Dark Horse Comics is looking to the past as it moves into the coming year, revisiting and rebooting heroes and stories from its library of characters with the already launched “Ghost” reboot and the announcement of a new “X” title on the way. However, in the case of the upcoming “Captain Midnight,” Dark Horse and writer Joshua Williamson are reaching a bit further back, pulling the titular Golden Age hero from his roots in World War II and post-war America into contemporary culture.
Written by Williamson and featuring artwork by Victor IbÃ¡ñez, the WWII hero’s intoduction to modern comics will be serialized in the pages of “Dark Horse Presents” beginning with issue #18, on sale November 21, followed by a miniseries in 2012. Comic Book Resources spoke with Williamson and Dark Horse Founder and President Mike Richardson about what has gone into resurrecting the long-lost hero.
Captain Midnight has a long and somewhat convoluted history, having appeared in radio, television and print formats from 1938-1956. Most incarnations of the character include his background as a World War I U.S. Army Pilot, fighting espionage and the occasional criminal mastermind, and while the new take on the character does include some of these aspects, readers can expect a new spin on them. “Our Captain Midnight will combine some of the elements of all earlier versions of the character,” Richardson told CBR News. “I’ll try not to give too much away, but the 1940s character will arrive in modern day, wearing that striking costume complete with goggles and clock insignia.”
Williamson has penned a story that wrenches Captain Midnight out of the past and into the present, and the Captain is not entirely impressed with what he finds. “Captain Midnight from the old movie serials suddenly erupts from the Bermuda Triangle in modern times,” Williamson explained. “The Captain knows too much and can’t be allowed to just run around, so the government wants to capture him and lock him up away from the world. It’s very much a ‘Man lost in time’ story but with a different take. Instead of being in awe of the future, Captain Midnight is disappointed. He wants to know where his jetpack is, you know? Captain Midnight was a genius inventor and futurist; he doesn’t see what he likes and tries to change that. But first he needs to finish a few loose ends from his last mission.”
Captain Midnight’s sudden arrival in our time does not go unnoticed, and much of Williamson’s story centers not on the hero himself but on the supporting cast, including an authoritative FBI agent and a young pilot. “FBI Agent Jones and pilot Rick Marshall are the perfect odd couple, trying to find our hero and bring Captain Midnight in before he hurts himself — or the world,” Williamson said. “Agent Jones is an impatient hardass who thinks he knows everything. He just wants answers and to catch his man. Agent Jones doesn’t care that Captain Midnight was a World War II hero; all he sees is a threat to national security. He’s a great character to write because he has so much hubris.
“Rick Marshall is the exact opposite of Agent Jones; he’s a fanboy of Captain Midnight with ties to Captain Midnight’s past,” Williamson continued. “Because of his knowledge of Captain Midnight, Marshall is tasked with helping Agent Jones. Marshall is a bit more of a cool nerd — excited to be on this mission, but also worried that they are going too far. Whenever Captain Midnight gets away, Agent Jones is pissed, but Marshall is in awe of his childhood hero. Two other characters we will introduce are Joyce Ryan and Charlotte Ryan, but I don’t want to ruin anything for the readers. Big fans of Captain Midnight will probably have already figured it out based on their names alone.”
Much of Williamson’s first story focuses on the relationship between Captain Midnight as he comes to terms with the new world he finds himself in, as well as Jones and Marshall’s attempts to track down the renegade hero. Williamson did, however, hint at some Golden Age villainy in the works. “There is one classic family of villains, Ivan and Fury Shark, who will eventually come into play. Their story and how they tie into Captain Midnight being lost in time is one of the main mysteries of the new series that we’re excited to share with everyone.”
Williamson describes his story as having a touch of the feel of a police procedural combined with costumed superheroics. While much of his inspiration for the tone of the story was found in the early “Captain Midnight” television serials themselves, he also looked to other sources. “One thing that I love about this book is how it’s sort of like DC Comics’ ‘Gotham Central’ in that we see the return of Captain Midnight through the eyes of the two men tasked with tracking him down,” Williamson said. “Even though Captain Midnight isn’t in every scene, his presence is felt. I looked at ‘Gotham Central’ and thought of [‘Captain Midnight’] as a larger scale Navy and FBI version of that.
“This might sound funny,” Williamson added, “but I gave Victor [IbÃ¡ñez ] this link to a ‘Best of Hans Zimmer’ to use as inspiration while he is drawing.”
Williamson’s Hans Zimmer soundtrack must have had an impact on IbÃ¡ñez, because the writer is resoundingly pleased with the dynamism he brought to the page. “Victor’s energy and detail for the project has been inspiring,” Williamson said. “You always want an artist that challenges you as a writer, and makes you want to be a better writer. Victor has done that for me with this project. His line work and inks capture the mix of retro characters, pulpy action and smaller, more intimate moments a book like this needs.”
Balancing the combination of retro style and contemporary storytelling is no small feat, and Williamson appears to recognize and be up to the challenge. Dark Horse founder Mike Richardson has confidence that Williamson is the only writer for the job. “As with any classic character — think Superman and Batman — relevance is an issue related to the quality of writing,” Richardson said. “We think we have a great approach and the right writer in Josh. He gets what we are trying to do with the illustrious Captain. He looked at our plans for the character and pitched a great take. He was extremely enthusiastic about the character and his enthusiasm rubbed off on all of us.”
For his part, Williamson has found that bringing a Golden Age hero into the present necessitates a careful honoring of history while also pushing to break free of cliche and forge new ground. “We really wanted to try something different and offer up a different take on a familiar story,” Williamson said. “We wanted to be true to what has come before and move forward. Of course my first impulse is to try and include everything from his past, but I don’t want to bog the story down with history lessons about Captain Midnight. It needed to be exciting with a focus on the mystery.”
That “something different” might just lie in the juxtaposition of two worlds as Williamson is set to explore what it is to see our contemporary networked culture through the eyes of a pulp hero accustomed to right and wrong answers, a hero who hasn’t appeared in the public eye since the dawn of the Cold War. “Captain Midnight’s outlook on his future and our present day is a bit skewed,” Williamson explained. “He’s a character with retro and pulp sensibilities trying to make sense of our modern world. Personally, I’m a fan of the Golden Age: The world, the storytelling and its characters. Being able to have a bit of that in our world has been a lot of fun. For Captain Midnight, things are much less political.There isn’t so much grey as there is just black and white. You’re one of the good guys, or you’re not.
“It’s a kind of hero readers haven’t seen in a while.”
“Captain Midnight,” by Joshua Williamson and Victor IbÃ¡ñez, debuts in “Dark Horse Presents” #18, on sale November 21.