This first volume of those adventures begins somewhat oddly. The first few of them are just random segments from longer story arcs. The very first story begins with a “When we last left our heroes . . . ” type of narrative exposition and puts us in the middle of an adventure with no context at all. Captain Midnight and a kid named Chuck (later revealed to be Midnight’s ward, the Robin to his Batman) are protecting someone named “Mr. Jones,” written in quotes just like that, implying that Mr. Jones isn’t his real name. Is he someone else, only pretending to be Mr. Jones? Is he some top secret agent who takes the name Mr. Jones as a pseudonym, much like Captain Midnight? We never find out. After a few pages, we end on a cliffhanger, then move on to a completely different story, also already in progress, and also with a cliffhanger at the end that we never see resolved.
Gradually, we do get some understanding of who these people are and what’s going on. Midnight is part of an elite group of pilots called the Secret Squadron, abbreviated “SS.” His arch-nemesis is a Nazi named Ivan Shark, who seeks to bring down the squadron, and Captain Midnight in particular (there is a subtle irony in a group called “the SS” battling Nazis).
Then, just as we’re starting to get a feel for this world and the people in it, everything changes. The Captain Midnight saga goes from short guest appearances in other comics to the star of his own title. In those first, disjointed adventures, Midnight dressed and acted just like a regular pilot, albeit a highly skilled one. But now, all of a sudden, he’s an inventor named Captain Albright, and Captain Midnight is his secret identity. He’s sort of a cross between Steve Trevor and Batman. He works for the war effort, no longer by flying, but by developing different kinds of planes and other gadgets. When these gadgets inevitably fall into the wrong hands, he puts on a bright red suit and becomes Captain Midnight.
Midnight still flies . . . Just not in a plane. The piloting is now done mainly by his goofy assistant, Ichabod Mudd, whom everyone calls “Icky,” probably because he’s not tough enough to stop them. And, Midnight spends most of his time jumping out of planes, using his red suit, which comes with a built-in hang glider.
With the help of Icky and Chuck, Captain Midnight fights gremlins (who are really dwarf Nazis in funny suits), vampire bats (who are really Japanese spies in funny suits), and a whole lot of Nazis (some of whom wear funny suits).
Midnight now fights not using his piloting skills, but with a collection of wonderful toys. He even has a utility belt! Along with a flashlight-sized gizmo that functions as part bat signal, part laser weapon, which he calls the “Midnight Doom Beam Torch,” and a switchblade knife, which he keeps in his heel, until one day when he can’t reach it, after which it’s unceremoniously switched to his belt.
Midnight kills Nazis somewhat casually, and, at times, even gleefully. I suppose it’s excusable, considering that it’s wartime, but it’s still a bit jarring, especially considering that, through most of his adventures, he’s not on the battlefield. He’s right here in the U.S., thwarting sabotage efforts, and once they’re thwarted, the Nazis die. Sometimes in self-defense, sometimes as a result of their own thwarted sabotage attempts, and sometimes because Captain Midnight had a cool idea for how to kill a bunch of Nazis.
Though those first few stories were difficult to follow, I like them better than the ones where Captain Midnight is a superhero. In those, while Captain Midnight is the best of the best, and the focal point of the stories, he’s still part of a larger group of at least 30-some elite pilots, all of whom are doing their part to stop the Nazi threat.
But, in his own title, Captain Midnight is essentially fighting the war single handed. He’s both a super genius inventor AND a strong, fast, and skilled fighter, and all he needs are a couple of sidekicks to take down any threat at all. The Secret Squadron still exists, but they’re basically just a group of pilots at Midnight’s constant beck and call, whom he can send in to clean up the aftermath of whatever adventure he’s just had. When he puts on the red suit, he’s basically just like any other superhero. By making him special, suddenly, he becomes less special.
It is kind of fun to see the little non-story-related bits from the 1940s comics that are included alongside the adventures. At the end of some of them is a reminder that Captain Midnight can also be heard on the radio, with a list of stations all over the country where he’s playing. And, at the end of many others is a brief admonishment to buy war bonds—there’s even a full-page drawing of Captain Midnight punching a Nazi skeleton-thing, while telling us how buying war bonds will help him punch even more Nazi skeleton-things. Captain Midnight doesn’t need the help of other soldiers . . . he just needs the help of your money.
Though not a great series, there’s a definite cheese factor to these comics that adds to their appeal. If you have an interest in old, 1940s comics, or just want to see some good, old fashioned Nazi-fighting, you’ll probably enjoy Captain Midnight Archives Volume 1.