Midnight Days: A Taste of Neil Gaiman’s Early Work

Sandman: Midnight Theatre
Vertigo Comics

I’ll be honest. When Neil Gaiman reveals he was just twenty-four when he began writing for DC and that most of the scribing he did was after midnight, I felt a connection since I am also twenty-four. I also attempted to give his stories some justice by only reading through them late at night, but I haven’t been making it to midnight. I’ve been crashing early and reading Days around 11:30 p.m. at the latest.

Nonetheless, Days, a mulligan’s stew of sorts, was written early in Gaiman’s career and contains several stories, the first few of which occur in the Swamp Thing comics magazine. Ever since I saw a cover of SWAMP THING #34, lovingly painted by Stephen Bissette, when I was twelve, I had wanted to read a Swamp Thing story. The image’s romanticism sucked me in with both an anti-traditional superhero quality and a fiercely trusting human quality, even though Swamp Thing’s costume is his ever-evolving plant matter construction and only resembles the human form in profile.

That said, the first story has a time-traveling Swamp Thing appearing in England during one of the Bubonic plagues. He is relaying events he has experienced to a dying victim. The whole while he is contemplating his own existence living in a world he can destroy and create, living among humans who are dying and that he can do nothing to help. In the end, after turning the victim into a tree and planting him in the ground (which being my first skirmish with Swamp Thing’s powers, I found probably a little too cool), Alec Holland still has no answers.

The next story follows a re-emergence of that bizarre hippie rag-doll come to life, Brother Power the Geek, also in a Swamp Thing story line. Apparently, then-Governor of California Ronald Reagan decided to shoot Brother Power up into space in a capsule after the hippie ran for Congress. Twenty-something years later, it’s 1991 and Brother Power’s vessel is hurtling back toward Earth. The US Government is furious; they have two heroes on the payroll, one of whom is named Steel (aptly titled considering he has a metal hand) and another who is an ex-hippie who rounds up a pregnant Abby Holland – Swamp Thing’s wife –.because the Feds think that Brother is an elemental like Swamp Thing and think she might be able to help.

Subsequently, they hire another elemental, Firestorm the Nuclear Man, to destroy Brother’s incoming ship. Firestorm’s powers have little if any effect on Brother’s arrival and his ship plunges into the city of Tampa, Florida, destroying part of it on impact. He emerges as happy-go-lucky as ever but ends up being shot by a police officer, only to re-emerge the size of a small downtown building and continues his unintentional plunder of the city.

While in his massive size, Brother finds a kindred spirit in Chester, one of Abby’s friends who convinces the rag doll to continue his pursuit of beneficial humanitarian goals as a traditionally sized human, upon which the story ends shortly thereafter, with optimistic updates on the three protagonists.

“Shaggy God Stories,” the next tale in the collection, is the last of the Swamp Thing stories and is plain bizarre, with a small plant like-person – Woodrue – who pines to Forest Lords, giant plant-like people, about his own existence by examining certain religious myths from Islam, Christianity and Buddhism. In the end, Woodrue is just as ignorant as he was when he went to seek his answers. All I can say is that the artwork was done inventively and I enjoyed the religious prodding. Mike Mingola’s art on this story is the first in this collection that really was memorable with uncertain, angular character lines filled with mainly greens and browns but also plenty of reds, yellows, blues, oranges and even some purples.

Next up is “Hold Me,” a Hellblazer tale that is grittily, enjoyably, excessively crosshatched by Dave McKean. Due partially to its brevity, but mainly to the artwork, this is my favorite story. John Constantine, the primary concern of the Hellblazer series, is invited to visit with a friend of a friend Anthea, who first comes on to him; he soon realizes all she wants is his sperm so she and her lesbian lover can procreate. Constantine is pissed. He has already been tapped by Abby and Alec Holland for his micro-men and he is feeling a little used. I’ve never read any other Hellblazer story, but I’d imagine with a title like that, Constantine doesn’t have much time to not be pissed.

After promptly leaving Anthea’s pad, he encounters a little girl whose mother has been killed by a zombie who had hugged her. Constantine in the meantime leaves the little girl in custody of Anthea, temporarily fulfilling her child-wish and seeks the zombie, finds him and hugs him. The zombie disappears after being hugged back. Constantine puts down his tough-guy in a trench coat persona and rushes to ask Anthea to hug him back. The end. How sweet.

The collection ends with a reprint of Sandman Midnight Theatre, where Dream of the Endless, the modern Sandman, sends the Golden Age Sandman, Wesley Dodds, to London hot on the trail of a cat burglar named Cannon. In the meantime, Dodds is also chasing his partially estranged girlfriend, Dian. Although Teddy Kristansen’s painted artwork is quite simply breathtaking and there are some genuinely poignant moments between various characters, as a whole Sandman Midnight Theatre – like the rest of Midnight Days – is generally a straight bore. How can I summarize a story that takes up a third of the graphic novel’s 288 page girth with only a few sentences? Well I just did. Midnight Days put me to sleep faster than anything I’ve read since I was in college. This book must only be for the hardcore Gaiman fans.