Final Night is the comic book equivalent of Thunderdome — two comics enter, one comic leaves.
Horror author Steve Niles has two long-running comic series — the vampire saga 30 Days of Night that puts the scary back in vampires, and the paranormal detective Cal McDonald whose adventures Steve has been writing for 20 years, most recently under the banner of Criminal Macabre. However after issue #4 of this crossover series Final Night, he will only have one.
That's right. He is officially killing off one of his series, either 30 Days of Night or Criminal Macabre. But's he's not giving any clues as to which series is getting the axe. You have to read all about it in Final Night. And it's a hell of a read.
Even if you haven't been following these series for the 20+ years they have been in print, you are still going to have a good time with Final Night. I'm a pretty recent Steve Niles convert myself. I've read a few of his 30 Days of Night series, but the only Cal McDonald stuff I have read has been the recent short stories in Dark Horse Presents. Niles is a good enough writer, with strong enough characters, that I don't feel like I need an encyclopedia to get into this final crossover. It's all right there.
He sets it up clean right from the beginning, with a meeting at a bar between Alice Blood and Cal McDonald. I love the clever scene-setting of the two of them plopping down next to each other in the bar, faces covered with bandages, letting us know that these are two official badasses we are dealing with. Alice whips out some photos of dismembered corpses to share and the two hit it off just fine. It looks like the vampires are massing for some sort of all-out attack on Los Angeles, and Alice wants to recruit Cal to help hold the line against the attack. Let the fun begin.
Steve's approach to horror is one that I absolutely love. He takes the best of classic literary horror and blends it with a cinematic approach that flips between small, intimate scenes and large-scale ultra-violence. I can't really say which parts I like best. The interplay between Cal and Alice is fantastic as they play two storied warriors joining forces for a campaign that is bigger than either of them. Steve has the Film Noir office dialog down pat, with Cal and Alice feeling each other out with monster-hunter stories and knowledge. In the meantime, you have this dark underworld of ghouls, werewolves, and vampires where I don't think there is a single panel without blood dripping from somewhere.
The only time I felt lost in Criminal Macabre/30 Days of Night: Final Night is in Steve's handling of the ghouls — they aren't as famous a monster of filmland as vampires and werewolves, so I don't know their particular attributes in Niles' world. I know ghouls as graveyard dwellers and corpse-eaters, but these ghouls are eternal undead, who can only be killed in a particularly grotesque manner. They also seem to be the good guys. Obviously, this isn't a flaw in the comic, but it is the one area where I think I need to go do some reading before I will fully understand the story.
I loved Christopher Mitten's art in Final Night as well. He has this odd, expressive style that handles both the human (semi-human?) and the monsters with equal skill. It's interesting, because the very things I thought didn't work in Mitten's piece in Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword work just fine here. The angular set pieces, the thick lines, the grotesque exaggerations — none of those really gelled for me with Howard's more humanistic universe, but in Niles' dark realms they make the ghastly ghastlier.
Colorist Michelle Madsen puts in some good work as well. The color is mostly flat, in big chunky blocks rather than smooth gradations, but that suits Mitten's thick lines and scratchy style. And when the red blood flows, Madsen makes sure it is bright red.
Criminal Macabre/30 Days of Night: Final Night has definitely hooked me wanting to dive further into the world of Cal McDonald. Personally, I'm putting my money on him to come up the winner in this series showdown, but you never know.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.