Midnight Nation 1
Review by Mike Helba
Midnight Nation is a 12-issue comic book series written by J. Michael Straczynski and published by Top Cow under the Joe's Comics imprint.
J. Michael Straczynski describes Midnight Nation as either magic realism or dark fantasy. It is the story of Lieutenant David Grey, a police detective who sets out on a quest across the country to recover his lost soul.
Straczynski seems to be purging his decade-long overdose of space-based hard science fiction with several forays into the crime and dark fantasy genres. His recent Murder, She Wrote movie, "Cold Type" short story, "We Killed Them in the Ratings" novelette, Tribulations novel, and City of Dreams audio anthology all touch on one or both of these genres. Now Midnight Nation brings them together as a police detective is thrust into a terrifying nightmare.
Straczynski has a knack for the internal dialog that all fictional detectives seem to share. Lieutenant Grey's personal feelings often intrude on his analyses and add humanity to his character. We learn how Grey is affected by the victims, his coworkers, and his ex-wife.
The story of Issue 1 revolves around Grey's investigation of The Men, a group that is apparently providing protection to drug dealers and is ruthless with anyone who crosses them. When Grey finally discovers The Men, they aren't anything that his police training has prepared him for.
Grey is thrust into a world he does not understand, but he is given a guide, a mysterious young woman named Laurel. She may be his savior or his executioner.
Straczynski promised a never-before-seen interesting trick with the comic book layout in Midnight Nation. I will not reveal the trick in this review since Straczynski has specifically not revealed it. I do not read enough comics to know if this technique is truly unique, but it is neat.
Gary Frank's artwork in Midnight Nation is excellent. Grey's expressions clearly convey determination, anger, frustration, surprise, pain, and other emotions. I have no complaints like those that I have occasionally voiced over the art in Rising Stars. Particular praise is also due to the colorist, Dan Kemp. Different sections of the story have different color schemes. At times the colors may seem drab, but they successfully serve to illustrate Grey's colorless profession.
My one criticism of the execution of this comic book is the layout of the word balloons in the early scenes with Laurel. I had to go back and read her panels consecutively after finishing the comic to understand who was speaking each line and fully appreciate the scene. At the very least Laurel's word balloons should have been distinguished from those of the other voice.
The supplementary material in the back of the comic book includes interviews with Gary Frank and Joe Straczynski and samples of the artwork from future issues.
Issue 1 of Midnight Nation is an excellent beginning to an intriguing story. Straczynski's talent as a comic book writer has already grown significantly since he began Rising Stars.
The synopsis provides a detailed summary of Issue 1. It contains spoilers.