Have you ever wondered what would happen if Jack Kirby was still alive and kicking, had smoked a metric shitload of pot, and started making indie comics? That’s kind of how I felt after finishing Nightworld: Midnight Sonata. Nightworld is the story of Plenilunio, a demon who is striving to save the soul of the woman he loves, damned by his own careless hand. He must find the Soul Key, untouchable by human hands, to get her back, which is sought by Ludmilla and her grandfather (and amateur occultist), Lowe. They are met by a helpful (and speedy) teen demon from the 50s, who’s constantly acclimating to current culture, and an evil sorceress who desires Lowe’s spellbook for her own ends. Included are plenty of square-jawed fisticuffs, one-liners and banter, and a somewhat half-baked, but very intriguing, cosmological/mythological aspect.
As a fleshed out version of a short story by Leandri, this book succeeds in telling a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end, but it still feels a little rushed, a little misdirected. Things that characters themselves address (“How can that human touch the Soul Key??”, “Will Plenilunio be able to rescue Lidia?” and others) remain frustratingly unaddressed and unresolved. If this is truly a volume 1, in the sense that there will be more of the series that delve into that, I am 100% okay with that; I was just led to believe this was a miniseries.
Leandri’s art is the real high point of the book. It’s definitely a lineal descendant of Kirby, with a splash of Colan, and even some Ditko flair, but Leandri still manages to give it his own personal brand. I don’t know if it’s his backgrounds, the way he inks the folds in his characters’ costumes, or if it’s just the scattershot manic energy of the whole thing, like this is his best-ever idea, and he’s not going to forget anything. The book’s got a lot of spiritual parents aside from the comic influences (probably the strongest being The Addams Family and Dark Shadows), but it still manages to feel like its own thing. Add to that Leandri’s excellent pacing (there’s a slow zoom sequence on Plenilunio that plays the symmetry of his face and the window behind him off the asymmetry of the things appearing in the windows--it’s great), and the book works on a lot of levels without coming off as imitation.
McGovern’s contributions to the story feel a little less impactful, with good reason. Brought in as a partner for Leandri after a first draft of the story, McGovern himself says in the backmatter that most of his job on issue one was to insert dialogue into a visually finished story. By the time the fourth issue comes around, their partnership feels smooth and mutually satisfactory, but I don’t think it will really hit its stride until the next adventure of Plenilunio and crew, when he’ll be able to get in on the ground floor. His dialogue in the series can tend to get a little scattered, without separating out the character voices--a tougher task in a Kirbyesque adventure like this, where characters are known to shout exactly what they mean all the time, so I can’t hold it too much against him.
Overall, this is a promising new series. When I put it down, I had to pick up parts of it immediately to reread them, to make sure I was getting the things they intended. This is a great example of a comic that has all the parts and pieces, but it doesn’t put them all together for you. It’s the difficult-but-rewarding experience, not the difficult-for-difficulty’s-sake experience. The climax is an interesting twist on the traditional heroes vs. the villains climax, and let’s be honest: the real greatness of this book is that it’s just fucking fun.
It’s a little pricier than the traditional Image trade, but I’ll tell you now, it’s worth the scratch.
Nightworld: Midnight Sonata Pencils, Inks, Letters: Paolo Leandri Script: Adam McGovern Color art: Dominic Regan Publisher: Image Price: $12.99 Release Date: 3/18/15 Format: Trade Paperback; Print/Digital