30 Days of Night #2
Writers: Steve Niles
Artist: Piotr Kowalski
Cover: Ben Templesmith
Colors: Brad Simpson
Letters: Tom B. Long
Reviewer: Steve Sellers
I admit, I have a certain level of reverence when it comes to this title. The original 30 Days of Night is deservedly considered a cult horror classic. The concept was fiendishly clever and one of the great movie setups—a group of vampires terrorizes a town in Alaska, where there is no daylight for an entire month. This sets up a situation where the heroes are in a heightened sense of dread, because they cannot simply wait out an entire horde of them. However, this title also reaped rewards because of the exquisite artwork of Ben Templesmith, whose moody and atmospheric work heightened the tension of the book. This series has endured for fifteen years for a very good reason.
The most recent 30 Days of Night series has a high standard to live up to. However, I find this whole premise utterly baffling. As best as I can tell, and it isn’t entirely clear, the most recent series is a reboot of the original, but it’s also an ongoing series. The focus is again on Eben and Stella Olemaun, but while it hints at certain moments in the original, it takes a different turn. I’m not sure what IDW and the creators intended here, except maybe that it feels like almost a backdoor pilot to a television show in the vein of The Walking Dead.
While I can appreciate doing a new 30 Days of Night to commemorate the 15th anniversary, this comic is somewhat of a mixed bag.
I will never say no to a good Ben Templesmith cover, and while I wish he would do interiors, it’s good to see his presence here. Templesmith’s style has evolved considerably from the original 30 Days of Night, where his Bill Sienkewicz influence was still fairly evident. It isn’t nearly so noticeable here, though there is still that haunting atmospheric presence in his work. At the same time, this cover has the right familiar rings to it, such as the apparently lifeless body of Eben Olemaun lying in the snow. This is a powerful image that brings the reader in, because it’s both horrific and visually compelling. The implied questions behind this cover are why Eben is lying there and whether he’s alive or dead, giving enough of a hook to entice the reader to turn the page. This works visually, and it works as a teaser for the story, as I’d expect of an artist of Templesmith’s caliber.
Anyone expecting a visual style in the vein of Templesmith’s will be disappointed, but Piotr Kowalski still delivers some good interiors. While these pages aren’t as beautifully stylized, Kowalski makes up for that with some strong visual storytelling and good character work. His take on Stella is expressive, and his facial work clearly gets across her emotions without the script needing to inform the reader. The quiet moments with Stella in the police car pack an emotional punch as she shifts from grief to angry resolve.
At the same time, his artwork is also appropriately detailed, and there is some good layout work. Most of the issue makes use of solid five-panel spreads, which is good enough to establish a sense of place as well as show movement in time. The background detail clearly gives a sense of what Barrow Falls truly looks like, which is one of the few areas where the original struggled visually. There’s also a good sense of flow between panels as time slowly shifts from frame to frame. Kowalski shows some real skill as a storyteller, and that’s appreciated in these pages.
However, something about this comic feels like it lacks impact, and the coloring may be part of the issue. On most comics, I think the quality of the coloring we see this issue would be perfectly good and appropriate. The use of lighting that we see here would be fine in most settings, for instance. Where it falls flat for me, however, is that it works less effectively for a horror comic. In horror, the use of lighting and shadow is a large part of what creates the creepy atmosphere. Here, however, the sense of night is created by a light purple haze, and there aren’t any of the deep shadows that look truly frightening. The coloring definitely works in other places, though, such as in most of the Stella scenes, where this tone of this lighting is more suitable. The coloring is technically sound, but it doesn’t quite succeed as a work of horror.
Tom B. Long was involved with the lettering for this issue, and his work here is perfectly serviceable. Though there is a fair amount of dialogue in certain scenes, the word balloons are well placed, and the art is given enough space to work. The same holds true for the narrative captions, though they look like standard captions and don’t do anything memorable. The issue is light on sound effects, though when they’re used, the placing looks natural and creates the proper impact. The lettering here does well at remaining invisible, coming through where it’s needed but not drawing attention to itself.
Although I’m skeptical of this premise, I can’t deny that Steve Niles can deliver a competent script for a title like this. The story goes through the motions that it needs to, and I can appreciate where it deviates from the original book for those who remember it well. This title is also accessible for readers who have never read a 30 Days of Night book before, and Niles does a good job of introducing the town of Barrow Falls and its inhabitants. This issue has the right level of pacing for a horror story, slowly ratcheting up the tension as the sun goes down on Barrow Falls.
At the same time, this retelling really doesn’t measure up to the original 30 Days of Night, and inviting that comparison only reinforces that concern. There are moments that echo the original book, most notably the classic scene where one vampire asks for fresh, bloody meat. I can appreciate that the story tries to subvert the expected scene for those who read the original, but here, it reminds the reader of how much more special the original series was. Though references can be a useful tool, this is a case where they instead backfire and point out to the reader of what they could be enjoying instead.
Leaving the comparison aside, this feels like a slightly above average story, though it wants to convince the reader that it’s something more. It does just enough that’s technically correct to avoid being a bad comic, but it doesn’t excite, disturb, or terrify me either. The entire subplot with the abusive husband doesn’t really add anything to the trope, even with the presence of vampires. There’s also a somewhat predictable development involving Eben’s body, and it’s not difficult to tell where that is likely headed. Mostly, though, it just doesn’t succeed at scaring the reader, which may be its worst fault as a horror story.
That said, there are moments and ideas that I could enjoy. I was most drawn by the character of Walt, who appears to be a new addition to the series. While he’s set up to lead into his encounter with the vampires towards the end, he’s an intriguing figure that adds a new dynamic to the title. I could also enjoy the emotional moments, particularly with Stella, who’s emotionally compromised after Eben’s disappearance but must play the role of town sheriff. That sets her up to be a more interesting heroine, as she grows through adversity in a way the original Stella doesn’t. While it’s still too early to be certain exactly where Niles is taking her, there is potential for this series to evolve into something distinctive.
As someone who enjoyed the original 30 Days of Night, I can’t help but feel this book reminds me of a disappointing cover to a classic album. In fairness to the creative team, the problem is less the actual technical weaknesses of the book and more due to the weight of expectations. If you’ve never read the original, you may possibly appreciate this series somewhat more. At the same time, I find it difficult to recommend this at a full $4 cover price, particularly if you’re a fan of the original. This is not a bad comic and it may improve in subsequent issues, but for now, it feels comparatively bland and underwhelming in its execution. If you’re interested in this, you may want to wait on a Comixology sale, where it would be more a worthwhile purchase.
Written by Steve Sellers
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