Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Steve Niles
Artist: Christopher Mitten
Cover Artist: Justin Erickson
Release Date: 5th May, 2015
I’ve always been a massive fan of Steve Niles’ work, but Criminal Macabre is one of his titles that seems to have passed me by, for one reason or another. This latest series, collected in this impressive trade paperback, sees the newly-monstrous Cal McDonald forced to deal with a truly menacing foe whose influence pits man against man in a blood-soaked symphony of violence and rage. With an ancient prophecy thrown in for good measure, not to mention Cal’s growing angst at his current state – a situation he’s doing his best to self-medicate with a steady diet of booze and pills – there’s certainly a lot going on here, but if anyone can keep the ship sailing straight through these potentially overcrowded waters, it’s Niles.
Niles’ writing is typically sharp throughout as he continually treads the line between light-hearted and deeply upsetting with his inimitable style. From the harrowing sight of a husband being forced to watch as his children ravenously devour their mother to a gloriously absurd exchange between Cal and his deceased father, the tone continually shifts, preventing the book from ever becoming too serious or too silly. Okay, so the final ‘twist’ is a little obvious, but doesn’t lose much in its gleeful execution. This isn’t a book that put too much stock in subtlety after all, and the final frenzied battle between the forces of good and evil is every bit as visceral, exciting and – at times – every bit as humorous as fans of the series should come to expect.
Christopher Mitten’s artwork strikes me as being something of an acquired taste. Personally for me, it’s right on the line between being chaotic and being too chaotic, y’know? Scratchy and rough in places, with a sense of devilish energy and some truly eye-widening gore throw in for good measure, his style is certainly anything but conventional. Then again though, Criminal Macabre isn’t exactly a conventional series.
I think if I’d perhaps been more invested in Cal McDonald’s previous exploits beforehand, I would have taken away a lot more from The Third Child. Unfortunately however, as a relative newcomer to the world of Criminal Macabre, some of the story beats didn’t resonate quite as forcefully as they perhaps should have, and – while this is still undeniably an engaging read – it does assume a certain amount of prior familiarity from the reader. The story itself is set up a little too quickly for my taste, with things rapidly spiralling from normal to ‘end of days’ before we’ve really had a time to process what’s going on, and while Cal himself is a brilliantly realised protagonist, some of the supporting characters can come across as a little one-dimensional.
Overall though, this is still an enjoyable slice of offbeat horror which is likely to give fans of the franchise exactly what they’re looking for, while also providing a decent ‘pick up and read’ thrill for newcomers like myself. Niles and Mitten work together seamlessly throughout, and while it didn’t quite grab me like I hoped it would, there’s still a hell of a lot of like about The Third Child.
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You can purchase Criminal Macabre: The Third Child TP from Turnaround Publisher Services (who generously provided the review copy of this title) via their official website.