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Last Train to Deadsville: A Cal McDonald Mystery #2

Posted: Wednesday, June 23, 2004
By: Adam Volk



Writer: Steve Niles
Artist: Kelley Jones

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Plot:
Down on his luck paranormal investigator Cal McDonald, battles the demonic forces of evil (not to mention an extremely pissed off girlfriend) with the help of his undead partner Mo’Lock.

Comment:
Anyone who’s ever secretly wished that the wolfman had disemboweled Abbott and Costello and gorged himself on their livers is going to appreciate the finer points of Last Train to Deadsville, an entertaining blend of gore splattered horror and slapstick humor. Issue #2 finds supernatural private investigator Cal McDonald, and his ghoul partner Mo’Lock, once more facing the forces of the netherworld, having previously dealt with a two-thousand year old mummy, a gaggle of demonic hillbillys, and Cal’s own faltering love life.

But while Last Train, is a largely original series with some intriguing concepts, it is also slightly inaccessible for readers unfamiliar with the character and setting. Writer Steve Niles simply assumes the readers knows his characters well enough to understand the plot, and the end result is a comic that moves with a pace that would put a sugar binging eight year old with ADD, to shame. In fact, the narrative moves so quickly, that new readers never really get a chance to know Cal and Mo long enough to care about them. Instead, the plot jumps from one scene to the next, providing only brief amounts of explanation and characterization. This is due in larger part to the mythos already established around Cal McDonald (Niles has produced a large volume of work around the character), but there is no acclimatization in this series for new readers. In this sense, perhaps Cal McDonald would be better served with a continuing series rather than numerous mini-series spin offs.

Where Last Train, does succeed however, is in Niles’ solid grasp of humor. The banter between Cal and Mo is hilarious, and in this particular issue Mo’s “tongue in cheek” handling of a demon is particularly inspired. The art is also well done, and Jones provides some dark and brooding imagery that compliments the story nicely.

In the end, Last Train to Deadsville is successful only because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The series isn’t claiming to be anything more than an entertaining romp through a world overrun by the forces of evil, and in this sense reads more like a loving tribute to the pulp-era horror serials of the past. By the same token however, new readers and those unfamiliar with Cal McDonald, will feel left in the dark. Steve Niles, has done some incredible work, and is largely responsible for the recent resurgence in horror comics today (30 Days of Night is nothing short of brilliant, Aleister Arcane is one of the most innovative new series to emerge in decades, and Remains, Niles’ latest foray into the world of zombies, is absolutely phenomenal (see my review for Remains issue #1). Ultimately, Niles continues this tradition with Last Train to Deadsville. While the series can read a little choppy at times, it has potential, and there is something inherently likable about Cal McDonald. After all, there’s nothing more entertaining than booze, broads, and things that go bump in the night.



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