Criminal Macabre: The Big Bleed Out #1 – Steve Niles, Gyula Nemeth & Nate Piekos (Dark Horse Comics)

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Some guys have all the luck. They get the world handed to them on a plate. Fancy cars, wealth, fame and a never ending supply of whatever particular happiness it is they crave. And some guys are left to try and stick the shattered and discarded pieces of theirs, and everyone else’s, lives back together with whatever broken bag of barely functioning tools fate has seen fit to hand them. Cal McDonald is one of the latter. A hard drinking, narcotic abusing monster hunter who has seen better days and spends most of his time with his long dead best friend and partner in strange detection, the ghoul Mo’Lock. It might not be the best life, but it’s the only one that Cal knows and after what seems like an eternity, Cal and Mo’Lock are back in the saddle and riding out into the Los Angeles underground to do what they do best. Fight monsters, save the innocent and hold the darkness to account.

Dragged back to his senses, following an extended vacation among the City of Angels down and outs  by, just about the only friend he has, as The Big Bleed Out begins, Cal recounts the woeful tale of how he ended up where he did . Inevitably, as these things always do, it involves a member of the opposite sex who the usually far more careful and reticent McDonald inexplicably found himself falling for. Of course that might, or might not, have something to do with her being the kind of woman who he’d usually stake first and collect the ashes of later, but whatever magic she’s weaving, Cal is buying into big time. And while Cal is going all googly eyed over his latest undead flame, Mo’Lock is hired to find a number of maintenance workers who have disappeared while they were working in the sewers. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that Cal’s new friend and Mo’Locks missing persons are connected, but how they’re linked and why someone ends this first instalment of The Big Bleed Out by trying to turn Cal into a lead piñata will have to wait for another day and the next chapter of this most welcome return for the dysfunctional duo. 

It isn’t often that Steve Niles’ weapons grade punk rock credentials (he was at the forefront of DC’s Revolution Summer of ’87, an intensely creative period in the scene that gave rise to sub-genre that would later become known as “emo”) manifest themselves in his characters and tales, but when they do, they rise unabated like a raging, unchecked fire. Cal McDonald, the fiercely independent, anti-hero who buries his pain and doubt in intoxication, who loathes authority and would happily lay his soul on the line and give up everything  that he is to help anyone and everyone is the avatar that Niles pours that part of spirt into. An uncompromising shield who is always ready to stand against whatever hell spawned abomination crosses his path, McDonald, this time brought to gloriously gritty and noirish life by Gyula Nemeth, is the four colour world’s equivalent of Bad Religion. He’ll never let you down, you know what you’re going to get and each and every single time he ventures out into the world, you know that whatever it is he’s going to do, it’s going to be good. And this opening salvo of The Big Bleed Out looks like this latest adventure is on course to maintain McDonald’s untarnished record. Welcome back Cal… Tim Cundle

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