’The All-Nighter’ is full of good ideas, but focuses on the wrong ones
A coven of vampires run an only-night diner. Supernatural beings, such as Frankenstein, are tulpas that just kinda appear and have to learn to deal with life. A vampire is inspired by superhero films to start fighting crime. All of these are cool ideas, but The All-Nighter doesn’t take—or have—the time to make any of them truly shine, and it’s to the detriment of the whole. That’s especially disappointing as those ideas are extremely fun, and could have made for excellent stories.
Take the version of Frankenstein as represented. He’s pretty cool, I guess. He’s a big guy, who’s been alive for quite a while. He’s rich. He knows the mom vampire. Largely though, he exists only to deliver some exposition and then send his guys to do punches.
Even Frankenstein’s exposition ends up becoming an example when he explains his origin as being borne from a story. He isn’t any kind of “real world Frankenstein’s monster,” but instead just woke up one day, knowing he was Frankenstein. This acts as an explanation for monsters like trolls as well, but later on sort of explains why we end up having a vampire dressing as a superhero. In the world of The All-Nighter, popular stories have a literal effect. Stories and myths have power. This is a great idea, but it falters for two reasons.
One is that this idea of “the power of stories”has already been, and is currently being done, better in other places. Other series took more time to discuss the way that stories impact reality, or did so in more interesting ways.
The other reason this doesn’t really work for me is that the explanation isn’t really satisfying in Alex’s case, and doesn’t totally mesh with Frankenstein’s either: in the former’s situation, the effect was metaphorical; in the latter’s, literal. This itself can be explained fine (it’s magic), but it feels like an idea that could have been mined for much more thematic meaning, and could have used more clarity and development.
The bigger, most egregious missed opportunity, though, is the diner itself. The simple concept of a night diner being run by vampires is amazing to me. Primarily, I just really like food comics, and especially restaurant ones, and we need more of them! Part of me wishes this series started on Webtoon instead of ComiXology, where there would likely be more of an audience for that kind of story.
Really, I think a big part of The All-Nighter that didn’t work for me was how much it feels like it’s focused on average superhero readers. While it fails to use the ideas above in meaningful ways, what it does is all the most basic superhero origin stuff (though thankfully, it doesn’t even spend too much time on that either). By trying so hard to be a superhero story, though, it ends up feeling generic, with “Nightshock” being the superhero mantle, and delivering some truly forgettable designs. This is doubly frustrating, as Loo did more interesting work on Afterlift, his previous series he co-created with Zdarsky.
Ultimately, it’s that sort of thing that most holds The All-Nighter back. If it had leaned into any of the other parts of its makeup, I think it could have been something really special. Instead, it’s comfortable with mediocrity.