Over the past few years I’ve grown to not really care for the bulk of J. Michael Straczynski’s work. His Superman run was atrocious, his Wonder Woman boring, and the end of his Amazing Spider-Man run nearly unreadable. Rising Stars took forever and ended with a whimper, and while I enjoyed his Marvel series the Twelve it simply took too long to finally finish. And none of his newer Image projects have really caught my attention enough to stick with them. I might be a minority here, but whenever I see his name on a title I pretty much steer clear these days.
However, of all of Straczynski’s comic work I think I will always recommend Midnight Nation. He had a specific theme and message that was very overt but at the same time the series didn’t exactly feel like a sledghammer being driven into your brain like his attempts with Superman (so horrible). When you strip away the mystery and supernatural elements, Midnight Nation is a story about despair and hope. Straczynski builds this message slowly but surely around the plight of the main character and his guide and every single conflict they encounter along their journey. If you miss the message, then no big deal because it’s still a fantastic thriller. The series also has a great sense of humor and a lot of action, so it doesn’t mire itself too much in its message. Straczynski weaved the characters together so well with the plot and themes that the series just came together as a great piece of work.
Midnight Nation follows homicide detective David Grey as he slips between the cracks of reality and finds the second layer of the world where the lost and forgotten have gone (think of Neil Gauiman’s Neverwhere). Grey meets up with the enigmatic Laurel, who informs him he has to travel on foot from LA to New York to save his soul or else he will become one of the homicidal creatures known as Walkers that serve the main antagonist.
One of the main reasons I really enjoyed this series was that unlike Straczynski’s other project at the time ,Rising Stars, it maintained the same artist throughout all twelve issues (plus the 1/2 issue which was fantastic). Gary Frank, now a little better known for his runs of Action Comics with Geoff Johns and a number of other DC projects, helped to create the dark atmosphere of the series. His style lent a unique sense of emoting to the characters, creating a strong balance between the despair and the lighter elements of humor that gave the series its distinct tone. While stylistically unique he never detracts from the story itself, therefore aiding the script in creating a strong sense of momentum from issue to issue.
These issues are not difficult to find at all. I’ve been making complete sets for our store whenever I see them for about $15 a pop. There just isn’t any real interest, meaning you can take full advantage and probably fish the entire run out of quarter bins at a convention. There is a trade paperback available for $24.99, which is a decent value considering the twelve main issues at cover price cost over $30. Still, if you like owning the original issues they are easy to find, relatively inexpensive, and fun to hunt down. Make sure to pick up the 1/2 issue, it’s actually one of the best pieces to the entire series but not necessary to the overall story.