As Marvel Studios moves closer to fully embracing horror for the first time since Blade (1998), you’re going to hear a lot about two horror-adjacent Marvel teams. Midnight Sons debuted in the ’90s and featured some iconic supernatural heroes. Marvel Knights, however, focused on darker superhero stories and later became an unofficial team. Both came from publishing initiatives to focus on Marvel’s edgier characters. That’s the bare bones of what you need to know to get started, and we’re going to dig deep into the details of both Midnight Sons and Marvel Knights below.
Who Are the Midnight Sons?
In the early ’90s, Ghost Rider was on a hot streak. The character got relaunched with a new #1 in 1990 as Danny Ketch, a younger and more contemporary version of the Spirit of Vengeance. As Howard Mackie’s series picked up steam, Marvel took their other supernatural and horror-focused characters along for the ride.
Kicking off in 1992’s Ghost Rider Vol. 3 #28, the Rise of the Midnight Sons crossover event saw Danny Ketch and Johnny Blaze—Marvel’s original Ghost Rider—join forces with seven other heroes. This included Blade, the Nightstalkers (Hannibal King, Frank Drake), the Darkhold Redeemers (Louise Hastings, Victoria Montesi, Sam Buchanan), and Morbius. Doctor Strange gathered these nine supernatural warriors to defeat Lilith, the powerful Mother of Demons, and her evil children known as the Lilin.
Is Midnight Sons a Team?
This group of spooky heroes never formed a true team. They just had more of a team-up. In Ghost Rider Vol. 3 #31, their final crossover issue, Doctor Strange refers to them as the Nine. And on the last page of the issue, a defeated Lilith calls them Midnight Sons. The latter classification fueled Marvel’s supernatural offerings for the next couple of years, with Midnight Sons banners or logos often gracing their horror-themed comics. It was a convenient way to consolidate their edgier characters under an editorial banner increasingly overseen by Bobbie Chase.
This would evolve into the Marvel Edge imprint in the mid ’90s, of which Chase shaped as editor-in-chief. Her edgy fiefdom included Daredevil, Punisher, and Doctor Strange titles too. Characters such as Black Panther and Elektra also received solo stories in the imprint’s Over the Edge anthology series. Although Marvel Edge folded in 1996 as Marvel entered into financial straits, this branding would prove prophetic, paving the way for massive success yet to come.
Who Are the Marvel Knights?
While the name is likely better known than Midnight Sons, Marvel Knights has never been the name of an official team in the Marvel Universe. Most of its brand recognition comes from the fact that it was a publishing banner for darker and more mature Marvel books featuring street-level heroes. The initiative began in the late ’90s as an imprint overseen by former freelancers Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti. Launching with a new Black Panther series spearheaded by Christopher Priest, Marvel Knights was seen as a reinvigoration of the company’s comics and soon landed Quesada Marvel’s editor-in-chief job.
Marvel Knights #1 hit shelves in 2000, featuring an unofficial team led by Daredevil. The crew consisted of an ever-shifting roster including Black Widow, Dagger, Shang-Chi, Luke Cage, and Moon Knight. As most of those characters are now in the MCU, we wouldn’t be surprised to see a version of this team appear. Interestingly, Marvel formed the team in response to the violence of the Punisher. So if the anti-hero appeared in the MCU, that could be a reason for the street-level team-up to happen. Frank Castle really doesn’t fit the MCU’s more wholesome world. However, if he’s played as an antagonist rather than a conflicted hero, it could be a far better fit.
Marvel Knights Had Books, Motion Comics, and Even a Movie Imprint
Like Midnight Sons, Marvel Knights began as a publishing initiative. A number of titles featuring the characters named above, as well as darker takes on characters like Elektra and the Inhumans, used the label. As the line grew, it eventually expanded to Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Captain America, and many more. The success of Marvel Knights inspired the publisher to take their edgier stories even further, creating the MAX imprint for mature readers in 2001.
But Marvel Knights had another life outside of comics. If you’ve ever watched the lesser known Marvel Studios movies like Punisher: War Zone and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, you’ll have seen the name used as an opening ident. Around the same time, Marvel began releasing motion comics as “animation” DVDs under the Marvel Knights name. While neither branding stuck, it seems like Marvel might have interest in bringing it back. With the addition of the Marvel Netflix shows—which are decidedly un-PG-13—to Disney+, the company will need a new banner for their more mature fare. And Marvel Knights would make a lot of sense.
Could We See Midnight Sons and Marvel Knights in the MCU?
As often happens in superhero comics, the lore of the Midnight Sons expanded over the past 30 years. Most recently the 2018 Damnation event forged a new team-up. Wong and Bats—the ghost of Doctor Strange’s dog—gathered Blade, Doctor Voodoo, Elsa Bloodstone, Iron Fist, Man-Thing, Mr. Knight, and Scarlet Spider. They battled a demonic Stephen Strange. And it doesn’t stop there. Marvel will soon release a highly anticipated video game developed by Firaxis Games. While the tactical RPG uses the homonym Midnight Suns, it looks to bring the supernatural shenanigans of the darker Marvel characters to the AAA game space.
Meanwhile, the Marvel Knights branding lies dormant except for a 2018 miniseries. But for how long? With nearly 25 years under its belt, the name recognition and nostalgia is high for this once dominant initiative. Could Moon Knight possibly mean that Marvel Knights will find new life in the MCU? Incorporating the Marvel Netflix series into a new Disney+ segment alongside Moon Knight seems like a no-brainer for a Marvel Knights rebrand.