Captain Midnight Leads Dark Horse's Superhero Charge – The Bleeding Cool Interview with Joshua Williamson

There's a lot going on involving the Dark Horse superhero comic Captain Midnight in January, including a #1 for $1 incentive on the first issue on January 1st, and the collected trade of the first arc arriving in print on January 15th. Though, as a fan of pulp heroes, I've been following the comic based on a pulp character with a long history from the 1930's onward (which Dark Horse also reprints), what I didn't realize is that Captain Midnight is something of a flag ship title for Dark Horse's developing line of superhero comics. Recently, for instance Dark Horse also released Never Ending by Adam P. Knave, D.J. Kirkbride, and Robert Love as well.

24659When I talked to Captain Midnight's writer Joshua Williamson (of GHOSTED from Image, Voodoo from DC) about what inspires him to write hero stories, and what he finds appealing in Midnight, he also let slip some of the master plans coming up from Dark Horse to develop a "Project Black Sky" program that features a common cover design between books, and I'm deducing that may be a visual link between their superhero comics. Williamson also gave me a heads up on the changing costume design for Captain Midnight appearing in issue 9, and we've got some artwork to preview here at Bleeding Cool below.

Captain Midnight is a series that straddles the old and the new, bringing a pulp character who combines many of the seminal elements of our modern day superheroes like Captain America and Iron Man back into the limelight. Midnight faces a modern era with the eyes of a technological genius and finds it compelling but deeply troubling. At heart, he still has that heroic ethos that demands action in a call to ethical behavior, and that's part of what makes him fascinating as he faces a largely unethical world. Josh Williamson has his job cut out for him working on this hero comic, but from the sound of it, he's having the time of his life grappling with what exactly makes a superhero super in the 21st century.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Why do you think pulp-inspired heroes are so popular right now among comics fans?

Joshua Williamson: Wow, just come out with the big questions. People want heroes and there is something pure about the more pulp-like characters. It's odd to think that most of super-heroes in the modern age are dark, brooding and conflicted, but the older gritty pulp heroes are more fun. The pulp heroes seem to be a bit more clever and still beat up bad guys with a smile. They see their actions as justice. Just pure, black and white justice. People are looking for that. They want heroes who beat up bad guys and know they are doing the right thing. And I think the pulp heroes are where that is right now.

It's like with Captain Midnight. A hero from World War II, he has older ideals that he is forced to use in a new world. Good guys and bad guys. And he knows he is doing the right thing by taking down the villains. Where we are at now with the story, Midnight has been in the present day for a bit and has been tested a few times now with his ideals, but keeps coming back to them. His moral compass is strong.

Captain Midnight was and is a genius who was transported to modern day, playing with the "Man out of Time" trope, but we twisted it by having him not impressed or surprised. He saw this new world as a disappointment but at the same time a toy land. All the new technology at his fingertips was exciting to his genius side. And in our story that has started to come into conflict with his hero side. All of these elements I think appeal to comic fans. A hero who is presented with a unique challenge, but still acts like a hero.

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Issue 8 is a prelude to our big end of year one story arc, and acting almost as a stand alone. It's a very pulp action adventure issue, so I hope people are going to pick it up and see that Dark Horse is doing the pulp heroes right.

One thing I've been very lucky to have is Mike Richardson's involvement. No one knows Captain Midnight better than him, and he has a love for that era, and for the characters, that is infectious.

HMS: How did you work out what elements you would keep in the character and storyline as homage to Captain Midnight history? How did you decide what degree of freedom you had to create a more modern character and a new book?

JW: After a lot of research, I discovered there was an incredible library to choose from and decided to cherry-pick a bit because we were trying to do something new but that still honored what came before. One example I always give is that in the original movie serials, the last episode actually, Midnight's arch-enemy was eaten by polar bears. I kept that story beat and actually made it the opening of issue one. So in some ways we started where they left off. But after that, we worked hard to make our version of Captain Midnight his own man. To move him forward into the modern world. Letting go of a few things allowed us a lot of freedom to go wild with our ideas and the story we wanted to tell. There are small Easter Eggs that we dropped that would be clues to future stories that are tied to the past. Like Agent Jones is a nod to the original messenger who gave Midnight his missions, "Mister Jones." We try to sneak little things like that in all the time. Each of our characters acts like an homage to the classic Secret Squadron characters.

Agent Jones was a mix of Barry Steele and the aforementioned Mister Jones. The Ace pilot and Captain Midnight fan boy, Rick Marshall, was based off of Chuck Ramsey, Cap's old sidekick, and Charlotte Ryan was based off of Captain Midnight's original love, Joyce Ryan. Our decision to make them familiar to fans of the original characters wasn't just for fun. We felt like Midnight himself would subconsciously surround himself with elements of his past as a way to integrate and protect himself in our brave new world.

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Oh and a big thing that we are changing now is the suit. Captain Midnight is getting a new suit in issue 9 that we're all really excited about. We didn't want to give him a new suit right away because we didn't feel like it would be a natural transition so soon. We wanted to make sure we had a reason. In issue 6 and 7 the old suit is put through the wringer… and then in issue 9 Midnight is presented with a mission that he knows he needs a special suit to accomplish.

HMS:  How has your vision of Captain Midnight and his world evolved since you started working on the book?

JW: It's gotten bigger.  Way bigger. At first the book was going to focus in action and adventure, but then we started to build a heroic world and deeper mystery.

When Captain Midnight first arrived in present day, he was presented with a lot of challenges. His enemies had been allowed to gain power in his absence and the technology that he has been developing was corrupted. Midnight has been working to stop both his enemies and take back his tech. But he was gone a long time and it's been really hard for Midnight to accept change. Especially the idea that some of his past friends could have gone over to the dark side. And the fact that it might have been his fault is a hard pill to swallow for Midnight. As we get into issue 8 and issues 9 through 10, we really start to wrap some of that up and dig into Midnight as a character. And his honest reactions to what has happened to him.

A joke I had in the beginning was "Cap don't crack." Because he is such a stoic man, who never allows himself to show any kind of weakness or flaws to anyone, but as the story has gone on and I've developed him, I've seen that he does crack. But it takes a lot to do it. Really, especially in issues 9 through 10… I make Cap's life a living hell.

22And frankly for the characters themselves. The relationships and friendships between the characters have started to take control of themselves and go in directions I didn't expect in the beginning. Like with Captain Midnight and Agent Jones, the FBI agent assigned to catch and then watch Midnight—they had an antagonistic relationship in the beginning of the series and it was going to stay that way. But where we're at with them in year two is that they have a friendship based on respect. They still bust each other's ball, but it's like…

So Agent Jones, is a very cynical man. Jones was our character that wasn't a believer and always had his doubts about Midnight. Jones saw Midnight as nothing but a threat. A security risk. But as the story has gone on, Agent Jones has warmed up to the idea of a masked hero. When we get into year two, Midnight has started to descend into a darker place, more cynical like Jones, and it freaks Jones out and he is there to pull Midnight back. To make sure that Cap stays on the heroic path.

And as I've gotten art from the all the amazing artist who have worked on Captain Midnight like Ferando Dagnino, Victor Ibanez, Pere Perez, Roger Robinson, and Eduardo Francisco, the story has changed. They've all added little nuances to the characters, little character ticks that have made its way into the character's personalities and how I see them. It's pretty great when I get new art in my inbox. It's still my favorite part of making comics.

We are just starting to turn in scripts and really develop year two of Captain Midnight, but we have years of stories planned.

Often times I read or hear about how people just like superhero comics where the heroes act like heroes. And that's what we've been working on. And as we get deeper into year two you will see Midnight start to interact more with the rest of the Dark Horse superhero universe. Even with issue 6 out in December, we start to drop clues of the connections between X, Ghost, Blackout, Captain Midnight and more.

HMS:  Do you define Captain Midnight as a super hero? What do superheroes mean to you as a writer and a reader?

Captain Midnight is a hero because he still does the right thing in spite of his flaws.

Heroes are people who have the same weaknesses as the rest of us, but overcome those weaknesses to do the right thing. But we like to call him a "super genius." He's always the smartest guy in the room, and that sometimes can be his hubris, but at the end of the day he never lets his smarts get in the way of saving the day and doing the right thing. No matter the cost.

Something I mentioned earlier was that Captain Midnight as a moral compass, and it's fair to say that I learned my moral compass from comic books, especially superhero comics. As a kid all I read and was obsessed with was superheroes. To work on a book like Captain Midnight, with his rich history, has been really rewarding. It's easily the longest project I've written to date. I've learned a lot about character and about the constant battle and pressure that superheroes are under. Writing this book has given me a new outlook on the whole genre.

The issues of Midnight that will be coming out in the later part of 2014 will be about that. What it means to be a hero? What does it mean to Captain Midnight? Again, we have a big plan and I hope people go along with us for the ride.

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HMS: Captain Midnight combines many of the characteristics of Tony Stark (inventor with troubled legacy)/Iron Man (flight), and Captain America (a man out of time, a military man), and yet he predates both. Is it hard to write a character who is psychologically realistic yet combines such larger than life qualities?

JW: I can't lie… Midnight is the hardest character to write in the book. He can be stubborn, but is also very complex. He is lost in his head and he buries his feelings. He's a classic older male character who doesn't think men should share their feelings, or ask for help. But he does.

Also, Midnight is also the least like me of the group. The hardest for me to find a "ME" in his character. I always try to method act, or put myself in the mind of the characters as I write them, but Midnight… is a much better man than I. The ability to see the world the way he does, and to have such passion and determination is at times beyond me. But eventually I was able to find the keys to writing him by searching my own passion and determination for writing in general. And characters like Midnight who are insanely smart, push me to be a smarter writer. To be clever like him and try to outsmart the barriers and challenges I put out in front of him.

HMS: What do you enjoy most on a daily basis about working on this book?

JW: Building the world.  The mystery and the puzzle. And then taking the characters we've developed and seeing how they react to that puzzle.

I watch a lot of shows that are these huge worlds based around a central figure. The Shield, Breaking Bad, Dexter, etc, all have a building mythology that when you stick with it, and give the pieces time to build, you see that they have developed a large world and it all pays off. That's what we're trying to do here.

Dark Horse, Scott Allie, Mike Richardson, Jim Gibbons, Spencer Newlin Cushing and I have spent a lot of time on Captain Midnight. We're all committed to this book and seeing our story though. Trust me when I say we're building toward something big. And people who are not here on the ground floor are missing out. Hopefully people start t get the trades and see that we're not playing around.

Dark Horse is starting a new cover design that will showcase the books that are part of the big "Project Black Sky" plan. And if you think you know what we're doing, you'll be presently surprised to find that you're wrong.

One of the things I'm really excited about is that Dark Horse is releasing a 1 for 1 issue of Captain Midnight on January 1st. Starting the new year off right with a Captain Midnight #1 re-release for just 1 dollar. It shows that Dark Horse believes in this book and is trying to give it a push.

The end of year two I'm going to put Midnight through some of the hardest challenges he's ever encountered and year two will open with a bang, leading to the bigger overall Dark Horse plans.

It's my goal to make Captain Midnight the greatest hero in the Dark Horse universe, and I hope people pick up the book and see how we're going to get there.

About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.