Comics Creepshow 8: Criminal Macabre

COMICS CREEPSHOW 8 : CRIMINAL MACABRE- CELL BLOCK 666

Last week I mentioned that both of the big Steve’s, Stephen King and Steve Niles, had comic book work coming out this month. For King, having his work translated into the comic book form is a major event. For Niles, a new comic coming out isn’t rare at all. Niles is one of the most prolific writers, not only in horror comics, but in comics in general. You may be familiar with his vampire saga, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, but Niles has a project even closer to his heart- CRIMINAL MACABRE.

CRIMINAL MACABRE is the ongoing story which follows the gritty, drug and violence filled misadventures of Cal McDonald. At first glance, you might consider Cal McDonald to be a rip-off of HELLBLAZER’s main character, John Constantine. Cal is a rugged loner, who investigates the paranormal, which is pretty much the same M.O. as Constantine. Like Constantine, Cal is a loner because almost all who associate with him, end up having grizzly deaths, getting turned into monsters, or something even worse. Constantine has one longtime pal, Chaz, who has always managed to dodge the bullet. Cal’s life is a little more hardcore, so the only longtime friend he has is a ghoul- a civilized, undead creature, named Mo’Lock.

There are many similarities between Cal and Constantine, but make no mistake, HELLBLAZER is for the generation that read comics in the late 80’s and 90’s and is focused in Britain, while CRIMINAL MACABRE is for this generation, and deals with the supernatural found in the city streets of the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Cal’s first story, “Big-Head”, which came out in 1990, took place in Washington, DC, which not-so-coincidentally, also happens to be Steve Niles old stomping grounds. Cal eventually moved to Los Angeles (as did Niles), to escape the chaos his life had become in D.C. In L.A. Cal has gone up against Nosferatu, Devil worshippers trying to bring Satan’s baby into the world, a possessed car (which Cal has recently gained control over and uses to get from place to place) and the L.A.P.D.

As you can tell from the title of the newest CRIMINAL MACABRE book on the stands, CELL BLOCK 666, Cal is going to prison. For the past few story arcs, Cal has been hunted by the cops, who always seem to show up after he has defeated some sort of demonic foe. He worked with the L.A.P.D when he first moved to California, but ever since he was framed for the murder of the District Attorney’s wife, he has been on the run. In the first issue of CELL BLOCK 666, the cops catch up with him.

The issue starts out with Cal, Mo’lock and some of Mo‘Lock‘s ghoul buddies, bursting into a vampire hideout, in the middle of a cemetery. Cal is taking out the stress of being hunted by the L.A.P.D on the vamps. The vampires are easily dispatched, since Cal and Mo’Lock happen to be exceptionally good at what they do. You see, Cal is sort of a mix between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Nikki Six from Mötley Crüe. He can come up with hundreds of gruesome and creative ways to take out supernatural creatures, while he is stoned off his ass on pain killers, and various other illegal substances.

Cal’s noir-esque narration can be read over the panels. He has one or two good lines, amongst some of your regular comic book cheesiness. One line stood out in particular- when Cal talks about how angry the head vampire makes him, his narration box says “I was gonna crack his fangs with a hammer when I found him”. He ends up being a little more merciful. The Vampire Lord makes his appearance. Cal asks who he is, and before the Vampire Lord can start to pontificate, Cal shoots him in the face with a sawed off shotgun.

Once the vampires have been slaughtered, Cal and Mo’Lock part ways for the night. In search of cheap booze, Cal finds himself at the Black Cat Club. There he catches up with the bartender and runs into a female vampire who knows him but he can’t seem to recall her. Halfway into an awkward conversation with the female vampire, Cal gets a tip off from the bartender, letting him know that there is a cop in the bar, looking for him. Cal escapes out the back exit, but doesn’t get far. The L.A.P.D. has brought in the works. He is surrounded by a S.W.A.T. team and a bunch of regular cops, while a police helicopter circles by overhead. The to be continued moment comes at the very end, when Cal is brought into an interrogation room, and the District Attorney is waiting outside, not too happy to see him.

Niles and artist Nick Stakal both seem to be operating on the same level for this story. You won’t find any sort of mind bending plot twists or jaw dropping images in this first issue. CELL BLOCK 666 seems to be just a fun story drawn in a competent way. There is nothing original about how Stakal draws either the ghouls or the vampires, and the only real way that you can tell them apart from Cal is that he has a band aid across the top of his nose. The artwork is just good enough to not be a distraction, as you are immersed in the ongoing story of CRIMINAL MACABRE.

The real allure of the story is to see what terrible predicament Niles has planned for Cal McDonald. Cal is the Daffy Duck of supernatural detectives, or to put it in comic book lingo, he’s been beaten up as much as Wolverine, without the luxury of having his healing factor. This character has received so much physical and mental abuse over the years that I cannot even remember the last time his face did not have either a bandage of some sort or some intense swelling.

In the end, I recommend CELL BLOCK 666 for all you horror fans out there, especially those of you who enjoyed the movie of 30 DAYS OF NIGHT. All of Cal McDonald’s stories are written in a way that is friendly to new readers. You don’t have to read any of Cal’s previous adventures to appreciate CELL BLOCK 666 (but I recommend you pick them up anyway). Now is the perfect time to jump onboard, since CRIMINAL MACABRE has recently been optioned to be made into a film. Who would play Cal McDonald? Well it is pretty obvious, if you look at the cover images posted in this article. The cover artist, Tim Bradstreet, bases all of his Cal pictures on actor Thomas Jane, since Jane has made it very clear to his buddy Steve Niles, that he is the man to play Cal on the big screen.

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