Aug 22, 2009

MIDNIGHT 4 (1941) - A Jack Cole Classic

Story presented in this post:
"Midnight - Gabby, The Talking Monkey" (Story and art by Jack Cole)

Smash Comics #21
(April 1944 - Quality Comics Publications)

In his fourth Midnight story, Jack Cole found a new mastery of the recently born graphic storytelling form, and created one of the best stories of his career.

The month that Smash Comics #21 came out, Silver Streak Comics #9 (Lev Gleason) also sold off the stands, with 18 pages by Cole. The 10th issue of Silver Streak would contain his last work on that title and for Lev Gleason. These were stories Cole had created months earlier. By April, 1941, he had moved on to greener pastures, having been recruited to Quality Comics a few months earlier.

Smash Comics #21 (April 1941) Not by Cole.

Cole must have been excited and uplifted by this step up. His first stories for Quality were a series of beautiful, tightly plotted and superbly realized 5-page MIDNIGHT adventures. Not only had Cole discovered a newfound confidence in his writing and art, but he also had begin to combine screwball comedy, crime stories, and superhero comics into a new, highly entertaining mixture.

In an earlier post, we looked at the first three MIDNIGHT episodes. With an analysis to follow, here is the landmark fourth adventure of Midnight, an early masterpiece by Jack Cole:

The closing sentence, with it's weird mix of sincerity and satire, in some ways, sums up what the magic of Jack Cole's pre-war stories were all about: "And with a talking monkey, Midnight brings a new weapon into action against the forces of evil."

There are several ways this story represents a stand-out in Cole's work. First, the artwork is particularly graceful and well-realized. Panels such as this Will Eisner-esque sewer scene are rich with detail, vibrating with dynamic poses, and move the story forward beautifully.

In fact, the entire page is a tour de force of design, elegantly moving the reader through the story in a dense, rich series of up and down curves that work left to right, in three tiers (click to study a larger version):

The red lines and arrows show how Cole used his character's poses, and props such as the waterfront dock pilings, to create design elements that resulted in an extremely clear communication of movement on the page. The speedboat, with it's triangular shape, serves as almost an arrow in itself, directing us first down into the bottom tier, and then onto the next page.

This page also contains a DICK TRACY moment, in which Cole stops the manic chase for a beat to give us an information diagram that introduces Midnight's new weapon. The suction cup gun is a crazy invention that would never work in real life, but as we have seen Cole -- an inventor himself -- was quite fond of putting fantastic devices into his stories.

Here's another beautiful panel, demonstrating how Cole's art often used patterns as a design device. I love how there are two sets of shadows in this composition, visually suggesting a connection between the two characters that would come to pass (Midnight will adopt the woman's pet/child when she dies). This is literal foreshadowing, and innovative graphic storytelling!

Another hallmark of Cole's graphic storytelling is the masterful use of sound effects as graphic devices. Look at how the sound effects in this panel point to the action like arrows. Also notice Cole has thrown a pair of white eyes in the blackness, Gabby's eyes. The panel is a great illustration of Cole's newfound combination of action-adventure and comedy, which he would employ to great effect in his PLASTIC MAN stories.

Towards the end of the story, Cole creates a lovely silhouette with a full moon backfrop, something he was quite fond of during this period. Also, very appropriate, as Midnight's early adventures take place in the, um, dead of night. Midnight's pose is also characteristic of Cole's early hero work. The sideview-running pose was something Cole created and used often, until he began to think in more three-dimensional terms in his PLASTIC MAN stories. For example, here is a comparison with Cole's splash page from Silver Streak #4 (May 1940 - Lev Gleason):

Jack Cole's stories also often included a woman. The women in his early hero stories were usually typical damsels in distress. The women in his later stories were sexy villains. The woman in this story, who shares the last name of another Cole creation, Angles O'Day, is rather unique, being a talented scientist who invents a way to give Gabby the monkey the power of human speech. Cole even draws her differently, with her hair chastely pulled back in a bun, and often with her face and body partially obscured. At the risk of being too psychoanalytical, one could say the inventor-female in this story is a shadow of Jack Cole himself.

This story would not rank as a Jack Cole classic unless somebody dies in a bizarre way that vengefully corrects an injustice. In this case, the man who kills the woman scientist is impaled on a church steeple. One can safely assume that Cole didn't stop to think too hard about the socio-religious implications he had made with this climactic ending. Part of the appeal of Cole's comics (and much of golden age comics) is the streaming flow of imagery and symbolism from the collective unconscious.

Incidentally, this church clocktower is the very one which Midnight swung into action across in the stunning opening page if this story. Cole has brought the reader full-circle, and provided a deeply satisfying poetic ending as the clock tolls midnight.

I hope you enjoyed this analysis of a true Jack Cole classic in which justice is served at (and by) midnight!


  1. Fine analysis. I first learned of Jack Cole and Midnight back in the 70s in Jim Steranko's History of Comics but this is the first Midnight strip I've ever found. Great site!

  2. Hello, Great blog!!!!
    On the page that you analyze above(page 2 4th episode-Midnight, I cannot properly open the large version of the page, it is all washed out and pinkish. Is this just me? Would love to see the page.

  3. Hey Mark,

    Thanks for your kind words. I deliberately washed the page out so you could see the overlay of arrows that show how Cole masterfully directed the eye through the story. You can see the un-washed out page in all its glory by clicking on the original version of the page that should be appearing earlier in the post, along with the whole story.

  4. I enjoy Cole's Midnight just as much as The Spirit. Although the character was created as a knock-off, Midnight's adventures have a certain manic energy that separate them from Eisner's more celebrated crime-fighter.

    Plus: Talking Monkey! :)

  5. I tried to follow the link to your analysis of the first three Midnight stories, but it wouldn't work.

    I'm particularly interested in your take on the first episode. Specifically, do you interpret it as containing an "origin story"? Notwithstanding the character bio presented in D.C.'s 1988 Who's Who update, I think there's a number of problems with trying to interpret Smash #18 as Midnight's origin tale.
    (If interested, I've made a post about this on my own blog.)

    To your knowledge, did Cole ever produce more of an origin story--even an unpublished one--for Midnight?

  6. Follow-up question. Smash Comics #27 left me with some questions about possible political themes in Cole's early Midnight comics. If you have time to give it a read, I'd appreciate your feedback/insight:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...