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Manga Claus
posted October 24, 2006


Creators: Nathaniel Marunas, Erik Craddock
Publishing Information: Penguin Teens, Hardcover, 80 pages, September 2006, $12.99
Ordering Numbers: 1595141340 (ISBN)

If there aren't other comics out there that are pairing Santa Claus with crazy violence -- I'm actually pretty certain there are -- then I bet there are three to five creators that upon seeing the title Manga Claus will think "Those guys stole my idea." Giving Santa fantasy underpinnings complete with the potential for action and adventure goes back to at least those weird goblin-invasion Father Christmas stories that JRR Tolkien told his children, and there are hints of that kind of story expansion in even the most Burl Iviest of the stop-motion animation specials in which Kris Kringle makes an appearance.

As one can guess, this story gives Santa some asskicking abilities that he uses to save Christmas, this time from evil sentient teddy bears that are given that evil sentience by an elf that is dissatified with his job at the North Pole. I imagine some people might find that automatically hilarious, and with its size and attractive hardcover packaging this book could find its way into a few stockings. The readers who encounter the book in this manner will no doubt enjoy some decent if still developing art and prose in terms of getting across narrative basics like where the reader is and what they're seeing and what's at stake. In other words, it's not incompetently told and some books like this are.

On the other hand, Manga Claus doesn't deliver much in the way of a unique, stand-alone artistic experience of any value. The samurai plot elements are kind of jammed in there rather than being the result of a clever story or premise. The North Pole imagined by Marunas and Craddock disappoints greatly; it's the kind of work compound that QVC, Inc. might own, an industrial park out by the aiport -- this would be fine if it were commented upon in some smart fashion, but people take this visually dull, depressing milieu as a matter of fact. A fantasy you don't want to climb inside and open doors and look around has two strikes against it before the story ever starts.

Speaking of story, the narrative seems arbitrarily slapped together, with motivations and sudden abilities portrayed an inch deep and arriving on the scene with a displeasing convenience. There's also an ending that may make you want to slap Santa, for being a trifle too forgiving, or the creators, for not giving Mrs. Claus anything more to do. In the end, one gets the sense that this was a nice publishing opportunity for its creators but never the kind of passionate realization of their opportunity to take on an icon with a story for the ages.