Talk of a coming war between humanity and vampires has been brewing in the pages of Steve Niles‘ “Criminal Macabre” almost since the series began. This winter, those rumors come to a head in the pages of “Criminal Macabre: Final Night – The 30 Days of Night Crossover,” published by Dark Horse Comics, co-published by IDW Publishing and featuring art by Christopher Mitten.
The story, taking shape over four issues, sees the reluctant protagonist of “Criminal Macabre,” paranormal detective Cal McDonald, in a head-on confrontation with Eben Olemaun, the sheriff-turned-vampire of “30 Days of Night”. Both Cal and Eben have been put through the wringer over the past few years; Cal has seen nearly everyone he knows slaughtered at the hands of the vampires, and has recently been killed only to rise again as leader of the ghoul army. Eben has seen his wife killed, unleashing his vampire rage and kick-starting his snowballing war against humanity.
Comic Book Resources spoke with Niles about the coming war, his genre pet peeves, and a promise of large, lasting repercussions of the crossover event.
“I’m going to stand by this whether I like it or not, these are my two favorite franchises,” Niles said. “Only one franchise is going to survive this series, and I give you my word on that. It’s not one of these ‘Batman dies’ things — one of these series is going to be destroyed.”
Despite this grave portent of things to come, Niles is enthusiastic about the story he’s telling in “Criminal Macabre: Final Night,” as the miniseries is a natural development for Cal McDonald’s world. “There was a very happy coincidence happening in ’30 Days of Night’ and ‘Criminal Macabre,'” Niles said. “What’s been happening, literally since day one — we’re talking over twenty-five years now with Cal McDonald and ‘Criminal Macabre’ — is he has been under this threat of a coming war. At the same time, I’ve been building in the other direction with ’30 Days of Night.’
“Eben Olemaun, who was the hero in the very first issue, is now basically our Darth Vader,” Niles continued. “He’s the ultimate bad guy now that he’s lost Stella, and now that she’s gone he’s literally unleashed on the world. What’s happening in ’30 Days of Night’ is, he’s just waging an open war against humans, specifically the FBI, which he blames for doing a lot of these things. So, without even really trying, the two series are heading towards a collision.”
According to Niles, Eben and his growing legion of vampires are hoping to devastate the human race and “knock them back into the Dark Ages. This is an all out attack. They have a point to this, they’re done hiding.
“There’s a little bit of terrorism going on here, with what the vampires want to achieve,” Niles said. “They know now that if humans find out they exist, they’re not going to do anything. Humans are watching their planet be destroyed and they’re not doing anything, so why are they going to care about this? They basically see humanity as being in this state of apathy right now, so it’s the perfect time to attack.”
As for Cal McDonald, he has some experience in dealing with vampires and other supernatural beings. The coming war, however, will prove a test of even his abilities. “He’s really got his hands full with these vampires and with Eben leading them,” Niles said. “He’s got quite a lot of trouble on his hands — the one thing Cal has going for him is he’s had this alliance with the Ghouls.”
Readers will see some familiar characters aside from Cal and Eben, along with some new faces. While Cal has recently seen everyone close to him die, he’s joined by his ghoul sidekick Mo’lock and receives some assistance from a police officer named Wheatley. “We’re still not really sure what’s motivating him, other than he seems to know a lot about Cal, seems to care about him and is actually believing him,” Niles said.
For those following the “30 Days of Night” ongoing from IDW Niles said, “There are going to be a lot of familiar characters. Not just Eben, but Alice, Hendrik and all these characters that I’ve been developing, plus a few surprises thrown in there. There will be a lot of familiar characters, but really what the series is about is Cal McDonald meets Eben Olemaun.”
The monsters of “30 Days of Night” and “Criminal Macabre” are a little different, a little harder to predict and a little harder to kill than those that populate much of myth and folklore. In his stories, Niles has upended expectations in hopes of creating something more frightening than readers may be used to. “It’s really just looking at the world,” Niles said. “No two humans are alike, no two animals are alike; why are all monsters alike? Every monster comes into being slightly different than the last one. It really comes from a pet peeve of mine which goes all the way back to — you name the movie — goes back to ‘The Time Machine,’ goes back to many, many, ‘Star Trek’ episodes where people land on a planet and everybody has the same damn clothes and the same haircut! Like I said, we have the same basic elements that make us up, but there are a million variations within just that. Really, all I’m doing is trying to apply that to monsters, and I think it makes them more dangerous and makes them scarier.
“It was just like the thing with the ’30 Days of Night’ vampires — taking away the romance. I mean seriously, we don’t seduce cows before we slaughter them, we just line ’em up and slaughter them,” Niles continued. “I find that to be incredibly frightening, especially for vampires, which are really the most tamed of our monsters. We’ve turned them into our best friends: our boyfriends and girlfriends. But, because they are a reflection of us, giving them that strength and that hunger, and the fact they don’t give a shit about us as human beings, I think they can be very, very scary monsters. If everybody recalls, that’s what monsters and horror are supposed to be about: being scary.”
Along with instilling fear, there is an undercurrent of deeper social commentary at work. “I think that monsters, vampires and zombies in particular, really reflect some very primal fears that we’re all experiencing now, and have been since 9/11,” Niles said. “Our enemy is ourself. I mean, look at right now: I’m hearing people say our country is more polarized now than it has been since The Civil War. A lot of people believe we’re actually killing the planet. If you’re a monster and you’re immortal, you want the planet to live more than the species occupying it.”
Christopher Mitten is taking on the art duties for “Criminal Macabre: Final Night.” “Chris took over doing art in ’30 Days of Night’ after Sam Keith, and he’d been working on ‘Criminal Macabre’ one-shots and ‘Dark Horse Presents’ since the Goon crossover. So, this was one of those rare opportunities. There was no debate. It was going to be Chris. It’s really helping us marry the two worlds. Writing three series right now is making both mine and Chris’ brains break in half, but it’s too fun.”
Nobody in Niles’ world is safe, and he, as a writer, is willing to put his characters through drastic changes and in some cases, death. In the upcoming crossover, “Criminal Macabre: Final Night,” Niles has hinted at the end of one of these two series, and it’s a promise that should be taken seriously. Â
“Another comic book pet peeve is the frustration I have with reading established corporate characters,” Niles said. “When I read a Batman comic, or a Spider-Man comic, I don’t care what they do to him — I know eventually I’m going to get back the character. Because they won’t kill it, they can’t kill it. You lose so much drama there. It is more challenging, but hopefully it’s more interesting as a reader because I hope they feel that sense of danger. Nobody in any of the worlds I create is necessarily safe.
“Robert Kirkman does this too. Nobody’s safe in ‘The Walking Dead.’ I just think it’s a good dramatic tool. It’s tough. I’ve lost some of my favorite characters.”
Niles added, “The worst thing about a lot of crossovers is that nothing really significant ever happens in them. Things happen but they don’t really affect the two universes. But I have the control in this to actually do something that is a part of the series. After this is over, one of these series is going away.
“This is not some fake out,” Niles reiterated. “What happens in this series will be permanent.”
Whatever the outcome of the war, readers are in for an exciting story, with Niles leaving room for the possibility of surviving characters to bleed through into whatever series is left standing.
“We’ll just have to see who’s left when the dust settles,” Niles said. “I just want to go with this and follow my heart. Follow whatever makes for the best story because I have so much invested in both. It’s going to be interesting. Somebody’s gonna wind up hatin’ me out there.
“For me to go back on that would just be me doing what drives me nuts, so, I’m sticking to it. It’s gonna get ugly. It’s gonna get really nasty.”