“30 Days of Night” is one of my favorite graphic novels; I owned the omnibus (which includes 30 Days of Night, Dark Days, and Return to Barrow) before it was ever assigned and I read it several times. I find Ben Templesmith’s artwork terrifyingly beautiful, the kind of images that haunt me in my sleep. And I’ve been inspired by Steve Niles relentless pursuit of this project. He originally intended “30 Days of Night ” to be a film but in 2002 when he could not pitch it successfully he turned into a comic book. In 2007, it became a terrifying horror movie.
The story, which is in my opinion the best vampire story, includes many moments of sacrifice as well as brutal and pointless death. The vampires’ plan is both genius and fatally flawed and the consequences for one monster’s arrogance and ruthless appetite ripple throughout the rest of the trilogy which is exactly the way to do it trilogy.
The first installment in the series is of course “30 Days of Night,” where readers are first introduced to Barrow, Alaska through the eyes of Eben Olemaun, a native Inuit and his wife (and co-sheriff?) Stella. I immediately became attached to this couple. Partly because of the cute dialogue and of their tradition of watching the last sunset, which had a well-worn affection that I’m sure anyone in a long-term relationship will find familiar. I found it refreshing the first time I read this comic book, that I wasn’t going to be watching a romantic subplot I was going to be watching a married couple work through monstrous crises (and it only sweetened the pot that the male lead was Inuit).
After very quickly establishing two characters I care about, Niles unleashed his monster. A band of 20 or so vampires coming to feed the endless month of darkness. While the initial invasion, attack, and massacre may feel slightly rushed for those not used to reading comic books, I found it beautifully handled. In about 10 pages, the mastermind behind the vampires’ feast, Marlow, gloats about the superiority of his race, how unprepared and vulnerable their prey is, and how effortless and simple his plan was. The panels in the background are graphic and disturbing, supporting the monster’s self-aggrandizing confession.
Readers believe his plan is flawless and wonder with him “why vampires didn’t do this sooner?”
Answer come swiftly from the mouth of the eldest vampire in the world who comes hoping to stop the bloodlust that is too late. With the arrival of Vicente, readers are introduced to the major problem the vampires and humans will face throughout the rest of the trilogy: the issue of belief. The vampires fear it and the humans can’t seem to acquire it.
I love “Dark Days” the best I think. This story focuses on three women trying to avenge their fallen men without ever falling into any anti-woman rhetoric. And while “Dark Days” has its problems (a pointless sex scene between Stella the Vampire-Slayer and the token “good vampire,” an inexplicable transformation from voodoo witch queen to frumpy mother, the sheer stupidity of not backing up the only recording of a vampire attack that will prove to the world the monsters exist, in 2002), it shows some incredibly powerful women with powerfully strong motivations. In a less well told story, I would have been appalled when Stella chose to work with a vampire compromising her own rules to get her husband back; but with Stella I was on board. “30 Days of Night” had done such a good job making me care about Eben, admiring his sacrifice, that I also wanted to work with the story to resurrect him. This is one of the few “rise from the dead” moments that I have ever believed or found organic to the plot.
The fact that her resurrected vampire husband immediately bites Stella was all the more satisfying to me.
“Return to Barrow” should be the weakest of the trilogy, because we’ve lost our two main characters. I think it speaks to the skills of Steve Niles that this third installment does not feel tacked on. Rather Niles allows Barrow to be a character in its own right and introduce us to its new inhabitants. While I think it was a little forced having the new sheriff arrive only four days before nightfall and being forced to “sink or swim” (and using a deus ex machina to force him to remain in the town after he decided to leave; I would’ve preferred him stick to his guns), I quickly became so embroiled in the emotional war between some very human vampires and some very ruthless humans that I didn’t pause long enough to be concerned. The disorganization and paranoia of the vampires is wonderfully contrasted with the bravery and teamwork of the humans. And I was ecstatic when Eben and Stella returned not as monsters but as protectors of the town they both loved.
This story made me frightened of vampires again and I think that’s about the highest praise I can give any work of fiction.