THIS REVIEW OF COUNT CROWLEY: AMATEUR MIDNIGHT MONSTER HUNTER #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Clyde Hall. We had no costumed horror movie host in the rural area where I grew up. Any late night monster show was slapped onto the air without preamble, prop spiders, or puns. Maybe that’s why the first volume of Count Crowley drew me like a bat to a belfry. But that’s only part of the reason.
The rest is found in protagonist Jerri Bartman, the off-camera identity of the eponymous Count, and the way she confronts two distinctively fiendish threats. A horror host suddenly discovering that supernatural creatures aren’t simply the stuff of B-movies isn’t new. Ask Peter Vincent, Fearless Vampire Killer, in either Fright Night films. But Jerri’s facing personal demons at the same time mystic revelations unfold around her. She has a serious drinking problem, and it’s landed a promising young journalist into employment as a cheesy, late-night horror show presenter for a tiny, Midwest TV station in 1983. At the end of the first volume, Jerri’s fended off attacks from supernatural threats and has also taken first steps toward recovery through Alcoholics Anonymous.
Count Crowley: Amateur Midnight Monster Hunter #1 picks up immediately after with scant summary, and writer David Dastmalchian frames a largely expositional narrative with brief moments of action. This issue places Jerri in her off-camera role of investigative reporter, sans pancake makeup and spooky trappings, which feels like Dastmalchian channeling his Carl Kolchak fandom.
In a 2019 interview with DoomRocket’s Jarrod Jones, the writer and actor (Polka-Dot Man in The Suicide Squad, Piter de Vries in Dune) spoke about his fondness for the Kolchak: The Night Stalker TV series. Darren McGavin starred as a middle-aged, hard-bitten reporter who discovers real monsters living (and unliving) in Chicago. Despite a fall from grace in his career, Kolchak was a smart, savvy reporter bent on uncovering the truth, no matter how much trouble it caused him from his editor, the police, politicians, or, you know… the creatures themselves. It was a monster-of-the-week formula but one with humor, horror, and even pathos.
Such are the childhood passions Dastmalchian combines within this Dark Horse title: cheesy late night horror films, their pun-ishly funny hosts, and comic books. You feel its telltale pulse through every panel, every page. Not only did Dastmalchian perform YouTube promos for both volumes in his own, original horror host persona of Doctor Fearless, but his character showed up in the comic during a Count Crowley audition scene. If not for Jerri, Fearless would’ve been a lock.
As much fun as he had in the first volume putting Jerri in her Crowley garb and running her through both showtime and supernatural shenanigans, in Amateur Midnight Monster Hunter Dastmalchian enjoys letting the newshound side of Jerri’s personality emerge, displaying the journalistic fortitude she once possessed and is ready to reclaim. Vampires, zombies, and werewolves should worry. This focus on Jerri should also allow room for expansion on her struggle and recovery from substance addiction. Besides reveling in the things which made his childhood fun, Dastmalchian has been honest regarding his own alcoholism and his experiences reclaiming his life and career through two decades of recovery.
The ‘80s setting’s always been well represented in the series, with accurate news events and vintage ad campaigns. But the presence of a meth abuser, Jerri’s instant recognition of the symptoms, and her use of the term ‘tweaker’ in this issue feel out of place. Meth labs became prevalent in Midwestern locations like Jerri’s Missouri town during the 1990s; in the story’s year of 1983, even San Diego (soon to be dubbed “meth capital” of the nation) had only six meth lab busts according to a 1989 Los Angeles Times article by Richard Seranno. This addiction anachronism seems purely for the sake of humor, the meth abuser’s name ironically being ‘Crystal.’ The emaciated and poor health condition of Crystal, who’s a lycanthrope, also conflicts with the werewolf regenerative ability established by another character in the narrative.
Lukas Ketner’s art remains the undead, un-staked heart of this title. His monsters are identifiable models for their B-movie counterparts, and his trappings of the time are perfection. Vanished era artifacts like telephone books, camcorders, and family hardware stores are well-represented. I’ve said it before, but his covers remind me of Dan Brereton’s work on titles like Nocturnals and Thrillkiller; on the racks or in solicits, his Crowley covers transfix like Lugosi at his unblinking Dracula best. Ketner’s art benefits from colorist Lauren Affe’s talents, creating darkened panel scenes imitating nuanced shadow. She obscures just enough detail for a tailored sense of unease. As though the reader is peering into a low-lit room, the limitations of human perception can leave the exact nature of shaded shapes uncertain: is that a tangle of power cords in the corner… or a creeping tentacle?
Count Crowley‘s goth rock band reunites for a continued celebration of horror movie and monster fan nostalgia. They placed Jerri in her Crowley persona through much of the first series, and she drew an eager audience. Now Dastmachian and company energize Amateur Midnight Monster Hunter by conjuring Jerri as a determined reporter in over her head. Defeating inner demons through recovery isn’t easy, and neither is dispatching monsters while protecting humankind. But Jerri Bartman makes us believe both are possible. Jerri has abundant moxie, whether crossing verbal steel with her curmudgeonly mentor Vincent, or punching the taste out of a she-wolf’s muzzle.
Dark Horse Comics / $3.99
Written by David Dastmalchian.
Art by Lukas Ketner.
Colors by Lauren Affe.
Letters by Frank Cvetkovic.
Count Crowley: Amateur Midnight Monster Hunter #1 is in stores now. Issue #2 drops May 18. For purchasing information, click this.