Comic Book Deep Dives

Night Blood Dark Hell: Rise of the Midnight Sons

Ah, the 90s.  It was a simpler time.  Nevermind the costumes or the art, it was a time of words, words like “night” and “blood” and “black” and “dark” and “hell.”  Superhero names didn’t need a to exist for a reason anymore, they just needed to sound cool.

And any superhero who was popular naturally had to spawn his or her (okay, who are we kidding?  It was “his”) own line of books like it was…well, like it was 2018, really.  That part hasn’t so much changed.

It made sense, then, that Marvel would look at it’s wildly popular new Ghost Rider series and think “hey, we should expand that into multiple books.”  And with 1992′ “Rise of the Midnight Sons,” they did exactly that.

Comics writing was not the best in the 90s, not at the Big Two, at least. There wasn’t much depth, not a whole lot of character development, and not much in the way of subtly. But even when copycat artists started popping up everywhere, you could still find some great art.

Consider this list:

Andy Kubert
Joe Kubert
Adam Kubert
Ron Garney

Those four contributed work on 2/3 of this crossover and, really, made it as palatable as it is.

The writing is full of all the horrible things you’d expected from grim dark 90s comics and on one hand it’s awful. But on the other hand, it’s so perfectly 90s that it almost becomes great again.

Say what you want about 90s comics, there was an energy and idiocy to them that we hadn’t seen in mainstream superhero comics since Marvel in the 70s. The main difference is that 70s Marvel comics were, by and large, also really smart.

These were big, dumb comics and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Rise of the Midnight Sons

As I said, “Rise of the Midnight Sons” was an attempt at expanding the line of Ghost Rider related titles, all with a supernatural/horror bent.  The crossover was only 6 issues long, but all of those issues were double-sized.  Ghost Rider’s series book ended the crossover, with four, new #1’s filling the middle.

The gist of the story is that Lilith, Mother of Demons, had returned, and planned to use her demon children to take over the earth.  They’re called Lilin, by the way, which means my son is a Kylin or, if this is like a Jewish thing and goes through the mother, then a Nicin, which sounds like a powder used to fight joint pain.  Lilith doesn’t really have a motive other than “she’s an evil demon,” but at this point such things are unnecessary. Again, your mileage may vary as to whether that’s horrible or awesome.  What matters is that we’re going to see some cool demons fight some sweet gritty superheroes and there will be at least one flaming skull running around.

Ghost Rider #28

Bask in the glory of Andy Kubert’s pencils inked by his father, Joe.  They are glorious.  They could be the best I’ve ever seen the younger Kubert’s work look.

It’s also nigh incomprehensible.

Whether you like Kubert’s art or not, he’s a solid storyteller, so the fact that the transition from panel to panel is often at best odd and at worst nonsensical is surprising.  The book is written by Howard Mackie and while he’s not a titan of comic book writing, he’s able to write a basic script.  I have to assume that Joe Kubert did nothing but ink his son’s pencils without bothering to read the script. or you’d think he’d have said something like “hey, Andy, this close-up of Blackout’s face gives no indication of what is actually happening to him.”

This issue is mostly set up, establishing something of a through line for a crossover which is ultimately an anthology of sorts, using Lilith as the framework.  All you need to know about this issue is that Ghost Rider and Blaze (aka Johnny Blaze aka the first motorcycle riding Ghost Rider) have teamed up, and Johnny Blaze shoots hellfire from his shotgun, because, you know, 90s.

Spirits of Vengeance #1

I’ve never actually gotten into a debate with anyone on the better Kubert, Andy or Adam, but that has to be a conversation people have, right?  Particularly in the 90s when they were both drawing X-books?  I can see such a thing happening in your more involved comics shops.

I say all that because it is clear that Adam Kubert was ahead of the curve at this point in his career.  The storytelling is clearly better, but even the over all fluidity of his work is better, although I think it is even now, which is why I prefer it.  All things considered, the first two issues of this crossover have looked amazing, even if part one had some serious issues.

The full name of this new series is Ghost Rider & Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance and was, to a certain extent, Marvel’s attempt at both appealing long time Johnny Blaze fans and expanding the Ghost Rider line.  It wasn’t a bad compromise, all things considered, but turning Johnny Blaze into a typical 90s, gun toting anti-hero was not particularly original or good.

Lilith only appeared in Ghost Rider’s visions in part one, so this is the first time she actually appears in the flesh.  It should be noted that Ghost Rider’s visions involve the death of Dan Ketch, the human host for Ghost Rider, who has apparently died.  Or his spirit has.  Or something.  Comics.

Anyway, Blaze and Ghost Rider (I’m dying to make a weed joke, I really am) face off against some of Lilith’s kids, but eventually save the day.  They realize, of course, that there are big things going down, so they need to stick together, and thus a new series is born.

This issue ends with another ominous appearance by Dr. Strange, who has been orchestrating the formation of the Midnight Sons from behind the scenes.  He’s a tricky one, that Dr. Strange.

Morbius #1

Oh, man, Morbius, how many first issues have you had now?

I don’t really understand how Morbius continues to get titles.  Maybe it’s nostalgia for 70s Marvel (Morbius’ best stories were in Marvel’s black and white horror books), maybe it’s the fact that he first appeared in the first issue of Spider-man not written by Stan Lee.  I don’t know.  But he’s basically a science fiction vampire and that’s all you really need to know.  His brand of angst wasn’t even sustainable in the 90s.

In this first issue by Len Kaminski, Ron Wagner, and Mike Witherby, Morbius is trying his darndest not to eat people, which is basically every Morbius story ever told.  His lady friend is trying to find him so that a guy who is secretly working for someone named Dr. Paine (see what they did there?) can cure him, but not really.  Ghost Rider and Blaze help capture him, the aforementioned guy poisons him, and Morbius is on his way to being really dead — or he would have been, had Lilith’s child not injected demon blood into the serum that was meant to kill Morbius.  Now no one really knows what the hell is happening to him.

He gets a new costume, his lady friend dies, and he makes peace with the Riders Ghost.  Then it’s off to do some more brooding.

I can’t imagine reading this issue and thinking “this is a book I’m going to keep buying each month.”  But Morbius ends up lasting longer than most of the other Midnight Sons titles, like…

Darkhold #1

Of all the Midnight Sons titles, this one is the strangest.  It doesn’t feature any “name” characters.  It was instead built upon the idea of a book with tremendous power and the people who were sworn to keep it away from bad guys.  It’s not a bad concept for a comic, really, particularly given the history that the Darkhold has — it was introduced by Gerry Conway and Mike Ploog in 1972.

This book also doesn’t look like any of the others.  It’s drawn by Richard Case and Mark McKenna who would go on to have some success as the team on Grant Morrison’s run of the Doom Patrol.  Their work is perfect for Doom Patrol, but here it’s out of place next to the usual Marvel big guns, big muscles, big measurements type stuff.  There is absolutely nothing extreme about the art, but their version of the devil (or what I’m assuming is the devil) is creepy as hell.

I have to give Marvel credit for mixing it up with these books, though. Morbius may be an insufferable coffee shop poet, but his is a different take on the supernatural than, say, the Ghost Rider books. Darkhold is very different, too, and the art certainly makes that clear.

In this issue itself, we find out that Lilith is working with the cult that is trying to get the Darkhold and kill off its defenders.  Ghost Rider and Blaze help out the cast of this book as it seems that is what they do in this crossover.

It’s written by Christian Cooper and I have no idea if he wrote anything else ever.  It actually feels a bit like a light Vertigo book beyond just the art.  It kind of reminded me of the original Xombi series from Milestone, but not as good or as interesting.

Needless to say, this series did not last long, although it did get hilariously more extreme.

Nightstalkers #1

And speaking of extreme, welcome to the best of the bunch!  Instead of simply giving Blade his own series, Marvel teamed him up with Frank Drake, who is an actual descendent of Dracula, and Hannibal King, a vampire, which gave this little trio a bit of synergy, as Blade was kind of half-vampire (kind of).  The three of them are hired by Lilith to take down Ghost Rider and Blaze (those guys again!), although they don’t know it’s Lilith who hired them, just another dame with stems that went up to her head.

In case you were unsure when this comic was published, the non-powered Frank Drake goes to pick up a little nanotech gun he’d be working on with the help of an MIT engineer nicknamed “Silicon…” because her last name is Valle.

Solid.

Dr. Strange floats around the background, continuing to pull the strings that would get the Midnight Sons together.

The Nightstalkers arrive at a truce with Ghost Rider and Blaze.  The best part is that Blade, who is part vampire himself, threatens Blaze, saying that since he hangs out with Ghost Rider and “you condone the supernatural.  As long as that continues, you’re on the list.”  Reminder: this is said by the part-vampire guy…who is standing next to the full vampire guy.

This gem was written by DG Chichester and drawn by Ron Garney and Tom Palmer.  I’m sure Garney’s pencils aren’t the thing of beauty they are now, but it’s hard to tell underneath Palmer’s incredibly heavy inks.  Everything looks like John Buscema era Avengers, which isn’t a bad thing, per se, but you know it should look a little bit different given it’s not actually penciled by Buscema.

Ghost Rider #31

The grand finale features yet more horrible story telling decisions by young Andy Kubert, yet also more beautiful panels by young Andy Kubert and his masterful father, Joe.  This is, as you would expect, a big battle, the “Midnight Sons” coming together to fight Lilith and her most formidable children.  They do this in a land of a midnight sun, which I guess is where the name comes from.

As you might imagine, our team wins the battle, theoretically destroying Lilith, although this issue ends, of course, with her surprising return (nothing ever really ends in comics).  Our gang is also joined by Dr. Strange, who is revealed to have been the master manipulator of all this to begin with.  As you would imagine, they all go their separate ways when the battle is over.  The crossover has served its purpose, so no reason to keep them all together…

…at least for another nine months until the next crossover.

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