Criminal Macabre: Cellblock 666 #1


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Criminal Macabre: Cellblock 666 #1


  • Words: Steve Niles
  • Art: Nick Stakal
  • Inks: Nick Stakal
  • Colors: Michelle Madsen
  • Story Title: N/A
  • Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
  • Price: $2.99
  • Release Date: Sep 10, 2008

Tough as nails investigator of the macabre Cal McDonald stars in Criminal Macabre: Cellblock 666, the latest mini-series from Dark Horse Comics.

The horror and crime fiction genres collide in Steve Niles' Criminal Macabre franchise. The human residents of Los Angeles share their city with hordes of ghouls, vampires and other monsters of film legend. Bridging these two worlds is Cal McDonald, a hard-drinking, gun toting, muscle car driving cartoon of a character. He has made an enemy of a city councilman, a man named Benson, who blames McDonald for the death of his wife. Benson is in control of the police department, and is searching for the suddenly homeless McDonald. Being on the run doesn't stop him from flushing out a nest of vampires, whose blood-lust was unleashed on a group of young girls.

Niles loads this issue with action, and jumps us very quickly into the simple plot. McDonald speaks with his fists and his firearms, with very little patience for dialogue or exchanges of pleasantries. Given his troubles with the police, McDonald's best allies are ghouls, who inform him of vampire activity and seem to be his only friends. The combination of horror investigator and hardboiled, noir protagonist has enormous appeal, but Cal McDonald is lacking in the details of character that allow him to rise from the stereotype. The story has the potential to develop him, particularly if it leads to the prison stay suggested in the title.

Nick Stakal's artwork is reminiscent of the excellent work Sean Phillips did in his run on Hellblazer. He is liberal with his inks, and brush strokes are clearly visible in the splotches that create folds in clothing and shadows. It is a perfect style for the subject matter and complemented well by the washed out earth tones of Michelle Madsen's palette. Tim Bradstreet provides the cover art, and the piece is excellent. His version of Cal McDonald is even tougher in appearance than Stakal's. His posture, with a minimum of movement and the stray cigarette hanging out of his mouth, strikingly conveys McDonald's utter contempt for the hapless undead creature he has dispatched. I am a little confused by the blond hair though!

As with 30 Days of Night, Niles excels at concept creation, and action packed horror themed stories. Like those previous works, there is nothing glamorous about the undead characters. Even the sympathetic ghouls are abominations to the living. It is refreshing to see monsters portrayed as monsters, and not as admirable, misunderstood creatures. Niles' writing is a bludgeon to the head, not a sleek dagger to the ribs, and his Nosferatu-like bloodsuckers gets what is coming to them without the benefit of the villains’ impassioned speech, no matter how well practiced. Reading Criminal Macabre is gratifying in its simplicity. With a little more depth of character, McDonald could be a worthy challenger to John Constantine as the demonic world's greatest adversary.

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