Dr Mid-Nite was created by writer Charles Reizenstein and artist Stan Aschmeier (Stan Asch or Stan Josephs) and made his début in All-American Comics 25. The Doctor was a Doctor in real-life, prominent surgeon Charles McNider, who was called in to operate on a witness against mobsters, who had been shot. However, a gang member threw a grenade into the operating theatre, which killed the witness and blinded McNider.
Unable to continue his profession, McNider decided to become a crusading anti-crime columnist, with the assistance of his secretary, Myra Mason. However, whilst sat alone one night, brooding, McNider was disturbed by something entering his rooms and causing havoc. Instinctively ripping off his bandages, McNider discovered that he was actually able to see in conditions of blackness, much like the owl that had accidentally flown in his window. He decided to keep his newfound ability to himself and, after producing a pair of dark lenses that enabled him to see in the light, McNider chose to go out and fight crime, under the pseudonym of Doctor Mid-Nite. He named the owl Hooty and adopted it as his mascot.
The spelling of the good Doctor’s name has been queried but there is no settled explanation of it. The best suggestion is that Mid-Nite’s creation came in the wake of the widely-known radio serial featuring Captain Midnight, hence the different spelling to avoid accusations of copying.
Doc’s costume consisted of a black headcowl, incorporating the black lens goggles, green cape, black long-sleeved top under a red jerkin fastened by half-moon crescents, and brown gauntlets and boots. Although Marvel’s Daredevil became famous, twenty years later, as a prominent superhero who was blind, Doctor Mid-Nite was the first superhero to feature a physical disability.
When Green Lantern left the Justice Society on being granted his own title, Doctor Mid-Nite replaced him, in All-Star 8. Doc appeared in the issue as a guest star, seeking the JSA’s assistance to track down the missing Professor Able. Meanwhile, the JSA are all faced with suspects who have suddenly gone mad under interrogation: each turn out to be victims of a new drug, developed by criminal genius Elba (do not pre-empt the drama by reading Elba’s name backwards). Johnny Thunder gets into trouble and summons the rest of the JSA, but Elba locks himself into a lightless room, causing the JSA to have to call upon Doctor Mid-Nite, who goes in alone and defeats the villain, exposing him as being, shock, horror, Professor Able. The Doctor is offered membership for his efforts.
Mid-Nite remained with the JSA until their final adventure in All-Star 57, putting him third in the overall list of appearances, and his solo series lasted until 1948, when All-American was converted to a Western title after issue 102. Apart from his ability to see in the dark, the Doc carried with him a number of ‘blackout bombs’, little devices that, when thrown down, generated clouds of impenetrable black smoke, in which the criminals couldn’t see, but the Doctor could.
He returned to action in the second JLA/JSA team-up, in 1964, and two years later produced an upgraded weapon, in the form of the Cyrotuber, a multi-barrel gun which used adaptations of modern operation techniques – sonics, cryogenics, lasers – for offensive purposes.
Though Mid-Nite was, improbably, considered for a team-up with the all-powerful Spectre, outside of his JSA appearances, his only other exposure was in occasional guest slots in The Flash, where he became Flash 2’s other-dimensional doctor for things that Barry Allen couldn’t take to anyone in Central City.
Indeed, increasingly McNider’s career focussed on his medical abilities rather than his superpower (which, as he aged, began to slowly fail him). He was included in the first half of the Seventies All-Star revival, but gently eased out during the run, and did not reappear until the early Eighties when he moved to Los Angeles to become, in effect, the private physician to Infinity, Inc.
In that respect McNider took on an intern, in African-American Beth Chapel. With the Crisis looming, and his proposal to retain Earth-2 finally rejected, Doctor Mid-Nite was one of the JSA heroes that Roy Thomas rapidly chose to re-create. Simultaneously with Rick Tyler’s first use of Hourman’s Miraclo, Beth Chapel was caught in an oxygen blast that blinded her, only to find she too was perfectly sighted in the dark. Chapel chose to become the second Doctor Midnight (note spelling).
As Doctor Midnight, Chapel wore a radically different (and completely crappy) costume made for her by her mother. Chapel applied to join Infinity, Inc, but was not accepted until very close to the end of that series. She and Rick Tyler also started a relationship, much against Rex Tyler’s approval.
But Chapel did not last long in the part. After Crisis, she and the new, female, Wildcat were part of a team sent to the Caribbean to bring down Eclipso. It was a total disaster and everyone was killed, which demonstrated the only point of the exercise: cheap outrage and the disposal of another bunch of unwanted characters. The Creeper was subsequently resurrected, mesdames Midnight and Wildcat were never seen again.
The onus came back onto Charles McNider who, at the time, was in limbo with the Justice Society and, although an active member of the 1950 JSA, he was excluded from their mini-series. Mid-Nite did play an active role in the open-ended series: at first concentrating on his role as a physician at a free clinic in New Orleans, with another African-American female intern (who thankfully did not follow Beth Chapel into a horrible costume). But the death of an old favourite Jazz musician had McNider bringing the revived JSA into what became a battle against their old foe the Ultra-Humanite, and Mid-Nite stayed with the team for the rest of the short run.
The highlight of his performance was getting Jesse Chambers to try an old (and acknowledgedly sexist) trick to distract a guard by pulling down the zip of her running top!
McNider’s final appearance, like many others, came in Zero Hour. Like Hourman, he attacked the Extant and, in the same manner, had his ageing accelerated. Sandman, another victim, was saved in hospital, but Doctor Mid-Nite died on the operating table.
Though McNider was dead, his presence was the subject of much fan debate on-line, on the subject of whether Charles McNider may have been gay.
The debate was furious at times, not only from those who wished to defend their favourite old character but, frankly, from the bigoted who would not countenance the idea that a superhero might be gay, or why anyone would ever want a superhero to be gay? Their most ‘objective’ argument was that Doctor Mid-Nite couldn’t have been gay because being homosexual was against the law.
Those proposing this radical departure pointed to a number of elements in the original stories. Unlike every other JSA member, McNider had never demonstrated any actual interest in the opposite sex, not even the fair Myra Mason, who was his constant and devoted companion for the best part of a decade. Indeed, McNider had often been snide and dismissive towards Myra, a kind of anti-female contempt that the proponents suggested were coded messages that those who were meant to understand could read – a necessity for the repressed homosexual community.
Interestingly, James Robinson’s Starman series would reinterpret the JSA adventure where the boys’ places are taken by their girl-friends. Robinson’s version excluded female Atoms and Doctor Mid-Nite’s, and as an amusing nod, has Mid-Nite reacting in horror to Wonder Woman’s mere suggestion.
However, since the turn of the century, retrospective stories have been assiduous to establish that, actually, McNider worshipped Myra Mason but kept his feelings for her secret so as not to endanger her, not that that prevented her from being murdered in the end by one of Doctor Mid-Nite’s (retrospectively created) enemies. (Such stories also tend to portray McNider as something of an effete snob, by the way).
My take on this is that, whilst I don’t believe that Mid-Nite’s stories contained any coded messages, had DC wished to make a stance by bringing one of the longer-lasting characters out as gay – which would have been a tremendous gesture – McNider was ideally positioned for this to be done without the least violation of anything already established about him. I also think that someone felt very uncomfortable about the idea, which is why they moved to stifle that possibility. Which eventually came true with the reorientation of Alan Scott in Earth-2.
Independent writer/artist Matt Wagner – noted for his creations Mage and Grendel, and of course Sandman Mystery Theatre – had long been interested in Doctor Mid-Nite and, in 1999, he created a three-issue Prestige mini-series, reviving the character in his new form, as a much darker figure.
Doctor Mid-Nite 3 was Norwegian-born Doctor Pieter Cross, a radical physician who had established a free clinic in Portsmouth, in Washington State, where there was a severe drug-smuggling problem. Cross used street characters he’d saved in an anti-drugs organisation but, having fallen foul of the drugs bosses, he was kidnapped, injected with an experimental drug they were peddling, made drunk and sent away in a high-powered sports car. Before he could regain control, Cross crashed, killing another driver. Cross had his physician’s licence removed. He also lost his sight.
Whilst brooding on his situation, Cross discovered that the drugs in his system had left him able to see in the dark. Aware of the past existence of Doctor Mid-Nite, Cross decided to exploit his ‘gift’ by taking up the vacant identity. There was no connection to McNider in Wagner’s original story, but subsequent writers have obsessively added details such as Cross having interned under McNider, and then having been delivered by him in emergency conditions. It often appears that the world of superheroes has to be rendered incestuous in its connections: anything less is simply insufficiently ‘real’.
The new Doctor Mid-Nite has not appeared in any other solo stories since Wagner’s series, but was added to the revived Justice Society in (nice touch) JSA 8. He wears a near identical costume to McNider, the principal difference being that the red jerkin has a groin-guard extension. He’s been a regular ever since, in both JSA and Justice Society of America, where he has formed a partnership with the new Mr. Terrific as the two smartest guys in the team. However, like McNider before him, Cross is more physician than superhero, and his participation in the action is strictly limited. It is he who performs the autopsy on Sue Dibny’s body in Identity Crisis and whose identification of the cause of death leads to the unmasking of the unexpected killer.
Doctor Mid-Nite 3 was a character of potential, almost none of which was realised. According to Batman, the drugs affected his sight in far-reaching ways that Cross had not yet begun to suspect, though this was never expanded upon. Indeed, at one point Cross had his sight magically restored, only to discover that the loss of his other vision was crippling, and he was actually glad to have his blindness restored.
Since then, the New 52 has intervened and all the above is meaningless. No Doctor Mid-Nite has appeared as yet. Given the general lack of any real idea of what to do with one over the last fifty years, it may be wise to hold back on creating another.