Best known as the creator of “30 Days of Night” and “Criminal Macabre,” writer Steve Niles is no stranger to horror. Often, his work blends elements of classic monster movie scarefests with other, more unexpected, genres: vampires at the ends of the earth, say, or the trials and tribulations of an undead private eye. In the upcoming “Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem,” his upcoming Dark Horse Comics miniseries launching June 12, Niles is looking to somewhat out of the ordinary subject matter.
Co-written by Niles and Matt Santoro with art by Dave Wachter, “Breath of Bones” draws upon the legend of the golem. Stemming from Jewish legend, the golem is a creature formed of clay and brought to life by a holy person, one who was close to God. According to the legend, the golem could never be a full, true human, and was often described as being unable to speak. Being a creature animated from inanimate matter, the golem shares some attributes with Frankenstein’s monster, though it is given life via faith rather than science.
Comic Book Resources spoke to Niles about his golem tale, set during World War II when the creature becomes the protector of a small town suddenly encroached upon by enemies, the project’s origin and giving humanity to a creature sculpted from clay.
“‘Breath of Bones’ is about a small village in Europe. All the men have gone to the front to fight the Germans, and all that remain are elderly and children. A British fighter plane crashes nearby and attracts the villagers’ worst nightmare: a battalion of Germans,” Niles told CBR News. “The story focuses on Noah and his grandfather who are left to mind the town when all the men, including Noah’s father, must go to the front.”
The story Niles has crafted in “Breath of Bones” is at once a horror story and a war story, but the writer says it’s also neither. With the golem called forth as a protector of the village, the monster of the story may not be the creature of mud at all but the German soldiers bearing town upon the civilians. Much of the setting is left intentionally ambiguous, as it could have been set nearly anywhere in Europe.
“It’s a story about heart — about family and the things we’ll do for those we love,” said Niles. “The setting is Europe during World War II but I never say when or where. This is very intentional: because the Nazis devastated so much, the village could be anywhere. I wanted people to relate as much as possible, so I left a few facts out so readers’ imaginations could fill them in.
“To me, World War II was the last clear-cut war we had where there were bad guys and good guys,” Niles continued. “While other wars’ legitimacy can be debated, there is no debating the horror that the Nazis created. So to me, it’s the perfect setting for this story.”
Niles and Santoro have been working with this story, and the golem, for a number of years, originally conceiving of the project as a film pitch, the teaser for which can be seen below. Niles initial interest in the golem stems from its place in folklore, and its relative obscurity.
“I’ve always been interested in the golem as a monster, but it’s always been a pretty underused monster,” said Niles. “There seemed to be a lot of missed opportunities. The golem is a great creature, made by human hand for vengeance and protection. Like a Frankenstein monster from clay without all the emotional baggage. I also really like the idea of a monster powered by faith — that’s a fully loaded concept there and a great set-up for a sympathetic monster.”
In folklore, the golem is often a parable for the dangers of hubris: to act as if one is God, and bring life out of nothing, leads to disaster. The golem often proves difficult to control, obstinate, or simply follows orders too literally. Apart from this, however, it differs from other traditional monsters — vampires, werewolves — in that it is a creature not said to be borne of the powers of darkness, but of the powers of faith.
“Golems can be monsters, but they are made by humans and what they do largely depends on what their creators ask them to do,” said Niles. “The Golem is [a] monster created from faith and extreme emotion. It is not mindless or rampaging, but designed with a very specific set of goals based on what its creator needs.”
Artist Dave Wachter is breathing life into the golem — his pages, in black and white, are realistic enough to bring specificity to the characters and settings, while not bogging them down in detail. There’s a brushwork quality to the lines, and the panels are dynamic.
“As soon as I saw [Wachter’s] work I was excited,” said Niles. “Dave really brought something special to the story. The setting is exactly how I saw it and his storytelling is perfect.”
” Breath of Bones: A Tale of Golem” #1 goes on sale June 12.