Indie Comics Review: Santa
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writer: Kayden Phoenix
Art: Eva Cabrera
Colors: Gloria Felix
Letters and Design: Sandra Romero
Reviewed by: Matthew B. Lloyd
In a fictitious Texas border town, a young girl- Santa- learns to be a hero amidst a political struggle over racial intolerance while discovering her own super powers.
Kayden Phoenix is not afraid to tackle a contemporary political issue. The basic premise involves subtle and not so subtle commentary on racism and immigration- the book is dedicated to “all immigrants.” It’s a major topic in today’s political climate and Phoenix does an admirable job of addressing it in a language we can all easily understand.
The storytelling by Eva Cabrera is effective. Her panels move the story along, at times at first appearing to skip a natural sequence of events. However, she clearly understands how comics work and knows that the reader can logically fill in the gaps. Once the reader understands how the art is working it flows quickly and smoothly.
One of Santa’s powers is that of pre-cognition. Phoenix and Cabrera shift the scene back and repeat a sequence to reflect that we’ve just seen Santa’s pre-cognition at work. It’s commendable that we get to see it in action as Santa might be experiencing it instead of too much text explaining things. It’s a nice way for the reader to learn what’s going on slowly and force the reader to let the art do the work.
The art style is reminiscent of Archie Comics and it logically follows that this book could be intended for all audiences and easily accessible for younger readers. Overall, this approach works.
One of the thematic elements is racism. There’s one particularly brilliant aspect in this depiction. It’s clear that the United States of America is the source of the political commentary yet in order to emphasize that we are all part of the same race, the human race, all the characters appear the same, showing no obvious physical differences between the factions. The different factions “identify” as a particular group one of which is the Luchas. This is based on Mexican wrestling characters, Luchadores. Not being familiar with it I’m not sure if there is a deeper meaning I’m missing.
The first thing that jumps out as a disappointment is that it feels like Santa could be so much more. The accessible “Archie” approach has its drawbacks in this respect. Instead of going deep with the themes and conflict, it all feels very surface level. If this book is intended for a younger audience then that’s fine and it serves as a good introduction to the concepts. However, older readers are going to want something more from the book, something with more substance and character development.
This book has a lot of interesting female characters- Ice, Ruca, DeLeon and of course the lead, Santa (“saint” in Spanish,) and there are even more. This of course is not a negative, but a positive. However, none of the characters get quite enough development.
Ice, the main villain, is reduced to a one dimensional representation of racism. There’s not even a real motive explored beyond some obvious rhetoric. This also seems to be reflected in some of the heavy handed manner in which the other bad guys are depicted. One Luchadore mask mimics the Confederate Flag and a second is a fellow in a white sheet with three “K’s” decorating his hood. A bit of subtlety could go a long way, but this may be more evidence that this is specifically targeted at a younger audience.
Our hero, Santa gets some development, but there’s so much left out that it leaves the reader needing more. She has a pretty exciting power set, think something similar to Dream Girl from the Legion of Super-Heroes, but there’s so much going on back and forth with the plot that Santa gets relegated to just another equal piece of the main story.
Santa and her mother have an interesting background that is barely hinted at- witches? Perhaps, they are leaving more to be explored in a future installment. In this sense, it may be that the story needs more space, or fewer characters for the first book. Or, again, it’s just intended for younger readers who aren’t looking for all those character moments. This isn’t to say it’s not covered to some extent, but rather it’s interesting enough to want it to be fleshed out further.
I wanted to love this book. I only ended up liking it. Santa has a lot of potential. This initial outing may be a little too plot heavy and lacking deeper substance, but it has some interesting ideas and characters that scream for more attention. It may not be the strongest of beginnings, but there’s enough here to want to see where it goes. At the very least, it’s a good place for younger readers to start, be it intentional or unintentional. I look forward to what comes next from Phoenix Studios.