By Jared Cornelius
As a comics fan I often find myself being reductive and cynical about revivals and updated properties. It's so easy to be cynical about something being a quick cash in or a cheap rip off that I forget that some reimaginings are actually good. Take for example Dark Horse Comic's Captain Midnight by Joshua Williamson and Fernando Dagnino.
Like many of you, I'd never heard of Captain Midnight until Dark Horse announced the revival of a superhero focused line in March of 2013. My first impressions weren't exactly glowing as I thought, "Here we go, a Captain America rip off" and "Doesn't Dynamite have the market cornered on pulp heroes?" I was basically content with that attitude until I picked up the Free Comic Book Day edition of Dark Horse's Project Black Sky. I was so impressed with Dark Horse's FCBD offering I decided to try the regular series and realized, it's good to be wrong.
Titled, On The Run, the first volume contains issues 0 through 3 as well as material from Free Comic Book Day 2013. When you first look at the cover, and see a hooded figure in a red jumpsuit clasping the dome of jet fighter. Something about it seems classic, like this would be a comic book your father or grandfather would've read. Captain Midnight's classic feel shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, based on the characters roots, as a radio serial and comic series in the 30's and 40's. Captain Midnight's retro roots left me intrigued, as I wondered whether Williamson would be able to provide Captain Midnight with his own voice, or if he'd be relegated to the long list of Captain America knockoffs like the Fighting American.
Our story begins with the US Navy sent to investigate an anomaly in the Bermuda Triangle, and they get more than they bargained for when a World War II fighter jet emerges from a black cloud and costumed adventurer, Jim "Captain Midnight" Albright is returned to the world. Albright was an adventurer, inventor, and Nazi puncher from World War II who went missing over 70 years ago and was presumed dead. We're given a minor crash course on Captain Midnight, including some his exploits from World War II and some of the backstory regarding his disappearance. We find out that when Captain Midnight went missing he was on a secret mission that involved a vital piece of technology, sending him and his Nazi nemesis into a black storm where they disappeared. The returned Captain Midnight is now hellbent on completing his mission and doesn't care if the modern day US Government likes it or not.
One of the things I liked about the book was Williamson did a great job of making Captain Midnight feel like his own character. The comparisons to Captain America are warranted, but Williamson made Albright seem like wholly different character. While Marvel's first Avenger is at heart a soldier, Dark Horse's man out of time is at heart an inventor and critical thinker. Captain Midnight is another character where Dark Horse has done a nice job of incorporating different archetypes and combining them into a character that feels familiar, but unique at the same time, with Albright seeming like a mix of Howard Stark and Captain America.
Captain Midnight is a serious man, dedicated to a good cause, but he's also an inventor and futurist. When he arrives in the modern day he knows he's traveled into the future immediately and isn't phased by it, in fact he's disappointed technology hasn't advanced more. This is all capped off with serious determination, but with a bit of swashbuckling attitude mixed in. It all goes a long way to making Captain Midnight feel fresh for someone who's been around since the 1930's.
Even though Williamson did a great job with most of the characters, I did feel he succumb to a few clichés of the man out of time story. Midnight inevitably meets the daughter of his presumed former lover and partner and left me inevitably thinking of the Peggy Carter, Sharon Carter relationship highlighted in the recent Captain America movies.
Fernando Dagnino's art also contributes to the books overall feel with a consistent and quality art style. On The Run looked great from start to finish. When depicting Midnight's beautiful but deadly Nazi nemesis, Fury Shark, Dagnino gives her a pale and quiet look, almost like a woman in a Patrick Nagel painting. Dagnino draws Midnight himself with a commanding style that reminded me a bit of Neal Adams work on Batman. Captain Midnight feels classic but with a sleek modern veneer that fits the tone perfectly. Dagnino's art is clean with excellent use of shading, well defined bodies and characters, without a huge emphasis on cartoonish exaggeration. I also really enjoyed the Free Comic Book Day story by Pere Perez, whose art contributes nicely to a more retro styled Captain Midnight tale. Williamson and Dagnino made sure the series had retro overtones and ties, even Captain Midnight's costume felt of the time, but functional for the modern day. It looks like something a superhero from the 1940's would wear, but not garish like Uncle Sam or Stripsey.
Dark Horse's Black Sky series of comics have been a pretty big hit for me and Captain Midnight is no exception. The ties to other genres and characters are undeniable, but when they're done well there's very little to complain about. I made mention in my review of X: Big Bad that Dark Horse had done a great job of mashing up heroes to come up with something that was unique while familiar at the same time, Captain Midnight continues that trend with great success. If the books retro look scared you away, go ahead and take another glance, because with every issue I've read in the Black Sky line, I've become ever more intrigued with the characters and universe.
Captain Midnight Volume One: On The Run is currently available at retail and digital form.
Do you have Captain Midnight Volume One and would like Volume Two?
Well look no further, I've got an extra copy that I'll mail out to one lucky reader! All you have to do is follow me on Twitter @John_Laryngitis, I'll select someone to get the book and a few other readers to send some free comics as well. Unfortunately for all our international friends, this is for continental US residents only, but if you still want to be friends on Twitter I always have a minute to say "Hi". If for some reason you actually follow me already and would like to be included just send me a tweet saying so.
Jared Cornelius is some guy from New Jersey's coast who's retroactive. If you'd like to talk about your favorite retro updates contact him on Twitter @John_Laryngitis