Full disclosure: I’m a big Steve Niles fan. I loved 30 Days of Night and Wake The Dead, as well as his work on Batman, Spawn, and JSA. His reinvention of one of my favorite characters in the DC universe in The Creeper: Welcome to Creepsville is still one of my comic treasures. So I have to say I was worried when I heard about his Criminal Macabre project. The supernatural private dick angle has been played before, and masterfully so with Hellblazer.
That being said, I’ve always been pleasantly surprised with Criminal Macabre. While Cal McDonald does have certain classic noir elements that would remind you of John Constantine, in place of Constantine’s Cockney con artist and wiseass is a bitter, depressed, and extremely violent detective with little in the way of pathos.
Criminal Macabre: No Peace For Dead Men picks up as the forces of darkness gather to discuss solutions for their McDonald problem. While most just push for just kicking down his door and ripping his head off, an ancient vampire named Salem, who had just finished decapitating one of McDonald’s few remaining friends, proposes a tactic of psychological violence. Instead of simply attaching McDonald directly, they would kill every human being McDonald has any contact with — anyone he loves, meets, speaks to, or even just sits next to on a bus.
A side plot sees Cal reincarnating an old friend out of his haunted car at the behest of the ghosts widow, but the central action revolves around the escalating conflict as McDonald strikes back and strikes back hard against the supernatural forces that wronged him, culminating in his own death and rebirth as a ghoul and a member of the undead.
As always Niles’s writing has a lot of bite, and the cubic and off-kilter art style of Christopher Mitten serves the story well, in particular with his designs for the various supernatural creatures that haunt the Criminal Macabre world. What’s appealing about the enemies in Macabre is how overwhelmingly human they are. Werewolves, vampires, demonic insects, and other bizarre creatures dress in normal clothing and behave in a very normal, human manner, even as they kill.
If you’re a fan of horror comics and Niles in particular, I would recommend Criminal Macabre. If you’re not a fan of horror comics, then I suggest you go pick up a copy of Archie and eat a bullet. â˜º