Friday at New York Comic-Con, Dark Horse announced several new projects starring Steve Niles’ mystical detective Cal MacDonald, who was last seen in “Criminal Macabre: Cellblock 666.” A new “Criminal Macabre” story will feature as one half of a Free Comic Book Day flipbook with Mike Mignola’s and Christopher Golden’s “Baltimore,” while “The Goon/Criminal Macabre” one-shot will bring Cal face-to-face with Eric Powell’s powerful hero. Standalone “Criminal Macabre” projects, including a one-shot titled “No Peace for Dead Men,” are also on the horizon.
Appearing for the first time in the short story “Big Head” in 1990, Cal MacDonald is an antisocial detective of the arcane with a knack for befriending (or antagonizing) spirits and ghouls, notably his undead sidekick Mo’lock. He has since been the subject of several miniseries, novels and short stories. CBR News spoke with Niles about the many faces of Cal’s return.
By the time of Cal’s new one-shot, a full two years will have passed since the conclusion of the last “Criminal Macabre” miniseries, “Cell Block 666.” Niles, who has remained busy with a number of projects in the meantime, said that “I felt I needed to give Cal some rest. We were up to nine, ten graphic novels, two novels, and a collection of short stories. I had just written the character a lot, and I did want to kind of focus on some new stuff,” he told CBR.
Now, however, Cal is set for a big return, which may be part of a strategy to continue momentum for the “Criminal Macabre” movie. “One of the big motivations, we’re still working on getting the ‘Criminal Macabre’ movie off the ground. It’s being written over at Universal, and Universal seems really enthusiastic about it,” Niles said. “A lot of this is trying to get all of these different things going for the character at once.”
Dark Horse, Niles said, has embraced this flurry of activity in Cal’s world. “The level at which they’re bringing ‘Criminal Macabre’ back has made me very happy,” Niles told CBR of the support he’s received. “I’m sort of fully immersed in the ‘Criminal Macabre’ world. Dark Horse is really backing it up now. So we’re having a blast.” Niles noted that “Wasteland” artist Christopher Mitten will be the regular artist for “Criminal Macabre,” something which was previously announced but, Niles joked, was lost in the deluge of news from San Diego’s Comic-Con International. “We announced it at Comic-Con, I know; why announce any comic things at Comic-Con? It won’t get out.”
Niles told us that at least three “Criminal Macabre” one-shots are slated for 2011, with a standalone one-shot, the Free Comic Book Day flipbook with “Baltimore” and a “Goon” crossover co-written with Eric Powell. “I just wrote a 32-page one-shot called ‘No Peace for Dead Men,’ which will be sort of the first big return for the Cal MacDonald character [with] some really radical stuff happening in there,” he said. “There’s storylines that I’ve been [developing] – I’m not kidding – since the ’80s and ’90s, these threads that I started and didn’t end up. I’ve got the novels, I’ve got the comics, lots of ways to keep them going, and they’re finally starting to come together. Which is really odd – it’s hard to even believe I’ve been writing this character this long. But I’m finally getting a chance to tie up all the loose ends.
“And also, we’re doing a ‘Goon/Criminal Macabre’ crossover, which Eric and I are basically writing by cracking each other up. We’ll have that together soon, too,” Niles continued. “I think there’s going to be a lot of punching going on in that book, I think this is going to be a very punchy comic in between wisecracks. But it’s also kind of fun because Goon has his sidekick Frankie and Cal has his ghoul Mo’Lock. It’s just going to be really fun. Me and Powell have been friends for years. It’s really funny that after all these years we’re finally going to get to work on something together. We met on ebay, for Christ’s sake. Eric and I had just met on ebay, because I’d bought some of his art, and we ended up sending pitches in to Marvel to do ‘The Defenders.’ I don’t think we even got rejections, I’m pretty sure they just ignored us. I remember Eric doing some insanely cool art for that, I think he put it in one of his sketchbooks. If there’s a group shot of the Defenders, that’s where it came from.”
When it came to the challenge of bringing Cal into the Goon’s somewhat off-kilter world, Niles said that there were a few things to consider. “The thing with crossovers, you try to do something that’s entertaining that moves both characters forward a little bit without screwing up those characters’ universes. The toughest thing Eric and I came against with this is, how do we get these two guys in the same universe? Cal very much, you know, lives in LA. He’s out there right now. As crazy a world as he lives in, it’s basically our world. The Goon has his own universe,” the writer said. “One of the things we’re really having fun with is how to get them into the same space, and then using that to have some fun, too.”