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30 Days of Night: Bloodsucker Tales #1
posted January 25, 2005
Steve Niles, Kody Chamberlain, Robbie Robbins, Matt Fraction, Ben Templesmith
Comic Book, 32 Pages, IDW, October 2004, $3.99
I take it this is a spin-off series from the 30 Days of Night
graphic novel that made writer Steve Niles' reputation, cemented the mid-major status of publishing house IDW, and earned both a nice-sized movie deal. This is more of an anthology, with two comics serials that look to continue on into future issues and a stand-alone text piece.
The first story, "Dead Billy Dead," features creator Niles working with artist Kody Chamberlain. It suffers from a malady common to sequels in that it's immersed in storytelling that depends on signs, visual cues and verbal reminiscing to which the new reader has little to no access. Coming across it cold is a less enchanting experience than I imagine it might be for someone re-entering a familiar, scary world. Niles' brisk, wafer-thin story takes us straight into the creation of a new vampire by an older, very talkative member of the species that appears to have at least read the original graphic novel. He manages to infect the ostensible lead and then conveniently die. The newer vampire seems like your average everyday twenty-something schmuck that might share a house and maybe an extra amplifier or two with a couple of college buddies. He reacts to his startling transformation by phoning and whining to his ex-girlfriend -- probably not the first call he's made to her place late at night with blood on his shirt. It's a funny scene, although it's played pretty straight, but like the rest of this issue's story it's all setup with no pay-off. The physical transformation is communicated effectively through Chamberlain's art, but neither creator helps us with clues as to the horror that the protagonist experiences. If it continues to be played for dry humor -- and I can see this guy showing up for work and eating his supervisor or something -- I will take that last sentence back.
The more effective and seemingly much more ambitious story of the two is the backup, something called "Juarez or Lex Nova & the Case of the 400 Dead Mexican Girls." It also treads on familiar territory but at least seems slightly more substantial page to page and is has a generally gonzo edge filtered through several genuinely odd jokes. In this story, a detective from the M. Emmet Walsh family of shamus, who even speaks his own narration out loud, insinuates himself into a nasty situation involving dead girls in Mexico's version of Detroit, and, if multiple storylines will converge as expected, weird, clownish vampires of the slightly retarded, acting-out Bill Paxton variety. That last phrase isn't intended as an insult; deviating from social norms in fundamental ways is a pretty tried and true way in this sort of literature of making death and increased power a kind of release from normal behavior: evil as the opportunity for wicked indulgence. This gives writer Matt Fraction the option of lacing his story with commentary on less fantastic evil, the depraved behavior from lunatics and sociopaths in the very real world. It's too early to tell if Fraction wants to use his genre vehicle to say something about the actual murders of young women in Juarez, but at least he's providing himself with an opening to get into it without simply exploiting the murders for effect.
As far as the craft elements go, Fraction and Ben Templesmith's tale is kind of uncomfortable read; something about the script in general seems more like pitch than performance at this early point. The story in its first chapter is extremely verbal and therefore comes across as less than sure of itself, like the opening spin around the floor between unfamiliar dance partners. Fraction needn't worry; Templesmith's art looks like it can be dipped, lifted in the air, and left to dance a few steps on its own. Hopefully for future installments, additional pages under the belt and perhaps even seeing the work in print will inspire the writer to explore more complicated visual rhythms which should mitigate against the broad pulp elements from which Fraction borrows.