Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Further Sucking

On a bit of a tear through the world of trash culture, I decided to read all the comics from the first of which the movie "30 Days of Night" was made. Turns out, there have been a bunch o' graphic sequels. I had a good time at the movie. The plot was clever: Eurotrash vampires hit on the idea of a vacation in Barrow, Alaska, where the sun don't shine for a month of Sundays and where the last plane out goes before dark. In addition to the substantial charms of Josh Hartnett, all flushed and breathlessly vulnerable without his inhaler in the Alaska wastes, there were a whole troupe of really fast, really messy vampires jumpin' and feedin' and talkin' Bulgarian (?) through great big, pointy teeth as the local rednecks tried to defend themselves and or hide-out in their attics and eventually in what I think was an aluminium siding factory or some such. The movie was fast, brutal and genuinely chilling, though yet again, nobody ever thinks of protecting the generators until it is far, far too late.

The original 30 Days of Night is a three-issue horror comic book mini-series written by Steve Niles, illustrated by Ben Templesmith and published by IDW Publishing in 2002. As these things go, it was damned good, at least as to the premise, pacing and plot. The vampires were pretty nifty looking too. The poor humans were a bit too cartoony, particularly the leads who were drawn not nearly so attractively as Josh & the little actress who played the wife. Hard to feel much pity for doodles having their throats ripped out by well rendered monsters, but still, the whole enterprise otherwise was atmospheric and creepy.

Now I've read my way through the whole sordid saga to date and had fun doing it, though less and less as, inevitably, the emphasis shifted from the common folks taking on the supernatural leaches to a more elaborate, and sadly rambling mythos of pretentious vampire gaggles boringly claiming -- between frenzies -- their superiority to their prey, and increasingly larger than life vampire hunters, including some from the original Alaskan cast, stomping off in all directions, talkin' tough, kickin' vampire ass and takin' heads off.

Only one in the series though really crossed the line from goofy Grand-Guignol into real obscenity. According to Wiki, "30 Days of Night: Bloodsucker Tales marked the first time a writer other than Niles would work on the series." It was a bad idea. Everything in this anthology was ugly; the art, the stories, the spirit of the thing, all of it. One long piece, "Juarez or Lex Nova & The Case of the 400 Dead Mexican Girls", was frankly, repulsively, snuff-pornographic. "Written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by 30 Days of Night veteran Ben Templesmith," this story exploited the very real horror mentioned in the title to glibly extend the life of the exhausted franchise into new, and amazingly distasteful directions, using a Hunter S. Thompson character, meant to be amusingly mad, to "solve" the mystery of the very real exploitation and murder of hundreds of real women in Juarez, Mexico. This was more than a failure of imagination and taste, it was a condescendingly cynical act of misogynist capitalization. There are occasional nods to political correctness scattered through the subliterate text, but the overwhelming glee with which both the writer and the illustrator indulge their most outrageously violent fantasies of female mutilation and murder can't be redeemed by such passing apologies to civility. By the time I stopped reading the damned thing I was longing for comparative enlightenment of a James Ellroy pulp.

By the time I'd finished 30 Days of Night: Beyond Barrow, again written by the series creator, Steve Niles and this time illustrated, in a painterly mess of vulgar color by Bill Sienkiewicz, it was quite late, and I was done.

I was reminded of what happened to the Universal Studio monsters as that group of classic horror films was spun and spun and spun out into increasingly stupid films. But at no point in those more sexually innocent days, did anyone involved think to make Dracula into a hideous pimp or Frankenstein's monster into a graphically sadistic rapist just because the originals were, temporarily used up. I wish I could say the same about this series.

Know when to quit. I did.

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