Gamescom 2021 got off to a typically bombastic start. There was the reveal of a brand new Saints Row, a confirmation of Halo Infinite’s release date, and even a Jumanji game based on the original movie. One of the most unexpected reveals though was Marvel’s Midnight Suns, a tactical game from XCOM developers Firaxis and publisher 2K Games.
Bursting into the Gamescom Opening Night Live ceremony with an appropriately dynamic cinematic trailer, the game looks to be tapping into the supernatural side of the Marvel Universe – and from the looks of it, it’s the original comic book continuity it’s adapting, rather than the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Alongside big screen icons including Doctor Strange, Iron Man, and Captains both America and Marvel, are some of the publisher’s more horrific heroes, such as vampire hunter Blade, the demonically empowered Ghost Rider, and blood-powered witch Nico Minoru from the Runaways. The line-up of characters makes for an unusual mix, but it’s the name of the game that may raise eyebrows for long-time Marvel fans.
WHO ARE THE ‘MIDNIGHT SUNS’?
Originally, the Midnight Sons – not Suns – were a team of Marvel’s paranormal heroes, gathered by Doctor Strange to combat the return of Lilith, the mother of all demons. First appearing in Ghost Rider #28 in 1992, they were a reflection of the comic book industry of the time, which was obsessed with brooding badasses and “extreme” versions of classic characters, and generally dark heroes.
Unlike the assemblage seen in the trailer for the upcoming game, there was no sign of the iconic Avengers members. The Midnight Sons were pulled squarely from Marvel’s horror ranks. Ghost Rider was front and centre – the Danny Ketch version of the hero, where the game looks to be using the newer Robbie Reyes incarnation – and was joined by reasonably well-known characters Johnny Blaze (the original Ghost Rider, without powers at the time), Blade, and Morbius the Living Vampire.
However, the rest of the team was comprised of far more obscure characters. These included vampire hunters Frank Drake and Hannibal King, both of whom had first appeared in Marvel’s 1970s Tomb of Dracula series, and a handful of brand new characters who would go on to star in the ongoing Darkhold series (the first issue of which, in typical ’90s comic book crossover madness, was the fourth part of the storyline that introduced the Midnight Sons as a team).
The ‘Rise of the Midnight Sons’ story arc proved popular though, laying the groundwork for a small imprint of gothic and horror titles published by Marvel. This included the aforementioned Darkhold series, Morbius’ first solo series, and a smaller group called the Nightstalkers: Blade, King, and Drake, teaming up as a splinter operation. The Midnight Sons brand also absorbed the existing Ghost Rider and Doctor Strange titles of the time.
However, while the loose-knit team would occasionally cross paths with bigger name characters such as Spider-Man or Venom, they operated very much in the shadows of the Marvel Universe. Firaxis’ upcoming game appears to take a much wider view, drawing in some blockbuster headliners who were never part of the original Midnight Sons to star alongside the cult classic B-movie favourites.
It also appears that the Midnight Suns game will have freedom to tap into the full extent of the Marvel roster, as two X-Men characters (Wolverine and Magik) are seen in the teaser. Despite the lack of any real magical connection, Wolverine fits strangely well given he also enjoyed a massive surge of comic book popularity at the same time as the Midnight Sons were taking off in print. Magik, on the other hand, is a teleporting mutant who was kidnapped by demons and raised in Limbo. Eventually, she became queen of the Netherrealm, and now boasts demonic powers and wields a sword made from her own soul, which fits right in with the ‘metal as hell’ tone that Firaxis is going for.
Officially, per 2K’s description of the game, the Midnight Suns are an existing group made up of Nico Minoru, Blade, Magik, and Ghost Rider, who are called in by the Avengers when things get apocalyptically spooky. Midnight Suns? Maybe more like Marvel Team-Up.
WHO IS ‘THE HUNTER’?
One of the key moments of the reveal trailer is seeing the Midnight Suns awakening a figure referred to only as “the Hunter”, who is described as a “new superhero” that the developers have created in conjunction with Marvel. Officially, this will be a player customisable character, which likely hints at some degree of RPG-lite elements to the game. But keen-eyed fans may spot a couple of particularly strong candidates for the basis of the Hunter from the comics.
The first is Victoria Montesi, lead character in the Darkhold series. The Darkhold itself is essentially Marvel’s answer to the Necronomicon – a book of darkest magic that channels the essence of the Elder God Chthon, with its pages scattered around the world. Born with the ability to sense when people tapped into the magic of the lost pages, Montesi made it her life’s work to track them down.
Montesi was also being hunted by Lilith in her earliest appearances, as she was one of nine figures foretold to destroy the demon queen. That aspect would tie in nicely with the urgency with which the other Marvel heroes are trying to awaken her in the trailer, while a later revelation in the comics that Montesi was actually the daughter of Chthon makes a nice contrast to the moment in the trailer where the Hunter calls Lilith “mother”.
Incidentally, Montesi is also Marvel’s first openly lesbian character. So it’s a shame that the Hunter doesn’t appear to explicitly be her then, as that would be a major win for representation.
The other figure who seems to influence Midnight Suns’ mystery woman – at least in the trailer – is Elsa Bloodstone. Daughter of a legendary, near-immortal monster hunter, she inherited her father’s abilities and continued the family business. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but with more weapons, a shotgun, and a British accent. Although never part of the original Midnight Sons – her first appearance came about a decade later – Bloodstone joined a later incarnation of the team.
In practice, the game’s Hunter seems like they may be a bit of a magical MacGuffin, as it’s only after she’s awoken that the other Marvel heroes start rocking their magical makeovers. As the (likely) main player character, she may be responsible for any mystical power-ups in the game.
WHO IS LILITH?
Similar to the mythological Lilith, Marvel’s version of the mother of all demons was the first wife of the Biblical Adam, leaving him after refusing to be subservient to him. This Lilith has murkier origins though, either as a fallen angel herself, or the daughter of even older demons. Either way, she’s established as existing since long before the arrival of humanity.
2K and Firaxis have only revealed that she is “revived” by terrorist organisation Hydra, and soon sets about trying to summon Chthon. Her aim is to fulfill a prophecy – exactly which one isn’t mentioned, but those things are never good for humanity.
More relevantly for the Midnight Suns game, she’s also the progenitor of multiple distinct lineages of demons. Chiefmost among these are the Lilin, but others include Djinn, Incubi, Succubi, and Mazikim. Why does this matter? Because all those demonic spawn would fit really well as enemy classes.
While no gameplay has been shown for Midnight Suns yet, it’s widely expected to involve turn-based strategy to some extent. You don’t get the developers of Civilization VI and XCOM on board if you’re planning to make a first-person shooter, after all. With that in mind, each of those types of demons Lilith has created over the eons could perhaps map nicely to the different races of aliens that threatened players in XCOM, each offering a different set of skills and abilities to overcome. Meanwhile, the Lilin specifically – typically named characters in the comics – could serve as bosses. This is all speculation at this point, but the villain and her ability to spawn what would effectively be cannon fodder grunts is perfect for a video game.
WHY MIDNIGHT ‘SUNS’ INSTEAD OF ‘SONS’ THEN?
Because it’s no longer the 1990s? Because it’s kind of sexist when there were always female members of the team? Because “Midnight Suns” has frankly cooler connotations (shining lights in the darkness! Creepy juxtaposition! Eclipses! Other Magic Stuff™!) than “Midnight Sons” (a bunch of goth dudes hanging out in a graveyard because they think it makes them ‘deep’, which is actually a thing that happened in the ’90s comics)?
To be honest, we have no idea on that one, but with 2K and Firaxis planning the first gameplay showcase for Midnight Suns on Wednesday September 1 (at 7:30pm BST, 11:30am PST), we might get some more answers there. Until then, you at least now have a broader understanding of the background of the Midnight Suns – or Sons – and why they’re perhaps one of the deepest cuts yet from Marvel’s canon to get a AAA focus.