"Criminal Macabre's" Cal McDonald Gazes Into "The Eyes of Frankenstein"

Throughout "Final Night" -- the "Criminal Macabre" and "30 Days of Night" crossover event -- series writer and creator Steve Niles kept many fans biting their nails in nervous apprehension. Even before "Macabre" lead Cal McDonald threw down with the big bad vamp of "30 Days," Eben Olemaun, Niles promised that only one would walk out of the carnage alive, while one series would be turning its final pages. In the end, it was the brooding, ghoulish detective, Cal, who has lived to see another night, as Eben, and "30 Days of Night," went up in a ball of fire.

From the ashes of that event, new miniseries "Criminal Macabre: The Eyes of Frankenstein" debuts September 25 from Dark Horse Comics, written by Niles and featuring art by Christopher Mitten. The story finds Cal struggling to pick up the pieces after the brutal vampire war that rocked Los Angeles. CBR News spoke with Niles about the return of Cal McDonald, Frankenstein's monster, and letting go of "30 Days of Night."

"It feels good to close that book," Niles admitted. "'30 Days of Night' was one of those ideas I never thought I'd get much mileage out of, so the fact that it lasted 10 years feels pretty good. The fact that IDW [Publishing] and Dark Horse allowed for a situation where I could end one creator-owned series with another was an opportunity not to be missed. I'm glad we got to end it on our own terms.

"I really loved those characters and that world, so it was sad to see it go, but being able to have Cal be the one to end it was priceless," Niles continued. "'30 Days' had some pretty bad luck the last stretch -- a late artist killed any momentum we had. I was glad to wrap it with Mitten. To me, what '30 Days' was about was these types of vampires and the Alaskan setting. The more I got away from that, I felt like I was doing what I'd complained about with vampires. I suppose there's more stories out there, but at this point I think the only way I'd ever write more '30 Days' is if it was with Ben [Templesmith], but he and I have talked, and decided creating new material is more exciting."

Despite his victory, "Final Night" took a grinding toll on Cal -- it was a war not easily won, with a high price being paid by the city of Los Angeles, and Cal's mental and physical health. As we begin this next chapter of Cal's story, he seems to be hanging on by a thread.

"Cal has been in a constant state of change," Niles said. "I'd hesitate to say he's evolving, because he seems to be spiraling out of control. First he died, then he came back as a ghoul and now he has an illness with some very strange side effects. Even though he is ill, he's getting strong while all his undead pals become weaker. Cal needs to figure out something fast before he's the last Ghoul standing."

Though Cal ultimately defeated Eben, the vampire took his own particular vengeance on Cal before he succumbed to fire -- as Cal watched, the vampire opened the throat of Alice Blood. Having seen his friends and loved ones die all around him, Cal is coping in the only way he knows how.

"He's staying wasted," Niles said. "There's a scene in the new book where Mo'Lock sees Cal leaving a cemetery and asks him, 'Who were you visiting?' Cal replies, 'Just the fact that you have to ask says it all.' I think that does sum things up for Cal. There's a point, when bad things just keep happening, that we go into autopilot. I'd say Cal is wasted and on autopilot right now." 

Perhaps the one upside to the devastation that rocked Cal's world and tore Los Angeles apart is that the citizens Cal has fought to protect can no longer ignore what's around them. There is no longer a sense of plausible deniability where the supernatural is concerned.

"Let's just say they are starting to believe what Cal has been saying, especially the police department, who has always ridiculed him," Niles said. "Big things are brewing and the thin veil that separates our world from the world of monsters is fading." 

Returning to the world of "Criminal Macabre" to provide art for "The Eyes of Frankenstein" is Christopher Mitten, who will continue to lend his distinctive aesthetic to world of Cal McDonald.

"Chris never ceases to amaze me with his ability to evolve as an artist," Niles said. "The stuff he's doing for 'Eyes of Frankenstein' is wonderful. Mitten walks that line between fear and comedy perfectly... I always saw Cal's world as a dark, odd world. A world like the one you and I see, but with creepy crawlies in the corners -- nothing truly what it seems. Mitten gets that across. You never know what's lurking in the inky shadows with Chris."

As Cal sinks into the inky shadows of his neighborhood dive and his own particular grieving process, he's visited by an old friend: the monster of Dr. Frankenstein, who's in search of a new pair of eyes.

"The Frankenstein Monster is an old friend of Cal's and in this arc he comes to Cal for help because his eyes are failing," Niles said. "This is the monster of [creator Mary] Shelley's legend -- an intelligent creature with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge -- so losing his eyes is the worst thing that can happen."

While monsters from classic literature are not common in the world of "Criminal Macabre," the monster of Frankenstein is a character Niles has long found compelling, and the creature has appeared, in various forms, in past works.

"I have always loved the Frankenstein Monster," Niles said. "I've written several other books featuring him including 'Frankenstein' with Scott Morse, 'Wake the Dead' and most recently 'Frankenstein Alive, Alive' with Bernie Wrightson. I suppose I'm drawn to the Monster's innocence and unexpected intelligence... This version of the Monster is very well-spoken, [so] I'd say I'm leaning a bit more on the Shelley version from the original novel. It's amazing that something created so long ago has had the resonance it has. Just amazing."

Along with the Frankenstein's monster, Niles promised the return of Detective Wheatley, and is introducing Hemlock -- a character described as a wealthy entertainer who claims to be the foremost authority on all things supernatural. Hemlock claims to be able to help the monster regain his sight, but time will tell.

"Wheatley was only supposed to be a minor character but he's grown to be a lead now," Niles said. "We will see lots of him, plus more info what he's up to and who he really works for... Hemlock is kind a cross between Chris Angel type of entertainer and John Tesh. He seems to be a friendly, almost squeaky-clean gentlemen, but when you look closer you can see he's hiding something. Hemlock has as much knowledge of the occult and supernatural as Cal. Cal and Hemlock will either make great friends or the deadliest of enemies."

The mystery of "The Eyes of Frankenstein" hinges, perhaps, on who this mysterious Hemlock really is, and what his broader role may be. Niles describes "The Eyes of Frankenstein" as something similar to the "Monster-of-the-Week" episodes of "The X-Files" -- an episodic step away from the larger Monster War story arc. That larger arc is definitely still continuing, and Hemlock may hold a connection to the weakening ghouls Cal is hoping to protect.

"There is -- and as it turns out, it could have deadly consequences for all involved," Niles said. "Dum. Dum. Dum!"

Niles and Mitten's "Criminal Macabre: The Eyes of Frankenstein" #1 hits stores September 25.

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