‘The Monstrous Collection of Steve Niles and Bernie Wrightson:’ Trade Paperback Review

Comics were never the same when horror writer Steve Niles (30 Days of Night, Criminal Macabre) and artist Bernie Wrightson (Frankenstein Alive, Alive, Nevermore) collaborated on the three-issue miniseries, Dead, She Said, back in 2008. They went on to collaborate on The Ghoul and Doc Macabre, and all three stories have been bound into The Monstrous Collection of Steve Niles and Bernie Wrightson out from IDW Publishing this week. In addition to the stories, several pages of Wrightson’s drawings from the 1960s-1970s are included in the art gallery section at the conclusion of the book.

For those not familiar with the three miniseries, Dead, She Said is about a Los Angeles gumshoe detective who wakes up dead and consequently spends the rest of the story looking for his murderer. Detective Lieutenant Klimpt seeks to prove that the Atwood movie starlets are one in the same, with the help of an unusual partner in The Ghoul. And in Doc Macabre, readers follow the Doc and his robot Lloyd who accept credit card payment to solve unwanted incidents of the supernatural kind. A few of the characters overlap from one story to the next, which lends a cohesive thread through all three stories.

Niles writes engaging narratives that are tightly structured and avoids verbose dialogue. He arouses the spirit of LA noir from decades past through his meticulous word choices and the cadence created, especially during the voice-overs of such characters as Joe Coogan in Dead, She Said. In The Ghoul and Doc Macabre, Niles’ characters are allowed leeway for humor to creep in alongside the horror, which provides that needed pause for the characters and readers to catch their breaths. In the second story, Klimpt plays straight man to the ghoul, while in the last story, Lloyd provides comic relief to Doc’s over-the-top showmanship. In addition, Niles deftly blends horror, noir, and supernatural elements well; as a result, the narratives are dynamic and memorable.

The pairing of Wrigthson’s illustrations are exemplary for all three stories. IDW has replicated the illustrations in such magnificent detail that one can see individual brush strokes in each panel, thereby in a way, pulling back the curtain of mystery so fans can further appreciate the level of skill that Wrightson harnessed when he picked up a pencil or pen. For example, in the opening panel of Dead, She Said, one can study the texturing of each surface because of all of the minute detail captured; from the cross-thatch pattern of the walls, the lines down the lampshade, and the wrinkling effect of the bed sheet, Wrightson has rendered each surface with incredible precision. In subsequent pages, he also proves time and again his amazing ability with composition, exploring the environment via the characters that inhabit the scene. Another prototypical Wrightson illustration showcasing his skills is when the Doc stands before the ecto-fusion coil as it releases threads of crackling light across a two-page spread – jaw-dropping impressive!

The Monstrous Collection of Steve Niles and Bernie Wrightson is a must have for any serious fan of the phenomenal talents of these two individuals or horror comics in general. Additionally, this collection could easily provide a blueprint for aspiring writers and artists interested in creating horror stories.

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