Friday, 8 July 2016

30 Days Of Night (#1-3)

"I think I know how to beat them.  I'm not going to let you die" - Eben Olemaun

Having twice praised artist Ben Templesmith on this blog, first for his work on the Dead Space mini, then his all-to-short tenure on Gotham By Midnight I thought it only fair to now cover the comic that really established him as an artist with a unique style that is especially suited to telling horror stories.  In 2002 he teamed up with writer Peter Niles for this three issue story which started life as an unsuccessful comic pitch then an unsuccessful film pitch then it was pitched to IDW as a comic again and they took a gamble on it that paid off big time.  It's about a town in Alaska called Barrow.  In winter the sun sets on November the 17th and doesn't rise again until December the 18th so the town is mainly populated by rugged types like the workers on a nearby oil pipeline, whalers and the support structure any small town has, police, doctors and so on.  However this year the thirty day night is going to be a grim one as vampires descend and rip through the town and we are shown a rag tag remnant of the population trying their very best to defeat them and make it to sunrise alive.  Ironically the story was turned into a film in 2007 after the comic proved such a hit.  The story is pretty gruesome, how could it not be considering the subject matter?  But the dark, oppressive and brooding quality of Templesmith's art makes it come over in quite a stylized manner which might take the edge off for some people. Nile's scripting is sharp and action filled with a somewhat bittersweet ending.  You can pick this up either as a collected edition on it's own, or like I have, as the very reasonably priced Omnibus which also collects the next two stories in the series, as this first storyline was popular enough to carry on and expand the vampire mythos some more.  So let's dig in.
Stella and Eben.
We're intoduced to Barrow, Alaska the northern most town in the world where the temperatures range from "cold as shit to fucking freezin"  Sheriff Eben Olemaun and his co-Sheriff wife Stella have made a strange discovery.  After everyone in town reported their cellphones stolen they have discovered the burned remains of them in a pile just outside of town.  Eben decides he's going to check around town to see if there have been any shady newcomers around, but Stella makes him agree to stay and watch the sunset which will prelude the thirty days of night with her.

In New Orleans a mysterious woman who is named Judith in the next series, is being shown some email correspondence intercepted by a man called George.  He shows her messages from someone called "Marlow" who has invited twenty "attendees" to come to Barrow.  There is one message from someone who just signs their name as "V" who seems curious about Marlow's plan.
The mystery woman decodes the mystery emails.
Back in Barrow, Eben and Stella have watched the sunset then Eben is called to the diner where a stranger is causing trouble.  He arrives to find a freaky looking man who tried to order raw meat and whiskey.  Eben tells him Barrow is an alchohol free town and meat comes "frozen and burnt".  When the freaky guy refuses to leave, Eben arrests him and takes him to the town jail.

We are then introduced briefly to a man called Gus who came to Barrow escaping "bad debt and a bad marriage".  He looks after the building that houses the communications and television reception hub.  But inside are several strangers who quiz him about the place then kill him and destroy all the equipment.
Marlowe and his crew start the assualt.
At the jail, Eben's internet connection goes down and Stella says the phones aren't working either.  The freaky guy starts to taunt them, saying they'll be picked off one by one, "it's going to be beautiful and then I get to be with them."  He then bends the bars of his cell and comes out, but Eben shoots him in the head and Stella empties her gun into his prone body.

They go to check on the communications building and see smoke rising from it.  Eben says they should round everyone up while he makes a run for help.  As he and Stella drive back into town they speculate who might be causing all this, maybe a criminal gang or terrorists after the pipeline.
A superstrong  prisoner dealt with.
They notice some figures in the distance and Eben stops and looks at them through his binoculars and sees they are vampires.  He and Stella flee back into town, the vampires let them go, Marlow, their leader says "The chase makes the blood sweeter."  And the vampires begin their assault upon the town.

Narrator: "They have feasted on the men, women and children of Barrow without mercy, without pause.  This is the world of which they have only dreamed.  Endless night and an endless supply of blood and meat.  This is how it is meant to be: humans like bottles.  Waiting for their cork to be popped".

A few survivors including Eben and Stella have found a secure hiding place in an old, disused industrial furnace.  They discuss how to kill the creatures, speculating it must involve destroying the head like the one they killed in the jail.
The town burns.
In New Orleans, Judith is tasking her son Taylor with flying to Barrow to record evidence of the vampires via a video camera that can live stream pictures to her.  She tells him he can't help anyone, he must just get the pictures and get out alive. "No heroics" he assures her.  He travels as far as a neighbouring town to Barrow an offers a helicopter pilot there five thousand dollars to fly him to Barrow and five thousand to fly him back, the pilot agrees to his terms.
Head needs to be completely off!
Back in Barrow the survivors are being kept alive by Eben doing periodic supply runs.  Unfortunately this time he bumps into a large vampire who demands to know where the rest of them are.  Eben shoots him in the side of his head and gut and escapes before the vampire can recover.  The large vampire returns to the main group and Marlow asks him what happened, "eskimo trouble" the large vampire replies.  Then another vampire says excitedly, "he's here! He's here!"

The survivors meanwhile discuss their situation.  They can't beat the vampires in a fight so the only real option is to hide until the sun rises, but they'll starve before then.  Eben says that the cold affects their sense of smell which is why they have been able to stay hidden.  Then they hear the sound of the vampires clapping and peek out of the window to see what is going on.
Elder vampire Vincente arrives.
An elder vampire called Vicente has arrived.  Marlow proudly tells him of how they have feasted on the town, cutting the heads off the corpses to prevent them rising as vampires.  "It's paradise" he tells Vicente.

Vicente: "You certainly have discovered something here, Marlow."

Marlow: "I thought you'd be happy".

Vincente: "I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm happy as much as I am completely stunned by your absolute stupidity."

Marlow: "Well thank you... what?"

Vicente strikes Marlow saying it has taken them "hundreds! thousands!" of years to be thought of as a myth.  Now Marlow has given humanity a reason to believe in them again. "Suspicion and fear are the seed of our extinction!  Again we will be hunted!"  He tears off Marlow's head and crushes it underfoot, giving the watching Eben an idea as he does so.
Vincente is displeased.
Vincente then orders the rest of the vampires to place the corpses back in their houses, kill any survivors, split the pipeline and flood the town with oil and set the place on fire.

Vicente: "I want this place destroyed.  I want every structure burned.  Every carcass incinerated.  By this time tommorrow I want this town wiped off the map."

Back with the survivors, one of them went outside to look for his girlfriend and got scratched by a vampire.  He says he can feel it inside him killing him.  Then suddenly he turns.

He tries to escape but Eben rams somesort of device that looks like a strimmer in his face.  Then he draws some of the vampire's blood into a syringe before removing his head completely.
Eben strimms a new vampire to his second death.
Outside Taylor is filming the vampire gathering from the helicopter.  But Vincente sees him.  Taylor manages to transmit the evidence the vampires were there to his mum before the vampires bring the helicopter down and make it explode.  This pleases them as they now have a something to blame the fire that they plan to destroy Barrow on.
Vampires bring down the helicopter but proof has got out.
As Vicente commands the vampires to go door-to-door looking for the survivors, Eben decides to enact his desperate plan which involves injecting himself with the vampire blood so he becomes strong enough to fight them. He sticks the needle in and shoots up with the blood.

Narrator: "It feels like fire.  A fire that spreads mercilessly through his veins in seconds.  Killing as it spreads.  Burning. Infecting.  Transforming".

Eben manages to kep his right mind and runs out to confront Vincente and the others. With bravado he says, "you want someone to bite? Bite me."

The assembled vampires laugh and Eben jumps at Vicente who smacks him aside.  But Eben rallies and attacks again and they trade blows and insults until slowly Eben gets the upperhand and this brings the survivors out to watch too. 
Immmmmortal Kombat! (sorry)

Finally Eben punches his arm through Vicente's mouth and rips his head off.  Then he turns to the rest of the vampires and says:

Eben: "Get out of my town."

The vampires leave.  Eben says he is fighting so hard to keep himself from fully turning.  He and Stella decide to sit together and in a nice bookend to the start of the story, greet the sunrise together. 

Of course this turns Eben into ash but not before he has told Stella, "I could live forever sure.  But I don't want to breathe another second... if I can't remember what it feels like to love you".  And he disintegrates leaving Stella all alone, but as we will see in the next story in the series, she gains a new crusade to destroy vampires wherever they may be found.
Eben and Stella kiss as sun rises.
All-in-all a very solid and tightly plotted horror story with wonderful art.  I know Templesmith's art can be something of an acquired taste especially if you've been raised on the Marvel/DC house styles (which was why it was so awesome DC got him in for the first Gotham by Midnight arc) but I really like it. It captures the claustrophobic nature of the story as well as the dark coldness of the Alaskan setting beautifully. Nile's gives us the basis for how the vampires will be portrayed in the sequels to come, they are virtually indestructible except for full decapitation or exposure to the sun, they hunt victims by smell but their senses are dulled in the cold, they have a hierarchy and they can "turn" victims into vampires not just through a bite but by scratches or any other type of attack that breaks the skin.  And of course injecting the blood seems to semi-work as it gave him the incredible strength of a vampire but somehow allowed Eben to keep his right mind long enough to save the remnants of the town.  The ending with him watching his last sunrise with his wife who he gave his life to save is very moving, and Stella will be the prime mover in the next story.  With there being survivors left at the end and the film transmitted to the Judith in New Orleans showing proof they exist, it looks like Vincente's worst fears will be realised and people will once again know that vampires walk amongst them.  But will the testimonies be believed?  Well we'll see what happens next in the sequel series "Dark Days" which I shall be looking at in August.

4 comments:

  1. love 30 days of night, the art is amazing! it does look like that vampire takes a strimmer to the face, but would homes in alaska have gardens? :p

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  2. Huh, I never thought of that. I still am going to think of it as a strimmer being used like the lawnmower at the end of the film Braindead. The undead must learn to FEAR everyday tools, mwahahahah!

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  3. Tony fantasises about living in a remote Northern town where he and Deb could get away from it all, but I think even he would draw the line at Barrow.

    Wait, it's alcohol-free??? Heck no! I don't mind being sober during the week, but if you can't even drink at the weekends when it's as dark as sin for a month, that sucks.

    Awww, Eben died a hero! Good for him. Stella can be proud of him.

    I looked at Google Maps pictures of Barrow and it's green in the summer, so maybe they do have gardens and strimmers?

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  4. I find the prospect of somewhere like Barrow appealing. I don't drink, I hate hot weather and like the dark. I think I'd do well there.

    Ahah! Greenery! Then it must be a strimmer. That's my interpretation and I am sticking to it.

    Stella takes the lead in the next miniseries, she's pretty formidable, but also a bit lost without Eben too.

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