August 26, 2015

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Captain Midnight Series Review - Part 1: The Effects Of A Legacy


Written by Joshua Williamson
Illustrated by Victor Ibáñez, Pere Pérez, Fernando Dagnino, Eduardo Francisco
Colours by Ego, Stefani Rennee, Javier Mena

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT
Legacies can be crucial. For many people, one of the most important parts of life is ensuring that they leave behind something to be proud of. This can measured through the amount of people that we've helped, the work that we've produced or simply by the amount of people that are going to miss us when we're gone. For people in positions of power, a common measure of satisfaction is being able to say that the people you leave behind can carry on in your absence and build on the foundation that you've provided them. How would you feel if you got a chance to see the future and saw people talking with your name but without any of your words?
Captain Midnight (Jim "Red" Albright) is a character that began his life in a radio serial that ran from 1938 to 1949. During the peak of his popularity, he was adapted into a comic strip, TV series and even a movie serial. His character, his role in the world and the members of his team have been modified slightly in each iteration with little consistency across the iterations. This series from Dark Horse is a compilation that draws influence primarily from the original radio serial but also adapts the characters and puts a modern spin on them.
Dark Horse's core concept centres around the original Captain Midnight finding himself transported forward from his own time in 1943 into the far flung future of 2013. As a revolutionary engineer in his own time, he quickly finds the future hasn't progressed anywhere near as much as he had hoped. This disillusionment is compounded by the discovery that his Nazi nemesis, Fury Shark, surfaced years earlier and has cemented herself as the CEO of the global arms-dealer Sharkbyte Industries. Upon discovering that she has corrupted the technology that he was creating back in the 1940s, Captain Midnight resolves to return the world to the course that he originally put it on.
One of the ways to measure a legacy is the effects that you have on the people closest to you. Captain Midnight inspires everyone that he meets to be the best version of themselves and creates a drive in them to improve the world in any way they can. In both timelines, Captain Midnight leads a group of people who call themselves the Secret Squadron. In World War 2, the followers were his second-in-command and romantic partner, Joyce Ryan, and budding creator and boy-genius, Chuck Ramsey.
The modern day iteration initially contained the granddaughter of an original member, Charlotte Ryan, and Captain Midnight super-fan, Rick Marshall. They are eventually joined by their government liaison, Marvin Jones, who is assigned the moniker of "Mr Jones". While the group in the modern day does eventually expand, these characters serve as the core focus for the majority of the series.

A recurring plot point throughout Captain Midnight is the idea of handing down roles within a team. Beyond the obvious parallel between the grandmother and the granddaughter, the people that Captain Midnight inspires to his side seem to fall into certain roles. At first glance, they are people who want to do good in the world and see a person who has goals that align with theirs. Beneath this, they are all people who had something missing from their lives and needed someone to inspire them enough to actually get up and make a difference.
The first arc of this series chronicles Jim Albright's arrival in the modern day and his subsequent attempts to adjust to his new surroundings. Fury Shark plays the role of the stereotypical supervillain and antagonises Captain Midight at every opportunity that she gets. Her aim is to destroy everything that Albright gave to the world in revenge for the murder of her father.

As a relatively unknown writer at the time, Williamson quickly demonstrated his ability to seed storylines in the very first arc that wouldn't come to fruition for years. Main plots that are unravelled throughout the 24 issue run are introduced long before they're actually used. The details seem relatively insignificant when you first see them, but jump out as excellent foreshadowing when reading the series for the second time.
The art throughout the first arc is primarily provided by series regular Fernando Dagnino. It is consistent during the action filled moments and the times when the characters are sitting around having a conversation. However, there are a few moments where a character's face doesn't portray the emotion that the speech bubble does, detracting from otherwise powerful moments. The colouring from Ego throughout the first four issues also feels quite pale and washed out which dampens all of the emotions and prevents the arc from feeling exciting.
The second arc of the series picks up the pace as Captain Midnight runs into an accidental legacy that was created by his sudden disappearance. The government created the hero known as Skyman to serve with the same values that Cap himself represented back in the middle of WW2. Jim Albright is forced to directly confront his own black and white view of the world when seeing it epitomised in the actions of an unstable superhero that has been created to represent him.

Throughout his journey through this brave new world, Cap is constantly forced to look at his own views and consider whether or not they still apply in a country that isn't in the middle of a world war. It's a great deconstruction of a person who, before this, has been completely focused on achieving a single goal and shows the detriment caused by plowing forward with a goal without thinking how it affects people that you'll probably never even meet.
This arc also gives companion Rick Marshall something solid to contribute to the group beyond his knowledge of the legendary hero's past. Not only are his skills as a pilot and connections to the military crucial to the team's success, his unwavering loyalty shines through in a few inspirational moments. Seeing a person so dedicated to their leader makes the reader want to strive towards making that much of a difference in someone's life.
Issue #7 is the first instance of Williamson taking the story in a completely unexpected direction. Just one issue after retrieving his legendary plane, The Skyrocket, from the bottom of the ocean Midnight sacrifices it to take down a single villain. The plane is built up as a vehicle that serves as an extension of the Captain's abilities. This is not the first time that Williamson pulls out the rug from underneath the reader and creates a scene full of foreboding during each reread and a sign that the reader should never expect anything of these characters.

While he is not the first artist, Eduardo Francisco is the person who contributes the most to my memory of the aesthetics of this series. His depictions of the characters are iconic and you retain them in your head regardless of the art actually on the page. His Jim Albright is the classic square-jawed handsome guy from old pulp stories, while Charlotte and Rick are average looking heroes who are tough enough to be the people most likely to rise up to help. Francisco's inks feel stronger than those from Dagnino and they bring a certain weight to the series that was missing before.
If the rest of the series isn't to your taste, you owe yourself the opportunity to read until the end of the third arc. This is where Williamson takes everything that you think you know about a superhero and throws it out the window. After having enough of the bastardisation of his ideas, Captain Midnight decides to take the fight directly to Fury Shark and brings her back to his base. In a move that annihilates any expectations the reader has for the title, series supervillain Fury Shark is brutally murdered in cold blood while under Cap's protection. Williamson creates such a fantastic atmosphere that you come away from the scene feeling completely violated. 
This untoward act of violence drives Jim Albright to frightening places and causes him to rashly chase after the perpetrator into his old company building. An unfortunate series of events then leads to Rick sacrificing his life by reacting like a true hero and jumping in front of what would have otherwise been a killing blow to Jim Albright.

Sometimes you're the most prepared you can be and you've been given all the support and power you could possibly need; you feel like you could face the devil himself and come through safely. This can be due to your circumstances, your knowledge or even some kind words given exactly when you need to hear them. Then sometimes, with all of this newfound confidence, you need to take a leap of faith. And sometimes you just fail.
Rick's journey into the role that he always wished for and then his immediate downfall could be seen as a cautionary tale. He doesn't get to see his hero succeed and gets taken down, not in a blaze of victory, but during a crushing defeat. However, throughout everything, he never stops believing in his heroes and that he can make a difference. Making a difference is all that most of us can hope to do in our lives and Rick Marshall reaches for and exceeds all of the expectations of him. His name may not go down in the legends of comic book characters that saved the world, but I'll be damned if he goes by completely and utterly forgotten.
Look for Part 2 of my series review tomorrow!