For long time readers of Criminal Macabre, this issue is the big payoff issue. It wraps up every loose end that’s carried over from all of the previous Criminal and Cal McDonald series and pushes the character of Cal down a road he’s never walked before. It’s a very rewarding issue that is also approachable to new readers who may be stumbling into a comic shop again for the first time. Series creator and writer Steve Niles has been building to this point for years since launching the character at Dark Horse and he shows with this issue that he’s not even close to being done with Cal. Cal arrives to a late night rendezvous to meet Blout, a minor character that’s been in play in the series. When the two men meet there seems to be some confusion about who arranged the meeting which tells both men that they just walked into a trap; a trap that costs Blout his life. Cal is then greeted by a female vampire that informs him that the monsters aren’t the problem, but that Cal is, and the only way to solve it is to kill everyone in his life.
The fem-vamp then continues to her own rendezvous with the rest of Cal’s monstrous villains where she tells them the same thing. If he nods to someone walking down the street, kill them. If he talks to a friend, kill their entire family. The message is this; you can’t kill Cal, so kill everyone around him until he kills himself. The next day they begin killing everyone around him until it pushes Cal over the edge, but not the one they were expecting.
There’s no question if Niles is a competent writer, he’s proven time and time again that he can tell a story in a three act structure and has good enough technique as to recap the series as the story progresses. The real question is: is he a writer that can still surprise? At times yes, but other times he’s just consistent and doesn’t deviate from the formula he’s created for himself. This issue starts off pretty much by the book, but the third act shows that Niles still has some tricks up his sleeves. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed Criminal it’s been a series that always came across more as a labor of love than anything else. That’s why at times it enjoys long gaps in its productions, but when it does come out you know that something special is going to happen with this character and this issue is one of those major developments for Cal and company.
Now because the series is spread throughout mini-series it enjoys a stable of artists that have worked on it. At first Christopher Mitten’s art didn’t come across as matching the series very well, it grew on me a bit by the end, but he just didn’t capture the monsters in a terrifying way. They came across very cartoonish and not once did they strike fear into me as the reader. He did capture Cal very well, making him look like the well-worn man that he is. I particularly enjoyed Cal drinking and smoking while in the shower to deal with the pain of his life and Mitten captured that on Cal’s face perfectly. He may not be the best artist to work on Criminal, but I would give him another shot after this issue.
This year has had a lot of surprises in comics across the board and Dark Horse has had some major shake ups to a lot of their mainstay series which is great. It keeps the books fresh and interesting and shows that even though these titles aren’t monthly; they still develop and progress as well, if not better than a monthly series. There are a lot of titles out this week, but this one is not one you should miss.
Writer: Steve Niles
Artist: Christopher Mitten
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics