Once Steve Niles managed to get his ideas into print it turned out to be the proverbial uncorking of the bottle. Thanks to the success of 30 Days of Night he got the opportunity to even explore some old ideas like Criminal Macabre with artist Ben Templesmith before going their separate ways. Return to Barrow was the last time they worked together on the series, but neither would leave it behind. Bloodsucker Tales is the fourth collection, presenting two stories, the first time completely different creators would work on the series, and notably one of the earliest gigs for a writer named Matt Fraction.

‘Dead Billy Dead’ by Niles and illustrated by Kody Chambelain (another fresh face) centres on dropout Billy infected by a lonely vampire looking for a new companion. Billy might be a loser but he likes being human, and now he and his ex-girlfriend have deadlier problems. The premise is decent enough, but starts slowly. Chamberlain has a good eye for colour, but the style is out of step with the times, 1990s instead of 2000s. Additionally the cast is too posed and the action suffers. Where he is superb is on the gore levels which rise to “disturbed” and on the whole does improve. Niles has plenty of ideas for his world, finally establishing why vampires don’t travel alone, but it takes time for them to coalesce. Once they do it turns into a touching story examining the internal conflict between human and monster, which isn’t enough to redeem it completely.

‘Jaurez or Lex Nova & the Case of the 400 Dead Mexican Girls’ follows private investigator Lex Nova down to Mexico to investigate the grisly disappearances of young girls, suspecting vampire involvement. Inadvertently the news coverage attracts the attention of the psychotic Zero Family Circus looking for their Uncle Zero. Fraction has a couple of good ideas floating around, one being a plot twist for one of the cast. Another is having Nova narrate like an old pulp noir detective, except he doesn’t realise he is doing it out loud and it provides some comic interactions with the cast. In a story where everyone’s motives are questionable, the Zero Family Circus are terrifying, playing on cultural fears (to say what provides spoilers) drawn with deranged glee by Templesmith in his trademark grainy style. He keeps it minimalist so it’s easier to follow, but his art tends to solicit opinions of love or hate. While showing promise, Fraction’s inexperience sabotages the story, leaving gaps in the plot that jar the senses and his attempt at a cliffhanger flaps more like a decapitated chicken, obviously the end but taking a while to finish up.

The result is that Bloodsucker Tales is unsatisfactory, one story starting poorly and finishing strong, with the other doing the reverse. The positive way to look at it is as a showcase for emerging talent, especially in Fraction’s case, as he’s gone on to be one of the 21st Century’s premier comic creators. 30 Days of Night: Three Tales is the next book in publication order, also collected with Bloodsucker Tales in the 30 Days of Night Omnibus Volume 2.