Recently, when I was looking for a comic book run or mini-series to read to my girlfriend (yes, thus living out the comic fan's dream), I stumbled across a fave of mine from a few years back, Midnight Nation. Published by Top Cow Comics, the 12-issue series was written by J. Michael Straczynski, with Gary Frank providing the pencilling chores. Within these twelve issue covers is perhaps the most intelligent and well written story that J. Michael Straczynski has ever penned; an emotional and metaphysical journey to save a man's soul.
Lieutenant Grey starts the series working in LA, on his beat, dealing with a murder investigation, which quickly goes sour. But that's only the beginning for David. What starts out as a relatively routine cop drama turns into something much different, as David finds himself suddenly stripped of his soul and living on the other side, the land of the forgotten. He is provided with a guide, Laurel, whose job is to lead him to New York, to try and reclaim his soul, and resist the perils of their journey. Along the way, the two face Walkers, previous men who have lost their souls and failed to reclaim them from the Man in New York. But that's not all that they face, as David finds himself turning into one of the walkers himself, facing past failed love, and the growing realization that he's falling in love with Laurel, only to come face to face with a familiar face who warns him of impending doom that will soon face the duo on their journey.
The plot in Midnight Nation is deceptively simple, it's the execution which makes it work. There are a lot of metaphors thrown about, as David and Laurel at times are able to straddle the metaphor between the real world and the world of the forgotten, although often not with pleasant results. The journey begins as more metaphorical and philosophical, but takes a more poignant turn when David tries to contact his ex-wife, to tell her that he's okay, and not to worry about him. There's a ton of twists and turns that JMS provides along the way, which make the story more and more complex and deep, and prevents the characters from having an easy journey from LA to New York, walking all the while. The emotions which JMS manages to evoke are authentic and genuine, the reader is genuinely affected by his script, and the ending is heartbreaking, happy yet amazingly sweet and sad. It makes the whole journey worth it, the journey of self-discovery and realizing who and what you are at the very bottom of your being, and about the importance of a soul and what one might do for it, or for love.
Gary Frank provides what must be his best illustrative effort to date, exceeding his more recent Supreme Power work in terms of sheer storytelling and emotive qualities. The characters really seem real and authentic, right down to David's hair swirling in the wind. It gives the work a very important cinematic feel. Most important, however, is Frank's ability to make each character's face reflect perfectly the emotions of the moment, and of the scene. The ending to the book is only really effective because of the magical synthesis of JMS' script and Frank's illustrative storytelling. The two elements combine to create one of the most memorable mini-series in the last decade, which goes beyond just being a comic book story, but becomes something much, much more, magical and an emotional journey through one man's psyche, and quest for his soul.