Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Review: "Kolchak the Night Stalker"

(Originally published at

"Kolchak : The Night Stalker" by Jeff Rice, art Gordon Purcell and Terry Pallot

Jeff Rice, creator of the “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” TV movies and series of the 1970s has returned to the character, adapting both his original novel and the first movie’s teleplay into a new graphic novel from Moonstone Books.

If you’ve seen the original “Night Stalker” movie, then you pretty much know the plot of this book: Carl Kolchak, reporter for the Las Vegas Daily News, investigates a series of killings where young women have been drained of their blood. He suspects a vampire did the dirty deeds, and while he’s ultimately proven to be right, Las Vegas city officials cover it all up, and his paper won’t print the story.

There are a few significant differences between this book and the movie, though. The killings and their details differ, there are some interesting “new” characters, and Kolchak’s girlfriend is quite clearly a hooker, something the producers of the 1972 movie left vague.

The graphic novel’s greatest strength is in Kolchak’s voice: Jeff Rice knows this character well, and the cadence of the newsman’s narration moves the story along as a brisk, crisp pace. Rice doesn’t do quite as well with many of the other characters, whose voices can seem wooden and lacking in personality. The pacing is sometimes off, and the transitions between a few scenes are awkward and rushed, if not just plain unclear.

Penciller Gordon Purcell and inker Terry Pallot do a serviceable job on the art. They capture series actor Darren McGavin’s features quite well as Kolchak, but his body shape seems to vary with every panel -- sometimes he’s fat, sometimes he’s lean. The art is loose, and characters often seem to lack the weight to anchor them in their surroundings. Some details are out of perspective.

The book would have benefited from an extra 20 pages. It’s too short as it is, with not enough time early on to develop the Kolchak character for the new reader, and a conclusion that is rushed and lacking in impact.

It also would have benefited from some decent editing. This book can’t decide what year it’s set in. Sometimes, it seems as if it’s set in the movie’s 1972, with Nixon-era dialogue lifted straight from the source material. Then there are characters using cordless phones and a reference to the newspaper’s website, which make the graphic novel seem like it takes place today. But then the villain, born in 1900, is described as being “over 90 years old,” placing the story in the Nineties. Someone needed to make a decision and stick with it.

Ultimately, this is a decent effort, but not quite as good as it could have been with more space and more focus.

Two stars.

Moonstone Books, 2002, $6.50

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