Review by Jamie McNeil
After the unexpected success of 30 Days of Night Steve Niles began to consciously build both back-story and cultural dynamics, using the spin-offs to develop characters. Three Tales collects short stories or one-shots featuring characters introduced in Dark Days and Return to Barrow, while also introducing a new storyline.
‘The Journal of John Ikos’ was originally two separate stories – ’Picking Up the Pieces’ and ‘The Ballad of John Ikos’ – published in completely separate issues at different times. It’s a fluid story despite being illustrated by two different artists, revolving around grizzled veteran of the Alaskan vampire wars John Ikos introduced in Return to Barrow. With all his experience battling vampires in Barrow Ikos wouldn’t be so stupid as to bring a frozen vampire into his own home, would he? To fix his mistake he has to head out to Los Angeles, instead finding himself embroiled in a conflict with the Night Crew, a group intent on ruling mankind not just feeding on them. He makes some unexpected allies in Dane (Dark Days) and Billy (Bloodsucker Tales) but will they be enough? Ben Templesmith, illustrating the first section, crafts an expressive and good looking cast by employing sketched inks on washes of watercolour. Nat Jones illustrates the other half using a folded paper effect to elicit the feel of a genuine journal. A very capable artist his work is clear yet still has a grubby edge using close-ups on teeth and especially the eyes to good effect.
Dan Wickline joins Niles as writer for ‘Dead Space’. NASA launches the Icarus space shuttle to service the International Space Station but something dangerous has boarded with the crew. It’s original in that vampires in space hasn’t been done before, but space horror has and much better. There are some good ideas, but by the final third it’s become formulaic. Featured artist MILX (Mahatir Buang) provides some excellent detail on spacecraft and space debris, but doesn’t convey changes in the plot well. His style simply doesn’t work for the horror genre, with the cast out of proportion, making the story feel tongue in cheek rather than scary. His art means ‘Dead Space’ lacks that crucial element of suspense.
The most interesting aspects of Three Tales are the little additions Niles makes to his own vampire mythology, surprising and original in a well trodden genre. The artistic talents of Templesmith and Jones are great, but not enough to redeem the book from the weaker ‘Dead Space’. Wickline develops that idea further with other artists in trade paperback Spreading the Disease.