Apr 15, 2012

Who Watches the Nightwatch Part 4: Ongoing Nightmare

If asked, Stan Lee will deny ever presenting this book.
Face it, Nightwatch - you just hit the jackpot.  It's 1994, and, off the strength of a dozen appearances in various Spider-Man books, you just got your own series.

It's important to remember that the comics business was booming back then.  Anything and everything was getting greenlit.  Let's take a look at what else Marvel was publishing in April, 1994:

  • 7 X-books - X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, X-Force, Excalibur, Cable, and Wolverine.
  • 6 Midnight Sons books - Ghost Rider, Dr. Strange, Morbius, Nightstalkers, Spirits of Vengeance, and the quarterly Midnight Sons Unlimited.
  • 6 2099 books - Spider-Man, X-Men, Doom, Ravage, Punisher, and the quarterly 2099 Unlimited.
  • 4 Spider-Man books - Amazing Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man, Web of Spider-Man, and plain old Spider-Man.
  • 3 Punisher books - Punisher, Punisher: War Journal, Punisher: War Zone.
  • New Warriors and its spinoffs Night Thrasher and Nova.
  • Iron Man and its spinoff War Machine.
  • Thor and its spinoff Thunderstrike.
  • Captain America and its spinoff Nomad.
  • Two issues of the bimonthly anthology Marvel Comics Presents.
  • 9 miniseries - Marvels, Shroud, Scarlet Witch, Starblast, Spider-Man: Mutant Agenda, Venom: The Enemy Within, Northstar, Hawkeye, and Cosmic Powers.
  • Plus Incredible Hulk, Daredevil, Avengers, Quasar, Darkhawk, Deathlok, Fantastic Four, Guardians of the Galaxy, Hellstorm, Namor, Silver Sable and the Wild Pack, Silver Surfer, Secret Defenders, Warlock and the Infinity Watch, and What If?.
And that's not counting the licenced books (Beavis and Butthead, Barbie Fashion, Savage Sword of Conan), the Razorline imprint of Clive Barker-licenced comics (Ectokid, Hokum and Hex), the creator-owned Groo the Wanderer, the cartoon tie-in X-Men Adventures, the promo comics (Captain America: Drug War, UNICEF's Incredible Hulk vs. Venom), the reference books (Punisher Armory, X-Men Index), the reprint books (Marvel Tales, X-Men Classics), or the in-house propaganda organ Marvel Age.

That is a lot of goddamn comics.  The comics market - and more specifically, the speculator market - was booming at the time, so there was a tremendous demand for product.  Obviously, a lot of these weren't very good - quantity was valued over quality.  That isn't to say it was all bad; Peter David was still going strong on Incredible Hulk, Iron Man was in the midst of Len Kaminski's highly-entertaining run, and Hellstorm had just been given to some British guy named Warren Ellis.  But on the other hand, this month also had Peter Parker's robot spy parents dying in Amazing Spider-Man, the impenetrable Psylocke/Revanche bodyswapping plot continued in X-Men, and Daredevil was still wearing that armored costume that nobody but me likes.  You can see how, in this market, Terry Kavanagh could have come up with a pitch for a character with a cool (stolen) look and a decent premise and gotten a 12-issue deal, especially with his clout from his years in the editorial trenches.

So without further ado, let's take a look at Nightwatch #1.

Nightwatch #1: Life On The Edge

Surprise, it's got holofoil!

You may look at this cover, and say - this is not my beautiful Nightwatch.  The big warlock collar is gone, his arms picked up some heavy armor, and he's got a belt!  It looks like this may not have been planned too far in advance - they apparently went as far as drawing the cover with the old costume before altering it.  The original cover's printed within, and looking at them side by side, the net effect makes Nightwatch look decidedly less like Spawn.  So, I wonder...did Todd MacFarlane's lawyers give them a call, or did the Marvel legal department decide that while a blatant Spawn ripoff was okay for guest shots and the like, if he's actually going to have his own title, maybe they should tone it down a bit?

Nightwatch, sneaky and mean, spider inside my dreams, I think I love you...
(One question here - was this intended as a 12-issue maxi-series, or as an ongoing?  Web of Spider-Man #105's letters page says maxi-series, but the cover says otherwise.)

Whatever it was, 12 issues is a big deal.  Squadron Supreme got 12 issues back in the '80s, as did Eternals, a revival of a Jack Kirby property (not his finest work, but it was Kirby all the same) and...seriously, was that it?  I can't think of any other 12-or-more-issue Marvel minis prior to Nightwatch, bar reference books like the Marvel Handbooks and Indexes.

Joining Kavanagh on the book are penciler Ron Lim and inker Al Milgrom - which is, quite frankly, a way better art team than Nightwatch deserves.  Ron Lim had some big hits in the '90s - a six-year run on Silver Surfer (yes, there used to be a Silver Surfer book that ran for more than six years), Jim Starlin's aforementioned Infinity crossovers, X-Men 2099...so having him on Nightwatch was a major coup.  Milgrom had been around Marvel for friggin' ever, and had inked basically every book they put out; furthermore, he also edited Marvel Fanfare for ten years, and penciled books like Spectacular Spider-Man and West Coast Avengers...he also drew Secret Wars II, but don't hold that against him.  Longtime Marvel standby Keith Williams joins Milgrom on inks for #3.

We open with a hostage situation at Riker's Island.  A group of reporters (including a rather familiar Daily Bugle photographer) and the prison warden are the captives of...Warforce!  Who is Warforce, you ask?  Warforce is:

  • Salvo, team leader and possessor of some surprisingly-dinky-for-1994 shoulder guns
  • Cutter, who seems to be a rejected GI Joe figure
  • Tranq, who is a big bald dude
  • Shell, who is a girl
  • And the Impakov Twins, who are a brother-sister team of dwarves.  Not, like, Asgardian dwarves or anything, but little people.

When your Jheri curl starts to obstruct your vision, you have a problem.

So, they're not terribly inspiring; in fact, they're the first in a long string of alternately boring and hilarious foes that Nightwatch is gonna face in this book.  That said, "Warforce" is fun to say.  Warforce Warforce Warforce.

Anyway, they're here to spring an imprisoned foreign hitman named Deep, so he can join Warforce!  The hostages are surrounded at the moment, preventing that aforementioned Bugle photographer from changing into his Spider-jammies, so good thing Nightwatch is here! A big fight breaks out, and most of Warforce is pretty ineffectual against Nightwatch because he's so cool and awesome, but when Salvo shoots him with his plasma cannons, it creates a biolectric surge that messes his costume up pretty bad, blowing the sleeves off and tearing various little holes in it - worse, it isn't healing like it usually does.  Good thing Spider-Man's here.

Eight years of excruciating legal wrangling is "a matter of time", right?
Nightwatch has been on an island for ten years, so he doesn't recognize Spider-Man - and yes, despite appearing exclusively in Spider-Man titles, this two-page-long team-up is the first time Nightwatch meets Spider-Man.  Salvo makes a break for a helicopter with Shell (who quickly gets fatally shelled with bullets), so while Spider-Man handles the rest of Warforce, Nightwatch takes off after the chopper.  Nightwatch catches up, just in time for Salvo to set the copter to crash into the streets, then bail out with his rocket boots. This somehow prompts Nightwatch to rehash his origin again - this is probably good idea to include in the story, this being a first issue and all, but I'll spare you the details.

Anyway, Nightwatch steers the helicopter into the Hudson and ambushes Salvo; much like Deathgrin, Salvo goes berserk and stops paying attention to his surroundings.  He shoots a water tower, which falls on him, knocking him out of the fight.  Nightwatch does a little interrogation, wondering how this goon got all this cool stuff, and learns that Salvo used to be Hydra soldier Barret Gage until an AIM scientist named Dr. Morelle turned him into a cyborg.  Morelle...remember that name?  Pepperidge Farm remembers, and so does Nightwatch.  Remember, Ashley Croix was boarding a plane to Paris, where she was gonna work for Morelle Pharmaceuticals, before that plane blew up...but as we found out in our last installment, Ashley's still alive.  Curious.

Soon Salvo's out cold, and Nightwatch pulls a World of Warcraft and loots his unconscious body of its cyborg stuff - and wouldn't you know it, it melds with his suit, giving him a new, less-legally-actionable costume! Just then, Spider-Man swoops in and...is a dick for no apparent reason.

Because if there's one guy who's known for being an authoritarian hardass, it's Spider-Man.
Seriously, what the hell, Spider-Man?  Sure, he took some of Salvo's cyborg bits, but dude, you rip Doc Ock's arms and the Scorpion's tail off all the time!  And the "duck a guy's blasts so he shoots something heavy and it falls on him" is a vital component of the Spider-Man playbook!  I guess this is an attempt to show that Nightwatch is dark and edgy and doesn't play by your rules, man, even though he doesn't do anything remotely edgy in this issue.  Anyway, Nightwatch goes to brood on the Ansonia building (a real, and rather cool-looking, turn-of-the-century New York City apartment building) and resolves to find Ashley; meanwhile, back at Riker's, the guards tell Deep that Spider-Man and Nightwatch defeated Warforce.  Deep has no idea what they're talking about, but another shadowy prisoner trembles with rage: "Nightwatch!  Again he ruins my plans.  But soon...I will have my revenge!"  Who could it be?  Those poor saps in 1994 had to wait a whole month to find out, but here in the future we'll know as soon as we read:

Nightwatch #2: Flashpoint

Everything you know will change...in a flash!
We open with a military briefing.  An asteroid containing matter "that predates our very galaxy" has entered Earth's atmosphere, apparently drawn to a nuclear test in Russia, but was blasted by a SHIELD satellite and broke into five fragments, all of which fell into the Atlantic off New York City.  A program called Operation: Flashpoint recovered four, but for the fifth, they'll need disgraced Navy SEAL Lt. Travis Slaine; in exchange for some leniency at his pending court-martial, he agrees to do it.

Meanwhile, Nightwatch, in full costume, is in St. Raymond's Cemetery (an actual Bronx cemetery that is the final resting place of, among others, Billie Holliday and "Typhoid Mary" Mallon) visiting his own grave - or rather, the grave of his future self.  He smashes the snowy tombstone because, uh, that's dramatic, and reflects that "a planeload of people - including the woman I loved - paid the final price when I first tried to wield the uncontrolled power of Nightwatch..." Yeah...we know, and Nightwatch knows, that woman is still alive, and he goes to find her apartment later in the issue.  Argh.

Anyway.  Under the Atlantic, Slaine and his team (clad in cool deep-sea suits) have found the asteroid fragment, which they insist on calling the "star-shard" for some reason.  It starts...doing energy stuff, so mission control orders Slaine to evacuate.  He wants that pardon, though, so he ignores them...just as his team gets sucked into the shard.  Slaine saves his own ass and stays outside the danger zone...but then the shard explodes, embedding millions of teensy fragments into Slaine's body.  Now glowing with power and uncontrollably absorbing ambient energy, Slaine busts into the command ship and starts zapping people.

Don't come back, Slaine.
Back in Manhattan, Nightwatch glides to the Morelle Complex, the penthouse of which apparently houses Ashley Croix.  He triggers the security system, which of course consists of lasers, and saves the apartment's occupant, a woman who is decidedly not Ashley.  She explains that she's Killian Fox, and she's housesitting for Ashley while she's in San Francisco with her son.  Son?  Sucks to be you, Nightwatch.

Nightwatch gets out of there, but his special Nightwatch-O-Vision picks up a strange energy trail, which leads to a hole in the roof of the Morelle Research Center, which leads to Lt. Slaine!  He blasts Nightwatch, who tries to do the stealth thing, but "Hiding in your own shadows...doesn't scare Flashpoint!"  Because I guess Slaine is calling himself Flashpoint now.  Because...he's a glowy guy so he needs a supervillain name, and he picked that one because it was handy?  Argh, this comic is dumb.  Anyway, he's here because two of the star-shards are here - he's absorbing way too much energy, so he figures the remaining shards will stabilize him.

Nightwatch instead concludes that Flashpoint is going to implode, so he steals the shards and leads him on a merry chase to Central Park, where his violent demise will presumably kill fewer people.  Nightwatch hurls the shards into him, hard enough to embed themselves into him without making a single mark on his suit, and there's a big flash.  Nightwatch assumes it's over, but alas, it's not to be - Flashpoint lives, and he's still going to implode, so obviously the solution is to find the other two star-shards and try the same thing again.  But this time, Nightwatch is gonna help him!

FWOOT is not an energy explosion sound.  It is, at best, searing gas pains.

Meanwhile, at Riker's Island, some guards are talking about the Nightwatch/Flashpoint fight, and word about it travels to "Alfie", a mysterious eyepatch-wearing prisoner (okay, it's obviously Gauntlet), who has another prisoner relay his instructions to "launch the Mechamorph Agenda immediately...target: Nightwatch!"

And that's the end of that issue.  I'll give Lim some props here - after the underwhelming Warforce, Flashpoint has a neat costume.  I especially like the skull-mask.  Unfortunately, he kind of fails in every other respect.  The whole "I'm absorbing too much energy and will soon die" thing is kind of a cliche, but you can wring a lot of pathos out of a dying man...unfortunately, Kavanagh doesn't even try.  All Flashpoint does is spout cliched supervillain dialogue and do boring energy stuff.  Furthermore, Gauntlet was not a terribly inspiring villain in Web of Spider-Man, so the prospect of his return doesn't exactly get the blood pumping. Nightwatch himself continues to be a melodramatic bore, and we get very little progress on the book's central mystery.

Nightwatch #3: Mechamorph

Transmorphers 3: Moon of Darkness
Nightwatch and Flashpoint bust into a government facility on Plum Island (another actual New York location, noted for its Animal Disease Center - it's the "Anthrax Island" Clarice Starling promises to have Hannibal Lecter sent to in Silence of the Lambs) to find the last two star-shards.  We get a recap of the plot, and learn that, much like Lana Del Rey:

Attention future people: Lana Del Rey was a singer, who had a song and album named "Born to Die".  God willing, you will have never heard of her.
Nightwatch prevents Flashpoint from killing anyone, and lures him into the laboratory's gravity well, where he hurls the star-shards (please, let this be the last time I ever have to write that) into Flashpoint, finally triggering his final implosion.  But everything's okay, because of some technobabble that I'll give to you here, because I do not feel like typing it out.

Like a balloon, and...something bad happens!
Now, remember, in the Marvel universe, getting shrunk like that actually transports you to the Microverse, so it's entirely possible Flashpoint is off hassling Bug and Marionette these days.  Immediately after leaving the scene of the crime, Nightwatch runs into a blond guy in a jetpack!  It's Paul Proust, Morelle employee, and he's got some secret Morelle info to give Nightwatch - namely, that they're working on a suit that's "designed to look - and act - a lot like yours is under development at the Morelle compound in San Francisco", as part of something called Project Sharkskin.

Why's he telling Nightwatch all this?  Well, he wants a favour.  A favour that will never be collected, because he doesn't appear in this book ever again, although he does turn up in Kavanagh's later Black Cat miniseries (which is a prime candidate for the Spider-Man Spinoff Showcase, I assure you).  Why does he have a jetpack?  Because Terry Kavanagh, that's why.

Sean Connery he's not.  He's not even Billy Campbell.
Anyway, while all this is going on, a crazy robot is following Nightwatch.  He doesn't notice it, though, and he wings his way back to Manhattan, where he falls asleep in an alley.  Hey, didn't that other guy with a similar costume live in an alley?  In the morning, he schleps over to a community centre, where he meets Killian Fox, who apparently volunteers there.  After getting some new clothes, he calls up his old friend - Dr. Eli Wirtham!

Okay, so you don't know who Eli Wirtham is.  You may be thinking he's the inventor of the cotton gin, or maybe the Seduction of the Innocent guy.  You would be wrong; those guys were Eli Whitney and Frederic Wertham.  But if you were reading this in 1994, you would definitely have known, as Eli Wirtham is 1991's hottest new character, Cardiac!  For the uninitiated, Cardiac is a vigilante who deals out lethal justice to corporate criminals, and also he has a sweet costume and is way cooler than Nightwatch.

"Damn straight!"
Anyway, he gets Wirtham's answering machine, has a bowl of soup, and reminisces about his parents and his Uncle Drake.  When he tries to call his parents, however, he learns that they've died - gliding back to the cemetery, he sees their gravestones, which he was too busy angsting to see.  And then - Mechamorph!

More like MEHchamorph.
Well, having a robotic antagonist is always tricky, because robots usually don't have a lot of personality.  Sure, Spider-Man fights Spider-Slayers, but they often have J. Jonah Jameson's smirking mug making with the colour commentary.  The Mechamorph is just kind of...a robot.  It does transform, like some kind of...Transmorpher, so that's kind of cool, I guess?  The have a big fight in the graveyard, the Mechamorph shifts between a bunch of different modes, and Nightwatch wonders who could be behind it, with Flashpoint gone, Deathgrin probably dead (he is?), and Salvo in the hospital...meanwhile, he slips underneath it, trying to damage its weaker armor plating, but something goes wrong and:

SHKA ZAAK, let me rock you.  Let me rock you, SHKA ZAAK.
So, with Nightwatch dead, the Mechamorph's true master stands revealed as Gauntlet, which we pretty much figured out last issue.

So that's the end of our issue.  Flashpoint's defeat was about as uninteresting as his origin, personality, and powers, and the Mechamorph has no personality.  The connection with Cardiac is potentially interesting, though, and the scene with Nightwatch realizing he was too wrapped up in himself to notice his parents' deaths was actually kind of effective.  The return of the uninspiring Gauntlet doesn't really get the blood pumping, though...

Next time: America's favourite lethal protector!  The debut of (no joke) Nightwatch's greatest villain!  And...


  1. There was at least one other 12-issue Marvel maxi-series: Secret Wars.

  2. Wolfpack, Nth Man, and .*darn it, don't remember another title).. had 12 issues.

  3. Agh, Secret Wars and Wolfpack! I don't know how I forgot...well, Secret Wars, at least.

    Nth Man, though, was cancelled at 16 issues - I thought it was an ongoing?