Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Not Your Grandfather's Captain Midnight....

I was bit disturbed when I popped over to Amazon to see if there had been any reviews posted for the new Captain Midnight Chroniclescollection and found a customer review by a Mister Stephen Kallis who seemed quite personally offended by our version of the character.

It's not that the review was a negative one that bugged me, but that his expectations of what the book was going to be were considerably different from what he got. I genuinely felt bad about that, and I didn't want anyone else to be caught off-guard by our "take" on the character, so I posted this over on the product page:
As the editor of the Captain Midnight Chronicles, and the author of the character "bible" that the contributing writers used in writing their stories, I would like to respond to the review written by Mr. Kallis, who was sorely disappointed that we did not provide him with the flight back to the days of the original Captain Midnight radio show - which he considers the "definitive" version of the character. The fact that our stories incorporated elements from later incarnations of the character seems deeply offensive to him, and I genuinely regret that. I understand his affection for the radio show; it was a classic.

But which radio show does he consider the "definitive" one, I wonder? The original Skelly Oil-sponsored series? Or the more well-known version of the program famously sponsored by Ovaltine? The two shows had some notable differences in the portrayal of the character and his supporting cast, after all.

The point I'm clumsily attempting to make is that for fans of any classic fictional character - especially one that has had as long and successful run as the dear Captain - the "definitive version" is usually the one a person is exposed to first. For some people, James Bond is Sean Connery, for others it's Daniel Craig. For me, it's the guy that Ian Fleming wrote about.

Whereas Mr. Kallis clearly first encountered the heroic aviator's adventures over the air, other fans first met the Captain in the comic book series published by Fawcett Comics in the early 1940's where he was portrayed as a scarlet-clad superhero who battled alien invaders like Yog from Saturn, or the 1942 Columbia movie serial starring Dave O'Brien. Many Captain Midnight fans - apparently a bit younger than our Mr. Kallis - know the character only from the early Fifties television series starring square-jawed Richard Webb, who piloted the sleek jet plane, the Silver Dart.

When we started the process of reviving this classic but long-dormant character, a great many creative and commercial choices needed to be made. If we stuck religiously to any one specific version of the character, we risked disappointing those who favored another. And as several decades had passed since the last time the Captain had taken flight in the public eye, we had to also acknowledge that a great many of today's readers had no idea whatsoever who Captain Midnight was. If we had decided to target, say, only the fans of the radio version (not a particularly large audience, these days, I'm afraid), it was unlikely that we would sell enough copies of the book to make the effort worthwhile. If bringing the character back was worth doing at all, we needed to at least try to make him appealing to as many readers as possible - young and old and in-between.

So, I tried to pick what I thought were the most interesting and unique elements of all of the character's various incarnations and created an amalgamated Captain Midnight. I listened to all the surviving radio episodes, read the comics, Big Little books and watched the serial and TV series. I consulted with several well-known Captain Midnight fans and started drinking Ovaltine. And, in the end, I put together a new version of the character that incorporated the best (I hope) elements of all his incarnations. It was suggested by several people that we simply update the character and bring him into the modern day, but being a fan of the Captain and his Secret Squadron myself, I rejected that idea outright. It may have been necessary to make some alterations to the concept to make it viable for contemporary audiences, but I didn't want us to lose the essence of the character.

I can't speak for every author who contributed to the book, but I wouldn't have spent - literally - the last five years of my life working on this volume if I didn't love and respect the character.

I'm posting this not solely to address Mr. Kallis' criticisms - he paid his money, and he's entitled to his opinion, after all - but to try and let other readers know exactly what the book contains, so that they can make their decisions about whether or not to buy the book based on what the book actually is, and not what their expectations might be. I am quite sincerely saddened that he could not enjoy our efforts, and would like to help make sure that no one else is taken by surprise by what we've done with the character.

The Captain Midnight Chronicles portrays a version of the classic aviation hero that, we hope, is recognizable to existing fans and also relevant for new, 21st Century readers who have never encountered him before. The stories are varied - some are gritty war stories, some are fantasies, some are two-fisted pulp adventures - but all of them feature a Captain Midnight of great personal strength, integrity, and idealism. He exists in a fictional universe where history is somewhat different from our own, a world where one man - and his Secret Squadron - can stand against the forces of global tyranny and injustice and keep the peace through the wise application of strength and intelligence.

I suppose one could say, "This isn't your grandfather's Captain Midnight!" - but I think he is. He dresses a little differently, his equipment, aircraft and relationships may be somewhat altered, but he's still a champion of peace and protector of freedom.

Those kinds of heroes are kinda hard to find these days... and we thought it was time to bring one back.

12 comments:

BrittReid said...

That's the problem with dealing with a character with multi-media incarnations. Which one is the "definitive" version?
Posting your comment on Amazon was a very good idea since unlike people who see the books in a brick-and-mortar store and have the advantage of being able to thumb thru it, only the "official" description and reviews let a buyer know what it's about..
Also, suggesting that Moonstone incorporate some of your comment into their promo and ad material might be in order.
Good luck!

Charles Gramlich said...

As long as the heroic characteristics are still continued I don't have much trouble with an "updated" background for characters.

Eli Arndt said...

I commend you for your posting this to the product site. A lot of editor's, writers, etc would have just left things unsaid, unaddressed, and unexplained. Your points are all valid ones and I hope that Mr. Kalis will read it and perhaps understand.

Heck, maybe he's not aware that his favorite character had other lives and will now find himself on a trip to discover the other versions.

-Eli

Janus said...

I just want to know one thing: When are we going to see decoders?

Christopher Mills said...

Well, Mr. Kallis replied at Amazon - and as I suspected - completely misunderstood the intent of my post.

Oh well.

Some people just have to have things their own way, and anything that deviates from it even slightly is always going to be "wrong."

Sigh.

Eli Arndt said...

It's too bad that Mr. Kallis didn't bother to read your response. His response seems to indicate pretty clearly that he either skimmed it or took what he wanted from it to make an arguement where none was intended.

I think your reasons were clearly stated and that your choices sound. Bringing a character like this from the days of old and keeping them appealing to both classic fans and new is a tough job.

I wonder how many original stories of Captain Midnight Mr. Kallis has created.

-Eli

Win Scott Eckert said...

Mr. Kallis is the author of the book RADIO'S CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT: THE WARTIME BIOGRAPHY, and several Captain Midnight short stories published in a series of anthologies called IT'S THAT TIME AGAIN (based on OTR characters).

I suspect that his review and response has to do with a sense of "ownership" of the character, not in the legal sense of intellectual property ownership, of course. One might speculate that he came to THE CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT CHRONICLES already prepared not to like it. He certainly did not listen to Mr. Mills' balanced and professional response.

-Win Scott Eckert
Contributing author, THE CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT CHRONICLES

BrittReid said...

There's room enough for both the Moonstone and "It's That Time Again" (and several other) versions of the character.
After all, within the Marvel and DC Universes, how many different Spider-Men, Fantastic Fours, Supermen, Batmen, etc. are there?
Hell, there are now two different (and official) Star Trek universes!
And several different Green Hornets are now in print or on movie screens (the Kevin Smith version is radically different from the Year One version that's radically different from the new movie version which is radically different from the Moonstone version!)
And how many different Black Terrors and Green Lamas are presently spread thru the Image Universe/Project SuperPowers/etc?
All are equally valid.

BrittReid said...

There are
...multiple versions of the DC and Marvel print universes (plus tv/movie/animated).
...two different Star Trek universes.
...several different Green Hornets (Kevin Smith/Year One/2011 movie/tv series-Moonstone)
several different Doc Savages/Avengers, etc.
not to mention multiple versions of Black Terror, Green Lama, Boston Blackie, etc.
...and they're all equally "valid".
There's room enough for everyone, guys! ;-)

Eli Arndt said...

Well,

At least he has some professional background with the character. I'll give him that and of course he is enttitled to his opinion. I am sure there are many who would agree with him

-Eli

Win Scott Eckert said...

I don't think anyone involved with the Moonstone version said, or is saying, that there's no room for multiple versions. That seems to be Mr. Kallis' line. And yes, of course, he is entitled to his opinion, as Mr. Mills reiterated to him several times.

All the best,
-Win

Christopher Mills said...

Now Kallis is sending long letters of complaint to Moonstone threatening to warn fans of Old Time Radio away from the book - and condemning their forthcoming GREEN HORNET anthology in advance of actually seeing it.

Apparently, this man refuses to accept the validity of any medium that came along after radio....