Review by C.J. Bunce
In a way some credit is owed to artist Greg Smallwood for the return of the dark superhero team the Midnight Sons in Marvel’s Midnight Suns, the tactical roleplaying game from Firaxis Games published by 2K late last year for PlayStation 5, Windows, and Xbox Series X/S, arriving in stores this week on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Smallwood unsuccessfully tried to re-launch the team and created a series of comic book variant covers for his take on the team in 2017 before moving on from Marvel to Archie Comics and DC. Marvel’s Midnight Suns–the game–casts a wider net than the Midnight Sons–the team-up–and you can see how Firaxis adapted more than a dozen familiar characters into its game in the new coffee table art book, Marvel’s Midnight Suns: The Art of the Game, available here at Amazon. Readers will see this is very much an answer to DC Comics’ Justice League Dark, a group of superheroes called upon by the Avengers when an astronomical event shifts magic on Earth, and a certain expertise is needed to battle a new resulting threat.
Smallwood’s rejected series would have added Moon Knight, Morbius, and The Punisher, and it would have tied in the Man-Thing world to Marvel’s supernatural team-up (in light of the Marvel monster movie last year, this could be why the series didn’t get greenlit), but the video game team is still a great ensemble even without these characters. Written by behind-the-scenes game book writer Paul Davies, Marvel’s Midnight Suns: The Art of the Game has developmental concept artwork for some of Marvel’s best B-characters, along with new costume design changes for some of its biggest heroes.
The game itself puts players into the persona of a new superhero, the Hunter, and the book describes many of the looks (and more than 30 power/ability options) that gamers can select to create their character for RPG play. It begins as another Hydra scheme. Doctor Faustus resurrects Lilith for help in conquering the world. As with all Marvel team-ups, it’s a bit convoluted. A star called the Midnight Sun approaches Earth and destabilizes magic. Enter Doctor Strange in his Sanctum Sanctorum in New York City, partnering with Tony Stark to get old man Ghost Rider Johnny Blaze’s help (Blaze is voiced by Graham McTavish in the game). Meanwhile Captain Marvel partners with Scarlet Witch to battle Lilith head on. This is where Strange steps away to pull in Blade, plus Runaways characters Nico Minoru and The New Mutants’ Magik (the character played by Anya Taylor-Joy in the movie) and young Ghost Rider Robbie Reyes, along with the Caretaker (played by Sam Elliott in the Ghost Rider movie). That’s a pretty neat group for the new “Midnight Suns.” The player at home teams with Strange and Blade, when Venom and Spider-Man enter the picture. Bruce Banner, Crossbones, Sabretooth, and even Wolverine get roles in the adventure, and to top it off Mephisto is involved as well (voiced by Jason Isaacs).
If you think it sounds like another X-Men: Days of Future Past, that’s because the game was a major undertaking bringing together parts of all corners of the Marvel mythos. Paul Davies includes many of the artists along with their work in his book, which also incorporates the environments from the video game story. Parallels to the X-Men include Blade’s centerpiece facility called the Abbey, which has the vibe of Professor Charles Xavier’s mutant school, but with darker lighting (remember the comics series where Logan ran the school?). One of the most interesting features is a forge where armor can be created using the science of Tony Stark and the magic of Doctor Strange. The Abbey has some surprising fantasy elements–settings straight out of The Hobbit.
Key layouts in the book provide final and unused ideas for the Hunter’s armor (many costumes in the book veer into an Assassin’s Creed vibe), but expect a lot more leather, chains, and swords. Davies describes the sources tapped for each updated look for the characters, with most coming from 1990s incarnations from the comic books. Focuses include Blade, the Ghost Riders, the Runaways, Agatha Harkness, Lilith and her minions, new Iron Man armor, versions of Doctor Strange, Captain America, Spider-Man, Venom, Scarlet Witch, Hulk, Wolverine, and Captain Marvel (including a solid 1990s Ms. Marvel attempt), Hydra characters, and Mephisto. One take on Nico looks like Thor’s sister, and the Caretaker is a ringer for actress Robin Wright. To keep up with the cheerier superheroes and their superpets, this team gets a red demon dog named Charlie.
The book includes some thumbnail storyboards, full-page poster-type heroic images of key characters, lots of digital renderings, nearly all in full color and all on thick, shiny pages in a jacketed hardcover. The text does not give away all the story details. The target audience is fans of the game, but it’s also for any fan of these Marvel superheroes. The book is all about viewing your favorites in a new light. If you haven’t played the game, the book will get you interested. Since the book was written, characters like Blood Storm, Deadpool, and Morbius have been brought into the game. Here is the game’s trailer:
Just out from Titan Books, order Marvel’s Midnight Suns: The Art of the Game, now available here at Amazon.