Review by Jamie McNeil
30 Days of Night was a surprising breakout success for publishers IDW and creators Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, spawning a number of spin-offs, but it’s the original trilogy collected in the 30 Days of Night Omnibus Vol. 1.
For thirty days over November and December the Arctic Circle is shrouded in perpetual darkness. As the most northerly town on the American continent, Barrow, Alaska is no exception. Watching the sun set for the last time is a yearly ritual for husband and wife Sheriffs Eben and Stella Olemaun, but Eben is uneasy. There’s been a spate of strange crimes occurring, including the theft of every mobile phone in the district, now lying in a melted heap of burning plastic. It’s like someone wants to cut them off from the world and the mad ravings of a drifter don’t help. Prophecies of the Undead coming to feast on Barrow’s population become manifest and Eben finds himself leading a desperate bid to survive 30 Days of Night. The sequel Dark Days follows Stella Olemaun eighteen months later as she tries to warn the world of a conspiracy to keep the events of Barrow secret. Mocked by one side and hunted by the other, Stella travels to Los Angeles where she finds allies in unlikely places. Ironically the third volume Return to Barrow fast forwards three years to when Barrow has learned from its tragedy and become a tougher town that refuses to be a regular on the vampire menu. Brian Kitka is the new sheriff, his brother’s family victims of the first winter onslaught. Intent on discovering the truth a sceptical Brian makes an alliance with grizzled hunter John Ikos, a survivor and veteran of many vampire encounters. Whether he believes in them or not Brian is about to face down a formidable enemy that has learned its own lessons and will stop at nothing to wipe out Barrow from the face of the Earth.
The omnibus format demonstrates how a simple idea can make a good story and, in this case, improve. Niles takes an annual meteorological event, adding the supernatural and basic human superstition to make a terrifying concept. Stripping back vampire mythology and returning limits to the species actually makes them more frightening, fear a strong factor that drives what is essentially an emotional saga presenting the human condition at its best and worst. Time and overuse of concepts Niles introduced has reduced the original impact, but it is still a smart progressing story that consistently improves. Artist Templesmith employs eerie watercolour shadows in an abstract fashion redolent of the single camera style horror first used in The Blair Witch Project. The swirling of bright colours mixing into dark shades coupled with a deliberate choice to limit facial features, apart from strong emotional responses, results in a nightmarish dreamlike state. It’s less effective in the first story as Templesmith was still fresh out of art school and hadn’t refined his style completely at that point. His talent develops as the series progresses, experimenting with urban environments in Dark Days, and by Return to Barrow produces a rare blend of engaging complex emotions and fluid violent action.
For fans looking for a well paced series with some macabre yet beautiful art the 30 Days of Night Omnibus Volume 1 is good value, cheaper than purchasing the three foundational books separately. More tales by Niles, Templesmith and others are in the 30 Days of Night Omnibus Volume 2.