Finding a fresh new comic book title can be a challenging endeavor. Flipping through the racks at the newsstand or the convenience store only reveals the same tired characters. Even if you are a connoisseur of sequential art who frequents the comic shops weekly, it is still hard to decide which new titles to pick up. The racks are so packed with similar spandex warriors, sometimes it’s just easier to stick with the hip black and white indies. But even the indies will betray you. Just when you’ve sold your soul to the characters and the plot line, it either gets canceled or gets bought up and revamped by a major company. Investing your time and money into a new comic book series can be risky business. Say you take a chance on a new superhero book. If it’s horrible, you are out a few bucks with nothing to show but stinging disappointment. It it’s great, you become addicted and must have every issue, every crossover, every annual, the action figure, the T-shirt, the lunch box and the next thing you know you have manifested a nasty comic book addiction and the rent check bounces.
Many comic book buyers adopted the no-new-super heroes policy in recent years figuring that if they just stayed away from the spandex, they would not miss anything good. Subscribers to this faith would have missed out on one of last years better reads; J. Michael Straczynski’s Rising Stars.
From the covers, Rising Stars just looks like any other super hero book. Worse yet, it looks like any other Image Comics superhero book. Complete with muscle bound heroes with squinty eyes and super model babes in skimpy clothes. But thanks to writer/creator J. Michael Straczynski, the comic turned out to be one of the past year’s best comics. Straczynski has been writing for television for decades but it is Babylon 5 that brought him a cult following to rival that of Star Trek. Rising Stars turned out to be more X-Files and Twilight Zone than Babylon 5 and more Childhood’s End than Superfriends. It has built up a respectable cult of its own and is said to have already landed a movie deal. With the sudden success of Rising Stars, Straczynski has embarked on starting his own comics label under the Image and Top Cow Banner called simply, Joe’s Comics. Midnight Nation is Joe’s Comic’s first highly anticipated follow up to Rising Stars.
Midnight Nation takes of in an entirely different direction from the super hero genre. Midnight Nation is a supernatural detective comic. Detective comics are nothing out of the ordinary. Dick Tracy, The Spirit, and even Batman were all detectives. Supernatural comics are nothing new either. It’s easy to forget with all the colorful super heroes on the comics racks that for quite a long time, horror comics dominated the industry. Surely the world does not need another detective comic or another horror comic, but with the popularity of shows like The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, perhaps the time is right to unleash a new supernatural detective thriller on the comic buying world. At least that’s what J. Michael Straczynski is counting on and if his successes during the past decade are any indication, he may just know what he is doing.
The protagonist and narrator of the comic is homicide detective Lieutenant Grey. On the surface, Grey is a fairly stereotypical fiction detective. He is dedicated to his job. The wife has left him. His coworkers are fat stereotypical cops. There is not much in the first issue of Midnight Nation to suggest that Grey will be anything more than a typical fiction detective but Straczynski has proven to be unpredictable in the past and if there is one constant theme in his work it is that things are not what they seem. Midnight Nation proves this on page 16 when he turns a seemingly cliché detective story into a full on horror flick staring some pretty damned freaky looking Darth Maul wannabes. From this point on our cliché detective comic turns into more of what you might expect to find in a cliché Vertigo Comics supernatural thriller. Complete with a hot babe spirit guide, Lieutenant Grey is thrown into the world between midnight and twilight, between life and death.
Midnight Nation is an exciting comic book and has some good dialog but it reads more like a script for a television show than a comic book. Despite the industry’s tendency to go nuts with excitement whenever they can get someone from television or films to write comics, having a comic read like a TV show is not always a good thing. Gary Frank is truly a gifted penciler but storytelling still eludes him. Midnight Nation reads like a TV show where the writer, editor and director were all working from different scripts. Although Frank’s art is dynamic, it has no pace or flow and there are many panels that seem as if something is missing. This does not make Midnight Nation a bad comic, just and underachieving comic. The script is good. Straczynski knows what he is doing. It’s just the finish product that misses the mark. It is really a shame that the storytelling is not more polished because this is a comic that has great potential to draw new readers to comic,s but the inadequacies of the graphic storytelling may be confusing to non-comic book readers.
Despite its flaws Midnight Nation could very well prove to be a good series. It has a fresh twist on the detective thriller which should play nicely into the current state of pop culture. The comic book industry can benefit from crossover genre comics of this nature just as it can benefit from bringing in popular names from television and film. However, what is good for the comic book industry, may not always be what is good for the comic book reader. Midnight Nation may bring in a lot of fans from out side of comic book culture but it may just turn a lot of comic book lovers away.