Monday, September 26, 2016

An Obscure Midnight Story - Iron Man Annual 4

Iron Man Annual #4 (1977) - Midnight story
"Death Lair"
Roger Stern-Jeff Aclin/Don Newton

Doug: You might think that it would be strange if I sought out the Midnight story when the main yarn in that summer extravaganza boasted pure Bronze Age heaven. Well, it would be strange, and I did not. But in reading this annual I did see the Midnight story tucked near the end, thought that in itself we had an oddity, and so bring it to you today. Think the story's obscure? Heck, Midnight's obscure!

Many among my Bronze Age brethren (and sisthren) were kung fu fighting during the 1970's. I was a pacifist in my pudgy pre-teen days, so was not. OK, that's not entirely true, because I did beat up my neighbor Donald one day because he'd irritated me one time too many. My issue with the kung fu books was strictly monetary. With only so many quarters in my pocket and out on my horizon, I wasn't going to stray too far from the superheroes I knew and loved. It was more of a nominal genre allocation problem than anything else. So without any sense that I didn't like those sorts of books in my youth, I will truthfully plead ignorance and trudge forth today. After all, this is only a 5-pager; if I don't like it, then we really won't have wasted much of our time, right?

I did know of Midnight back in the day, as they say. Everyone knows the Avengers was my mag, and everyone knows that the "Celestial Madonna" arc is one of my all-time fave stories. And who should appear in Avengers #131-G-S Avengers #3? Yup - Midnight. But that's all I knew of him. I had a copy of Iron Man Annual #4, but honestly did not remember this story until I laid eyes on it again several weeks ago. I'd wager that when I bought this as an 11-year old I didn't even read the back-up. As I said at the top... Iron Man and the Champions? Take two quarters!

I'm going to present this story in its entirety, so you can make your criticisms along with me, just below. I'll start by criticizing myself and my inability to provide a good scan when using PowerPoint to bring a .pdf file over from the DVD-ROMs. Just looks drawn... sort of like watching analog television in widescreen.

No 100-Word Review today -- that was so short, it probably didn't take you much longer to read the whole story! So, on with --

The Good: This was a compact story with no beginning and no end -- just a whole lot of middle. But I didn't mind that. Roger Stern's words and the art team of Jeff Aclin (I got nuthin'... anyone familiar with his work in other places?) and Don Newton moved things right along. Characterization on the toughs was pretty standard comic book fare, which was OK -- nothing campy or contrived. Without much background beyond his appearance in the Avengers, I am uncertain of whether or not I should root for Midnight. This Half-face guy was also a mystery to me. I think that's part of the appeal of this tale for me -- it has me curious. I am planning to somehow acquire the upcoming Deadly Hands of Kung fu Omnibus that reprints the '70s black-and-white magazines of the same name. I don't know if Midnight appears anywhere within, but I kind of hope he does.  

Tell me -- is it always a thing in martial arts comics to use the various weapons? Because that really ups my stress level, people start throwing stars and such. Man... those guys are super bad.

I'm also digging the ads adjoining that last page sample.

The Bad: My scans. Hate 'em. Other than that, really nothing to report. For a back-up story, and I'm left wondering what sort of stock filler this must have been, it was just that: filler for a large comic.

I like Midnight's look when wearing his coat and cape, but he really gives me a Death-Stalker vibe. When he's in the all-black body suit, I felt like he should have been lighted a bit more than he was. Otherwise he just shows as a void on the page. But maybe that's the point.

The Ugly: Nada.

That's it. Pretty short collection of thoughts for a really short story. But hopefully some of you who stopped by today will leave a thought of your own. I'd certainly appreciate some of our readers taking the time to educate me on Midnight, but also on kung fu comics in general. Thanks in advance.


Redartz said...

Afraid I've no more familiarity with Midnight, or Half-Face, (or even Jeff Actin) than you Doug. Nor do I have much on martial arts-based comics in general. Not a bad little tale, art is fine; but one wonders why it was found in an Iron Man Annual? No doubt you're correct, it was essentially filler. I had that comic 'back in the day', and I don't even recall that back up story...

Edo Bosnar said...

Man, I did read the Celestial Madonna story, but it was so long ago that I completely forgot about that bit with Midnight. The character is a complete mystery to me, but that little blurb at the beginning - recounting that he was raised like a brother to Shang Chi - has me completely intrigued.
Doug, good call on the similarity to Death Stalker. As I was reading over your scans, I kept asking myself why the guy looks so familiar.
I'm also drawing a blank on the penciler, and even if it's a pseudonym I can't really place the style. What's coolest about this, though, is that this story is one of those rare Marvel outings by the late, great Don Newton.
Thanks for posting this, Doug.

Doug said...

Apparently no one should beat themselves up over an absence of knowledge of Jeff Aclin. Here is his "career":

May 1977:
Weird War Tales (1971) #53

Annual 1977:
Iron Man (1968) Annual 04 - 'The Doomsday Connection!'

December 1978:
Marvel Team-Up (1972) #76 - 'If Not For Love...'

January 1979:
Marvel Team-Up (1972) #77 - 'If I'm To Live...My Love Must Die!'

July 1979:
Marvel Spotlight (1979) #1 - 'The Saturn Storm!'

So not much to speak of, volume-wise. But his work is fine. I had that Marvel Spotlight with Captain Marvel, and although I recall nothing specific about it, I do recall it being pleasing to look at.

Also, the Comic Book Database does not even have an entry for this version of the Midnight character. They have a listing for a character that debuted in 1989 in the Moon Knight stable, but nothing for this chap.

Talk about obscure! Which is fascinating in itself...


Unknown said...

I enjoyed the short Midnight story presented today. I agree with Redartz; an Iron Man Annual is an odd choice for a martial arts tale. Just as out of place, in my opinion, as that backup Thanos short story found in Logan's Run #6.

I recall that Midnight was the stepbrother of Shang-Chi, and served as Fu Manchu's operative for a time. His face is purposely concealed due to severe scars he received as a boy when his village was attacked.

A bit of research indicates that Midnight first appeared in Marvel special Edition #16 (Feb. 1974), and that he was created by Steve Englehart, Jim Starlin, and Al Milgrom. As for the rather obscure artist Jeff Aclin, he inked a couple of Marvel Team-Up issues (#s 76 and 77). He also drew the covers of Marvel Spotlight #1 (vol. 2), Battlestar Galactica #2, and Kid Colt Outlaw #225. Rather a brief career--I've definitely never heard of him before today.

Edo Bosnar said...

Doug, you might want to check the Comic Data Base for Midnight Sun instead. That's the name he's listed under in Wikipedia.
As for Marvel Spotlight #1, as Thomas noted, Aclin only did the cover - I also had that issue and I recall quite well that the interior art (indeed pleasing to look at) was by Pat Broderick.

Martinex1 said...

I really like the art; it seems solid. And as mentioned Jeff Aclin penciled the cover for the first Marvel Spotlight with Captain Marvel - that was a decent cover from what I recall. I really like Midnight's appearance and the dark void aspect when uncloaked does not bother me. Considering they even gave him that top intro text, I wonder if Marvel had bigger plans for him. A cameo in Avengers and back-up in Iron Man is fairly high profile even if it was just filler.

Thinking back about that era in comics there were quite a few back-ups popping up. I recall a Nick Fury / LMD back-up in Defenders and many titles had short "Tales of... (Fill in the blank)" as a regular feature. I'm sure to avoid the dreaded deadline doom it was common. But I liked those types of things in annuals along with pin-ups, diagrams of ships or headquarters, text pieces, etc. Felt like you were getting your money's worth.

Doug said...

Thanks, Edo. Admittedly I didn't click on the individual titles to see his role. I know, as Thomas said, that some of Aclin's work was as an inker.

A mystery... Wonder if he was an advertising guy, or became one? Or animation?


Doug said...

I inquired of Gerry Conway and Scott Edleman via Twitter. Scott got right back with this link to Jeff Aclin's art page. Some nice stuff! Can I infer that he did far more work for Marvel's British side than here in the States? Not sure why it wouldn't be indexed at the CBDB, though... Apparently his career has been much longer than previously assumed.

I've tweeted at the artist to see if he'd care to stop by today with a comment of his own. Fingers crossed.


Anonymous said...

I was like you Doug in that I was more about the superheroes. But I had a buddy who was all about martial arts so he collected Master of Kung Fu. When he lost interest in comics, I "inherited" the first few issues from him, which included Marvel Special Edition #16 mentioned by Thomas F. I became hooked and still have the first 50 or so issues of MOKF.

To add to the confusion/obscurity, MOKF was one of those titles renamed from another title, i.e. it didn't start at #1 (in this age of reboots and restarts, I find that funny in and of itself). The first appearance of Shang-Chi was in issue #15 of "Marvel Special Edition featuring The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu". How's that for a mouthful of a title? The Midnight story in #16 was the 2nd issue of that run. With #17, Marvel Special Edition was dropped from the title. If you go into Cover Browser, they start the MOKF issues at #17, so you won't find the intro of Midnight there.

Thanks for the Midnight Sun link, Edo. I didn't know anything about him battling the Surfer later on. But I remember liking the story in #16 and being surprised that Midnight was killed off right away. Except for that Avengers-Kang story, I don't recall seeing Midnight anywhere else during my comic reading days.


Doug said...

Apparently Jeff Aclin is on Instagram (the BAB is not), but not Twitter.

Maybe Gerry Conway will toss us a nugget later today.

And, I'm pleased today's fare has a little traction among our readers. That's cool, because I wasn't sure we'd have much of anything to say today. I am most pleasantly surprised!


Doug said...

Here's the original art to the 1st page:


Unknown said...

Hi,Jeff Aclin here. I worked mostly for the British Dept of Marvel & did a few US covers & stories from early 76' thru late 79'.
Glad you liked the Midnight story. I have posted & will be posting more of my work on my Instagram account jeff.aclin,for those interested.

Martinex1 said...

Hi Jeff. Thanks for piping in and visiting the BAB site. I'm sure many of us will be checking out your site. Thanks for that.

Redartz said...

Jeff- thanks for the information, and for commenting for us! It's very much appreciated...

Unknown said...

Your welcome guys. Most of my posts are original Bronze Age artwork that i have in my collection. Inkers include Tony DeZuniga,Pablo Marcus, Mike Esposito, Frank Giacoia. Bob Layton,Bob McLeod.Rudy Nebres, Tom Palmer & other Bronze Age inkers.

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