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Review: ‘Criminal Macabre: The Iron Spirit’ HC

“Crime and Terror” collaborators, Steve Niles and Scott Morse, team up once again to craft a new paranormal adventure for Criminal Macabre that’s sure to please both current fans, and new readers of the series. Our favourite antihero, the benevolent pill-popping Detective Cal McDonald, who recently joined the world of the undead, is back in “The Iron Spirit”. A story which centres around retired Air Force Captain Richard Clayton, who seeks Cal’s help in dealing with the spirits of four US soldiers haunting a top secret research facility in L.A. It’s a strange story of death, the undead, and all the responsibilities surrounding both sides.

WRITER: Steve Niles
ARTIST: Scott Morse
PUBLISHER: Dark Horse Comics
RELEASE: September 12, 2012

The book opens in Cal’s “Studio City shit hole”, approximately one month after his death. Sleep eludes him in his undead state, though it’s not for lack of trying on his part. No amount of pills or alcohol have been able to put his undead mind to rest. There’s incessant knocking outside his apartment, but it’s the single thread of hope for paying work that makes him open the door. A badly beaten man in his eighties, Captain Richard Clayton, seeks out Cal out, knowing he’s a private detective who deals with “unusual circumstances”.

Eventually, it’s learned that the Captain was given a special assignment while on active duty, to oversee an experiment that went terribly wrong. In the basement of a top secret research facility, captured scientists, German, Japanese, Russian, Korean, and Chinese, were forced to work alongside British and American scientists, to engineer one-man walking tanks where the driver occupied the cockpit in the torso. Of course, the experiment required young humans testing. Unfortunately for them, they couldn’t control the machines and they attacked each other for hours. All four soldiers perished during the experiment, while the scientists hid and pretended not to hear their screams. The soldiers have been forever trapped in that basement ever since.

Morse’s art style is a lot to get used to when taking into account how dark and twisted the “Criminal Macabre” series is, in both writing and aesthetics. It’s quite the change, and not necessarily for the better. The unfinished pencil-sketch renderings with blotchy orange and pink watercolour overlap does not manage to set the eerie mood effectively. I’m sure Morse thinks this kind of artistic statement makes sense, but it comes across like a court stenographer’s interpretation of Niles’ writing.

Niles’ writing on the other hand is solid as usual. Some may find it a bit drawn out, but that’s to be expected of a “noir” series. The story arc surrounding the research facility is a nice metaphor for the abundance of apathy in today’s society; for allowing bad things to happen right in front of us, and not fighting back. Niles forces the readers to look at the spirit world differently in this book by showing us that the monsters aren’t always the big ugly things that go bump in the night.

Just like Niles’ and Morse’s previous collaboration on “Crime and Terror”, this book is also formatted as a gigantic collector’s board book; but while most board books are generally intended for small children, it’s best Niles’ latest installment doesn’t find its way into their impressionable hands. While it’s definitely not the best that Steve Niles has to offer, he manages to fit it perfectly into his repertoire.


Reviewed by – ShadowJayd



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