Publisher: Darby Pop Publishing
Writer: Jeremy Bernstein
Artwork: Michael Dorman
Colours: Rob Schwager, Phil Smith
Release Date: 29th November 2017
Think you know Santa Claus? Well, think again. Because while we all may know jolly ol’ Saint Nick from his sleigh-riding, present-giving shenanigans every December 25th, what we might not know is that he spends the other 364 days of the year moonlighting as Nick Santana, a down-on-his-luck private eye.
It becomes pretty obvious right from the start that this isn’t the same Santa we all know and love, particularly given the fact that we first meet him crouching outside an open window, ready to take some illicit snaps of a cheating husband. And while he doesn’t quite dive to the same depths as Frank Millar’s Sin City, writer Jeremy Bernstein puts Santana in some fairly dark situations here, with glamorous dames, unsolved murders and violent assaults aplenty throughout the course of this decidedly un-Christmassy story.
The supporting cast do their jobs admirably, from instantly suspicious femme fatale Julia Barton to Santana’s old friend Jack Frost, gloriously re-imagined here as some sort of creepy peeping Tom. Bernstein does a great job with the dialogue too, and Santana’s pulp noir-style narration keeps things on track as he espouses his own personal ideology throughout the course of the story – a belief that people only do things for two reasons: love or money.
However, while the bulk of the story provides an enjoyable (if a little by-the-numbers) hard-boiled detective tale, it’s the flashbacks to Nick Santana’s other job that really provide the meat of the story. It becomes clear pretty quickly that the spark has gradually faded from Santa’s work as he numbly goes through the motions every December 25th, trying to rediscover the meaning behind what he’s doing.
It’s also rather telling that Mrs Claus is only mentioned in passing, serving only as an intimidating, domineering peripheral figure in Santana’s life. However, when one of his annual gift giving visits sees him discovering a suicidal young woman lying bleeding from the wrists in a bathtub, his entire life changes in the most unexpected way.
Michael Dorman’s artwork is bold and well-structured, doing a great job of portraying a grizzled, hulking Nick Santana and the bleak, dreary city streets where he plies his trade. There are some inventive yet intuitive layouts utilised along the way, and while there are some occasionally uneven moments – some of the posing of the characters during the violent exchanges looks a little awkward, for instance – the art here does a great job of delivering all the requisite storyline beats along the way.
It’s a solid, engrossing tale that really kicks things up a notch in the final pages, with Bernstein and Dorman combining to provide a brilliant denouement that ties everything together perfectly, providing a fresh new perspective on the events of the book. So if you like your Christmas stories to have murder, mystery and lashings of noir-soaked violence, then Santa Claus: Private Eye will be right up your street – or right down your chimney, as it were.