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Review: CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT: ON THE RUN

So I’d say my knowledge of long forgotten Golden Age characters is pretty good for somebody born decades after that era. While I’ve never actually read a single story featuring, say, The Green Lama for example, I knew that such a character existed. (Yes, a superhero who had the word Lama in his name existed, I am not making this up. I know it’s like religious lama, not animal llama, but still.) So color me surprised when I discovered that there was a character called Captain Midnight, who not only had a comic book but a long-running radio show as well. Who knew?

Well, Dark Horse Comics knew, that’s who, and recently they’ve taken a number of these long-forgotten characters from the Golden Age and returned them to prominence as part of their Project Black Sky line of superhero books, which include Brainboy, Skyman, and former ’90s Dark Horse heroes like Ghost and X. So how do you take characters so deeply ingrained in the era of their origin like some of these Golden Age heroes and modernize them? Well, sometimes the best option is not to modernize them at all, which is the case with Captain Midnight. Keep the character himself firmly planted in the square-jawed forties, and then just changed everything else around him, starting with the time period. And judging by Captain Midnight, Volume One – On The Run, I’d say that approach has worked pretty well.

The book opens in the present day, on the ship USS Ronald Reagan, when very suddenly an aircraft from the 1940s appears pretty much out of nowhere in the skies above them. On board is legendary superhero Captain Midnight, who vanished in 1945. Midnight, better know as Jim “Red” Albright, was a brilliant inventor and adventurer, who saved the day and kicked a lot of Nazi ass in the process, until one day, he mysteriously vanished in (where else?) the Bermuda Triangle. Although he is captured and detained for questioning from the non-believing authorities on board the  Ronald Reagan, it takes a lot to subdue Captain Midnight. See, Captain Midnight has a mission to complete, and he’s not about to let a little something like missing the last seventy years or so stop him from completing it. He has a score to settle with a woman named Fury Shark (just gotta say, I so love the name), and she’s managed to also appear in the present day, although apparently she arrived many years earlier than Captain Midnight. Fury Shark has taken some of Captain Midnight’s advanced technology and altered it into weapons that she is selling and from which she’s making a fortune. The good Captain, as you can imagine, is having none of that.

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Writer Joshua Williamson (Ghosted, Masked and Mobsters) resists taking the easy route and making the whole thing an exercise in camp nostalgia. Sure, Captain Midnight has all the ingredients that you want out of an 1940s era pulp hero: ridiculous technology, mysterious happenings in the Bermuda Triangle, leggy blonde evil Nazi super geniuses with names like Fury Shark, secret lairs, UFOs, and countless other tropes parodied by things like The Rocketeer and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. It would be easy as hell to turn the whole thing into a big joke, but Williamson fleshes out not only Albright, but also the supporting cast of players,who to me are the real stand out stars of this story.

The true central characters in this book on an emotional level are Joyce Ryan, an octogenarian who was Captain Midnight’s teammate back in the day, her granddaughter Charlotte, who has grown up with Captain Midnight stories and is up to here with the whole thing, and Charlotte’s ex-husband Richard, who is the opposite of her and can’t get enough of them. In a way, this is their book more than it is Captain Midnight’s, despite his name being in the title. His sudden reappearance in the present day shakes their world up, and you get a clearer picture into who they are and how they are defined by their connection to him by his return. For me, it was as much fun learning about them than the title character, really. Not to say that Captain Midnight isn’t interesting, it’s just that I feel that we’ve only begun to scratch the surface with him.

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The artwork is also very good to downright great on this book; pencillers Fernando Dagnino, Victor Ibáñez, Pere Pérez, and Roger Robinson all do an amazing job, and although their art styles are different, they’re not glaringly different from each other. It’s never jarring when the art transition happens, unlike some collected editions where the tonal shifts between artists are abrupt, and then I can’t get past it (although if I had to pick a favorite among the four, the award goes to Victor Ibáñez, who only illustrates the first chapter. His work is truly great and expressive, and left me wanting more). In the final analysis, if you enjoy things like Indiana Jones or The Shadow, and most obviously Captain America, then Captain Midnight is the book for you. If nothing else, this book features a scene in which a polar bear eats a Nazi, and if that doesn’t get you excited, then I don’t know what will.

Captain Midnight: Volume 1- “One The Run” is available now at your local comic shop or for ordering online.

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