‘Tis the season for Santa, gifts, joy, fun, and… child abuse? The List , indie comic written by James Stimpson and illustrated by Liana Recchione, offers us a look at the darker side of the Christmas season, and a new Santa whose duties are shifted accordingly.
For those who would terrorize children, there’s one day of the year where Santa takes no prisoners!
Take a Ride on Santa’s Slay
The story can feel both original and unoriginal, depending on how frequently you indulge in gritty re-imaginings. We are introduced to an organization of Santas who share the duties we imagine Santa having. Our hero is Sal, a Santa who dispenses justice instead of presents. Understandably, he is troubled by his work, given only one day a year to exact revenge on abusive parents and save the children.
The story offers us a peek into how this organization is run, and the interpersonal drama and political intrigue to be had among the Santas, elves, and their boss, Jesus Christ (portrayed neither comically nor reverently). Our main interests are Sal’s mission, the emotional toll it exacts, and how it affects his relationships. Sal’s violent methods cause him interpersonal conflict, which forms the basis of the plot.
Unwrapping the Plot
If you’re familiar with 90’s action-thrillers, starring stoic men like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and even Harrison Ford, then the plot of the story will be very familiar. A gruff, emotionally unavailable man with a heart of gold, who is very good at his violent job, butts heads with others over his loose-cannon methods.
This is the plot of The List, except it is dressed in a not-too-grim, yet not-too-fun, re-imagining of Santa. This formula is complete with a promise of more danger from an (expected) unexpected place, to come in the next issue. The plot so far seems pretty standard, and could use more surprises and/or more nuance to make it stand out from other stories told in a similar vein.
While this lack of surprise in plot for the genre might not be groundbreaking in it’s originality, it isn’t necessarily boring. In fact, it’s actually quite entertaining to read, if not solely due to the novelty of seeing Santa shoot bad guys. It also touches on vague notions of justice, goodness, fairness, and the like, which is fitting for getting you into the Christmas spirit.
It remains to be seen if and how the complexity of these topics will be delved into further, and what moral quandaries Sal will grapple with in upcoming issues, but it has potential.
Gritty Reboot Doesn’t Look Gritty Enough?
In terms of clarity and functionality, the art in The List is quite good. The facial expressions and body language are easy to read, and are all quite varied. At no point do you think that the artist is limited in depicting emotion. The environments are also drawn quite well: from the chairs and the tables, to the structure of the buildings, there is a precision and attention to detail that is impressive.
However, the art style seems to be in-between depicting a sterile, smooth, lighthearted children’s story and a gritty noir. Considering the graphic elements in the story (it is literally about Revenge Santa), I think the story would be better served by pushing the griminess.
The colors are vibrant and bright (à la Christmas), but they clash with the deep noir-like shadows. If the colors were muted a bit, the shadows pushed more, and textures applied much more liberally, the art would better reflect the mood of the story. The mood is gritty reboot, not heartwarming Christmas carol, and the art should reflect that.
The art is decent, but needs a bit more finesse. There are tiny flecks of missing color and haphazard coloring throughout. It happens infrequently enough that it doesn’t feel like a stylistic choice (think Calvin and Hobbes), but frequently enough to be jarringly noticeable. A stronger attention to detail could elevate the art, especially since The List is available on digital platforms with the ability to zoom in.
Should I Put it on My Wish List?
Overall, I think The List deserves a read. Although it has some flaws visually and thematically, it is still an entertaining story, and it has an opportunity to explore some really cool themes and concepts in further issues.
I would especially recommend this story to adolescent readers who are less familiar with the tropes and less apt to scrutinize the visuals hyper-critically, as they might be able to better connect with the essence of the story as they themselves transition out of innocence.
The deeper meaning of the story might resonate with those freshly disenchanted with the holiday season on their way to adulthood, who could benefit from a graphic reminder of the Christmas spirit.
This would probably make a great Christmas present, actually. You can learn more about The List and purchase your copy here.