Thursday, February 15, 2007

Midnight Sun #3

Midnight Sun #3, February 2007, SLG Publishing
by Ben Towle

This week is an eventful one for comics. Ghost Rider blazes into theaters, Grant Morrison returns to Batman, Spider-man is "back in black" (an obvious ploy to prepare general audiences for the upcoming Venom vehicle Spider-man 3), and as usual, Civil War and 52 staggers toward their inevitable conclusions. Further, for fans looking a little deeper than the mainstream superhero titles, Marvel's B-list team book NextWave concludes with its twelfth issue this week, which was, according to writer Warren Ellis, "the only comic released by Marvel in the last year that is in fact inside the Marvel Universe's official continuity" (a comment made in his e-newsletter Bad Signal, which I would recommend to anyone interested in witnessing the daily peculiarities of an author at work). Still, despite these notable hallmarks, my inner fanboy is drawn to Slave Labor Graphics' Midnight Sun. Its cover is striking enough to catch anyone's attention, whether they've vowed to read a different comic book every day -- three of which must not be published by DC or Marvel to assure a variety of material -- or not.

Unfortunately, in the mainstream marketplace, eye catching, emotion-evoking art is not as exciting as a leather-clad flaming skeleton riding a motorcycle . . .

Nor is it especially action-packed. Midnight Sun is best explained by this blurb from Slave Labor's website: "The year is 1928 and an Italian airship expedition to the North Pole has mysteriously disappeared. Excitement changes to uncertainty when the Italia and her international crew reach the pole, issue a celebratory radio communiqué, and are never heard from again. As a worldwide search effort gears up, a down on his luck American newspaper reporter is dispatched to the top of the Earth to cover the event." This issue tells two sides of this potentially perilous tale: at the North Pole, where the Italia's crew is stranded, a faction of the crew has decided to venture off on their own, in fear that their ice floe is drifting away from solid land, despite the protests of their hopeful and seemingly naive commanding officer. Meanwhile, our bookish reporter has apparently fallen for one of the other reporters on board, who is coincidentally betrothed to one of the stranded crewmen. When the two sides of this story collide, the captain of the rescue vessel decides to find the ice-barren group first, leaving the men on land to watch their only hope for recovery drift away. "Poor saps," our hapless reporter mutters in a remarkable unsympathetic gesture. It's a simple issue, and while not as adventurous as an expedition to the North Pole might imply, it makes up the difference in character dynamics.

Surely, Towle's Eisner Award nomination is attributed to his ability to capture and elaborate upon the base emotions of man, and, in this case, applying them to a unique series of circumstances. While the lead character isn't the most likable, we can understand his motives, first to secure a solid news story and thus his job, then to nab the girl, if he's so lucky. Leaving the men adrift is a means to both ends -- and if we've learned anything from the recent Anna Nicole Smith coverage, it's that the media are merely glorified vultures in wait for tragedies like this to glamorize -- and eventually pulverize into mindless airtime fodder. But I digress. In the '20s, print was the primary media, so a newspaper man's aspirations for stardom, by hitching a ride on a naval rescue vessel for who know how long, is an interesting contrast to today's 24 hour news cycle. The climax of this issue is Zappi's dream of an eloquent banquet -- Zappi is one of the lost crew and presumably the female reporter's fiancee -- which is both chuckle-worthy in its complexity yet thought-provoking in consideration of its simplicity. The guy just wants something to eat. How many of us have been in such a desperate position, that we're dreaming of food? Therein, the cover of this issue is doubly effective as a minimalist eye-catcher and an instigation for introspection. So, arguably, Midnight Sun is about two men striving to survive, in totally different but equally important ways.

Funny how reviewing a comic book can completely alter one's initial impression. Here I was, thinking Towle had at best produced a meagerly drawn talking heads book. I didn't suspect to take a look at my very soul. Aren't we all adrift on an iceberg, when you think about it?

Heh. Not really. On Wednesday, fans clamored into their local comic book stores to pick up their favorite titles, most likely some of the issues I mentioned earlier. Tonight, geeks aplenty will huddle in line together just to see Nicolage Cage turn into a skeleton on fire. Oh, and riding a motorcycle. These are indeed exciting times for the comic book collector, foreshadowing an even more eventful summer, but we shouldn't forget that even the not-so-eventful times usually offer underrated gems like these. The sun is still shining at midnight, even if we aren't looking at it.

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