The Kolchak: The Night Stalker 50th Anniversary edition, is an original graphic novel of 12 short comic stories of over 200 pages. It was originally published via Kickstarter this year but is available now for purchase to everyone. The 50th Anniversary edition is not only an excellent continuation of the show, but it also stands on its’ own as a terrific collection of supernatural horror.
When I first backed the Kickstarter, I have little expectations. I’m always a little leery of comic versions of television shows because the transfer to another medium does tend to take away from the performances of the actors that make the show so enjoyable.
But this edition does not just satisfy fans of the original show. It’s also likely to make readers unfamiliar with the cult favorite–a precursor to X-Files, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, among others–want to watch the show.
Kolchak: 50th Anniversary Edition: Why It Matters
I was too young for the first run of Kolchak: The Night Stalker from 1972-1975. So were many of its’ biggest fans. (McGavin is of course best known to today’s audiences as the dad in A Christmas Story. )
The show was based on an then-unpublished novel, The Kolchak Papers, written by Jeff Rice. Rice’s stories were adapted into movies by writer Richard Matheson. After the two television movies aired to high ratings, the show began but it suffered from poor ratings, bad time slots, and eventually it was canceled in 1975, partially due to McGavin’s feelings of being overworked and underpaid.
But once reruns began in full force in 1979, the cult began to form. The idea of someone hunting monsters isn’t new but Kolchak himself was unique. He was a cranky, irascible agent of the truth, one who used tricks if needed to expose the truth, even if he was the only one who knew it.
There’s something of the knight errant about Carl Kolchak and his insistence on believing what others deemed unbelievable, not to mention his habit of viewing the monsters with compassion, if the situation called for it.
The show might look dated to modern viewers. The pace is a little slow. The special effects are sometimes ridiculous. But the plots are first rate and McGavin carries the whole thing on his shoulders. X-Files Chris Carter has often cited Kolchak as an inspiration. Robert Zemeckis and his writing partner Bob Gale wrote the script for the episode “Chopper.” David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, is credited on eight episodes as story editor and worked on the show full-time.
The Stories of Kolchak: 50th Anniversary Edition
Kolchak: The Night Stalker 50th Anniversary edition has tales that each offer something unique and further insight to Carl Kolchak. The collection is dedicated to Jeff Rice, the original novelist, Matheson, and McGavin. It’s quite a tribute, as the made almost feel as if McGavin had come back to life. Rice and Matheson are honored as well, as the framing story is based on the character’s origins in Rice’s original story, and other elements based on Matheson’s teleplay.
That’s what I loved most about this comic collection. All the creators involved understood what was unique about Kolchak. They got him. They love him. They brought him back to life in a way I’d not thought possible.
Even more, they added backstory and context to Kolchak’s life and pursuit of the unbelievable without every making him different. He’s still much of the annoying pest that made him such a fine reporter, though not one who necessarily followed any orders. (Any good reporter has some disdain for authority though most were not so defiant to their boss.)
The twelve stories in this collection are set in chronological order of Kolchak’s life beginning before World War II through his years as a reporter, to his retirement and, his final tale, a story appropriately called “Last Byline.”
The opening story is a tale of his first investigative story as a student and nicely explains the origin of his unusual hat. Let’s just say it’s a typical act of Kolchak defiance. From there, he encounters monsters, good and evil, including some familar ones. There’s even a cameo by a certain duo from the X-Files.
The talent on this book is absolutely top notch. Short story collections usually have one or two weaker tales. No so this one. Every story has a strong narrative flow, evocative artwork, and lettering that echoes newspaper-style typeset.
I want to especially mention the colorist, Zac Atkinson, who worked on eight of the twelve stories. Colorists are often forgotten but their role in creating mood, in deepening the impact of the art, can be immense. For instance, in “Wandering Soul,” the color palette moves from the deep blue of night to a drab prison in different shades of brown, to a climax in pitch-black dark. At the end, in a nice touch by the entire art team, Kolchak’s flight home is against a light blue sky of hope.
“Enemy Within” is the one story that features a photo-realistic depiction of McGavin, along with Edward R. Murrow and others from the the 1950s. Those characters are contrasted nicely with the drawn world around them, including a demon tricked into grabbing the wrong target. “The Package” is almost entirely told in shades of black and gray.
For those who enjoy Kolchak, $32 for this impressive collection is worth it. For those unfamiliar with him, I highly recommend it. You might become a fan.