I’ve read many of writer Steve Niles’ stories and graphic novels (and comics) the most famous and influential being the original 30 Days of Night, which ushered in a new age of horror comics that flourish to this day. Niles’ The Cryptics graphic novel is no 30 Days of Night and for die-hard fans of his material this oddity will barely even register (especially among many of his other works).
The Cryptics is the misadventures of the offspring of some of Hollywood’s classic monster films. Present and accounted for are the sons of Dracula, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Wolf Man, Dr. Jeckel & Mr. Hyde and even Van Helsing’s son shows up. This is an anthology of short stories and comic strips (many average only a few pages long) and detail the misadventures of all the characters who call themselves friends.
The stories are meant to be funny but the comedy is inconsistent. There are some truly outrageous episodes such as “Gone Fishing” and “Mirror Mirror” (where the son of Dracula realizes he doesn’t cast a reflection) but my favorite is “To Heck and Back” (where the Wolf Man’s son is accidentally sent to hell before his time). The stories work better when confined to only one to three pages as they read like a Sunday comic strip but the longer stories are a mixed bag.
The one element of the graphic novel as a whole that does work is the fact that Niles succeeds in presenting all the characters as three dimensional characters (something he doesn’t always succeed with in his longer works). Over the course of both the smaller and longer pieces you get a sense that these characters are experiencing life and childhood just like you or I would have. Herein, lies Niles’ true success with the series. He is able to channel the classic monsters that we all grew up with and remember (or at least I do) and meld them with our childhood memories (or how we think we remember them) but to more unusual and comedic results. They get to have misadventures while fishing, meeting Reapers, playing guns in the yard, having pop quiz at school, having a nightmare and many other adventures that go with growing up.
Niles has worked with many artists over the years but on this series he brings along Benjamin Roman (who also writes a few of the stories as well). His illustrations perfectly contribute to the off-beat nature of the characters and the series as a whole. Roman also contributes colors for several of the stories as well.
The Cryptics may be a mixed bag of goodies but there is no denying that Niles can write the funny books just as well as he does the horror and guts books and it reminds audiences and readers that he is a true connoisseur of the classics and can make them relevant to this day and age.