Secret Origins #28: Nightshade and Midnight

Ryan Daly and guest Aaron Head Moss discuss the origin of Nightshade from Secret Origins #28. Then, Ryan and Siskoid cover the origin of Midnight (who is totally not Will Eisner’s The Spirit, by the way).

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“Premonition” (Theme for Secret Origins Podcast) written and performed by Neil Daly.

Additional music: “Midnight Confessions” by The Grass Roots; “Shadowboxer” by Fiona Apple.

Thanks for listening!

19 responses to “Secret Origins #28: Nightshade and Midnight

  1. Funny, after Midnight, I thought they were going to shake their tambourines!

    Sorry, I love humor like that!

    I like Nightshade a lot and actually covered this issue over on my site when it briefly became Nightshade Comic Box Commentary. Here is my coverage: http://comicboxcommentary.blogspot.com/2014/04/nightshade-comic-box-commentary.html

    This was my first true interaction with Nightshade outside of her cameos in the background on Crisis on Infinite Earths. I wasn’t reading Suicide Squad at the time. There was enough of the elements of Amethyst, Supergirl, and the general ‘younger hero trying to find their way’ to make me like this story. Yes it is heavy on the exposition but, at the time, I felt that was part of Secret Origins. It needed to be heavy on backstory.

    Rereading it both for my blog coverage and again for this podcast, I am struck that this story is semi-repetitive. Head to home world, run away, fall in love with whatever male you are working with, rinse, repeat. Having so much of her story lean on these transient love interests makes her seem less independent, less strong.

    This clearly was before Liefeld went off the rails. I see feet! I like this Liefeld (and his Hawk and Dove stuff).

    Lastly, if you want to read a great comic Nightshade is in, read Grant Morrison’s Pax Americana issue of his Multiverse run. That book might be the most perfect comic book ever.

  2. Paul and Anj beat me to it, but it does show an enormous amount of restraint to NOT end the show with “After Midnight.”

    This issue really feels like one Roy Thomas pushed through on the strength of his position at the company, and that can be a good or bad thing, depending on your POV. To pair two such obscure characters together and top it off with a cover by someone who was not a typical “fan favorite” takes pure moxie. I would kill to know the sales figures for this book, they must have peaks and valleys not seen since outside of a Russ Meyer film.

    The Nightshade story was Humanity’s chance to kill Rob Liefeld’s career in its crib, and we blew it.

    I love the Midnight story, mostly because I loved Gil Kane’s work it, monkey panel notwithstanding. All of his streetwise stories feel they come with 1950s TV cop music embedded in them, at least that’s what I hear when I read them: “…and MIDNIGHT will back after this word from Geritol!”

    Fine episode.

  3. I have recently found issues 1, 8, 9, & 10 of Ms. Tree Quarterly. This quarter of books cost me the grand total of … one American dollar! But of course that makes sense, is it is Ms. Tree QUARTERly … get it? get it?

    Anyway, I’ve only read #1 so far, and the Max Allan Collins story was really good. And the Denny O’Neill story was actually a prose piece, maybe 6 or 8 pages long, with a handful of illustrations each page by Mike Grell. I would love to see more of this type of story in comics.

  4. Liefeld. Liefeld, at DC was aided immensely by the inkers. They cleaned up a lot of anatomy and the editors forced him to work a bit on storytelling. Now, I’m no fan of his work; but, Marvel did be more of his own stylist, for good or ill. Hawk & Dove was probably a better showcase for what he would become.

    I was aware of Nightshade, but never encountered any of her Charlton adventures in the wild (I have scans, now). I always had high hopes for her, when the Charlton heroes came to DC; but, she became a bit of a mixed bag. She started well in Suicide Squad; but, I wasn’t a fan of the more supernatural elements in her. I really kind of wanted her to be more of a super-spy, as she was mostly described, in the reference materials I had previously encountered. In reading the origin story here, I really wished they had started more with square one and done something a little more realistic. It was nice to see Punch and Jewlee, a duo that I thought was far too underused at DC. They were definitely at the higher end of the quality scale of Charlton villains.

    I do have to ask, with that panel of the Squad; how the heck could Rick Flag hold his rifle like that? Where the heck is the trigger? By the same token, that has to be the smallest I have ever seen Deadshot’s wrist guns drawn.

    I do think Liefeld had the raw talent to be a good artist; but, he was let off the leash a little too early and, thanks to speculators ruling the market, he got into a position where he had little reason to grow, from a financial aspect.

    This was an issue I picked up because of Midnight. Now, to get it out of the way, “I knew Denny Colt; Denny Colt was a friend of mine. And, you, sir, are no Denny Colt!” However, Jack Cole never did a bad comic and that did a lot to elevate Midnight from just another immitator.

    It’s nice to see Gil Kane get to do some old fashioned crime noir, something he did rarely, but did well. It reminds me of his run on Daredevil, with Jim Shooter, which tends to be forgotten, thanks to preceding Frank Miller. However, it has some great stories, involving Killgrave, the Purple Man, whose gettin’ some lovin’, thanks to David Tennant.

    I wish Roy has captured more of the spirit (sorry…) of the original Midnight stories; but, Roy wasn’t the most consistent of humor writers. William Messner-Loebs, from the cover art, would have been a good choice to write this one. Michael T Gilbert would have been another. In fact, I would have loved to have seen those two on this story, even more than Kane and Thomas. Roy plays it straight, which was his strength and it is pretty good.

    Midnight lived in Big City; might he have been a relative of Blue Falcon? “Big City, and Radley Crown is visiting his uncle, the former hero, known as Midnight…”

    Detectives and monkeys are always good. Now, how about a Midnight/Detective Chimp team-up?

    I had forgotten that Midnight turned up in Ms Tree Quarterly, and I had all of those. It has been a long time… Ms Tree was an excellent comic and I recommend it to any hard-boiled detective fan. She’s basically Velda, having married Mike Hammer, who is murdered. Max Alan Collins was in his element and Terry Beatty did some excellent work.

    On a side note, I came across the house add for the upcoming Action Comics revamp, in this issue (they hadn’t yet let us know that it would be Action Comics Weekly). I still remember those teasers, wondering what they were going to do; then looking at the finished product. It ended up a bit of a mixed bag, though there were some good stories (like Mike Grell and Rick Burchett’s Blackhawk, where Grell payed homage to Milt Caniff), including some new tales of one of your favorites, Ryan. Yes, I’m talking about Wild Dog! (Kidding!)

  5. I have to say, the cover on first glance is kind of neat, but you look at it too long, and even Nightshade looks off. She’s got old woman neck!

    I always liked Nightshade’s costume. I understand Jim Aparo drew some of her back-up features at Charlton, and that was some of his first comic work! I understand why DC updated the look in Suicide Squad shortly after this, but I think they should have kept the orange/dark blue color scheme.

    I had to double-check and make sure Karl Kesel didn’t ink Rob Liefeld here. It looks quite a bit like the Hawk and Dove mini-series. I think Jeff is right that the inkers at DC reined in his Liefeld-ness. If only he’d picked up some tips from them along the way. Oh well.

    I’m guessing the tone of the Midnight story had more to do with Thomas and Kane being more interested in doing a Spirit pastiche than actually showcasing Midnight. But man, that is some nice Kane art! I love Kane’s dynamism, but I sometime thinks his work suffered when he inked himself. Too muddy, too many lines. There’s still a lot of detail here, but it seems more structured than most of his 80s work. I don’t have this issue, but now I want it. I also want to check out those Jack Cole/Gustavon Midnight stories!

    It just hit me that Thomas had just recently showcased the slightly-more obscure Miss America, who also made her DC debut in All-Star Squadron #31. I recall that comic opening with Midnight running from Nazi Bundists, carrying a box. A box later revealed to contain the battered body of Doll Man! Man, I love that comic.

    That Chuck Austen Who’s Who entry IS a head scratcher. It sure did seem like someone must have had a proposal in for the character.

    Great show as always. Aaron and Siskoid always bring the goods. Plus, that stinger! I think I may have competition among Fire & Water podcasters for best gravelly Batman voice!

    Chris

  6. Oh dear god, you found patient zero for the widespread infection that was Rob Liefeld! Having already had to sample what he would eventually become it’s odd to see him more subdued in these early days. Though it’s equally odd to see that he NEVER knew how to draw guns in people’s hands. Oh Rob, why you so EXTREME?

  7. When I first started collecting comics, the only publishers readily available via the newsstand or 3-packs were DC, Marvel, Archie, Gold Key & Harvey. As a super-hero fan, Gold Key would tease me with house ads for Solar, but I could only ever find their media adaptations and funny animal books. Archie Adventure Series wouldn’t have its brief revival until 1983. That meant I was stuck with just the big two publishers in my early super-hero collecting. However, there was one flea market booth I knew of with a spinner rack, and every so often I found a vintage Charlton Action Heroes comic there. I can only specifically remember two– an issue of Judomaster with a Sarge Steel back-up, and a Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt that I’m pretty sure was coverless and may not have been complete in pages, either. The books featured house ads touting their other characters, and I fell in love with the promise of alternative hero universes.

    I can’t say for sure if Nightshade turned up in either of those books, but I seem to recall knowing who she was by the time Suicide Squad came out, so we were introduced either in passing via her first incarnation, or her Americomics appearance, or through Crisis on Infinite Earths. Whichever, the important part is that I knew she was “the girl” amongst the Action Heroes, and as with Scarlet, Teela, Leia, etcetera I always paid attention to the fairer sex’s representatives in my boy’s stories. I’ve always believed in heroines, especially the ones that compete in “my” worlds. Nightshade made for a great visual in all her incarnations, although I tend to favor her Suicide Squad design, because she looked extra dangerous (and I have a weakness for that darkwave aesthetic, which extended to her revised logo.) Between her paucity of appearances and consistency of quality, I ended up liking her better than many similar, more highly visible mainstream heroines. I’ve always tended to favor hand-to-hand combatants, but I also like them to have a little something extra for variety, and Nightshade delivers. Her shadow teleportation is great because she can be extremely valuable in a team setting against powerful metahumans, but its quirks and limitations means she can still operate as a street level soloist or espionage player. I still want to see the Action Heroes as a Watchmen type team someday, but I think Nightshade would be a damned sight more valuable and higher profile than Silk Spectre (or most anybody else on that team, actually.)

    “Overwritten” was my bolded and underlined short form critique of Bob Greenberger’s story, and it’s ironic that an editor couldn’t seem to edit his own copy. There’s so much unnecessary dialogue that doesn’t move the story, and worse, works to make me dislike the characters through their oversharing. Compared to the serialized, incomplete origin of Nightshade from her ’60s back-up strip, this version does not deviate significantly from the “facts,” but completely misrepresents the feeling. David Kaler embedded his origin flashbacks into a two-part adventure story. Eve Eden’s mother was reckless and sent herself and her children to a bad place, but that was her fault and her price to pay. Kaler then showed Eve train her mind and body (with Tiger!) to become a heroine who could make things right (though she didn’t get the chance due to cancellation.) Greenberger meanwhile has Eve repeatedly, haphazardly, and to only damaging effect visit fairyland alone and unprepared. Kaler has Eve play the Paris Hilton role to protect her loving but disapproving father from her secret life. Greenberger just has Wayne Eden check out of her life, forcing unconvincing convolutions to lead her to an alter ego. The replacement of Captain Atom and having the Suicide Squad complete Nightshade’s core heroic journey were not Greenberger’s decisions, but they further burden a plodding plot that fails to come to a proper conclusion. Plus, all that Catholic handwringing, which ran very much counter to the air of Kaler’s loose, buoyant, secular scripts, and got on my nerves the most. But hey, I liked King Faraday’s part!

    I have often defended Rob Liefeld, but his work here is everything the Image revolution rebelled against. It’s stiff, boring talking heads in pages densely crowded with lifeless panels lacking in flashy details. Jim Aparo’s work from two decades prior felt more contemporary, exciting, and sexy (though mostly on the beefcake front. The Image, who even had an Image Comics “I” on his chest, should be the subject of a Sally P blog for all the accurate and painstakingly detailed butt service Aparo provided.) It’s only with the costumed heroes that Liefeld halfway perks up, and I’d trade all this uninspired storytelling for a bunch of guns that look like pregnancy test sticks awkwardly balanced on the perpetually clenched fists of action figures with black spermatozoa squiggles all over their faces.

  8. I’m more fond of Jack Cole than I am of Will Eisner, so if I ever got to do my own DC version of the Defenders, I’d have no reservations about using Midnight as a comedic stand-in for the iconography of the Spirit (but I’d totally keep the talking monkey.) For once, Roy Thomas improved on the Golden Age, elaborating on undercooked elements with plausible embellishments while offering stronger characterization that told a completely satisfying self-contained story. He was ably elevated by Gil Kane at the top of his game, rendering a sumptuous feast of dynamic storytelling. This is the second time Kane was asked to take over a Jack Cole character, despite their vastly different approaches, but it works a lot better here than with Plastic Man. Midnight would be a shoo-in for a Best of Secret Origins trade. I just wish we could have kept this level of quality up with the unpublished Firebrand and Ray strips, but Mark Waid will soon do for the Silver Age what Thomas typically did to the Golden, and my comments will get a lot less longwinded as a result.

  9. Bradley Walker told me: Go to http://comicbookattic.blogspot.com. They have two ebook collections of Midnight, three of Golden Age Robotman, and just released one of Powerhouse Pepper. So there you go.

    On Nightshade, I loved her role in the “secret agency” part of the DCU. Loved Captain Atom and Suicide Squad in that era. She’s a secret agent with a dark version of Alice in Wonderland as a backstory. Crazy.

  10. Thanks for another great episode, chaps. I don’t remember this issue, though I likely read it at the time. I did like Nightshade in Suicide Squad, though I’m always forgetting her secret ID, getting the name ‘Eve Eden’ mixed up with ‘June Moone’ (but not ‘Eve Arden’ of ‘Imra Ardeen’).

    It sounds like Phil Foglio and Ty Templeton could have done a decent Midnight origin; I really want to read some of the daft tales Aaron mentioned.

    And so long as they were dumping Big City Roy Thomas may as well have made it Gotham, and the clock tower be the one from Birds of Prey.

  11. This Nightshade story was just bundled up in the newly released Suicide Squad volume 2 “The Nightshade Odyssey” trade paperback. This was a nice and rare bit of completism by the DC collections department. That puts it in rarefied company with previously collected stories from this run: the Suicide Squad origin, Phantom Stranger by Moore, Bat villains by Gaiman outputs and a handful of origins released in a newsprint “Secret Origins of the World’s Greatest Superheroes” collection back in the dawning 90’s.

    1. This issue is also one of the few Secret Origins books available digitally on ComiXology. I don’t think it’s for the Suicide Squad connection, though. They released it the same week that DEADPOOL came out–trying to ride the Liefeld coattails.

  12. I’ve got nohing but love for the darling of darkness, Nightshade. Not only did she get her start in the pages of Captain Atom, but I was a fan of the Suicide Squad in the 80s. I particularly liked the music of this episode. Sometimes I think you’re stalking my iTunes. We seem to like a lot of the same music. Great episode, Ryan.

  13. I don’t know that we can blame Liefeld for all the bad art in the Nightshade story. Inker Bob Lewis made it look like a bad Paris Cullins swipefest.

    Rather than Kez penciling and Loebs inking, this looks more like a jam cover.

    The Ms Tree Quarterly Midnight was written by Edward Bryant, who was also one of the early Wild Cards authors.

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