These days, pop culture is covered wall-to-wall in superhero stories. There are superhero movies, superhero TV shows, superhero books, superhero comics, and even superhero-inspired music. Many of the best such stories have come from the mind of writer Grant Morrison, who in comics like Arkham Asylum and All-Star Superman changed popular superheroes forever, while also creating plenty of new ones. But over his career, Morrison has also worked to expand our understanding of superheroes. In his semi-autobiographical book Supergods, he analyzed superheroes as part of a continuum of human mythology that stretches far back into the ancient past and forward into the future. In his recent Boom Studios series Klaus, Morrison has even turned Santa Claus into a superhero.
“When I was finishing my run on Batman, I was looking around for new superheroes I could do something with. It just seemed that Santa was an obvious one,” Morrison tells EW. “He wears a recognizable costume, we know what he looks like, he has his sled and his reindeer. It’s very specific, and yet he’s one of the most recognizable characters in the world. He’s a do-gooder, he’s a nice guy, so it seemed like it wouldn’t take much. And there’s also the gag of, what does Santa do the other 364 days in a year?”
Morrison continues, “He just seemed like he was right for it, and after I started to look into the mythology of Santa Claus over the centuries, I discovered every country has their own version. The Russian Santa is Grandfather Frost, then there’s Father Christmas, there’s a whole bunch of them. It’s like there’s a Justice League of Santas. The more I looked into it, the more he seemed like a comic character and superhero. It just took off from there. I was aiming for a combination between Superman and Doctor Who, a character you can tell any kind of story with.”
Morrison’s latest superhero Santa story is a one-shot, Klaus and the Crisis in Xmasville, out this week from Boom. The original seven-issue Klaus series debuted in 2015, and told the Batman Begins-style origin story of how superhero Santa came to be. The new adventure takes place decades later, when Klaus has to thwart the Pola-Cola corporation’s plot to turn an entire town into zombie Santas.
Funnily enough, another Morrison comic — Happy! — is currently being adapted into a live-action TV series for SyFy, and it also has Christmas overtones.
“I wrote Happy! back in 2012, and it was just an idea of doing an update on the Scrooge story or It’s a Wonderful Life that was a little more comic book-y and a bit more littered in crime,” Morrison says. “Klaus is a completely different thing, about what if Santa was a superhero? They’re coming out at the same time, but they’re different takes on Christmas. The Klaus comic actually has this giant corporation trying to monopolize Christmas, so it kind of feels as if I’ve become that giant corporation.”
Morrison has often analyzed superheroes in the larger context of culture as a whole. In Supergods, he even identified a cultural pendulum that would swing between “hippie” (psychedelic music, long hair, Alice in Wonderland aesthetic) and “punk” (tight clothes, short music, amphetamines), depending on the decade (and the solar cycle). But even Morrison isn’t totally sure where we fall these days.
“Now it’s kind of a mash-up. People know these rules, and once they know the rules, they start to play with them,” he says. “We’re living in times that are psychedelic and bizarre like Alice in Wonderland, whereas in the days of [George W.] Bush and [Tony] Blair there was this sense we were at war constantly, and the military-industrial complex was running everything. Now there are crazy people in charge saying crazy things on television and calling each other childhood names. We’re kind of down the rabbit hole a bit. Entertainment is becoming a lot less realistic. It’s no longer the [Christopher] Nolan Batman, it’s Thor: Ragnarok — much more comic book-y, much more psychedelic and colorful. We do seem to be at one of those periods where people are looking for their entertainment to be less grounded and more fantastic. That’s usually a happy period for culture, but I’m not sure kids these days are even remotely happy. But there may be correlations I’m not seeing, just because I’m an ancient old man.”
But in other areas, Morrison’s theories continue to hold — especially the idea that superheroes represent our greatest aspirations as a people.
“As I said in the book, behind all of it is that superheroes are trying really hard to become real,” Morrison says. “They want to get into the real world, and we’re getting closer to them. The technology we use is pretty superhuman. A phone in anyone’s pocket is pretty much as powerful as Jack Kirby’s Mother Box. The way we think of ourselves is kind of superhuman, where everyone has their own page and tries to look beautiful. The fact that these characters are on screen, I think it was always a childlike idea of our own future and our own potential as people, and I think they’ve become popular for that reason. Everyone wants to be a superhero. We’re starting to see how it might look in real life, thanks to the shows. The shows are bringing them closer to us, and we’re getting closer to them. One of these days, we’re just gonna touch hands across the screen, the fourth wall will come down, and the Flash is gonna reach out from the television. Everyone’s looking for a way out of this slightly scary dystopian world we’re in, and superheroes were always a very bright and hopeful way out of it.”
Klaus and the Crisis in Xmasville is available now. Check out an exclusive preview below, and order it here.