Thursday, October 11, 2007

Nothing Lives Without a Head

With 30 Days of Night due for cinema release very soon I decided I should look at some of the graphic novels in the series that I have not yet covered.

Return to Barrow

Story: Steve Niles

Artwork: Ben Templesmith

First Released: 2004

Contains spoilers

This is the third full 30 days story and sees a host of familiar faces return. It has Sheriff Kitka and his son, Marcus, travelling to Barrow, just a few days before the 30 day nightfall. Sheriff Kitka has had himself transferred to Barrow in order to discover exactly what happened to his brother and family, victims during the first attack.

Unfortunately the vampires are returning to Barrow, their pride (and need for secrecy) wanting to wipe the town from the face of the planet. The townsfolk were caught unaware last time and, when the 30 days of night falls, Barrow becomes very much an armed camp.

Unfortunately Agent Norris is with the vampires and he has strategy ideas that could circumvent the careful preparation for the siege. Barrow, however, has some unusual guardians now.

The graphic feels much like the first volume, in that the characterisation that improved so much in Dark Days has been replaced by action (but that action is much more rounded than it was in the first volume). However, in this case the story doesn’t falter as the characterisation was established earlier. This is an excellent round off to the main series. 7.5 out of 10.

Bloodsucker Tales

Story: Steve Niles & Matt Freaction

Artwork: Kody Chamberlain & Ben Templesmith

First released: 2005

Contains spoilers

This is a compilation of two short graphic novellas.

Dead Billy Dead”, is a fantastic, and fairly simple, little tale about a young man, Billy, who is attacked and turned by a vampire. He manages to kill the vampire during the attack and is left to discover what he is and what the strange thirst consuming him is.

With some nice references to the main 30 Days body of work this stands alone as an excellent little graphic.

Juarez or Lex Nova & the Case of the 400 Dead Mexican Girls” is somewhat different; surreal is probably the best descriptor. This sees, clearly insane, private eye Lex Nova investigating the disappearance of 400 Mexican girls. In truth the disappearances are not vampire related but the case also draws the bizarre Zero Family Circus, a clan of vampires.

This is based on noir – though Lex does have a tendency to speak his voice-over thoughts in front of his witness – and is, as I mentioned, fairly surreal and probably takes a couple of reads to get the most out of. It is unlike any of the 30 Days stories to have gone before and the general weirdness might be off-putting to many readers. I would say that you should stick with it but that aspect reduces instant gratification and lowers the volumes score over all.

5 out of 10.

Three Tales

Stories: Steve Niles & Dan Wickline

Artwork: Ben Templesmith, Nat Jones & Milx

First published: 2006

Contains spoilers

The first of our three tales is called “Picking up the Pieces” and, to be fair is less a tale and more a scene setter for the second tale. Set in Barrow after Return to Barrow it tells the tale of how John Ikos finds the decapitated body of Agent Norris, takes it home intent on studying the body and how the vampire regenerates.

A scene setter it might be, but it is slightly annoying. Nothing lives without a head, might be the series catchphrase, but if that is the case how does Norris regenerate? Sure we see that Ikos has the head also but does body and head reattach themselves automatically? If you mentioned it to me I would immediately picture tendons and veins snaking towards each other in true 'the Thing' mode but it is never shown. Instead Ikos falls asleep and then, when he wakes, Norris is alive. With this, what would have amounted to new lore in the series is reduced to an annoying gap in story. Having regenerated, Norris leaves – leaving Ikos alive out of a sense of honour, a trait the character has never really displayed before.

Things do improve, however, in the second tale “The Journal of John Ikos”. This story, referenced in the novel Immortal Remains, sees Ikos travelling to LA to hunt Norris.

There he meets Billy, from the Bloodsucker Tales story “Dead Billy Dead” and, having upset a group of vampires, who are intent on warring with mankind, finds recurring vampire character Dane coming to the rescue.

We are back into high octane action but, having fought the vampires in LA, Ikos simply returns to Barrow even though he hasn’t found Norris and the story, thus, feels incomplete.

The final tale is “Dead Space”. A crew are about to take a shuttle up into space and, in the pre-launch party, the Captain, Commander Cobb, meets a mysterious brunette. The next day Cobb seems unwell but, by the time they are out in space, what may have been a hangover is revealed to be a slow onset of vampirism. He turns and his attacks cause the shuttle to explode.

On Earth Agent Henson realises it was probably vampirism and, though they are sceptical, the AASA agree to send up a second shuttle to salvage the first and find the record of the mission. In the wreckage they find Cobb’s body, miraculously preserved in the vaccum of space. They retrieve it and mission command tells them to take it to the International Space Station for autopsy – Cobb has no wish, however, to be sliced open.

Of the three tales this has the most interesting story but we are left with the questions, why turn Cobb and how was it done – there was no evidence of a bite even though he mentioned it. All is revealed in our next volume but, as for this volume it is a little frustrating occasionally but generally a nice sojourn into the 30 Days universe. However one aspect irked me with regards the story’s final panel.

Whilst I can accept that Cobb’s body would have been preserved in space – explosive decompression refers to the lungs, which a vampire does not need, and not the head exploding a la Hollywood – the final panel irked. It is probably only for show but one wonders how a vampire can both survive in space and still move, it is extremely blooming cold out there, everything would be frozen.

Anal retentive moment aside, this volume gets 6 out of 10.

Spreading the Disease

Story: Dan Wickline

Artwork: Alex Sanchez and Tony Sandoval

First published: 2007

Contains spoilers

After the compilation graphics it was nice to return to a full single story and this one follows neatly from the story Dead Space. Agent Henson has tried to blow the whistle on the events on the International Space Station but has been exiled to a field office for his trouble. Before leaving he receives a call from a shadowy Government man suggesting he take a little time in Florida and try to discover who the vampire that turned Cobb was.

He tracks down nurse Dinah King, the mysterious brunette who met Cobb before his mission, just as she turns several coma patients. His investigations lead him to a born again vampire, the Reverend Gant, who believes that vampirism is the next step to heaven and wants to share his gift. The stunt with the space shuttle was meant to reveal vampires to the world, thus something was slipped into Cobb’s beer (he wasn’t bitten as he claimed in the previous story). Now Gant is looking at a way of delivering vampirism to the masses.

This is replete with Government conspiracy, a shadowy game playing Washington man in true X-Files tradition, and a tight story that is a nice addition to the 30 Days universe. It also has the neat use of a UV penlight as a weapon. The artwork is somewhat different to what we are used to but it generally works – though perhaps it doesn’t carry the same level of bleakness as Templesmith’s work. Fans of Templesmith will also find that the more comic orientated characters take a little getting use to.

All in all, very satisfying – 7 out of 10.

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