Captain Midnight Archives Volume 2, a collection of the classic superhero’s (mostly standalone) adventures from the late 1940s, has a distinctly different tone from that of the first volume. For one thing, Volume 1 took place during World War II and specifically focused on Captain Midnight thwarting the Nazis. Here in Volume 2, the war is over and the Captain has turned his incredible intellect towards loftier pursuits.
More than that, though, Volume 1 seemed to go out of its way to shun the supernatural. No matter what strange creature or inexplicable phenomenon the Captain and his intrepid team battled, it always turned out to be just a Nazi in a costume, playing tricks on the American soldiers. And, each of those tricks had a rational scientific explanation, but Volume 2 goes the opposite route. Captain Midnight spends most of these adventures exploring space and other planets and encountering all manner of alien creatures.
That’s not to say that they abandon rational scientific explanations. In addition to being rip-roaring space adventures, many of these stories also have an educational element attached. Every time the Captain and his trusty co-pilot, Icky, visit a new planet, they spend a few panels talking about the planet’s size and gravity level in relation to Earth’s, atmosphere, distance from the sun, etc. It’s a little jarring to see these fact-based conversations integrated seamlessly with observations about the alien creatures on each of these planets and the civilizations they’ve built.
It can be a bit of a burden, though, striving for scientific accuracy while still telling relatively simple alien adventure stories that children can understand and enjoy. First of all, Captain Albright (Midnight’s alter ego, a brilliant scientist and inventor) has to keep building faster and faster rocket ships, in order to be able to visit increasingly distant planets in a matter of hours, rather than years. Also, for the sake of convenience, most of the alien species they encounter need to be able to speak fluent English, so every one of them is said to have spent the last few years picking up radio signals from Earth and learning the language. It’s a good thing they picked up broadcasts from the United States instead of, say, France.
That’s the thing about trying to do science fiction this way: every question they try to answer just raises more questions, and the more they try to explain things, the more suspension of disbelief we actually need. For instance, these incredible feats of space travel, along with a number of other, non-space-related feats throughout this volume, are all made possible by the incredibly brilliant inventions of Captain Albright. In addition to a series of increasingly fast spaceships, Albright also creates an underground city and a flying airport. And, it would seem he not only finances each of these endeavors out of his own pocket, but he also builds them himself, single-handedly. Yet somehow he still finds time to don a red suit and fight crime on an interplanetary level.
The stories are cheesy, to be sure, but that’s what makes this type of comic fun. Characters are fairly two-dimensional, more archetypes than anything else, but they deliver action and adventure and a good time. They also manage to avoid, for the most part, the awkward moral issues raised by the first volume, choosing instead to keep things simple on most levels, but they do still manage to create some interesting and diverse species and civilizations for the various alien planets they visit.
The lighter, simpler nature of this volume makes it easier to like than Volume 1 and easier to overlook the flaws. And, space travel makes for a compelling premise and more interesting stories. If you’re into cheesy, classic comics and silly space adventures, you’ll probably enjoy this volume.