So look: we’re all part of the same whole, right? I mean, we can all trace our origins to the same big bang, between 13,000,000 and 14,000,000 million years ago, give or take a few calendar pages, so I shouldn’t have to perform mental/verbal gymnastics to convince you that radio drama has a relationship with comic book scripting, beyond the obvious, that both are what Stephen King calls story delivery systems.
But there may be a few gnarlys lurking in the crannies of bandwidth who present themselves as doubters. We shall let them continue gnawing on fish bones when I sweep you back some 68 (again giving or taking some of those pesky calendar pages — but much smaller calendar pages this time).
It’s me, there in the kitchen, standing on a chair so I can reach Mom’s white plastic radio which lived atop the refrigerator, also white and sometimes called the “icebox.” I was listening to – I was heeding – my programs. Superman. (Of course, Superman!) Captain Midnight. Buck Rogers. Tom Mix. (He was a cowboy, and of course we made room for cowboys.) These, and others I may be forgetting were after school shows, broadcast on weekdays between four and six.
I heeded them. Oh, yeah.
The radio stuff wasn’t all that was in my post-toddler portfolio. There were also the comic books and some weeks I got only one, largesse from Dad who picked it up along with milk for the family after Sunday Mass. Some weeks, though, I had a lot more than a single paltry comic to read. Every once in a while, often on a sunny afternoon, I collected my used comics, put them in a wagon and visited the homes of the other kid-comics readers in the neighborhood and, sitting on somebody’s porch, we’d trade: their used and maybe slightly torn comics for mine. Our books were never doomed to Mylar bags, to be hoarded like the contents of Uncle Scrooge’s vault. Our comics were only getting started! They were destined to extend their gifts of enchantment and delight into the future, to porches we had never seen and maybe even city blocks that would be new to us.
So, yes, I was a comics nerd before there were such things. But… except for the days when I went a’trading, I had only one new comic in a week. Pretty sparse diet of high adventure. But radio – Monday through Friday, exciting stories – and a bunch of them. Sure, they were continued but I didn’t mind that, and I didn’t know what the characters looked like (unless they also appeared in comics) but that was okay, too.
Better than okay. Not seeing the humans who belonged to the voices, I visualized them – you know, made them up in my head – and while I was at it, I imagined cars and planes and buildings and lots more. I imagined a world.
Pretty good training for a kid who would grow up to be a comic book writer.
What is it about super heroes and prisons? First Ben (The Thing) Grimm went breaking bad by breaking out of jail. Then the good guys warehoused super villains in less-than-legal lock-ups on the TV shows Arrow and The Flash. The Thing, Green Arrow, and the Flash. These are long-time, venerable, white-hat heroes, not your new-fangled heroes of questionable pedigree and even more questionable morality. These were the types of heroes who stood for something. Something noble.
Another in that long line of long-lived, white hat heroes was Captain Midnight. Captain Midnight started on the radio in the fall of 1938. So he’s older and more venerable than any the comic-book super heroes except Superman and, maybe, the Crimson Avenger. And he was just as white-hat as any of them.
Sure his cowl was a dark blue. But let’s face it, neither Green Arrow nor the Flash sport headgear that’s regulation ivory, either. When you’re talking about white-hat heroes, it isn’t the actual color, it’s the attitude. And in attitude, Jim Albright, genius inventor and secretly the costumed hero Captain Midnight, was as white-hat as they come.
Then, after he was transported through time from 1944 to the present, Captain Midnight went to a twenty-first century prison. And like the other heroes before him, he lost his way.
In Dark Horse’s current Captain Midnight series, the good Captain is fighting the secret super villain the Archon, “the most sinister threat [Captain Midnight has] ever faced.” In Captain Midnight #20, Captain Midnight realized that in order to get information necessary for his fight, he had to steal it from the shadowy government organization Black Sky. (Of course it’s a shadowy government organization. In comic books, all government organizations are shadowy. Except for the ones that are just flat-out evil.)
Steal information from the government? We’re not even to the prison yet and already Midnight’s white hat has become a shade of grey. (Only 49 more to go).
In order to steal the information, Captain Midnight enlisted the aid of Helios, an assassin who used teleportation technology pirated from Albright Industries to port to and from his mercenary pursuits with a minimum of danger. Because Midnight created the teleportation technology that Helios uses, Midnight could hijack it by remote control. Midnight used his remote control to override Helios’s suit and jump him from a hit in Moscow to the secret Midnight base. Then Midnight used his remote control and teleported the two of them into Block 13, a Black Sky prison in New Mexico. Both acts done to Helios and against his will.
Did I say “enlisted?” Let me rephrase that.
Captain Midnight grabbed Helios against Helios’s will in order to accomplish his theft plan. That’s kidnap. And broke into a secret government prison. Would you call that criminal trespass? I wouldn’t. Neither would New Mexico. In New Mexico, it’s aggravated burglary. That’s shades of grey two and three.
Because Black Sky was is a comic-book shadowy government organization, it was something real government organizations aren’t; efficient. Armed Black Sky agents were waiting for Captain Midnight and Helios. Which meant that Captain Midnight and Helios had to fight their way through the Black Sky agents.
There were seven agents, so that would be seven counts of assault upon a peace officer. At first. Lots more Black Sky agents showed up while Midnight was downloading the information he needed from the Black Sky computers. Agents Helios shot said agents with deadly force. How do I know it was deadly force? Because Helios told Captain Midnight he was going to have to use deadly force and Midnight said “Fine.” That gives us a dozen or so counts of aggravated assault upon a peace officer or murder, depending on whether Helios actually killed any of the Black Sky operatives. (And considering the bullets to the heads and chest that several of them took, I’m guessing he did.)
After Captain Midnight finished downloading the information, he activated his escape plan. It was literally an escape plan. Midnight hadn’t just downloaded information from the computers, he had also uploaded a virus into the computers. He used that virus to open up all the cell doors on Block 13. Suddenly, like the dinosaurs on Jurassic Park, all the inmates were running wild. Then, while the Black Sky agents were capturing the escaping prisoners, Midnight and Helios teleported to the base’s hanger and commandeered one of the Black Sky jets to make good their own escape. (Because of a plot contrivance, Helios could teleport a short distance inside the base, couldn’t teleport out of the base. Hence the whole stealing a jet plane gambit.) Meanwhile, an explosion that Captain Midnight triggered created an additional distraction to cover their escape.
And that brings us up to god knows how many counts of aiding and abetting escape from a penitentiary by unlocking all those Block 13 cell doors. Several counts of conspiracy. One count of computer abuse. One count of unlawful assault on a jail. One count of larceny. One count of unlawful taking of a vehicle. One count of criminal damage to property. And, if any of the Black Sky agents were hurt in the explosion – I’m guessing yes – even more counts of aggravated assault upon a peace officer. That’s quite the laundry list of felonies. Even Al Capone was telling Captain Midnight to take it easy.
And that’s just from a quick perusal of New Mexico’s criminal statutes. I’ll bet I could find a lot more offenses, if I really delved into New Mexico’s criminal statutes. But why bother? Captain Midnight has so many more than fifty shades of grey on his white hat, it’s not funny.
Seriously, it’s not funny. We used to call our favored reading material funny books. Not any more. Turning super heroes – especially the super heroes of old who were classic white-hat heroes – into people who are every bit as bad – if not worse – than the villains they fight is many things. But it’s not funny.
When was the last time a major comics publisher launched a new series of superhero comics? Of course, by new I mean “totally original characters.”
For example, both Dynamite and Dark Horse are doing quite nicely with their somewhat integrated lines of heroic fantasy. Dynamite based theirs upon well-known pulp heroes such as The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Avenger and Zorro. Dark Horse has resurrected golden age licensed characters such as Captain Midnight and Skyman and has been integrating them with their own Comics Greatest World (X and Ghost), brought back from wandering around the1990s. Nice stuff – some of it great stuff – but these are not new characters.
The same thing is true over at Valiant. They’ve resurrected their characters and did what amounts to the fourth or fifth relaunch of their universe, sans those licensed from Western Publishing (which are now over at Dynamite Comics after Dark Horse took their shot). This time the effort seems to be well-received and its worthy of that but, again, these are not “new” characters or original characters.
DC and Marvel keep on altering their atlases as though somebody dared them to confuse M.C. Escher. Nothing new here outside of the occasional new-person-with-old-code-name gambit, sometimes followed by the old-person-returning-to-the-old-code-name variant.
So where’s the new stuff? Where are our totally new and original superheroes? I remember the thrill I felt when I fell across T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 – the real one, done by Wally Wood and Reed Crandall and Steve Ditko and Gil Kane. Totally original stuff created by some of the greatest talent the medium has seen. They made such an impact upon baby boomer comics fans that they’ve been resurrected by such well-financed publishers as Archie Comics, Penthouse, DC Comics and, most recently, IDW. Even Marvel had a bid in on at least two occasions. And, as it turned out, the only thing these latter efforts were lacking were the likes of Wally Wood and Reed Crandall and Steve Ditko and Gil Kane… and the 1960s sensibilities that molded the property in the first place.
We’ve got brilliant creators wandering around out there today. Most are all well-employed, and their creator-owned stuff tends to be non-heroic fantasy. That’s completely understandable. If you spend most of your time doing The League of Uncanny Spider-Bats, you’re going to want your own stuff to taste different. Even the brilliant lads at Aw, Yeah Comics (the imprint, not necessarily their home-base comics shop) do that.
Nonetheless, it is 2014. We’ve got a whole different set of concerns. The DC Universe was born out of the depression and World War II. The Marvel Universe was born out of the nuclear arms race. Today we’ve got terrorism, plagues, a completely dysfunctional government, and a planet that has been savagely and perhaps terminally abused.