Comic Review: Krampus

With Christmas right around the corner, I'm doing quite a few things to get into the holiday spirit; watching Christmas movies, basking in the glow of colorfully decorated houses and eating as many freshly baked goodies as I can find. Sadly, I'm not able to enjoy comic books as much during this time of the year, mostly because you don't see many Christmas-themed comic stories. At least not in the same vein as prime-time television shows.

But that's not to say Christmas comics don't exist. In fact, Image Comics is getting into the holiday spirit with their recent release of Krampus, written by Brian Joines and drawn by Dean Kotz. In it, the Secret Society of Santa Clauses discovers that little by little, their magic is fading, preventing them from completing their preparation for Christmas. To combat this, they turn to a great creature that has been imprisoned for years, a creature that they are unsure they can even trust: The Krampus. Striking a deal, the Krampus goes out into the world in search of what is leeching the power from the Santa Clauses.

If you're unfamiliar with the Krampus, it is a beast derived from Germanic folk-lore that appeared during the times of Yule. It frightened the naughty children and sometimes kidnapped them and brought them back to its lair. The Krampus is basically the Yang to Santa Claus' Yin, doling out the punishment to the bad kids while Santa provided the rewards for being good.

Anyway, back to the comic. I like the idea of basing a series around the Krampus. Though he's got a bit of a cult following in America, he's still somewhat obscure, which gives a writer a great amount of freedom to create his or her own mythology. Unlike zombies and vampires, who are both steeped in years of lore, most often certain rules need to be adhered to, otherwise you risk causing an uproar among fans. Despite this, I wasn't crazy with the way the Krampus is presented in the series, mostly because Joines insists on adhering to a phonetic spelling of the creature's Germanic accent, replacing the spoken "th" for a "z". I get what he's doing, but it becomes annoying, kind of like Rogue's diction in X-Men. George Bernard Shaw understood the annoyance this habit can elicit; after introducing Eliza Doolittle in his famous Pygmalion, he phonetically writes her thick accent but gives up after a few lines of dialogue, stating "here, with apologies, this desperate attempt to represent her dialect without a phonetic alphabet must be abandoned as unintelligible outside London". But this is a written play, something far different than a comic book. The common mantra in comics is "Every comic is someone's first". So I can see why Joines chooses to keep with his phonetic accent, but that doesn't mean I like it.

The story also feels a little rushed to me. The issue kicks off quickly, en media res of Belsnickel being chased by a hoard of Sugar Plum Fairies. From there, it switches scenes to the North Pole, introducing a plethora of characters, all of the different Santa Clauses from around the world. They've already realized their powers are draining and by the middle of the book decide to enlist the help of the Krampus. It all happens so fast that the story gets muddled and nearly forgettable. I think it just suffers from being weighed down with too many characters; there are so many Santas in the Secret Society, all of which start showing up in the second scene that it becomes overwhelming. Are all of these men important? Should I devote time to learn who each of them are? From what I can see, no, but it took me until the end of the issue to realize that.

The art, supplied by Dean Kotz, is simple but eye-catching. Kotz doesn't spend much time with details but his panels are easy to follow. He uses a lot of dynamic angles to help tell his story, adding a lot of excitement to the issue. Unfortunately, one of the draw backs to the story is that many of the characters are all old, bearded men, so they pretty much look alike, This tends to create some confusion as to who is who, especially in the scenes with the Society of Santas. But Kotz manages to at portray many of the character's expressions, conveying their emotions through their eyes.

A kitschy idea from the start, Krampus has a lot of good concepts but I'm not entirely sure they're executed properly. Too much story crammed into a single issue and a glut of characters makes it fairly difficult to follow. But I am willing to accept these things as a troubled introduction. I am interested in seeing where the story goes because, like I said, the concepts are intriguing. Taking a Yule-themed creature like the Krampus and making him the protagonist. Pitting him against what's been commonly accepted as an innocent symbol of the season, the Sugar Plum Fairies. Yeah, the first issue was pretty bumpy but I'm looking forward to the follow up.

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