MIDNIGHTMedium: Comic books
Published by: Quality Comics
First Appeared: 1941
Creator: Jack Cole
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If Midnight, a masked crime fighter published by Quality Comics in the early 1940s, looks like a very close imitation of The Spirit, by Will Eisner (Hawks of the Seas), which was also published by (among others) Quality Comics — there's a good reason for that. In the months leading up to U.S. involvement in World War II, Quality Comics publisher Everett M. "Busy" Arnold was worried about the stability of
his enterprise. Young men sometimes get killed in wars, and if that happened to the creative personnel producing his comics, he'd have to be sure he could continue to produce the feature.
Eisner's studio was his major supplier of ready-to-publish features. With most, there was no problem — Arnold's company would own the characters, and therefore could hire others to continue them. But Eisner retained ownership of The Spirit, so if he were killed, there was no way of knowing who would have to be dealt with to keep it running. Better to go with a similar one that couldn't get tangled up that way, and that's why cartoonist Jack Cole (The Comet, The Claw and, of course, Plastic Man) created Midnight.
(A year and a half later, with the war in full swing, Arnold began reprinting The Spirit after all. So for years afterward, Quality published the adventures of two separate characters who looked like ordinary guys wearing blue suits with red ties except for the addition of a domino mask.)
Tho they looked almost identical, Midnight wasn't quite a clone of The Spirit. The biggest difference was, he maintained a secret identity and thus could come and go among the general public without drawing notice, whereas The Spirit lived in a secret headquarters which he seldom left without wearing his mask. Midnight was radio announcer Dave Clark, a minor local celebrity in the big city where he operated, which was called Big City. One night, Dave was substituting for the narrator of The Man Called Midnight, about a masked crime fighter who used that name, and was unexpectedly thrust into a crime-fighting situation on the way home from the studio. When mob bosses he confronted pressed him for a name, Midnight was the one he gave them, and from that moment forward Midnight was a "real" masked crime fighter as well as a fictional one. The radio show he got his nom du superhero from wasn't mentioned again.
The story appeared in the back pages of Smash Comics #18 (January, 1941). The Smash covers at the time were alternating between The Ray and Bozo the Robot, but it only took ten months for Midnight to supplant them and become the sole cover feature. By that time, he wasn't alone — the villain in #23 (June, 1941) was a whacky inventor named Doc Wackey, a skinny guy with white hair growing wild, and a long white beard. They settled their differences before the five-page story was over, and entered into a permanent partnership. Doc had a monkey named Gabby (no relation), who was as smart as Detective Chimp and could talk to boot, and Gabby remained part of the crew as well.
This went on for years without any major changes, other than the addition to the cast of an inept but amusing private detective named Sniffer Snoop. With its 86th issue (December, 1949), Smash Comics was re-titled Lady Luck, and all of its ongoing characters except that one herself were dropped. By 1956, when DC Comics acquired Quality's characters, Midnight was mostly forgotten.
He stayed that way for decades more, as DC made little use of a majority of those properties. In the 1980s, he made occasional appearances with The All-Star Squadron, which purported to contain every superhero the company owned that was set in the 1940s, and with few exceptions, did. In 1990, DC launched a similar character named Midnight — which might be seen as a second-order clone of The Spirit — but this one hasn't made much of an impact.