For those unaware, Cal McDonald is a private investigator who is pretty consistently wrapped up in cases of a supernatural origin. The occult detective is a fun trope, but not a wholeheartedly original one—which is fine. We don’t complain when a new superhero arrives on the scene, do we? He’s noir-ish, in a modern sort of way, with severe drug addiction and a crotchety demeanor. He has the expected run-ins with the police force, and a network of undead informants who assist him in solving cases. He is, in short, a dick—both a private one, and in public. But he’s also kind of likable.
In this 5-issue miniseries from Dark Horse Comics, Cal McDonald stumbles across some weird behavior in the monster community—weird even by monster standards. Werewolves are committing robbery, vampires are attacking without feeding, and ghouls are being forced out of the sewers; and at the center of it all is a dead man—a man that Cal himself killed. Add in a couple of Super Monsters, and you’ve got one hell of a bloody mystery on your hands.
This is a pretty fun story that expands on some of the pre-established mythology (Cal had already appeared in a few anthologies at this point, as well as a pair of prose novels). Creator Steve Niles has made Cal an interesting character, good and hardboiled just like a private eye should be, and we’re granted a few peeks into his early life here. My favorite character, though, is Mo’Lock, the philosophically astute ghoul who works closely with Cal to crack the case. The artwork by Ben Templesmith is moody, dark, and somewhat evocative of Ralph Steadman by way of Dave McKean, but the scratchy style occasionally makes details muddled and you may have difficulty recognizing characters, even if they had appeared only a few pages prior. It works quite well for this type of story, though, and adds a spooky edge that more traditional illustrations wouldn’t be able to touch.
Criminal Macabre: A Cal McDonald Mystery was originally published in 2003, and is the first story collected in the Criminal Macabre Omnibus from Dark Horse. It’s unfortunate that Cal’s earlier appearances weren’t included, as this is a solid story, but not necessarily the ideal introduction to the character. It’s not a terrible place to begin, so long as you understand that you’re about to witness the alteration of a mythos that you’re not even yet familiar with.