Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Unearthed: 100 Page Super Spectacular's Doctor Mid-Nite

In an earlier installment of Unearthed, I described my first encounter with the DC super hero Doctor Mid-Nite, which sparked off a lifelong interest in the character. However, although I've read many of the good doctor's appearances from the 1970s onward, I've seldom read anything of his original 1940s adventures - and even then, most of the 40s stories I've read were part of his Justice Society of America adventures.

Fortunately, there are fairly inexpensive ways to examine Dr. Mid-Nite's early years. Learning that in the 1970s he appeared in the DC 100-Page Super Spectacular #DC-20 (1973), I obtained a copy for a mere pittance. Along with a Dr. Mid-Nite adventure reprinted from All-American Comics#88 (1947), it also features reprints of Batman, Black Canary, Starman, Wildcat, Blackhawk & Spectre stories. It's a pretty great package, especially considering that the (untitled) Dr. Mid-Nite story was created by Alex Toth, who was as much a man's man as he was an artist's artist. Hit the lights and I'll guide you through the story!

we open on a criminal named Logger trying to convince a bald-headed crime boss called the Tarantula that Dr. Mid-Nite is really Charles McNider, who "writes the Dr. Mid-Nite adventures!" Wait, what exactly does that mean? McNider has been his own Dr. Watson to the media? Logger has a chart displaying images of McNider and Mid-Nite side-by-side and notes they have the same height, weight, chest and waist sizes. I don't know where Logger obtained such exact details on these two men - especially a masked super hero! - but perhaps McNider really wasn't trying too hard to conceal his identity? Anyway, the Tarantula isn't convinced by Logger because McNider, after all, is blind. Logger responds by dragging in a sack from which McNider spills out.

Logger explains he was passing by McNider's house when he saw a silhouette against the light which he thought was Dr. Mid-Nite. It turned out to be McNider in his boxers with a towel draped over his shoulders (because McNider is either an exhibitionist or likes to play super hero even when not on duty). Logger kept ogling McNider until McNider noticed him; realizing that meant McNider wasn't really blind, Logger threw his gun at McNider's head and knocked him unconscious, then dragged him away in his sack.

McNider disputes Logger's story, noting that any doctor could verify he's blind. However, the Tarantula has another idea - he'll commit a crime which would normally attract Mid-Nite's attention; if Dr. Mid-Nite doesn't appear, that will prove McNider is really Mid-Nite (or maybe Mid-Nite's out of town with the JSA?). Tarantula begins by gassing a police station so he can rescue the Ramey Gang from their holding cells, but Dr. Mid-Nite does indeed appear and easily defeats Tarantula's gang, but Tarantula himself slips away.

The Tarantula returns to his base to find Logger is still watching McNider, seeming to prove the two are different men. Tarantula orders Logger to murder McNider then exits to another hideout (a roadhouse). However, once Tarantula leaves, McNider simply stands up, his ropes being unfastened. Further, Logger is unconscious and McNider was using ventriloquism and a string attached to Logger's foot to make him seem awake (this seems like way too much effort, McNider!). When Tarantula reaches the roadhouse, Dr. Mid-Nite is already there waiting for him. They scuffle and at one point Tarantula shoots Mid-Nite (in the chest?) but apparently it was barely a scratch because he soon revives and blinds Tarantula by throwing poker chips at him. Returning to Logger, McNider ties himself up again so that when the police arrive, Logger doesn't realize he truly was Dr. Mid-Nite. It's only at this point that McNider reveals (in his thoughts) that he'd hypnotized Logger into falling asleep so that he could get away and stop the Tarantula. Wait, what? He hypnotized Logger while wearing sunglasses? I don't care if he's got excellent night vision, surely his eyes wouldn't otherwise be that powerful? Ah, regardless, we've reached the end of the tale.

THOUGHTS: At its heart, this story has much in common with many of the Silver Age Superman stories - someone thinks they've figured out the hero's identity and said hero goes to ridiculous lengths to restore the status quo. The entire story is predicated on 1) a criminal happens to see McNider wearing his towel and thinks he's Dr. Mid-Nite and 2) McNider reacts to the criminal's presence which makes the criminal think he can see. There are all sorts of good reasons why this evidence shouldn't seem conclusive, but our hero ends up having to tie himself up, repeatedly beat the villains to other locations, hypnotize a guard and employ both ventriloquism and puppeteering to maintain his secret. That's a lot of trouble for such a simple problem.

The story doesn't make much of Dr. Mid-Nite's unique selling points. While a Superman story with a similar plot would have brought in Superman's powers of speed, flight and strength into the tale, Mid-Nite's blackout bombs and infra-red vision are never a factor. At least McNider's blindness is acknowledged as a major plot point.

This was a bit early in Toth's career and comes nowhere near his best work, but he at least managed some nice character designs, notably the long nose and jutting chin on Logger. He also succeeded at telling the story with great economy, considering how much plot had to be covered within only 7 pages.

I thought that when his series began Charles McNider was a physician, but apparently post-war he became a detective mystery author who wrote about Dr. Mid-Nite's adventures. It seems to me there must be a story in why his occupations changed, but I have no idea whether its actually been told.

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