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Midnight Nation, by J. Michael Straczynski

Updated on January 31, 2016

The Background

My now-ex-husband and I used to go to an annual science fiction convention. One of the series that the convention focused on was "Babylon 5." The commercials for "Babylon 5" had never made the show seem interesting to either my husband or I, but over time and repeated exposure at the convention (and one time when someone made a casual comment to me about something and later I realized that it had been a "Babylon 5" actress), we decided to give it a try. The series had some weaknesses, but overall, we loved it.

I have been a comic book reader on and off since 1974. In the early 2000s I was in one of my "on" phases and when I saw that J. Michael Straczynski, the creator of "Babylon 5" was writing comic books, I had to try them. Of the two series that he wrote during that era, "Rising Stars" and "Midnight Nation," "Midnight Nation" stuck with me longer.

The Review

David Gray is a Los Angeles police officer, assigned to the homicide division. He is investigating a murder when he is called to one side by a witness, who mentions someone named Jaeker. When the witness is later found gruesomely murdered, Gray tracks down Jaeker and finds not only Jaeker, but something unexpected. Jaeker is surrounded by cloak-wearing green-skinned bald men with black marks similar to tribal tattoos on their skin. Gray is attacked by the green-skinned men, one of whom reaches into his chest (through his skin) and pulls something out. In the process of defending himself, Gray kills Jaeker and falls out a window.

Gray is taken to the hospital. Several days after his admission, Gray finds himself alone, and the nurses are not responding to his call. He leaves the room and finds that he can see through all of the people in the hospital and that no one seems to see him. When Gray steps outside, he meets a woman named Laurel, who takes him to a man who explains what is happening to him.

In the "Midnight Nation" series, people who have been abandoned "fall between the cracks" and end up in a world parallel to our own. They occupy the same space, but cannot be seen by the rest of us and can only interact with other people, and with things, that have been abandoned. Gray is different, however. When the Walker (which is what the green men with the tribal tattoos are called) reached into his chest, he took Gray's soul. Gray has a deadline; he has a year to find the headquarters of the Walkers and get his soul back from the Walkers' master. If he fails, he will end up as a Walker himself.

The home of the Walkers is in New York City. Since Gray's home is Los Angeles, that gives them a year to cross the United States, find Gray's soul, and retrieve it. And since they can only use things that have been abandoned, which leaves out public transportation, common carriers, and functioning cars, they have to walk. They have a number of adventures and meet many people who have been abandoned on the way. Gray also makes some discoveries, about Laurel, about the world, and about himself, along the way.

As I said before, "Midnight Nation" really stuck with me. The story is very dark (which is totally unlike me) and "the Other Guy," which is the only name given to the boss of the Walkers, has a message of true despair for the reader. Is that the overall theme, though? I leave that for you to find out (I'll give you a hint -- you have to look at my reading history and which books I've loved and which I've been lukewarm on or actively disliked and remember that I love this book). The artwork is very smooth and fits the story well in the series (the #1/2 added story at the end just underlined for me how important the art was to my enjoyment of the main series). A downside to the art is that you can tell that Frank, or Straczynski, or both, love scantily clad women. Reading the story straight through, rather than in monthly installments, makes that abundantly clear. If a backlit naked woman, or a heroine in a midriff-baring top, low-slung jeans and a thong, are things that would get in the way of you enjoying the story, you might want to skip this one.

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