Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Review: Night Man #1

Night Man #1, "The Night Man" Cover Date October 1993
Written by Steve Englehart, Pencils by Darick Robertson, Inks by Andrew Pepoy

Night Man 1 cover

For those that don't remember, Malibu Comics was an independent company that suddenly took a huge market share in the comic book market when they acted as publisher of record for Image Comics in 1992. Image quickly left Malibu in 1993, but the company took advantage of their sudden presence and general comic book boom to launch the "Ultraverse," their own shared universe that featured "Prime," (he's gonna get himself some justice!) and a Justice League style "Ultraforce," that even managed to turn into an animated series in 1995.

Night Man is this universe's take on Batman, but with an incredibly bland name, and was created by long-time comics pro Steve Englehart and Darick Robertson, best known for his run on New Warriors (actually he co-created Transmetropolitan with Warren Ellis and The Boys with Garth Ennis)!

Night Man 1 computer
Did people compute on the floor in 1993?

We begin with the Night Man, leaping through the air, as he announces "I'm not who I was any more! I'm not who I'm going to be! I am- THE NIGHT MAN!" You're not who you're going to be? So is this whole Night Man thing temporary? We get a shot of the Night Man moments away from a rooftop landing, as we get a very brief cut of his origin: he was hit by a San Francisco trolley, and science brought him back to life. We then flash back as a man in a lab coat explains that there's a piece of metal stuck between the lobes of his brain, but that he's totally fine otherwise... except he has to wear cool sunglasses, as his eyes are permanently dilated. As Johnny Domino walks down the street, enjoying his new life, he hears weird, evil thoughts about murder from a random man on the street. It turns out Johnny now has the ability to "hear" evil thoughts. He tails the man as he grabs a paper, visits the local knife store as one does as part of their daily routine. Johnny sees a pair of cops and tells them he's a famous saxophonist and that he thinks someone in the knife store might be planning to kill someone. I think if you have to introduce yourself, you're not that famous. The cops make a "cuckoo" hand gesture and blow Johnny off, saying "it's just hearsay."

Night Man 1 crazy
Typical sane person behavior!

Johnny follows the mystery man to a Yacht Club, where the man hits on the waitress (very successfully). Johnny runs off after stepping on a branch alerts "Victor," and he runs off before slamming his head into a tree. Back at home, Johnny questions what he's doing when there's suddenly a big explosion at his window. Johnny turns off his apartment light, then shouts "I'M NOT CRAZY!" the way sane people often do.

Night Man 1 Darick Robertson
Robertson's great pencils and foreshadowing in action!

We cut to the next night, where Johnny, in his prototype Night Man outfit hears a robber thinking about shooting him, so he promptly shoots him in the hand. The robber's accomplice reacts to this by hitting Night Man with an uppercut. Night Man easily disposes of him with karate, noting "One plus for the 90's--we've all had time at the dojo!" Have we, Night Man? He goes to swing away like Batman, but the cable tears off the wall, and he face-plants into the ground. Night Man gets up, with only his ski mask broken, and attacks the man he shot earlier. Because this guy is some sort of super-goon, he proceeds to attack Night Man with a crowbar after being shot in the hand and kicked in the mouth, shouting "Now I'm takin' you apart piece by piece!" A moment later, Night Man kicks the goon in the head again and thinks "I did it! I really am the Night Man!"

The next morning, Johnny re-visits the Yacht Club, and Ginger, the waitress from earlier, reveals she's a big fan of his, but can't go out with him because she already has plans. Just how famous a saxophonist is Johnny supposed to be? Is he like, Tim Capello famous? Johnny notices a different hot blonde staring at him even as he chats up Ginger.

Night Man 1 playland
Weird that kids don't love nightmare imagery anymore.

We then cut to Johnny visiting Playland, an abandoned amusement park/Joker's lair, as Johnny monologues that he "grew up here." His father comes running out of a giant clown mouth to embrace his son, and to worry about his health and need to wear dumb sunglasses at all times. While Johnny visits his father, a "Russel Peters," visits, offering to buy Playland. The father and son tell off the businessman, but as the father goes off to fret, Johnny hacks into his dad's police connections. He finds that this mysterious Victor is listed as a "missing person."

Night Man 1 Ginger Death-Mask
On closer inspection, maybe Night Man should've realized this wasn't Ginger.

That night, the Night Man unveils his new costume, complete with an open cowl for his luxuriant hair, and two different infared lenses. He sees Ginger and leaps down, warning her of danger, but then picks up on evil thoughts. It turns out this isn't Ginger at all, it's "Death-Mask," a serial killer who cuts off people's faces and walks around wearing them. The two engage in a fight, that leads to Night Man finding a faceless corpse, and predictably, freaking out about it. He then chases Death-Mask by boat out into the water. He manages to knock Death-Mask into the water, where a shark conveniently appears. Night Man drives the boat back to shore in the rain, thinking perhaps he needs a cape, even as a raised knife with no blood on it is raised out of the water. To be continued!


While this isn't the greatest first issue ever, notice how it addresses most of my complaints from Black Canary #1. Night Man is just as generally useless as BC, as his actual martial arts ability is likely considerably worse, and the ability to "hear evil" is really not that useful except as a way to hook Night Man into stories. But look at how much more this gets done (to be fair, it's also double-sized). We get a helpful supporting character in Johnny's dad, a mystery woman, a fake-out love interest who dies, and a villain that isn't just "man in suit" (but, because it's the 90's, it has that too!). We're obviously borrowing heavily from Frank Miller Batman, which is fine, because Year One is great. The story is well-structured, and is a perfectly cromulent "done in one" adventure. On the more negative side, Johnny Domino is a white-noise JCVD-looking guy, who doesn't really have a great connection to any of the events involved or an overwhelming reason to fight crime. It's an odd choice to make him a famous saxophonist, and it doesn't really have anything to do with anything. Plus, don't saxophone gigs usually take place at night? Seems like it'd create conflicts.

Night Man 1 death-mask
It wouldn't be 90's indy comics without gross-out violence!
Darick Robertson's art is generally great, as fans of Transmet or the Boys can attest. He manages to draw two women that don't have the exact same face, and he does a great job showing a wide range of emotion for Night Man in both guises. Malibu was known for high-end art and cutting edge coloring, and the result here is a very pretty comic that's actually aged decently. It doesn't try to hide its influences, but the San Francisco setting and the cool art give Night Man some legs, as he's not a complete Batman clone. All in all, this is probably the best comic I've reviewed for the site.

90's Fashion: Johnny has a luxurious head of hair that he keeps in a big old ponytail. An extra in an early scene has a pony tail that is closer to the "rat tail" side of the spectrum. Johnny's earring is also prominently displayed. Johnny's use of a computer does not look like any computer use I remember from 1993.

1 comment:

  1. I think you missed the fact the metal in his brain also took away is ability to go to sleep. He now meditates 1 hr or so a day.