I have to lead with this right out of the gate: If you’re not already a fan of Steve Niles’s (30 Days of Night) Criminal Macabre already, then this is probably not the best book to start your read. It’s not completely impenetrable without having read the rest of the Criminal Macabre series, but since it relies on the plots of several past books, context takes a little time to pick up.
I was once a reader of Criminal Macabre back in the day, and not being caught up made me wonder who half these people were. While I could easily look most of that up on the internet, I believe I should stress that this is not something that should be required for books.However, if you accept that finding your feet with Criminal Macabre: The Third Child is something that has to happen, then get ready for one hell of a wild ride.Niles’s work for Dark Horse has always pushed boundaries, and this particular story, a nightmarish and desperate struggle that belongs right up there with the nastier Hellblazer chapters in terms of how dark things get.
The Third Child begins with its heroes already in dire straits. Cal McDonald, paranormal investigator and nominal hero of the series, has been turned into a bat-winged black-eyed ghoul and must fight his bestial nature. Two demonic babies are wreaking havoc on Los Angeles, causing people to be reduced to withered husks, as well as mass hysteria and murderous psychosis. Cal’s only allies in this whole mess are an eloquent brute named Adam (closely resembling Frankenstein’s Monster), Cal’s ghoul ally Mo’Lock, and Detective Lou Wheatley, Cal’s contact in the LAPD . With LA’s ghoul population turning its back on the heroes and a vengeful, demonic sorcerer on the loose with Cal in his sights, it looks like the city and the world will tear themselves apart for good.
So first, I have to congratulate Christopher Mitten on his artwork. While the art in The Third Child is dark, certainly, it’s light enough and uses enough of a varied color palate that instead of looking generically grim, it brightens things somewhat and allows more of a quirky edge. There are, however, some simplistic elements that don’t work as well for me.
For instance, what, exactly, is Jason Hemlock made out of? Is he just dripping with blood? Is his skin now red, after whatever Hell dimension Cal sent him to? I will admit that there’s a sequence near the end of chapter three where Hemlock rips himself apart to create armor to fight against the military that makes it clearer, but it’s still obscured.
Though the art is really second to the real star of the book, which is Steve Niles’s writing. While there are a few moments where it flags, Niles is one author who clearly knows how to do snark properly, as well as raise the stakes on the story so that it feels like Armageddon. Constant readers may know that I harp an awful lot on how writers need to make the stakes in their books count for something, and, well, Steve Niles delivers. The Third Child is desperate, but never too desperate that it makes the heroes look like chumps.
It’s apocalyptic, but never enough to overbalance the sides. What I’m trying to say is, Steve Niles understands the stakes. He also has a good sense of humor, be it Cal’s constant quips, Cal’s dead father complaining about how exhausting it is just to exist, or the constant verbal interplay between the heroes.
So in the end while I don’t necessarily recommend The Third Child to people who aren’t already fans of Criminal Macabre and the weird twists and turns it takes, I still found an interesting and grotesque story of the world trying to commit suicide, and the stubborn bastard who has to stop it.
Full disclosure: The reviewer received a review copy of this comic in PDF form.