Monday, March 20, 2006

30 Days of night - Review

Written by Steve Niles
Illustrated by Ben Templesmith

Published 2004

Contains spoilers

“30 Days of Night” is a graphic novel about to receive the big screen treatment. The setting is Barrow, Alaska and night is about to fall. But in Barrow when the sun sets it does not rise again for thirty days, hence the title.

For Sheriff Eben Olemaun and his deputy (and wife) Stella, sunset is the least of their worries. The communications station is having problems and someone has stolen all the mobile phones in the town and destroyed them. A stranger is arrested for disturbing the peace and, after taunting husband and wife, he bends the bars of his cell – only a bullet to the head seems to stop him.

Meanwhile, in New Orleans, a mysterious woman has had intercepted a series of e-mails which talk of a gathering in Barrow. She sends her son to gather the evidence they need.

In Barrow, things have gone to Hell for the vampires have come. For thirty days they need not sleep, the humans cannot escape nor call for help and they do not intend to leave any alive. Their leader, Roderick Marlowe, awaits the arrival of Vicente, an elder, to join in their fun. The last few remaining humans, including the Olemauns, are holed up in a cellar, hungry and scared but relatively safe as the vampires’ keen sense of smell has been dulled by the cold.

When Vicente arrives he quickly kills Marlowe, due to the fact that he has broken thousands of years of hiding, convincing the humans that vampires are a myth. The survivors are not safe, however, Vicente wants Barrow wiped off the map, a mystery that will never be solved.

The arrival of a helicopter, flown by the son from New Orleans, provides the cover story Vicente needs. He runs the side of a building and launches himself at the aircraft. Just before he dies and the helicopter plummets to the ground, the son presses send, transmitting the footage he had filmed to his mother. The fireball from the crash will be the cover story that the vampires will use for the destruction of Barrow.

In the cellar, one of the survivors has been scratched by a vampire whilst searching for his girlfriend. He made it back to the other survivors, but he begins to change. Eben and Stella manage to destroy him, by removing his head, but before they do Eben also manages to draw some of the infected blood. Eben has decided that if anyone is too survive they must fight fire with fire. He injects himself with vampire blood. Changed forever he turns his back on his fellow survivors, with an effort, and goes to face the undead.

With an effort he manages to destroy Vicente, running the undead out of town. With even more of an effort he manages to maintain his control long enough to sit, a couple of days later, and watch the sun come up with his wife – reducing him to ashes.

The plot is simple, but effective; unfortunately the novel is fundamentally flawed. What we have here is a survival horror – with vampires – but no real survival story. The actual story only covers some 78 pages. There is an excellent build up, but the passage of time between the initial attack and the climax is glossed over so quickly that you actually almost miss that nearly 28 days have passed. A few more pages of the survivors’ struggle would have helped, as would a reflection in the artwork. The male survivors would not have shaved but Eben only goes from clean shaven to light stubble. We do see Eben on one forage, but perhaps we should have seen the injured survivor who turns hunting for his missing girlfriend, it would have helped.

There is also a frustrating lack of characterisation; we would feel more for these characters if we knew more of them. As it is, with the partial exception of the Olemauns, the characters feel like little more than plot devices.

The artwork has seen some divided opinions between my friends, but I like Templesmith’s style and the whole thing is very cinematic. The beginning with husband and wife watching the sunset going through to the end with them together before the sunrise is beautifully circular. The vampires, to me, have an almost Lovecraftian quality with their exaggerated mouths filled with razor sharp teeth and lolling tongues.

What we have here is a brilliant idea that feels rushed, and the sequel, “Dark Days”, is superior for being much better rounded. This will, I hope, make an excellent movie but the film makers do need to ensure that the passage of time is more fully realised and expand on the characters. I will give this 6 out of 10, above average but losing marks for the flaws – which is a real shame.


Mateo said...

Wow, I absolutely love 30 Days, one of my all time favorite comics. And i've never met anyone that didn't love Templeton's art.

I think part of the reason for it being short (only 3 issues) is because it was one of the first comics IDW ever published and they just couldn't afford to do much more than that. But it was such a huge success that we saw longer series later. Both Dark Days and Return to Barrow are 6 issues each.

I love how this universe has developed over the course of the many comics. I recommend checking out the one-shot annuals if you haven't done so. There was one from 2004 and 2005, each about 50 pages. It again ties in the universe.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Mateo, I think I need to expand. On the artwork, I really enjoyed it, but I know nothing about art (just what I like). I showed it to two friends. One, a graphic designer, hated it. The other, with a degree in fine art, liked it.

Storywise, your point about only three comments is well recieved - perhaps if it had been over four... but I think the review still stands - as a stand alone graphic novel it was problematic. What it did do was open the way for a very rich setting which has been expanded on. I have Dark Days (which I hope to review soon, and the review will be much stronger) and Bloogsucker tales vol 1. I have return to barrow and bloodsucker tales vol 2 ordered.

Incidently, if you haven't already read it, I highly recommend Steve Nile's graphic interpretation of I am Legend

Taliesin_ttlg said...

3 comics... not comments!