by Chaim Mattis Keller
and Michael Hutchison
First came Neil Gaiman's Sandman. Then John Ostrander's Spectre. Then James Robinson's Starman. Three revived Golden-Age names or characters, each one a smashing success. More recently came the introduction of the new Hourman, to whom reaction is mixed, but whom many feel shows promise.
Well, welcome to the club, Doctor Mid-Nite.
I can't say enough good things about this three-issue prestige-format series by Matt Wagner and John K. Snyder III. I find their new Doctor Mid-Nite refreshingly different, but also steeped in tradition. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. The basic plot of the miniseries:
Doctor Pieter Anton Cross is a crusader in the night. He's a physician who uses his money to help the downtrodden. Suddenly, a friend of his is kidnapped, and he tries to rescue him. The attempt fails, but the kidnapers decide that the doctor is too dangerous to be allowed to oppose them, so they arrange an accident in which he is blinded.
You can see it coming already, can't you?
After spending some time wallowing in self-pity, a friend snaps him out of it, and an encounter with an owl shows him that he can see in the dark. He decides that he can be an effective crusader for good and calls himself Doctor Mid-Nite.
Gosh, what a coincidence! Isn't that almost exactly what happened to Charles McNider, the original Doctor Mid-Nite? And not too different from what happened to Beth Chapel, the second-generation Doctor Midnight? Why the heck couldn't Wagner think of something original?
But somehow, that isn't what went through my mind. Somehow, Wagner got me so hooked on the characters in this story that the rip-off didn't bother me one bit. First and foremost, there's Doctor Cross himself. Before he goes blind, he spends his nights playing the Good Samaritan, trying to stop drug dealers, running a needle-exchange program for junkies, bringing food to a soup kitchen, and handing out condoms to local ladies of the night…and dispensing free medical advice. But he's no pushover. When one of his destitute acquaintances asks him for some money, he makes him earn it by hauling boxes to the soup kitchen. While most of the types of help he offers seem to be inspired by liberal sensibilities, he doesn't come across as a preachy liberal, which would have really annoyed me. Instead, he seems genuinely concerned only about people's health, which I find to be a novel attitude.
Two incidents in the second issue illustrate this quite nicely. On one page, he's fighting the thugs who kidnapped the aforementioned friend, and we're seeing the fight through his eyes…that is, through his special computerized goggles. We see the thug charging at him, with a cigarette in his mouth. On the image in the goggles, the cigarette is circled, and a readout says "Health Hazard." This had me rolling on the floor. What crime fighter would bother putting that into his crime-fighting apparatus? Not Batman, that's for sure.
The second was a few pages later, as the city is being introduced to the new Doctor Mid-Nite. Some young gangsters are attempting to mug a girl who had gone to the supermarket for groceries. After the Doctor rescues her, he walks her home, cautions her mother against letting her go out alone so late at night…and lectures her on proper nutrition, which would not result from the diet of junk food and soda that the groceries suggest.
As in any good comic book, the supporting cast is an incredible strength. There's Camilla Marlowe, a mystery-story writer and web-page designer whose skin is too sensitive to light, until Doctor Cross takes an interest in her case. There's his operatives Nite-Lite, a large former gangster who likes to drive monster trucks, and Ice Sickle. There's Lemon, the fingerless, destitute stockbroker. There's Mouthpiece, the lawyer who doesn't talk. There's Doctor Cross's computer-controlled house, which seems to have its own personality. And, of course, there's the owl who has yet to be officially named Hooty, but who I have little doubt soon will.
Oh, the plot? A not bad story about a corporation run by the criminal Terrible Trio who intend to own part of the city, run it to the ground and then ruin the rest of the city, resulting in huge profits for them as the owners of the only usable land left in the city. It's a very good villainous plot, and Wagner gives the reader a fair chance to figure out their motivations before the hero does.
But it takes a back seat to the interplay between the characters. I've told other people, and I'll say it here too: if Doctor Mid-Night becomes an ongoing series, it's going onto my buy list.
My vote: A Perfect 10!
Jonah Hex is standing trial for shooting a man whose family he offended. (He asked a prostitute if she was prostituting herself.) After being found not guilty, he has a shoot-out with the entire remaining family. The shootout is crazy, with the whore getting shot by her own kin, kinfolk falling by the dozen, and even two horses and a dog getting shot. This whole opening shootout sequence is pretty funny, especially the judge's easygoing trial. The best line of the whole series comes from the judge when Hex asks if he's getting arrested again: "[They] popped a good yeller dog. Suit me if'n you'd killed 'em all. Goddamn case dismissed!"
Hex meets Long Tom, a midget working at a nearby Wild West Show, "Buffalo Will's Mess of Riders." Long Tom invites Hex to join the circus, since he's a freak. "Actually, I just consider myself ugly," Hex replies, but he joins the show anyway. The show is run by Buffalo Will, a rather sad little man who has an inferiority complex since he never actually shot a buffalo.
This thing gets rolling when Hex discovers a local Indian woman who has been forced into prostitution for the men of the circus. Her child, a boy with the head of a bear, is used as one of the circus freaks. When Hex and an Indian friend of his, Spotted Ba- er, Hands, ride off with the Indian woman to return her to her people, Buffalo Will sends his crew after them.
I'm not really sure why this Jonah Hex story is Vertigo. I mean, it's definitely got a lot of swearing and nudity and a little bit of explicit violence (but surprisingly, not very explicit). But while the comic revels in its mild vulgarity, it isn't really the kind of twisted, offensive vulgarity that a book needs to be considered Vertigo. This reminds me more of the moviemakers who twice insert the F-word into their perfectly good PG movie so that it gets a PG-13 rating.
This isn't really Vertigo horror. It isn't even weird, outside of the talking bear. What it IS is a very enjoyable comedy. Every page is filled with funny lines and snappy patter, framed around an interesting but not really exciting storyline.
Tim Truman's art (and let's be honest, you're not going to get the most unbiased review when I just interviewed the guy, but I'll try) is as good as ever. The violence isn't gruesome but he doesn't pull any punches, either. Gunshots impacting in people are shown as small red poofs. This atmosphere ensures that the violence doesn't detract from the humor.
All characters are DC Comics
This column is © 1999 by Chaim Mattis Keller & Michael Hutchison
The scanned covers are © 1999 DC Comics.
Letters Editor Chaim Mattis Keller, aka Legion-Reference-File Lad, is a computer programmer who lives in New York City with his wife and four children.
is Editor-In-Chief of Fanzing.com. He is the world's biggest Elongated Man fan
and runs the only EM fan site.
He lives in Rochester, MN.