Friday, December 23, 2016

Comicbook Shelf: Krampus: The Shadow of Saint Nicholas (2015)

From "I" written by Zach Shields and Todd Casey with artwork by Christian Dibari and Mark Spicer.
The cover by Fiona Staples
 also provides the artistic
high point for this
graphic novel.
Purchased last December after being caught up in a Krampus-fueled frenzy triggered by annual re-watching of  the little seen Finnish gem Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010), this slender, softcover volume found its way to my comicbook shelf last holiday season. Released in concert with the feature length movie Krampus (2015), Legendary Publishing's Krampus: The Shadow of Saint Nicholas shares many of the same qualities that made the film a modest success. This graphic novel, like the film, features stories crafted in part by writer/director Michael Dougherty. While Krampus the movie focuses on one family's experience with the demon and his minions, The Shadow of St. Nicholas employs an anthology approach, much like Dougherty's previous film, popular cult classic Trick 'r Treat (2007).

Legendary Pictures/Publishing have been successful in recent years with releasing premium hardcover tie-ins for genre films (see Godzilla: Awakening (2014) and Pacific Rim: Tales from Year Zero (2013)). The formula with each is common: include the original creative talent, in this case Dougherty, in the process to develop ancillary stories that reflect signature elements of the overall narrative of the film, but are not primary to its enjoyment. Given the Krampus character and perhaps Dougherty's affinity for anthology sub-genre, The Shadow of Christmas is successful in accomplishing what the filmmaker says the intention is behind this project in the collections introduction, "to deepen your [the reader's] love of the character [Krampus]..."

Krampus' minions are back
in "II" with art by Maan House
and Guy Major.
Perhaps because other writers provide the actual scripts (Dougherty receives a "Stories by" credit along with the writers) the resulting stories are less impactful, both in humor and scares, than it's movie companion. While the best visual component of the movie, the well-realized practical creature designs, are present in Legendary's graphic novel, unfortunately, some of the terror inspired by Krampus is minimized in the graphic novel due to inconsistent, if workmanlike, artwork. Each of the four stories, titled by Roman numerals I through IV, are all written by Zach Shields and Todd Casey (Laura Shields is also a credited co-writer on "II"). Each is story grounded in a modern setting familiar to American readers which creates the opportunity for the hint of the "ancient in a modern world" dynamic that worked so well in the movie.

As is often the case with tie-ins, the strongest of the four stories is the first and if each were to be read as a potential sequel for a series of Krampus films, "I" also makes makes the most sense for a holiday/horror franchise. Simply put, it's a tale of redemption. A "bad" department store Santa seeks validation by combating the forces of Krampus to protect others who are more worthy than he to live on. The story is a little reminiscent of other Twilight Zone-style stories and offers no real narrative surprises. In cases such as this (how many new stories to tell are there really?), an impressive execution is necessary to plant the landing. While not quite a stumble, the result is also not incredibly impressive or memorable. It is, however, a comicbook about Krampus which does garner it some cool credits despite its pedestrian presentation.

Splash page of Krampus from
"III" by Michael Montenat
and Mike Spicer.
Much of your appreciation if this graphic novel may very well depend on your appreciation of the burgeoning Krampus mythos in modern media. If you are into myth-making, any attempt, strong or otherwise, is worth seeking out. When I consider about how many weak Cthulhu comic books I have willingly read in the past twenty years (very few of which I regret buying), The Spirit of Saint Nicholas at the very least seems an acceptable start to a line of stories revolving around Dougherty's incarnation of Krampus.

Recommending this book is a bit of a conundrum. I am a fan of the movie Krampus in large part as it reminds me of a movie going Saturday with my adult son and brother. It is fair to say most of the affection for The Shadow of Saint Nicholas is an extension of that experience, and is therefore a result of that nostalgia. While imperfect, though, for the $14.99 cover price, there are for less entertaining ways to spend your coin than this small collection of four short stories.

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