Thursday, November 27, 2014

Unearthed: Secret Origins#28

I've indicated before that John Ostrander's Suicide Squad is one of my all-time favourite comic book series. Going through the early years of Ostrander's run, one character I had trouble with was Nightshade, one of the few true-blue super heroes on a team comprised mostly of villains. Nightshade's origins were a major part of her character arc in the series, but I'd only ever read one of her old Charlton adventures (and it had nothing to do with her origin).

My confusion reached its zenith around Suicide Squad #14, when the Squad began a multi-part story delving into Nightshade's home dimension and her brother; all through, I felt pretty lost. Now, I finally have the "missing" issue of Suicide Squad which explains everything; for some reason, the missing issue was published as Secret Origins #28.

I'm sure DC thought it a grand idea at the time - encourage their readers to pick up Secret Origins #28 for the full story on Nightshade's past! It's like a bonus issue of the Squad and keeps the exposition from bogging down the series proper. Of course, as a collector who came to the series years later, I didn't imagine I'd be buying up issues of Secret Origins for the sake of the series at hand (I also had to buy #14).

The tale, "A Princess Story" was written by Robert Greenberger, at the time Suicide Squad's editor. The artist is one... Rob Liefeld?! Yet, you'd hardly recognize him circa 1988. Back then he drew feet and more than three expressions, y'know. In this story, Eve Eden (Nightshade) narrates her origin story to Father Craemer, Suicide Squad's ever-popular prison chaplain (certainly one of my favourites from the series). Eve explains how her mother came to Earth from another dimension. When Eve and her brother Larry were still children, their mother brought them to her home dimension to reveal everything about her origins to them, but the creature who originally drove her to Earth - the Incubus - hadn't been driven away as the mother had been led to believe. Monsters working for the Incubus kidnapped Larry and killed Eve's mother; gaining her mother's power to becoming a "living shadow," Eve escaped back to Earth.

Eve describes how she learned to master her powers over the years and tried to explore the other dimension, but nearly died in a close encounter with the Incubus. She finally decided to become a super hero and went to work for King Faraday, battling people like the Black Spider and Punch & Jewelee. Eventually she came to Amanda Waller and made a deal - she'd join Task Force X in exchange for the Squad's help in rescuing her brother from the Incubus. She's brought all of this to Father Craemer because the mission against the Incubus is only now finally going forward. Craemer offers his best encouragement to her, reminding her to keep her faith in Jesus Christ (Nightshade was one of the few Squad characters who shared Craemer's Christian faith).

The story fills in blanks I had about Eve, her brother and the Incubus; I wish I had it in hand when I first read through Suicide Squad, but it's fine - I'm simply glad the details were to be found somewhere. Pretty good art by Liefeld too - definitely the work of a young artist with a few things to learn, but based on these pages he looks like an Art Adams-in-waiting, rather than the entity he soon became.

In our second feature we have "The Secret Origin of Midnight" as told by Roy Thomas & Gil Kane, based on the story by Jack Cole. Wow! What a great creative team! And Midnight is definitely one of the better Golden Age heroes, thanks to Cole's wild storytelling. The story sees one Dave Clark, radio announcer for an adventure radio program featuring a hero called "Midnight." After seeing a building collapse due to deliberately-slipshod construction, Clark dons a mask and calls himself Midnight so he can bring the crooks to justice.

I wish I could say more about the Midnight story, but it's all pretty rout. Kane illustrates everything prettily and with tremendous energy, but the story has no sense of fun. Cole's later Midnight adventures were, like his Plastic Man tales, absolutely off the chain, practically a satire of the super hero genre. It's because of those later tales that Midnight is remembered (if, indeed, anyone remembers him at all). This tale marks only the 2nd time Midnight appeared in comics following the 1940s - both penned by Thomas and both bereft of fun. Midnight is treated seriously as a two-fisted masked hero, and thus is utterly unremarkable. The most interesting thing Thomas comes up with here is the idea that Midnight took his identity from a radio program - otherwise, it follows the character's 1941 origin story pretty much faithfully (as expected from the Rascally One).

Still, Gil Kane throws in one last image of Midnight with his later sidekicks Doc Wackey & Gabby, presented by the editor as a bonus. This is the Midnight who I'd like to read more stories about, though Thomas probably wouldn't have been the one to write them, even in 1988 (Sergio Aragones, though - I bet he'd be a great Midnight author).

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