Nazi’s and Communists encounter an evil even more single-minded and deadly than themselves in an Artic wilderness.
Commentary: I’ve said it before: As a rule I don’t invest in horror comics. To me the best horror is found in textual forms of literature or through the craft of skilled movie makers who know it’s not so much what we see that scares us but the lingering feeling of dread we get from the unknown. Prose novels which leave room for your imagination to roam and the creeping fear of films like Alien are much more preferable to me than the four color world of comics. There the monsters are just a page turn away and large buckets of gore or copious sex tend to replace any real atmosphere of fear. That’s my problem with horror comics. They’re horribly written and drawn and dominated by the slashers and stupid victims syndrome of the genre.
Until now; until 30 Days of Night: Red Snow. Admittedly my feelings about horror comics have kept me away from Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s original and subsequent series but, I got this first issue for free and had enough morbid curiosity to give it a whirl. I’m glad I did. This comic doesn’t fit into the picture I painted above. Even with vampire novels and stories and movies being a dime a dozen with most not worth two cents Templesmith’s installment is an entertaining read because it has the elements that I consider to contribute to true horror. There’s the isolated setting. That feeling that no matter which way you turn you’re never sure of your standing or who’s out there in the cold and darkness. Instead of stupid teens or twenty somethings the victims here are Nazi’s and Communists in the closing days of World War II. Horror always seems to work better for me in period pieces like this. Templesmith introduces us to these two ideological evils and we just know that something more horrible is waiting in the wings. Or in this case, under the snow.
This story is reminiscent of F. Paul Wilson’s inaugural horror novel, The Keep which pitted Nazi’s in an abandoned European castle against an otherworldly horror far darker than their own black hearts. There was mounting tension and terror as the soldiers began to be picked off one by one. I don’t know if Templesmith ever read the book but the similiarities are startling. Where as Wilson’s book failed in the latter half in its reveal of the monster, Niles’s and Templesmith’s vampires remain ferocious and alien. They take the shape of humanity but that’s where it ends. This is evidenced nicely when Nazi snipers try to take down the silhouette of a village girl across the snows. It becomes all too apparent they are not dealing with anything human.
Templesmith doesn’t just line up the victims to be taken out one by one. He takes time for us to get to know them a bit. Yes, for the most part they are despicable, but we get a glimpse of the reasoning for their own brand of evil. The Nazi commander justifies the genocide of villages by stating, “For the glory of the Fatherland, Our people must have room to breathe.” It’s a twisted patriotism and survival instinct that drove this Nazi in particular to commit unspeakable acts against fellow humans. So, there is some nobility evidenced here. Not true of the denizens of darkness. They are just hungry. It’s interesting that Templesmith uses the Russian commander to state that some of the Nazi’s motivation is due to hunger. But there’s something coming that is truly motivated by hunger.
The first attacks are drawn beautifully by Templesmith as brave Cossacks are drawn down under the stark white blankets of snow. The only evidence of their fates is the red stained leftovers defiling the pure blankets of white. Templesmith’s color pallet is appropriately eerie to say the least. It’s my understanding that Niles was the writer of the original series and Templesmith was the artist. Templesmith either has writing chops also or learned some stuff from Niles. He creates believable characters and keeps the dread quotient high. His pacing is superb. Here’s hoping the last scene doesn’t lead to a simple zombie style massacre for the rest of the series but that we’ll see more good character moments from the writing and engaging set pieces from the art.
Final Word: A comic’s horror story for someone who doesn’t normally like comic’s horror stories. Full of atmosphere and dread set against the backdrop of a literally cold war.