Friday 14 January 2011

Midnight Tales #8. Arachne & the Midnight Philosopher in, "Amnesia."

Charlton Comics Midnight Tales 8 Arachne and Professor Coffin
With their not-quite-glossy covers, serrated page edges and artwork that didn't always line-up properly with the paper they were printed on, you didn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to notice that Charlton Comics were put together a fair bit more cheaply than the likes of Marvel and DC. But that was a large part of their charm. Everyone, after all, loves an underdog, and few comic companies felt underdoggier than Charlton.

Bearing in mind that a couple of years ago, I bought a bunch of Charlton comics and was somewhat disappointed by them, I didn't exactly have high hopes when, a few days ago, I bought two issues of Midnight Tales. I remembered them with affection but, then again, I'd remembered the likes of Ghostly Haunts and Dr Graves with affection and they'd done nothing for me upon adult re-reading.

Happily, Midnight Tales is the comic that bucked the trend because I really enjoyed both mags. You'd be hard pressed to call their contents spine-tingling because that clearly wasn't the aim. Midnight Tales, with its anchor characters of Professor Coffin and his niece Arachne was patently meant to divert and amuse rather than terrify. I'd say this was a wise decision as, even in the 1970s, there was a limit as to how blood-curdling you could be if you wanted to retain that Comics Code stamp.

So, instead, Midnight Tales #8, sees Charlton ever-present Nicola Cuti giving us a framing story as, called to an isolated island by their friend Charlie, Arachne and the Professor try to discover the identity of a mysterious young woman he's found himself saddled with. As the girl doesn't remember who she is, Charlie's named her Amnesia and, as they try to work out just where she came from, we're given clues via a trio of short stories.

The first involves a Scottish fishing village whose inhabitants set out to destroy a sea monster that's eating all the fish stocks - only to discover why killing the thing wasn't such a good idea after all. The twist doesn't really stand up to scrutiny but it's oddly pleasing and the thing's strikingly drawn by Tom Sutton.

The second tale concerns a man whose obsessive quest to find Atlantis causes him to neglect his wife, leading to disaster for all concerned.

Finally we get the tale of two ne'er do wells who steal what seems to be a giant pearl from a sunken city, only to attract the wrath of the "pearl's" rightful owners.

Now that these stories have been told, we at last get the revelation as to who Amnesia is and what she's doing there.

The nature of Amnesia isn't exactly what you'd call a shock, bearing in mind the watery nature of all these tales and that she was found, "on the rocks," but the reason she's there's a nice touch and adds to the air of affability of it all. The real genius of the comic is the use of Coffin and Arachne as the framing device. Unlike the framing characters of DC's horror mags, they aren't narrators as such, more investigators, and they each have a defined personality, with the always reasonable Coffin and the somewhat tactless Arachne.

Reading these two comics has genuinely made me want to go out and get all the other issues of Midnight Tales. Sadly that's not going to be a Herculean feat, as there aren't that many of them. The title lasted just eighteen issues before the plug was pulled, proving there's no justice in the world. But, with a Hollywood seemingly scraping the bottom of every comic book barrel it can find, for inspiration, I demand it raises its sights and gives us a Professor Coffin and Arachne movie. Knowing the huge weight this blog carries in such quarters, I have no doubt I'll get my wish.

Potential further reading: 


squonkamatic said...

Nice write up! Good to see some shared interest in this series. I discovered Midnight Tales just this winter and it immediately became my favorite Charlton, slowly amassing the complete run. One issue in particular you might wish to look up just for novelty sake is #5, which actually features a full two page centerfold of Arachne that was meant as a pin-up mini poster.

Steve said...

Hi, squonkamatic, welcome to the site. Midnight Tales #5 is one I had as a kid, so it's definitely on my list of ones to get.