"Midnight Rush Hour”
Written – Dan DiDio
Art - Peter Palmiotti and Barry Blair
Every once in a while I run across a book by someone before they became famous. In most instances, these books show an unpolished greatness or the promise they would fulfill in later endeavors.
But not in this case.
Yes, the name you are seeing up there is none other than THE Dan DiDio, current Co-Publisher of DC Comics and recipient of Wizard’s first ever “Man of the Year” award in 2003. DiDio has done lots of different things over the years, including writing for the cartoon show ReBoot and the comic Superboy for a six issue run in 2002. Then he got bumped up to Vice President-Executive Editor of DC’s whole blamed shooting match. The rest, as they say, is history.
But back in 1992 he was still working as a writer for some of the independents, including this four issue mini-series called Children of the Night for Night Wynd (yes, the 90’s) Enterprises, a spinoff of Barry Blair’s Aircel line.
Blair and Palmiotti do an awful job on pencils/inks in this black and white travesty and DiDio proves to have no notion of what makes a good story. We begin our tale with this inappropriately dressed young lady running into these two baggy-pants youths who are spray-paint marking the subway line with their gang tags.
I must confess to liking neither Blair nor Palmiotti’s art styles individually, so none of the graphics in this will cut any ice with me. Not the teen tagger's goofy faces, nor the way the youth to the left looks like he has his pants around his ankles so as to expose himself to this raven-haired lingerie model. A model who looks completely out of place on a subway platform.
More to the point, we open the book and as readers, right way we are looking for a protagonist. Vampires clearly don’t make the best of those since they tend to kill other people just to sustain their own life. There’s a lot of moral issues with them, UNLESS we can justify their satisfying their hunger for human blood. We are looking for a reason these two goofballs should deserve to die. Maybe they are gang bangers who hurt neighbors, rape women and murder rivals. If something like that is established then we can root for the vampire.
But that isn’t this book. That isn’t this book at all.
No, in our book the lady vampire says something mildly suggestive to our dumbfounded duo, which one of the teens gets isn’t quite kosher and runs off…
…allowing her to do this to the other teen.
Yes, she throws him in front of an arriving train. That’s where this book is going. Not only that, look at the amateurish stylings of how the subway car is rendered smashing the youth. I feel like we are in Rabid Rachel territory again, and I’m not far off.
The art is horrible and the story… well, it goes downhill as fast as you would imagine. The passengers note that there was someone smashed under the train, but no one saw the vampire lady do the deed. We later learn there is a train conductor on this train and he neither stops the train to report the accident nor sees that it was a homicide. To prove that no one cares about the murder taking place, they just allow the lady vamp to waltz right on their car with them.
I thought at first due to the prominent placement of the vampire lady on the cover this would be some kind of redemptive arc or that she would play out as an anti-hero of sorts. Instead, she is the villain of this piece and there is no one in it that you can mark as a hero or root for.
Take a look at these folks. This misfit crew will be killed off one at a time by the vampire. All of them. That’s the entire story of the book. I know what you are thinking and yes, BETTER hands it might have been something great. A psychological drama unfolding as each person realizes the danger they face and maybe some confusion as to who the killer actually is. It might have been crafted into a story about real people we cared about. Instead it is just a series of badly drawn panels in which a vampire kills random people.
We start again thinking that we will have a “bad” guy in the form of this lewd racist who makes sexist remarks at the vampire woman.
The vampire woman goes and sits beside him, which he takes as a come on.
Then a series of close up panels of the guy’s face, which makes no sense in context of the story. And then suddenly he follows the lady to some odd area between train cars which don’t exist in subways, to my knowledge.
And she bleeds the guy out while the other passengers make rude or crude remarks.
But don’t think this will end with the vampire being all silent and careful…
…Not when she busts the door to pieces with his dead body and tosses him back down the length of the car. Subtle.
One of the passengers has the conductor (who totally missed this chick tossing the guy onto the platform back on like page four) stop the train, leading to this unintentional bit of comedy as the artist takes out all the seating and just throws the cast’s bodies against the train window.
Then the conductor comes back acting all bad-ass and I think we’ve got our protagonist.
…and as he runs away, I realize I’m wrong. Jerry quickly jumps in, realizing they are fighting some crazed killer.
Sadly, it is a short realization and badly drawn. (Yes, I laughed at "Jerry, nooooo." bit. So stupid.) The vampire REALLY goes after the conductor now, who has locked himself in the cab and is frantically calling for assistance.
She kills him and the old Jewish guy calls her an animal, which elicits this exchange.
Ugh, well there’s some character motivation for you. I’m not sure what it means, but that’s what DiDio is giving us as character motivation. This is so awful that it is a waste of good paper.
An officer shows up on the train (where was he several murders ago) and tries to shoot Nadia.
And that does no good except murder the Asian women behind her and make holes in her coat. This leads the passengers to realize they should just get out of the train and run. Ideally, if they could get out of such a poorly written, badly drawn comic that would be an even better suggestion.
One crazy old mad decides to buy them some time, pulling a knife out. It is of sufficient size to make Crocodile Dundee happy but that has to be illegal to carry on a subway.
And she yanks his heart out. *sigh* This is getting boring and predictable.
We finally get a few lines of dialogue out of two of the victims, enough lines to actually feel like they have personalities…
…then we switch to the cops who have heeded the radio warnings of the train conductor and are awaiting the car on the platform…
…and then the first set of fleeing passengers show up, just in time for the vampire to throw the train into motion again, as fast as it will go.
This leads to one of the most poorly drawn splash pages that I’ve ever seen, with body parts strewn about in mad disarray and the train car doing something that makes it look like it has jumped the tracks into a brick wall or something. Oh, and everyone on the train or waiting at the station apparently dies from this.
Everyone but this one bum on the train who has been asleep the whole entire time. Nadia lets him go because she has no real character in all this, and this was something DiDio thought would make a good ending.
And there you have it.
The art ranges from “acceptable” in a few panels to horridly flat and kiddish in the rest. It is telling when a two-panel action-splash which is supposed to be a huge “oh wow!” moment is pulled off in such a manner that you feel embarrassed for taking the book off the rack.
Not to mention that story. Upsetting, isn’t it. I keep coming back to our lack of a clear protagonist. As soon as we think Nadia might be removing the more twisted and harmful members of our society, she starts killing random people for fun. Her motivations for doing so are never explained nor even explored. The entire story reads like something a teenager would write. One dimensional characters and a pointless plot with no payoffs to any of the violence we witness.
And that’s the guy that’s been in charge at DC for the last decade or so. Makes you want to take a nice long look before picking up his DC Dark Matter Sideways series this month, huh?