Steve Niles’ continuing adventures of Cal McDonald expands to encompass the legend of Frankenstein in “Criminal Macabre: The Eyes of Frankenstein” #1. As the title indicates, this story reaches out and brings in the creation of Doctor Frankenstein. Niles even goes so far as to give the creation a conversational first name at the behest of McDonald.
Niles writes a story filled with dark humor and chuckle-worthy moments that just seem so wrong to laugh at when explained out loud, like McDonald jerking the wheel in a car so hard that it sends his ghoul passenger smacking into the window. Little visual cues like that and the discussion of Mary Shelley’s novel between McDonald and the novel’s star illuminate Niles’ propensity to make light of the supernatural and eerie, not necessarily making them less scary, but making them more acceptable as an aspect of life. With a title like “Criminal Macabre,” one might not expect humor or character subtleties, but Niles delivers those in full. McDonald is equal parts John Constantine and Jim Rockford. Caught in the middle of a turf war, with ghouls, vampires and humanity all on edge, McDonald hits the humanity notes again and again, finding ways to make light of an otherwise terrifying situation.
The art by Christopher Mitten is pitch perfect. Heavy on the shadows, Mitten leaves a great deal of the shading and mood to the color work of Michelle Madsen, but expressions and character acting are all present in Mitten’s work. The two artists mesh nicely for a disarmingly gorgeous but still very creepy looking story. Mitten’s artwork is detailed when it needs to be and equally open when it suits the story. Although the subject matter is fictitious, Mitten’s work is solid enough to make the events and characters in this story believable and whole. His style evades comparison, borrowing bits from Mike Mignola, Berni Wrightson and Declan Shalvey and brewing them together into something that will eventually receive comparisons of its own.
A war between vampires and ghouls, a concept as old as the Hatfields and the McCoys, and done to death across various media becomes slightly different and much more interesting through a humorous lens. Instead of being dark and foreboding, “Criminal Macabre: The Eyes of Frankenstein” #1 is vibrant and entertaining, like the “Beyond Belief” segment of “Thrilling Adventure Hour.” Unlike “Thrilling Adventure Hour,” however, this series features a little more blue language, which humanizes the protagonist all the more despite his ghoulish claims. After finishing this issue, I wish I could have all four parts of this story for a light-hearted read while waiting to hand out candy to this year’s trick-or-treaters.