Here's an interesting idea, presented in graphic novel form. What if Santa Claus was a procrastinator like the rest of us and so only paid attention to Christmas starting the day after Thanksgiving? Maybe he's automated the elves so the whole prep job only needs a month nowadays. What would he do with the rest of the year?
Well, writer George O'Connor posits that he spends those other months as a private detective, working to help those in need. In a sort of film noir way where he gets to beat up the bad guys. I rather like that and, when my wife gave me this book for Christmas last year, that's roughly what I expected it to turn out to be.
What surprised me is a particular detail that's got me thinking far deeper than I really should be going. You know those memes about going to sleep and your brain suddenly kicking in with some little question that hasn't got any bearing on our lives but which will now take over the night and stop us being bright eyed and bushy tailed in the morning? I can see this being one of them.
You see, everyone apparently knows Santa's secret.
I was expecting the basic plot. There's a girl with her head in the stars who comes to the big city to make it big, but she ends up in the gutter, prey to a crime organisation dead set on using her. So mum panics and calls for help, which arrives in the form of a big guy with a bushy white beard working for the good people. And he goes in search, kicking ass and taking names.
None of that surprised me. What surprised me was that the hookers know that this guy is Santa Claus out of his season. The bouncers also know and a madam and, of course, the crime lord behind everything who has his peon minions set a trap for him. And that changed the whole dynamic for me.
Sure, I enjoyed it when three neatly varied hooker assassins try their best to take down the big guy, but he wipes the floor with them. That's exactly what I wanted out of this book and O'Connor delivers it capably, with what the comic book rulebook requires nowadays: bad puns. My favourite is the moment when a bad guy asks him why he has to be so good and a bloodied Santa replies, deadpan, "For goodness’ sake."
But I couldn't get that detail out of my mind. Santa is really all about hope. Have you been good enough this year to be on his nice list or have you done enough bad to warrant the naughty list. Maybe if you've been good, inside, whatever anyone else might think, he'll bring you what you need and it can all change.
Of course, in our world, Santa isn't real, so this is all just a story we tell our kids to get them to behave. However, if you knew, without any shadow of a doubt, that Santa is real, because he's in your particular brothel right now beating up the cute assassins, then wouldn't that hope kick back in and you might choose to live your life a little differently?
If you knew Jesus was alive and well and living in Jerusalem and God shone out of the sky talking to us on a daily basis, wouldn't you see Christianity a little differently? If Batman was actually on the news every night, wouldn't you think twice before robbing a bank in Gotham City? If you knew, without hesitation, that your wife could read your mind, wouldn't you cease having that affair and get down on one knee to apologise? Things like this change everything.
But here, it doesn't. The good guys are good and the bad guys are bad. And Santa Claus searching for all the little lost children that you've shanghaied into your human trafficking operation and put to work on the streets won't stop you from taking another bunch. I'm not sure I buy that. O'Connor isn't willing to share all his secret powers, but he frickin' knows where everyone is, it seems. He doesn't have to maintain a stable of informants and grease their palms with greenbacks. He just knows, because he's frickin' Santa and Santa knows where everyone lives. So why try it on with him? I don't know.
So, while I like this idea a lot, I just can't come to terms with that approach. Fortunately, I could settle back and enjoy how it all unfolds. In particular, I liked the way that DaFu Yu drew Claire Dixon, the beautiful femme fatale of the piece. O'Connor's story is grounded in film noir from the outset (and we have no timeframe to tell us what year we're in), but this refuses to go with a black and white approach of expressionistic shadows, so it's mostly Dixon who carries the film noir feel visually.
The biggest problem with the story is that it's short, with the volume slim even before we get to the generous extras. My copy is a Kickstarter edition and I have no idea if there are alternate editions out there, but I liked this enough to want it to be longer and more complex. Other than that, it's the book it was always going to be. If you like the idea of Santa moonlighting as a private dick, then you need to buy this. If that's not your thing, then you shouldn't. Simple as that. ~~ Hal C F Astell
For more titles by George O'Connor click here