"Criminal Macabre Omnibus: Volume 1" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James "Spez" Ferguson
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Written by Steve Niles
Illustrated by Ben Templesmith & Kelley Jones
2003, 392 pages
Trade Paperback released on August 23rd, 2011
There's been too much emphasis on werewolf and vampire lore lately. Every new book that comes out has a different take on it, too. Silver bullets, garlic, sparkling. It's getting to be a bit much. Fortunately, Cal MacDonald is around to boil it all down to one simple rule: If it moves, he can shoot it. Don't worry about all those wooden stakes and crosses. A good shotgun will do just fine. That's the only tool he needs to fight the supernatural creatures roaming the streets of Los Angeles.
Criminal Macabre is a supernatural detective story. While I feel like I've read a bunch of those lately, this one actually started up a few years ago and protagonist Cal MacDonald would be the first to tell you that he doesn't give a shit if you read others before this. Cal doesn't seek out these cases. They find him. Whether it's a bizarre murder / robbery involving a team up between a vampire and a werewolf or a succubus taking over a town or even a car possessed by the spirit of an old biker, Cal will shoot them all and solve the case with whatever's left.
Joining him on this journey through the supernatural is Mo'Lock, an undead ghoul just trying to make a living in LA. They start off as acquaintances, but quickly turn into partners. Mo'Lock is the straight man to Cal's funny man. Also along for the ride is Lieutenant Brueger of the LAPD, who's starting to believe Cal and his weird stories. Lastly, Cal's on-again, off-again girlfriend Sabrina Lynch, reporter for a Weekly World News-esque paper, pops in later in the book to help with a few cases.
What's great about the plots developed by creator Steve Niles is that they make sense. The title story which introduces us to Cal's world breaks down all of the old myths and legends about werewolves, vampires, and the undead and grounds them in this reality. Then after all that is done, Niles builds them back up again putting their origin in history in such a way that you wouldn't be surprised if it popped up in a textbook. The rest of stories follow suit, some more simply than others.
Prior to reading Criminal Macabre, what I was really excited about was Ben Templesmith's art. It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of his work and to see him work with his 30 Days of Night collaborator again was great. The first three stories are drawn by Templesmith and they portray Cal's Los Angeles as a dark, dingy place filled with people and creatures you wouldn't want to run into in a dark alley — or on a bright sidewalk for that matter — in such a creepy way. What I love about Templesmith's art is that it looks almost feral. The backgrounds always look a little dirty, almost as if he just had to get the images out of his head and did so using any scrap of paper, cardboard or hamburger wrapper that was lying around.
I was initially disappointed to find that Templesmith didn't draw the entire book, but grew to love Kelley Jones' art on the later stories. The tone of Templesmith's issues was very dark and gritty, but when Niles crafted stories that were a bit brighter, they played to Jones' style a lot more. For example, the first story that Jones drew is about a beautiful succubus who's sucking the life from all the men in the town. One thing Templesmith doesn't do is beautiful. His characters are ugly and disgruntled. (I say this as a compliment. I think his stuff looks great.) Jones drew a gorgeous spider woman for the villain for that story. The rest of the comics collected here feature colorful demons and huge monsters that Jones tackles with an over-the-top style that works with the story.
Cal MacDonald reminds me a bit of the main characters in Preacher and Hitman, but that's a good thing. He's a detective that does not care who he has to kill or what he has to destroy to get the job done. Demons and other monsters have no place in his city and he's there to stop them. Mo'Lock's cool though. He lends him some cash and actually helps him out. Everyone else better watch out.