I’ll be honest. One of the reasons I chose this graphic novel was because it’s short and an easy read, and this is my final review of the year (cannonball!!) so I wanted to just get it done before the holiday crush. Krampus! was an impulse buy at our local comic book store a couple of weeks ago. They had a display at the checkout and it was the selection of the month. The artwork by Dean Kotz, with its bold inks and coloring, features a buff and dangerous-looking Krampus sporting a shit-eating grin while sitting atop a pile of Santas. What better way to celebrate the season of joy and generosity than by reading about the keeper of the naughty list, the punisher of bad children everywhere — Krampus!
The story begins with a heist, a really weird heist. A bunch of Sugar Plum Fairies, who are assholes by the way, have descended upon Bari, Italy, and taken the remains of St. Nicholas from their sarcophagus. This causes near panic at the Secret Society of Santa Clauses. That’s right, Santa Clauses plural. There are Santas representative of all parts of the globe at the North Pole, and they have their own governing organization under Father Christmas. And their panic is due to the fact that their magical powers derive from control of the remains of St. Nicholas. When the Sugar Plum Fairies steal them, the Santas lose the magic that helps reindeer fly (leading to a very unfortunate accident involving Blitzen), Santas zoom up chimneys (leading to a very unfortunate accident involving Baba Chaghaloo of Afghanistan) and elves make toys (quote from Father Christmas: “…they’re getting dumber.”) Chaos ensues and the Santas are pretty much stuck at the North Pole. Father Christmas, out of desperation, suggests the unthinkable — ask the Krampus for help.
The Secret Society of Santa Clauses had arrested and imprisoned Krampus back in the 1950s because he was a bit overzealous in his job of punishing and tormenting children on the naughty list. The Santas are divided as to whether trusting Krampus is wise. Sinterklaas and his faction vehemently oppose collaborating with Krampus, but Father Christmas and Japan’s giver of gifts Hoteiosho see no alternative and devise a way to ensure that Krampus cooperates and doesn’t doublecross them. The scene in the novel where a delegation of Santas visit Krampus in his cell is a highlight of the story. He’s binge watching “Downton Abbey” and expresses great admiration for the Dowager. It’s hard not to root for Krampus after that. Anyway, Krampus sees no advantage to helping the Santas after what they’ve done to him, but Father Christmas promises Krampus his freedom if he helps them get their power back. But how can they ensure he will help them if they let him out of his cell? Santas may be low on magic, but they have tech — a little something called the “naughty bomb” is strapped to Krampus’ chest. One false move and BOOM! Yeah, Santas might deliver toys, but they don’t play.
So Krampus becomes Krampus, P.I. and travels to Bari behind his flying wolf Stutgaard. In investigating the crime scene, he picks up clues of a conspiracy that the guard Belsnickel, now comatose in the hospital, was uncovering. Krampus’ investigation will take him to Old Man Winter in the Himalayas; Jack Frost, busy hosting raves in Ibiza; and the Sonoma Desert, where he will meet a most unexpected character. But the Sugar Plum Fairies are in pursuit of Krampus and they want him dead or alive. The fairies are not acting on their own, however; they answer to an anonymous higher power whose motives are unclear but sinister. Meanwhile, back at the North Pole, a sort of coup d’etat is underway. What if a Santa or some Santas are themselves on the naughty list??? As Krampus gets to the root of the theft of St. Nicholas’ remains, he will have to make some tough decisions about where his loyalties are when, really, no one is very nice and there is plenty of naughty to go around.
This story is an absolute hoot and an utter delight. It’s funny but it’s also full of really interesting cultural and historical information that inform the plot. Writer Joines did his homework and incorporated loads of interesting tidbits about his Santas and Krampus. The character development is great, too. Krampus is pretty cool, as is Hoteiosho. Sinterklaas is an annoying complainer, and Kris Kringle is focused pretty exclusively on where his next meal/snack is coming from. My favorite line, when Kris is freaking out that they’re stuck at the North Pole: “Oh guess what, everyone! Kringle’s concerned about food! I swear, American, you are one step away from filling stockings with type two diabetes.”
The resolution to the story is great, leaving open the possibility of further Krampus adventures. Only the readers know the identity of the sinister force behind the plot to steal St. Nicholas’ remains, and this knowledge might make watching certain holiday specials a little creepy from now on. Krampus! came out in 2014, and I’m not sure if any more adventures have been written. Is this because we haven’t been nice enough? Or, since it’s Krampus, should we be more naughty? Here’s hoping he’ll be back again some day.