Damn, the early 90s gave us some good comics.
Amidst the speculator boom, the mass explosion of comic shops (and subsequent closings of same), polybags, Rob Liefeld and price guides, there was some serious ass kicking going on during the decade’s infancy. And for me, the saga of the Midnight Sons shines the brightest. I’ve been itching to revisit this story, the 6-part crossover that brought together many of Marvel’s most macabre mortals (and immortals, of course), and seems to me there’s no better time than when the leaves are changing, the days are growing shorter and all manner of spookiness is being celebrated.
Before I begin, I really can’t not mention that “Rise of the Midnight Sons” is not a good story. Each of the issues individually are great, but a cohesive story, it ain’t. As a crossover, Rise… serves merely as a launch pad for some supernatural-themed titles…no better way to foist them upon the Marvel zombies than by way of the then super popular Ghost Rider. Each of the premier issues (Morbius: The Living Vampire, Darkhold, Spirits of Vengeance and Nightstalkers) feels like an episode of Golden Girls or Kate & Allie, where the main characters hang out for a minute with a group of all new characters and then split, and then the rest of the episode is about these new characters because the network is trying to produce a show out of it. Sometimes it worked and most of the time it didn’t. As spin-offs, the Midnight Sons books work way better than “Top of the Heap”.
Things kick off in Ghost Rider 28. Ghost Rider and Dan Ketch have been separated. Ketch is in some kind of limbo/purgatory on the brink of death, but he and GR still have a kind of connection. It’s through this connection that Ghost Rider sees scraps of a vision of Lilith, Mother of Demons. She’s returning, with plans to…do some demonic shit. What she really plans to do is a bit vague in the story, but I’m sure it’s not good. At this point our anti-heroes get together and….you know what, fuck it. This recap panel form Ghost Rider 32 summarizes the sparse plot of Midnight Sons as tightly as possible:
Plus. Dr. Strange mills around at the end of the first couple chapters, serving as a kind of Watcher or Beyonder for these supernatural dudes. He knows what’s going on, what’s going down and what needs to be done to take care of things. He’s there to pull strings and get all these guys together, so the nebulous but evil plans of Lilith can be put to rest.
Now, I’m not really here today to review or summarize this 24-year-old crossover event. I’m here to celebrate it, to wax nostalgic and to look at some of the awesome shit that came out of it. Obviously Ghost Rider is still stomping around in the Marvel universe (in one form or another), and most of the characters involved in Midnight Sons still exist, even if they are underused. But I love how Marvel was pushing a unified Monster segment of their universe, a world typically dominated by mutants and billionaires-turned-superhero. The Sons represented the dark side of the MU. Sure, in the early 90s we had street-level heroes a plenty, the grittier and more ponytailed the better. But between Morbius, GR, Blade and Dr. Strange, we were treated to the concepts from 60s psychedelic trash movies, 70s exploitation movies and those sexy vampires of the 80s all smooshed together and given superpowers. And but damn was it fun.
One of my earliest comics (aside from stuff like GI Joe and ALF from the 80s) was Ghost Rider 18. I don’t even remember if I ever read it. I do remember staring at the cover for hours. I still love it. And it’s fitting because according to the Marvel logo box in the upper left corner, it was the October issue to boot. That scorching orange skull against the black background is perfect Halloween, to be sure. Though to be fair, the cover for GR 18 is not as cool as the cover to number 15, which glows in the dark and looks completely awesome whilst doing so.
Even though, after the fact, a lot of people bemoaned the gimmicks the early 90s are so synonymous with, some of the gimmickry resulted in really cool final pieces of art. Like this die cut cardstock foldout page from Ghost Rider 25:
Comics, of course, evolved, I guess you could say. The gimmicky covers were put to bed by, I don’t know, 1996 or so? Michael Turner’s Fathom, which started in 1998, had a three variant endings thing (I never read it, so I don’t know how well that worked), and that’s about the last gimmicky thing I can remember. Today, the Big Two rely on constant rebooting, relaunching and renumbering, as well as an endless stream of status-quo-altering year-long events. And most of the supernatural characters, the monsters and madmen that populated the Midnight Sons universe, are relegated to special occasions. But when they do pop up, they are generally badass.
I really wish Marvel would try and push this crew again. Ghost Rider seems pretty popular right now, and considering how insanely awesome the whole Franken-Castle thing was, there’s really no better time. Hell, I’d settle for a Midnight Sons Halloween special every year. In fact, I would probably live for that! But in the meantime, I will have to subsist on the small chunk they did give us in the early 90s.
There are a couple more Midnight Sons crossovers that came about and the nail in the Midnight Sons brand coffin is the massive 17-part “Siege of Darkness”. Maybe next Halloween?
Oh, and according to Amazon, a new “Rise of the Midnight Sons” trade paperback is going to be released on November 1, 2016—missing out on the perfect Halloween release by a day, but oh well, still cool.