Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith‘s bestselling miniseries 30 Days of Night was the goose that laid the golden egg for publisher IDW. It was the company’s first franchise and famously the rights to the property were snapped up by Sam Raimi’s production company immediately after the first issue. However, in spite of Templesmith’s striking art and the engaging premise 30 Days of Night ended anti-climactically and its subsequent spin-offs, film adaptations and sequels have never recaptured the excitement of that first issue that caught Raimi’s attention. There was even an unusual crossover with Agents Mulder and Scully from DC’s Vertigo imprint.
Now horror writer Joe R. Lansdale and artist Sam Kieth are putting their own stamp on the series with 30 Days of Night, Night Again. With the penultimate issue released this week it is clear that these boys have served up something quite different.
Dispensing with any unnecessary attempt at building suspense, Lansdale’s script opens with the town of Barrow, so popular with vampires given its geographic peculiarities, overrun yet again. A small group of survivors manage to escape. The story as a result does not follow the unusual trend of its characters becoming besieged by the vampires, instead focusing on their efforts to brave the wildernress and extreme cold. Leader Trudy, who in typical Lansdale style is a Texan who took a wrong turn somewhere, directly compares the group to the original American settlers:
“No cell phones. No reception if we had them. Very little food. Just us and our wills. It got the pioneers across this cold, hard land. And it’s what we have to get us across.“
Of course as this is a horror comic, the group becomes more Donner Party than Daniel Boone. The two groups, both vampires and Barrow survivors, are both led by women and Trudy’s determination to survive at all costs give rise to uncomfortable parallels between them. Also as the vampire leader killed Trudy’s girlfriend back in Barrow, a very personal grudge match between the two is developing.
“Dead is grand.”
By itself this might serve as a typically stripped back 30 Days of Night yarn, but Lansdale goes further again. He introduces a secret Nazi submarine mission in 1943, a group of climate change scientists caught in the middle of this conflict, and most notably a Golem. This is first time an additional supernatural element has appeared in the franchise. It broadens the scope of the story and plays to Lansdale’s own strengths.
In both his short fiction and previous comic work the writer has heavily homaged horror anthologies such as Creepy, Eerie and Tales of the Crypt. His writing also tends to introduce disarming elements of black humour – his novel Bad Chilli opened with hero Hap being chased by a rabid squirrel – as well as shocking bursts of violence. The vampires in Night, Again treat humans as livestock. The fate of Trudy’s girlfriend in particular is quite gruesome. Despite the horror, Lansdale’s characters still speak in humourous dialogue, such as when the survivors casually reveal to the science party that they have resorted to cannibalism.
Sam Kieth is the perfect collaborator for this black humoured script. His art echoes the scratchy, snowblind detail of Templesmith’s original work. Kieth staples such as women with cute faces remain, but there is a disturbing addition or two such as bloodied fangs and dark red eyes. Known for his original comic series The Maxx and Zero Girl, this is a project similar to his recent Arkham Asylum miniseries for DC, in that both gigs have had him follow a defining artist’s work. Here the artist in question is Templesmith, whereas with Arkham Asylum: Madness he was ploughing the same furrow as Grant Morrison and Dave McKean. That book was an underrated treat, finding a humanity in the twisted nightmare world of Arkham that perhaps had been lost by the abstractions and excesses of the previous book. With 30 Days of Night Kieth has again used this as an opportunity to inject a quirky sensibility to the proceedings. The recent announcement that he is staying on with the franchise to work with series creator Steve Niles is very welcome.
Lansdale on the other hand is moving on and the worry is that this book will be treated as a one off ‘Elseworlds’ title and ignored. Check it out to see a real master at work.
Also if someone could get around to illustrating his H.G. Welles pastiche “The Steam Man of the Prairie and the Dark Rider Get Down” that would be amazing. I would buy four.