"Criminal Macabre: Iron Spirit" Graphic Novel Review

Written by James Ferguson


Published by Dark Horse Comics




Written by Steve Niles
Illustrated by Scott Morse
2012, 34 Pages
Graphic Novel released on September 12th, 2012


Cal McDonald is dead.  Well, he's actually undead now.  He's getting used to his life as a ghoul, but he's still taking cases because monsters and ghosts aren't taking a break now that he's had a dirt nap.  Retired Air Force Captain Richard Clayton shows up on Cal's doorstep with a black eye and a request.  He needs some help putting some souls to rest in the original graphic novel, Iron Spirit.  It turns out that there's a massive bunker filled with top secret military technology under Los Angeles.  Some time ago, Clayton supervised the construction of large robot suits that turned into death traps for the soldiers that volunteered to test them out.  Now their ghosts haunt the area looking for peace.

This is an average case for Cal, so he's prepared.  He knows exactly what to do to put these souls to rest, but it might not be what is needed.  Sending these ghosts to Hell won't be enough to give Clayton closure.  The man feels responsible for what happened here.  That's why he comes back and lets these spirits beat the crap out of him.  He's trying to atone for the sins he committed in service to his country.  Fortunately, Cal can read people, both living and dead, and figures out a way to help.

Click images to enlarge

Iron Spirit is not your typical graphic novel.  Author Steve Niles tells the story with text laid on top of images drawn by Scott Morse.  Speech bubbles and sound effects are few and far between.  Instead this is more like an old pulp novel that happens to have some pictures.  It could work on its own, but Morse's artwork helps give you a shady idea of what's going on.  The prose, lettered by Morse, is in a font that resembles an old typewriter that further solidifies the crime novel look.

Morse's artwork is very light.  Each of the images looks like a rough sketch, like they were done quickly and not quite finished.  The basic forms are there, but they lack the definition that you'd expect from a complete comic.  This works for this graphic novel because the shots are dark and moody, matching up with the tone of the story.  This wouldn't work with another comic.  The sketches are filled in with water colors, which gives them a very unique look as well.  

Iron Spirit is a typical Cal McDonald mystery.  It's very short, clocking in at just 34 pages, the length of your average comic.  This is presented as a hardcover on its own though.  I would have liked a bit more to it because it's pretty light on content.  The style is a nice change of pace with the prose telling the story instead of your basic speech balloons.  It's an homage to old-school pulp novels from the likes of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler...but with ghosts and giant robots.


Story: fourstars Cover
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Art: 2.5 Stars
Overall: threeandahalfstars

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