First Impressions – KRAMPUS! #1

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Forget naughty children receiving coal for Christmas! Back in the day, Santa Claus was assisted by a darker figure of punishment: the Krampus. In KRAMPUS! #1, the Secret Society of Santa Clauses calls upon an imprisoned Krampus to aid them in their time of need. Woe be unto the world, because the Krampus is back! But can his particular brand of Germanic violence stand against the forces that would steal the magic of Christmas? Or is his new freedom set to be short lived?

‘Tis the season of beating! Deck the halls with brawls a plenty!

Pop culture loves to subvert conventions, especially the ones that are particularly saccharine or joyful. Just look at the fake trailer for Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving. And one of the biggest targets for subversion is the Most Wonderful Time Of The Year, Christmas. It’s got everything a bunch of humbugs could want to screw with: love, peace, happiness, a jolly fat guy who delivers toys only to the most affluent parts of the world. It’s even got some religious subtext in there, no matter how much the secular crowd wants to bury it. The whole season is rife with opportunities for good natured (and not so good natured) parody.

Imagine the look on the collective faces of the grumpiest pop culture nerds when they found out there was a preexisting myth about a demon-looking beast that delivered beatings instead of coal to naughty children. And that he was German.

The Krampus is a figure of European origin, a creature who played bad cop to Saint Nicholas’ good cop. Santa gave toys and gifts to good girls and boys, while the Krampus beat the misbehaving ones with sticks and rusted chains, sometimes throwing the most unruly munchkins into a sack and carrying them off to Actual Hell. It’s a tradition only really known to Europe, and only really revered in its Alpine countries.

For some reason, the people responsible for spreading Christmas to the rest of the world didn’t care for a devil in their mythology. Something about sending mixed messages. Regardless, the cultural paradigm shift left the Krampus behind, and Santa Claus took on the role of rewarder and punisher.

I could make all sorts of parallels to this and the princesses business in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. But that’s for another day entirely.

Point is, the Krampus has slowly started to creep into the pop culture consciousness. So it’s no surprise he would eventually worm his way into the land of comic books with his own self-titled series.

KRAMPUS #1 presents a slightly modified Christmas mythos. Instead of one Santa Claus, there’s an entire group of them. The Secret Society of Santa Clauses is composed of various cultural interpretations of the jolly fat man; England’s Father Christmas, America’s Kris Kringle, Japan’s Hoteiosho, and more than a dozen others from China to the Pacific Islands.

And they’ve got a problem: Suger Plum Fairies just stole the remains of Saint Nicholas, real life inspiration for Santa Claus and the source of the Society’s magic. And no, I’m not joking about the Sugar Plum Fairies.

Their power sapped and their options limited, the Santas need a champion to investigate the bone theft. Over the protests of Sinterklaas, the pelt-wearing first Santa, they release the Krampus from the cell they had him in for fifty years. Their offer: find Saint Nick’s remains, and he’ll be allowed his full freedom. Oh, and also the Nice List. That last one being the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and makes Krampus accept. Now he’s ready and on the case.

Christmas is doomed.

Writer Brian Joines establishes a wickedly funny view of Christmas lore. The Secret Society of Santas hold almost as much respect for each other as their respective countries do, and have no problems showing it. Rarely are they jolly, instead swearing like sailors and being indignant. Though of course the events of the book take place during a time when all of them are powerless and on edge, so that explains some things. Our titular anti-hero is depicted as a surly, amoral beast with an open resentment towards the old men who imprisoned him. Like one of those generic action heroes, pulled in for one last job by the very people who burned him. Except most action heroes don’t also giddily smirk at the chance to punish wicked children.

It’s a good thing the Santas have access to naughtiness sensitive bombs to keep the Krampus in line. Yeah, it’s that kind of comic.

I think my own personal biases come into play, but I find the comic a little more mean-spirited than I’m comfortable with. Then again, I doubt there’s a good way to bring humor to a book starring the character in question. We need to make the Santas look a little bad so that the Krampus can look less like a violent psychopath who perpetrates child abuse.

Dean Kotz and Ron Riley provide the pretty pictures for this irreverent holiday outing, and they do a good job here. Characters are expressive and colorful, each of the Santa Clauses sporting a distinctive character design. KRAMPUS! #1 even includes a reference guide on the back for all curious about each Santa. The Krampus himself is a burly man-beast, two sets of horns, chains, cloven hooves, and brown shorts with black-furred trim. Again, he’s muscular, a bit of a departure from some depictions of the character. But there in lies one of this book’s strengths: it’s subtly unlike most any other story that includes him.

KRAMPUS! #1 is a irreverent dream for the cynical reader out there. It’s hilarious, both because of regular verbal and physical comedy and because of how it twists holiday lore. From the antagonistic Sugar Plum Fairies to the battle nutcrackers to the elves tearing themselves apart once the magic that allowed them to keep up with modern technology dissolves, this is a book that knows the season of giving and where it can be exploited for humor. The first issue establishes the plot, the characters, and many a mystery to hook readers into subsequent installments.

If one’s tastes towards Christmas material run more sweet than sour, this book might not be up one’s alley. For anyone tired of the same cliches, however, KRAMPUS! is a welcome change. It might be too late to celebrate Krampusnacht, but there’s still time to savor this gift Image Comics left under the tree.

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