The Night Stalker
Ever since the debut of the landmark TV movie, The Night Stalker, the cry has been, "When are we going to see a Kolchak comic book?" Now the answer comes in this new volume (the first of several already planned and in production) featuring the intrepid reporter of the supernatural. While it’s very existence is a fulfillment of many Night Stalker fans, it does leave a little to be desired.
The saga of The Night Stalker is a long and convoluted one which is why it has taken so long for a comic version to appear. The basic plot of the original story involved a reporter (Carl Kolchak) discovering that a serial killer operating in modern Las Vegas was a real life vampire and being unable to convince anyone that what he knew was the truth. This was a unique creation in the terms of TV movies but it was Darren McGavin’s amazing portrayal of Kolchak that really gave the show life. He showed the many aspects of Kolchak perfectly highlighting his greed and ambition to find the right story to propel him back to a major city paper but also his burning desire to print the truth.
The rights to the character have been tied up in the courts for years and there have been questions as to who created what. The story was originally written by journalist Jeff Rice and, from there, adapted for the TV screen by noted writer Richard Matheson. The TV movie was produced and directed by Dan Curtis (creator of cult favorite Dark Shadows) who also produced and directed the sequel, The Night Strangler. A third movie was reportedly in the works when it was decided to go with a regular weekly series which, after a year of decent enough ratings, disappeared from the TV screen. This cancellation is also a matter of debate. Was it because of disappointing ratings? Did McGavin tire of playing the role? Could the writers not maintain the quality and fall into a ‘monster of the week’ formula? All have been put forward as reasons for why The Night Stalker never made it to a second series. Indeed, there still exist scripts that were approved but never filmed. And yet the series would not die!
The Night Stalker became a true cult phenomenon despite the fact that it was not shown widely after its cancellation. It was shown as a late night filler for a brief time but the fans kept the memory of the series alive and kept clamoring for a return to the adventures of the intrepid Kolchak who was much against the traditional TV screen hero formula. As time crept on, it became apparent that a cinematic return to the original Night Stalker was not to be. The principals could not come to terms on questions of rights and McGavin could not be lured back to the character despite several attempts. Add to that the death of Simon Oakland, who played Kolchak’s ever suffering editor, Tony Vincenzo, and the cruel advance of years, it was just not possible to bring back the Kolchak everyone remembered. Even a brief appearance by McGavin as a retired FBI agent on The X-Files only served to remind people how influential The Night Stalker had been as a series and how revered the Kolchak character had become.
Truly, the only way to return to the series of old was through novels or comics. A few amateur Kolchak novels were published in the early 1990s but garnered little attention. Now comes Moonstone’s version of The Night Stalker and it is definitely a good return to the original but falls short when compared to the movie.
Perhaps the problem comes from the fact that this volume is a straight adaptation of the original movie. As such, the Kolchak fan cannot help but compare it to the original and analyze it in terms of what was omitted and what was left in. Under such a comparison, the comic is bound to be found lacking. This is particularly ironic considering that the writer of this first issue is none other than Jeff Rice who created the character in the first place. Add to this the fact that the artwork by Purcell and Pallot, although good, is not particularly effective. It is fairly static and does not convey the mood or atmosphere of the movie or story. It almost takes too much of a realistic approach and looks more like a documentary or ‘classic comic’ than a horror novel. If you are not a fan of the original series, but might have just heard something about it through The X-Files or other sources, it might be more effective because it does stand on its own and carries itself well as an effective plot. But, it is unlikely that many people picking up this book would NOT be familiar with the show and the book is particularly marketed towards this niche.
Where this book does succeed is in capturing much of Kolchak’s character and the interaction between Kolchak and Vincenzo. Strangely, the vampire almost takes second stage to Kolchak and his antics. (This is to be expected in that it is Kolchak who is remembered by fans but the title, The Night Stalker, was meant to refer to the vampire and not Kolchak.) Also, the time period for the book is a nebulous "modern ‘70s" which is meant to be in tune with modern times but remind the reader of the original time period of the movie. It is in this manner that the book has the strongest advantage over anything else as, in a graphic medium, Kolchak/McGavin can be perpetually 40-ish and never age. The actors can pass away but the comic can always recapture those moments.
Overall, this is a fine addition to the movie but it does not add anything significant to the character or the series. Moonstone plans to begin original stories soon and that will be the truly acid test as it will be harder to bring Kolchak into new areas not already covered by the TV movies and shows. Only time will tell.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong online. Please consider a donation to support our work as an independent publisher devoted to the arts and humanities. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where advertising no longer covers our costs. We need your help to keep PopMatters publishing. Thank you.