Pop Culture Gadabout
Thursday, January 31, 2008
      ( 1/31/2008 08:32:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"SEE THE SAVAGES WE FACE?" A sort of prequel to the popular graphic novel that also saw its way onto the big screen, 30 Days of Night: Red Snow (IDW) takes the original's basic conceit - vampires take advantage of the frozen north's long, long nights to wreak havoc on an isolated band of humans - and transplants it to WWII northern Russia. Written and illustrated by Ben Templesmith, the artist for Steve Niles' original 30 Days GN, Snow follows two squads of Nazi and Russian soldiers as they find themselves on the defensive from a band of rampaging blood-suckers.

The Nazis, led by a typically ruthless SS Division leader named Hoeppner, are all vicious bastards, of course. Not too many pages into the story, in fact, the squad is shown slaughtering and setting fire to an isolated Slavic village. "They're bred for dying, eh?" one Nazi says of their victims, a remark that we already know will also reflect the thoughts of vampires toward their human victims. The Germans' reluctant Russian allies are accompanied by a sardonic Englishman named Keating, who is meant to be our gateway to this harsh Winter wartime world. The lone voice of reason - it's Keating who suggests that both squads join together temporarily to stave off the vampires - he's the closest thing to a central protagonist that the story has, though Templesmith the writer isn't all that interested in providing us with enough character moments to more firmly place the Britisher into story center. What he's mainly invested in is mood and splattery gore.

This, Red Snow provides in abundance, thank you very much. Templesmith's computer generated color washes - primarily composed of dark blues (exterior winter shots) and browns (for ill-lit cabin interiors) broken up with splashes of red - and Steadman-esque pen lines serves his purposes well. Early in the story, there's a wonderful moment where one of the Nazi soldiers, spying a young girl vampire in the distance, shoots and knocks her down. In long shot, we see her shadowy silhouette through the snow-flecked darkness as it gets back up to come after the soldiers.

If the artist's close-ups of the vamps - dominated by large suckery mouths that are ringed with fangs - look more videogame than gothic, that's a legacy of the first Niles-scripted 30 Days, which took some of its story and visual oomph from John Carpenter's remake of The Thing. There's a panel in the new book, depicting a vampire with a maw large enough to swallow a German soldier's entire face, that's more than a little reminiscent of The Thing's Rob Bottin-created creature, though readers of the Japanese manga Parasyte will also likely key into this image.

Though most of Templesmith's vampires prove as interchangeable as the squads of German and Russian soldiers who perish in the snow, one figure stands out: that little girl vampire. Lily, who appears to be a leader in this amorphous army of night creatures, proves almost as engagingly evil as one of Joss Whedon's psycho lady vamps. "These men," she states at one point to her brother vampire Zurial, "they think up so many new ways to slaughter themselves, disgusting, barbarous . . . I turn them into things of beauty." A little more of that kind of scripting, and this eighth entry in the growing 30 Days franchise might've risen beyond pulpish fun-&-grue into true gothic splendor.

It's tempting to lay the sketchiness of Red Snow's characters on the fact this is an artist-driven work, but, to be fair, the original 30 Days wasn't exactly bustling with memorable types either. As a counterpoint to the toothy Lucy, Templesmith provides us with a young Slavic boy named Nikolai, who's given a good dramatic moment when he's forced to shoot a bitten family member (presumably, shooting 'em before they die of their wounds keeps the victim from turning - though the script isn't exactly crystal clear on this point), but whose main function seems to be to provide Keating with someone to rescue in the book's final chapter. My familiarity with the rest of the 30 Days series doesn't extend beyond the first two graphic novels, so I don't know if Nikolai shows up in any of later GNs as an adult. If so, I bet he's a really hard-bitten geezer.
# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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