Sunday, March 6, 2005

Hellblazer Special: Papa Midnite #2 - A Review

Written by: Mat Johnson
Pencils by: Tony Akins
Inks by: Dan Green
Colored by: Brian Miller
Lettering by: Phil Balsman
Editor: Jonathan Vankin
Publisher: Vertigo Comics

There are two ways to view this comic. Neither of them are very good.

As a Hellblazer fan, I had to wonder “why him?” when I first heard about this series. Papa Midnite, while an interesting character, is a relatively minor one in Hellblazer mythology. He showed up in the first story arc when the book started and then disappeared until some years later during the Garth Ennis run on the book. There, he played the villain for one brief story and then died a rather messy death.

Then I saw the Constantine movie, where there was a character named Papa Midnite totally unrelated to the one from the comics except for his name and the fact that were both Voodoo priests they both ran nightclubs. The film Midnite was highly concerned about remaining neutral and appeared on friendly terms with Constantine. In the comics, Midnite was very definitely a bad guy who kept zombies, trafficked in illegal activities and only helped John Constantine in one situation because his own life was in danger.

The performance by Djimon Hounsou was one of the few highpoints of the Constantine film. And it would not surprise me to learn that the impetus behind this comic was that some suit at Warner Brothers saw the movie and said “Hey! Let’s have the boys in comics do something about this guy!”
That’s the main problem we have with this series. It is devoted to a minor character that has been dead for over ten years in the comics and has not gotten so much as a mention or a second glance since. The entire reason for it to exist seems to be due to orders from on high. Perhaps this explains why the Midnite we see here has little relation to the one from the comics.

While favoring the white tux and top hat that was a favorite of the original Midnite, the Midnite in this book is much thinner than the Michael Clarke Duncan figure that dominated the early Hellblazer stories. And the plot of the story, wherein Midnite has visions of his past while being lead by a specter seeking revenge, shows the death of Midnite’s only sister. Which would be fine, had the death of Midnite’s sister not already been covered in solid detail in his past story.

That is one way of viewing this story: as a fan of the old Hellblazer books. But what if we ignore what has come before and take this story as its’ own animal? As a new creation, free from the confines of continuity?

Sadly, it fairs little better viewed in this light. The story itself is rather dull, with most of the story told in flashback to Midnite’s apparent days as a slave on a Caribbean island in revolt. There is something with two modern thugs trailing Midnite as he “dreamwalks” but it’s all rather standard. The art is similarly lackluster, with swords being thrust through bodies bloodlessly and proportions changing with every panel.

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