Steve Niles’ latest installment of Final Night, a Criminal Macabre and 30 Days of Night crossover mini-series published by Dark Horse Comics and IDW Publishing, is an exploration of the horror of abjection. Cal McDonald, the presumptive hero of Final Night, struggles with postmortem life. To say the least, Cal is perpetually stuck in a liminal space that forces him to confront important questions about himself. Is he truly alive, having been risen from the dead? Will he be able to stop imminent tide of vampires and defeat Eben Olemaun? And will the building sexual tension between him and Agent Blood turn into something more? While issue #2 of 4 of Final Night does not resolve any of these questions, it certainly turns the screw.
Turning the screw, I think, is an important metaphor for issue #2 of this mini-series. Niles ratchets down the script to a tight thrill ride that barely lets readers recuperate from each repulsive horror. Christopher Mitten’s art, while obviously in the same style as the first issue, has a perhaps darker, sharper edge that heightens our dread and highlights the violence that permeates this issue. And Michelle Madsen’s palette choices engender a sense of filth and grit and waste and blood that, to twist a phrase from Chris Matthews, sent a “thrill up my leg.” Everything about this issue is a more intense than the first. Niles, having dispensed with the necessary—albeit adroitly performed—info-dump backstory, can now up the put the pressure on.
But even while putting on the pressure and delivering an exciting, page-turning second issue, Final Night is carefully plotted to explore the abject. In critical approaches, the abject or abjection, a term defined by Julia Kristeva, has come to be used as a description of socially out casted and/or marginalized groups. The term is often used in feminist and disability studies as a kind of shorthand that nods at the psychoanalytical underpinnings of those theories, which allows theorists to explore the social dynamics they wish. I won’t be using “abjection” in this way. For Kristeva, the abject represents an important part of identity formation; to abject, to violently cast out, is to delineate the self. As her maxim goes “to each ego its object, to each superego its abject.”
Wrapped up tightly with concepts of filth and waste, abjection is a traumatic process based in exclusion and/or expulsion. Our ne’er-do-well hero Cal, for most of issue one and for a large portion of issue two, of Final Night, is projectile-vomiting inky ichor. For us, this literal abjection comes to represent Cal’s unspoken interiority. Recently risen from the dead, the supernatural beast hunting detective has become what he hates most: a corpse. His psyche and his body abject his horrific state of undeath and discharge it violently.
Mitten renders Cal’s puke in the same effusive splashes he does the gory explosions of blood that dot Final Night. While most everything else in this issue has a sharp edge, even circles of light and the moon, blood, waste, vomit and filth are fluid and round. While it seems like an obvious choice, to use rounded edges to represent liquids, it is a noticeably different style. For me, this indicates that these items are meant to be understood as connected, perhaps contiguously so. While I am not exactly sure what to make of the interconnectedness of these images, I do feel that it is important to note and watch for in future issues.
The horror genre, whether that it is in comics, film, or books, is firmly rooted in explorations of the abject. Take the classic horror film Aliens for example. Its forced impregnations, xenomorphic mothers, and acid vomit all are finely tuned encounters with the abject. They are meant to draw on our deepest revulsions and fears. Kristeva writes of literature, in her final chapter of Powers of Horror that,
On close inspection, all literature is probably a version of the apocalypse that seems to me rooted, no matter what its socio-historical conditions might be, on the fragile border (borderline cases) where identities (subject/object, etc.) do not exist or only barely so—double, fuzzy heterogeneous, animal, metamorphosed, altered, abject.
Cal’s experience of abjection, both literal and psychological, his shifting identity, and the strange, slightly-out-of-focus, characters throughout Final Night reveal a horror comic struggling with just that apocalypse. It asks us, as readers, would we accept help from a legion of disgusting ghouls to prevent genocide? Would we be able to feel the same about ourselves, our self, if we died and rose again? Would we be able to fall in love? Exploring questions like these are why I read.