Criminal Macabre
A Cal McDonald Mystery

Author: Steve Niles
Artist: Ben Templesmith
Titan Books
RRP: £14.99
ISBN 1 84023 873 9
Available 21 May 2004

Cal McDonald has seen it all, done it all... shot, stabbed, killed, maimed, drank, snorted and smoked it all. Yet nothing he could injure or digest could prepare this occult private detective for the unimaginable weirdness that confronts him when he's called to investigate a local vampire sighting, and finds himself in the middle of a monster summit. Never in the history of the weird have monsters willingly joined forces before, which signals to Cal that something big and nasty is brewing...

"Oh no!" I hear you cry. "That's all this industry needs. Another monster slayer graphic novel!" You'd be extremely naive, not to mention wrong, if you still hold that view after reading Criminal Macabre.

Steve Niles's warped mind creates an instant anti-hero in the form of the no-nonsense McDonald. Ben Templesmith's art is refreshingly childlike one moment and graphically disturbing the next. I also loved the way he frames his art in an almost cinematic style - there are a few great panels that have a blurry edge to them, suggesting a zoom lens has been used.

I loved the way Niles plays with the myth of demons. In McDonald's world werewolves, vampires and ghouls can all be blown into the middle of next week by any weapon that can also bring down a normal human. These creatures don't have special powers, they don't freak out near garlic, and they don't hunt in packs. Of course, all these conventions that are known to McDonald are quickly blown out of the water as the original mythological monsters rise from the grave once again.

This collection explains why demons of modern times are not as powerful as they were back in the days of the Bubonic Plague - although I'm not sure a tire iron would have the same impact as a cross. Isn't the whole cross and holy water thing supposed to be that they are religious symbols? Would a tire iron really have the same impact? Mind you, I suppose it has worked with bits of wood or crossed fingers in the movies, so maybe it does work with anything that resembles a cross. Does that mean that they can't go near crossroads, fences with a criss cross pattern, or old ladies that are doing cross-stitch?

But in all seriousness, in an age where the likes of Buffy and Angel have saturated the market with their teenage tales of monster slaying, Criminal Macabre breathes new life into a near-dead genre.

Nick Smithson

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