Santa myth and one of the key foundations that informs the eventual whole. But I say the most sinister because across the series, his darkness is suggested at and implied, and in real folklore, he is the one with the most problematic companion possible. (Look up Zwarte Piet. Or uhh…don’t. You’ll be happier that way.)
Morrison and Mora nod at him being behind a sinister Days Of Future Past-esque event during the ‘80s, so little can truly be said of Sinterklaas beyond the fact that he is someone who the rest of the team works with, but cannot truly be certain of. He’s a man with his own agendas and plans, more so than any of his other fellow global gift-givers.
He rides a horse, and carries his question-staff, akin to Highfather, everywhere.
The Santa of the Basque tradition, he’s typically a pipe-sporting figure who loves wearing berets dearly and looks like a cross between a cabbie and a sailor at once. Little is known of him beyond that, as he’s one of the more distant members of the squad. Except, the real myth of Olentzero (and there are several, but we’re going with the one most congruent for this iteration) is a lot of fun, as it’s rooted in him being saved as a lad by fairy-spirits and raised by a couple. A man who then dies in a sacrificial act, in the story he is revived to be an immortal spirit of joy, much the way Klaus is!
Papa Nomuz/Papa Noël/Père Noël
The French Santa, who looks the most like a wizard of all the Santas! The good ol’ Papa of Christmas is a man who is typically seen with his trusty donkey, Gui. It’s his partner and ride of choice. Apart from that, the French figure most closely resembles the Russian favorite- Grandfather Frost/Ded Moroz, down to having his staff (which also doubles as a cane of sorts). And if a lot of the others represent the sort of more foxy visions of Christmas heroes, Papa very much staunchly remains the gaunt old man. He’s the most traditional looking of the entire crew, for the most part, as there’s not much of a radical redesign here. Mora only opts for minimalism and a few color tweaks to simplify the character and their look.
Papa is, alongside Olentzero, the one we’ve seen the least of, and thus know the least about, except that when the moment calls for it when he is needed: he is there. He can be counted upon.
And that’s it for our Christmas Coalition!
Never have gift-givers been this buff, fit, and hot, and for that we all thank Dan Mora.
Merry Christmas folks!
P.S- Here’s a handy little Klaus reading order/guide to help you out!