There’s something nostalgic about writer Steve Niles (30 Days of Night) and artist Christopher Mitten’s (30 Days of Night) collection of their comic run, Criminal Macabre: The Third Child. Reading it I was carried back to a time when I nestled up and, for the first time, scarred my far-too-innocent eyes reading Lobo’s Back. The violent carnage that sweeps across the panels of Criminal Macabre reminded me specifically of that experience. And, not just in that there’s plenty of violence; it’s that it’s all so nonchalant. Yep, that guy just got his head tore in two – moving on.
Mitten’s art reminds me of Bisley and Giffen’s work, and Michelle Madsen’s colors (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) reminds me of Lovern Kindzierski’s gory spectacle. It’s hard for me to talk about one without thinking about the other. Lobo’s Back had a profound effect on me. My high school freshman, Christian-bred mind had to immediately pick up that first issue again, even though I was afraid to look at the pages. In Criminal Macabre, bodies are stretched, ripped, gutted, twisted, and squeezed in such hyper-realistic ways that it affects my brain on some subconscious, nightmare-like level. Maybe that’s why – maybe these images are too surreal, too close to my worst nightmares. Bravo to them for reaching that point of horror. Truly. It takes keen artistry to reach someone’s base subconscious like this.
Niles’ work as a writer isn’t to be overlooked. In Cal, Niles has given us the dangerous, trenchcoated, chain-smoking anti-hero that harkens back to the ’90s, as well – in a good way. This is a character that I would have mimicked to death in my teens. Normally, he just fights monsters (Nay, tears them to pieces!) and explains it to us, but now, at least in this chapter of the series (that’s been around for a few years), he’s become a ghoul that fights other monsters. He has some undead types that try and help him maintain his humanity, even though he wants to just rip things to pieces, but before we can dive into any real exposition, crazy stuff just starts happening. It’s the end of the world – and it feels like it. Niles knows he’s dealing with demons, so anything goes and he just lets it. A war between the first “two” children – creepy, pink, little baby demons who are looking for the third – is waged against humanity. What’s their motivation – I have no idea, which makes it a little bit creepier. Humanity would surely lose if we didn’t have heroes with darker sides. And, as suddenly as the story began, it comes to a crashing halt. I’m not sure why it started and I have no idea how it ended, but it’s a solid, fun, gruesome read.
One really fun moment is when Cal finds it in himself to have a heart to heart with his father for advice. A very fun and twisted take on an old plot trope.