Supernatural Freak Machine: A Cal McDonald Mystery


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Supernatural Freak Machine: A Cal McDonald Mystery


  • Words: Steve Niles
  • Art: Kelly Jones
  • Inks: N/A
  • Colors: Michelle Stewart
  • Story Title: Supernatural Freak Machine Part 1
  • Publisher: IDW Publishing
  • Price: $3.99
  • Release Date: Apr 6, 2005

Steve Niles brings his hard living, foul mouthed monster-investigating private eye back to IDW with incredible results.

Monsters…Check. Drugs and alcohol…Check. Guns…Check. A hard boiled detective and his ghoul assistant…Check. Welcome to the wonderful world of Cal McDonald, the world’s foremost paranormal investigator and self destructive human being. This issue sees Cal return to IDW, for the first time in comic book form, for his 7th publication (2 novels, 2 collections of short stories, and 2 other comic miniseries). In this first issue of Super Freak Machine, the reader is first teased with the return of an old nemesis as Cal and his ghoul assistant Mo’lock discuss life, women, and the possibility of a return to the old stomping grounds of Washington, DC. But trouble seems to just find Cal and Mo, as their attempts to purchase a car are met with strange results.

Steve Niles is considered the premier horror writer in comics right now. And to say that Cal McDonald is his pride and joy may be a bit of an understatement. Throughout the first six books/stories in the Cal McDonald Mysteries series, Niles has weaved incredibly vivid and entertaining tales. He owes a lot to the old hard boiled detectives of pulp magazines as Cal seems to be the kind of private detective that could sit at a table with the likes of Sam Spade and Mike Hammer and hold his own amongst them (before getting drunk, saying some dumb things, and having them beat the crap out of him). And the juxtaposition of him as a paranormal investigator is brilliant. It not only gives a reason for Cal to be shouting some of his riotous dialogue, but also gives reason to his drinking and drug abuse. Although, reading through the stories, one could be left wondering if Niles actually enjoys writing the deadpan stylings of Mo’lock even more. Like his character’s dialogue, Niles keeps his pacing tight throughout the book. This book may be the perfect showcase for a writer displaying his love for his characters and their world.

Kelly Jones’ work on the last Cal McDonald series left me feeling a little empty. But that may have been due to unfair comparisons with the previous artists who worked on Cal, Ashley Wood (illustrated the books) and Ben Templesmith (illustrated the first miniseries). The work looked far too cartoonish when compared to these other masters. However, over the course of that miniseries, Jones began to come into his own with the book and by now, his depiction of Cal and his world at the least stands with and is almost preferable to the others. Whereas Templesmith was at his best creating a great mood and setting with his artwork, Jones goes right to the heart of the characters. The drawings of Cal capture all the different elements of the character; from the angry discussions about his current girlfriend to an alcohol induced vomiting, this is definitely Cal McDonald. Jones’ monsters are a little more cartoonish than previous artists, and are easily identifiable from the regular humans. One other thing that Jones seems to handle with great aplomb is the action sequences. Of course, all of this would be moot without praising the fantastically stylized colors of Michelle Stewart. Vivid and contrasting, these colors really help to bring out the almost conflicting humor and horror elements of the story.

Cal McDonald is easily one of my favorite modern literary characters. While each individual element of the story may not be unique, putting them together to such great effect is. And though it may give greater understanding of the character to have read the previous stories, knowing the characters’ histories is unnecessary as each story can stand on its own; even with this story that contains the return of an old villain.

-Sam Moyerman

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