Super(natural)Heroes: A Look Back at Marvel’s Midnight Sons

The Horrifying 90s

The Avengers tackle world-ending threats. The Defenders keep the streets of New York clean. But who steps up when supernatural forces threaten to destroy our world? The oft-forgotten Midnight Sons, Marvel’s foray into blending the world of horror with traditional superhero comic books.

The 1990s were an odd time for the comic book industry. It was a decade full of unique attempts to jumpstart sales. Holographic covers dominated the stands. Swimsuit issues featuring scantily clad superheroes were published. And companies like Marvel were more than willing to take chances on something new and different.

The tastes of comic book enthusiasts were changing too. New characters like Venom, Gambit and Cable found themselves usurping more traditional heroes like Captain America and Thor in terms of popularity. The anti-hero had become the go-to archetype for publishers, as audiences were growing tired of the classic “Boy Scout” superhero style. Surely, the formation of these non-traditional heroes into a super-team would be an experiment worth trying.

The Midnight Sons gathered some of the biggest names from the darkest corners of the Marvel universe and teamed them up with some lesser-known heroes to battle terrifying creatures and ancient evils. From 1992 to 1995, the team made a number of appearances in multi-issue crossovers across Marvel’s supernatural titles. Four major storylines comprise the majority of their time together, with some occasional cameos and references to the team in later comics.

As a huge fan of both the horror genre and Marvel Comics, I couldn’t wait to dig into this underutilized section of the universe. I took to the streets and hit up just about every comic book store in the greater Detroit area to find the many back issues that comprise the Sons adventures. Here’s what I found on my own adventure.

 

The Roster

The team went through a number of roster changes over the course of their three-year run. Some characters stuck around for the entire tenure, others came and went. Here’s a look at many of the key players involved with the team.

Blade – Making his debut in 1973’s The Tomb of Dracula #10, Blade has gone from comic book obscurity to recognizable pop culture figure. Eric Brooks was born in London to a prostitute mother. During his birth, she was bitten by the vampire Deacon Frost, imbuing Brooks with vampire-like supernatural abilities.

He began a lifelong quest to eliminate all vampires, hunting Dracula across Europe and joining the Nightstalkers alongside fellow hunters Hannibal king and Frank Drake. Later in his adventures, Blade would become the “daywalker” after being bit by fellow Midnight Son, Morbius. This gave Blade additional powers that fell more in line with the live action Wesley Snipes version of the character.

Strange – Gifted surgeon Stephen Strange first appeared in Strange Tales #110 (1963). After being injured in a brutal car accident, he spent his time wandering the world. Strange eventually met The Ancient One, who taught him the mystic arts.

Strange used his newfound magical abilities to defend the Earth against supernatural threats like Dormammu and Shuma-Gorath; against which other superheroes would fail. He eventually became “The Sorceror Supreme” and has since been a member of both The Defenders and The Avengers, not to mention receiving his very own big screen adaptation in 2016.

Ghost Rider – Danny Ketch was the second character to take on the mantle of Ghost Rider. Making his presence known in 1990’s Ghost Rider 3 #1, Ketch came upon a motorcycle emblazoned with an ancient symbol. Touching the symbol transformed the Ketch into the new incarnation of the demonic assassin.

Ketch later learned that he was the long-lost brother of the previous Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze. He had many adventures throughout the course of his own series, as well as teaming with Blaze as the “Spirits of Vengeance”.

Morbius – Dr. Michael Morbius first arrived in Marvel Comics in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man #101 (1971). Suffering from a rare and fatal blood disease, he used his skills in biochemistry to try and treat the illness. The results left him with a hideous, bat-like appearance, a taste for blood and a number of vampiric powers.

Though beginning his journey as an enemy of everyone’s favorite wall-crawling superhero, Morbius became a much more heroic character throughout the years. The good doctor even managed to star in his own series in the 1990s, which became an integral part of the Midnight Sons.

Johnny Blaze – Blaze became the Ghost Rider during the events of Marvel Spotlight #5 (1972). A professional stuntman and daredevil, Blaze found himself making a deal with the demon Mephisto in order to cure his adopted father’s cancer. In return, Blaze was bonded with the demon Zarathos and was forced to destroy wicked beings for Mephisto’s amusement.

Eventually Blaze was able to rid himself of the curse, and found himself teaming with the newest Ghost Rider, Danny Ketch. He continued to hunt demons both in his human form and occasionally as the Ghost Rider.

Hannibal King – Hannibal King made his first appearance in The Tomb of Dracula #25 (1974). Bitten by the same vampire that killed Blade’s mother and turned into a vampire himself, King rejected his newfound status as a creature of the night. He teamed with Blade and fellow hunter Frank Drake to form the Nightstalkers.

King also spent time operating as a private detective and even worked with the CIA, all the while denying his bloodlust by feeding on dead bodies and animals. Though he has many of the strengths associated with vampirism, King is able to withstand a certain amount of sunlight and doesn’t require blood to survive, despite his cravings.

Frank Drake – The third and final member of the Nightstalkers, Drake first appeared in Tomb of Dracula #1 (1972). After inheriting a family castle he discovered it was in fact the castle of Dracula, his ancestor. Drake used his skills as a marksman and hunter to assist both his fellow Nightstalkers as well as the Van Helsing and Harker families.

After a number of battles against Dracula, the vampire overlord was finally defeated. The Nightstalkers remained together as private investigators and worked a number of supernatural cases, even teaming with Dr. Strange.

The Darkhold Redeemers – A group composed of Victoria Montesi, Sam Buchanan and Louise Hastings. The team gathered to recover the lost pages of the ancient and evil Darkhold book, that’s pages result in horrible ramifications for those that read them.

Montesi, who comes from a bloodline sworn to guard the Darkhold from those that would use it to commit atrocities, leads the group. Sam Buchanan is an Interpol agent tasked with protecting Montesi. Louise Hastings is the occult expert that rounds out the team.

Vengeance – Michael Baladino was the only survivor when his father went insane and slaughtered his family. Growing up to become a police lieutenant and witnessing the Ghost Rider, Baladino believed he had found Zarathos, the demon responsible for his father’s psychosis.

Baladino made a deal with Mephisto to destroy Ghost Rider and became Vengeance. Though the two clashed at first, Vengeance later came to his senses and joined both him and the rest of the Midnight Sons to defeat Lilith and her forces.

 

Rise of the Midnight Sons

  • Ghost Rider vol. 3 #28 (Part 1)
  • Spirits of Vengeance#1 (Part 2)
  • Morbius: The Living Vampire#1 (Part 3)
  • Darkhold#1 (Part 4)
  • Nightstalkers#1 (Part 5)
  • Ghost Rider vol. 3 #31 (Part 6)

After receiving a vision, the newly deceased Danny Ketch (trapped inside of Ghost Rider), sets out with Johnny Blaze to unite “the Mystic Nine”, the only group that can stop the resurrected demon queen, Lilith. Along the way, we are introduced to these nine heroes as they battle the Lilin, those faithful to the aforementioned demon queen.

As the first crossover in the saga of the Midnight Sons, this arc deals mostly with establishing (or re-establishing) our heroes. New looks, status quos and attitudes are established for older characters like Blade and the Nightstalkers (check out Frank Drake’s bitchin’ gun, “Linda”), while new heroes make their debut in triumphant fashion. The Lilin also make for an interesting bunch of antagonists. They have a wide variety of powers, and though they always wind up on the losing end of the battle, they make an impact with their horror-heavy aesthetic (especially Meat Market).

The slow burn reveal of Dr. Strange’s manipulations to unite the team work well and sets up a feeling of tension and unease within the group. These are very strong personalities that could easily combust at any moment, which make their interactions all the more fun. Morbius’ awkward visit to a goth shop (to buy a new outfit) is particularly hilarious.

Of those strong personalities, Blade and Johnny Blaze stick out the most. Blade is a complete and utter psychopath. He’s obsessed with killing anything supernatural to the point that he’s literally locked away in an asylum. Upon his release, he immediately starts killing stuff again.

Blaze is strangely the most level headed of the group and takes on a mentoring role for Ghost Rider and a voice of reason for others. His status as ex-Spirit of Vengeance makes him both uniquely human and well versed in the occult. Plus, his chain smoking would make even John Constantine blush.

Stylistically, this crossover has a very consistent 90s superhero art style. Everyone looks extra “rad”, they’ve clearly been juicing and they’re packed to the gills with tech that probably serves zero actual function. But considering the over-the –top visuals of characters like Ghost Rider and Morbius, this works quite well. The notable exception is Darkhold. It has a unique art style that taps into classic EC Comics and independent comics like Judge Dredd.

Ultimately, this is a nice introduction to the group at large, as well as the individual characters. It will instantly make you eager to check out the individual series (Darkhold is the real surprise here) and learn more about each team member.

Midnight Massacre

  • Nightstalkers#10 (Part 1)
  • Ghost Rider vol. 3 #40 (Part 2)
  • Darkhold#11 (Part 3)
  • Morbius: The Living Vampire#12 (Part 4)
  • Spirits of Vengeance#13 (Part 5)

Blade’s crazy ass is at it again. He’s obsessed enough with ridding the world of occult forces that he decides to read a page from the Darkhold. This is not a good idea. He goes nuts and becomes “Switchblade” (I love this) and begins hunting down his fellow Midnight Sons, starting by killing both Johnny Blaze and fellow Nightstalker Hannibal King. The most dangerous aspect of Switchblade is his ability to absorb the powers of his victims. Each character that falls at his hands grants him more power. By the time we reach the finale, he’s nearly godlike.

Switchblade then shows up throughout the various solo series, killing its lead characters one by one. He even manages to take out some other supernatural heroes and villains along the way. Jack Russell, aka Werewolf by Night makes a neat appearance in the pages of Morbius’ book. His lycanthropic nature makes him fit right alongside the rest of these characters, and I wish he had been more prominently featured. One of my personal favorite Spider-Man villains, Demogoblin; makes an appearance as well. He’s just a crazy as Switchblade, and it’s a lot of fun to watch the two interact.

Eventually, the surviving members of the Midnight Sons band together to stop Switchblade. Louise Hastings proves to be the MVP of this crossover, as she systematically reverts Blade to his former self and resurrects those he killed. She hints that this will have lasting effects on her, which have yet to reveal themselves.

The Midnight Massacre storyline winds up being a neat way to bring the characters together against a very personal antagonist. Blade’s corruption by the Darkhold raises the stakes (no pun intended) and keeps you guessing at the outcome. By the final conflict, I was legitimately wondering how he could be stopped, given his bevy of newfound powers.

Road to Vengeance: The Missing Link

  • Ghost Rider vol. 3 #41 (Part 1)
  • Spirits of Vengeance#14 (Part 2)
  • Ghost Rider vol. 3 #42 (Part 3)
  • Spirits of Vengeance#15 (Part 4)
  • Ghost Rider vol. 3 #43 (Part 5)
  • Spirits of Vengeance#16 (Part 6)

Admittedly, this is less of a Midnight Sons crossover, and more of a straight up Ghost Rider tale. However, the inclusion of Lilith and her plotting for world domination takes some important twists and turns throughout the event. The story kicks off with our favorite demon queen awakening from a supernatural pregnancy. She has devoured her Lilin followers and is now giving birth to renewed and improved versions of them. It’s very bizarre.

She teams up with Centurious, “the soulless man”, who has some serious beef with Ghost Rider. Together they abscond with Dan Ketch’s mother and challenge the Spirits of Vengeance to a final showdown at the Cypress Hills Cemetery. Along the way, Ghost Rider unites with his old friend Johnny Blaze, a psychic woman called “Seer”, the mysterious Caretaker (who works with Dr.Strange) and his enemy Vengeance.

Centurious and Lilith ultimately decide to retrieve the “Medallion of Power”, an ancient relic with ties to the Ghost Rider legend. To do this, they steal Ghost Rider’s chain, which serves only to make Centurious more powerful. Strangely, he winds up exploding and releases Zarathos. Lilith betrays Centurious for the newly resurrected demon lord and the two unite to conquer the universe.

As it turns out, Ketch, Blaze and Vengeance all house a piece of the Medallion. Ketch units the pieces and uses them to repel Lilith, Zarathos and their followers. Caretaker then drops the bombshell that Ketch and Blaze are actually brothers, bringing the event to a close.

This storyline works mostly as set up for Siege of Darkness, which ties into the Medallion of Power and brings the Midnight Sons saga to its conclusion. Though I enjoyed the story, I found myself a bit lost in the Ghost Rider lore.

 

Siege of Darkness

  • Nightstalkers#14 (Part 1)
  • Ghost Rider vol. 3 #44 (Part 2)
  • Marvel Comics Presents#143 (Part 3)
  • Darkhold#15 (Part 4)
  • Morbius: The Living Vampire#16 (Part 5)
  • Marvel Comics Presents#144 (Part 6)
  • Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme#60 (Part 7)
  • Spirits of Vengeance#17 (Part 8)
  • Nightstalkers#15 (Part 9)
  • Ghost Rider vol. 3 #45 (Part 10)
  • Marvel Comics Presents#145 (Part 11)
  • Darkhold#16 (Part 12)
  • Morbius: The Living Vampire#17 (Part 13)
  • Marvel Comics Presents#146 (Part 14)
  • Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme#61 (Part 15)
  • Spirits of Vengeance#18 (Part 16)
  • Midnight Sons Unlimited#4 (Part 17)

This is the big one, the final major crossover event for the Midnight Sons. After the events of Road to Vengeance: The Missing Link, Lilith and Zarathos continue their search for the Medallion of Power, taking the fight to the team in a globe-trotting adventure that sees the death of some major characters, epic battles, and a lot of lore; all spanning a massive 17 issue arc.

A demonic mist is released in New York, causing Lilin to run rampant. Our heroes link up with Doctor Strange and set up base camp at his Sanctum Sanctorum. The first major moment in the event comes when the group discovers that Morbius has been infected by the Lilin demon Bloodthirst. He betrays the team, killing Louis Hastings in the process.

The story essentially becomes Assault on Precinct 13, with the heroes barricaded inside the Sanctum from the hordes of Lilin outside. This siege continues as Strange struggles to manipulate time to “stop the clock”. The heroes drift through past events, until only Morbius is able to defeat Sister Nil, a powerful Lilin with the ability to drain actual life forces. Unfortunately, she is able to kill a companion of Wong, Strange’s assistant.

I love a good siege tale. From Night of the Living Dead to the aforementioned Assault on Precint 13, I find them to be fascinating stories about disparate individuals coming together to face a common threat and survive. Seeing this classic type of horror/sci-fi story in a superhero setting is really something special.

The gang eventually decides to take the fight directly to Lilith and Zarathos. Ghost Rider, Blaze and Vengeance unite with the assistance of Caretaker ( and a nice interception by Morbius), to unite the Medallion of Power and banish Lilith from our dimension. The portal closes, ending spread of demonic mist and taking the Lilin with it. However, the opening provides time for Zarathos’ followers, “The Fallen” to make their return, ending the first half of this story and setting up an even bigger threat for the second half.

The latter portion of Siege of Darkness deals mostly with Zarathos and his Fallen trying to locate and convert “The Blood” (Caretaker and Seer’s group) to their cause. They almost immediately draw Patriarch, the eldest member of the Blood, to their cause. After a number of failed attempts, Morbius and Hannibal King manage to lure Embyrre, a member of the Fallen to their cause. Coupled with Morbius’ newly revived lover Martine Bancroft and the Blood known as James Raydar, they ready themselves for the final battle.

Before that battle begins, however, Dr. Strange’s ancient villain Salome’ is released. The team battles her briefly in an attempt to help the good doctor, but he vanishes amongst the chaos, leaving behind his cloak. A mysterious masked version of the Sorcerer Supreme arrives on the scene and defeats Salome’ before joining the others to make their final stand. Unfortunately, Ghost Rider dies sacrificing himself to weaken Zarathos in the first volley of the battle.

The group finally confronts Zarathos and his minions in awesome showdown on two fronts. Blade and the Nightstalkers destroy the rest of the Fallen with the help of a mystical sword, while Strange, Vengeance and Blaze directly attack Zarathos. A not-so-dead-after-all Ghost Rider weakens the demon lord from within, allowing Blade’s….well, blade to pierce him. Zarathos is turned to stone and the threat is finally vanquished.

The series ends with the group receiving the “brand” of the Midnight Sons, binding them together as brothers in arms against any future supernatural threat. In one final twist, Lilith chats with the statue that   Zarathos became, inferring that she is carrying his unholy offspring.

The art is fairly consistent throughout all of Siege of Darkness. Most of the main issues have that classic 90s superhero aesthetic, with the only real oddballs being some of the mini-stories in Marvel Comics Presents. From a storytelling perspective, the first half of the story works well as a solid tension builder for the inevitable climactic battle. Once the story shifts to Zarathos and his Fallen minions, it does get a little heavy on the lore, which left me a little confused. Luckily, most character backgrounds can easily be found online to help you along.

The Resurrection?

Marvel has occasionally teased the idea of a Midnight Sons revival. A new variation of the team appeared in the pages of 2008’s Marvel Zombies 3 returning in the following entry of the series. This group was composed of Morbius (in a leadership role), the “Son of Satan” Daimon Hellstrom, sorceress Jennifer Kale, Man-Thing and Jack Russell, the “Werewolf by Night”.

Most recently, Marvel artist Greg Smallwood (Moon Knight) pitched an idea for a new version of the team. This version featured Dr. Strange, Blade, Hannibal King, Ghost Rider and Moon Knight. Clearly the team has a soft spot in many people’s hearts, so it may only be a matter of time before they make their triumphant return.

Alternatively, the increased presence of horror and superhero TV shows could give us an idea of just how the team will return. Given Marvel’s darker, more mature content on Netflix, it isn’t too much of a stretch to think that some form of the Midnight Sons could make their appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ghost Rider and the Darkhold made appearances on ABC’s Agents of SHIELD just last season.

Ultimately, I enjoyed my journey through the saga of the Midnight Sons. The horror angle is a unique avenue with which to take superheroes, and it works quite well. Though many of the stories can be overly lore-heavy, I never found myself bored or disinterested, as the characterization is strong throughout.

I certainly hope that Marvel takes another gamble on this blend of horror and superheroes. In today’s entertainment landscape, it would perform well in both comic book or live action format. It’s time for this dark little corner of the Marvel Universe to rise from the grave.

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