The Night Nurse: Doctor to Superheroes

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Very few superheroes are lucky enough to be invulnerable like Superman or have a healing factor like Wolverine, so what happens when they get hurt on the job? Even heroes with good healthcare in their civilian lives may have trouble explaining away gunshot wounds and regular concussions when their insurance company gets curious. Then there are all the heroes whose vigilante career keeps them from having a stable nine to five with healthcare in the first place. So what’s the answer? In the Marvel Universe, the answer is to go to the Night Nurse.

Night Nurse was originally a four issue romantic and medical drama comic that Marvel put out in 1972-1973. It featured three women working the night shift at the Metropolitan General Hospital in New York City and the real-life drama and intrigue they encountered.

Night Nurse #1: Cover of Night Nurse issue one from 1972.

Night Nurse #1: Cover of Night Nurse issue one from 1972.

The comic didn’t last long, but the idea of a Night Nurse was reimagined in 2004 when one of the original women from the 1972 comic, Linda Carter, reappeared in Daredevil v2 issue 58 as a medical practitioner going by the code name Night Nurse.

Daredevil v2 #58 – Introducing the reimagined Night Nurse.

Daredevil v2 #58 – Introducing the reimagined Night Nurse.

In this issue of Daredevil she treated Matt Murdock for a gunshot wound, and he explained to Ben Ulrich, and the reader, that she had been practicing medicine out of a secret clinic for years. She helps superheroes with injuries that would be hard to explain to insurance companies or regular doctors. It’s also clear from the way she tried to turn Ben away that she makes keeping the secrets of her patients a top priority.

Daredevil v2 #58: Matt Murdock explains the Night Nurse.

Daredevil v2 #58: Matt Murdock explains the Night Nurse.

After her reintroduction to the Marvel Universe she made appearances in various comics, aiding heroes like Luke Cage and Iron Fist. During her appearance in The Immortal Iron Fist #2, she indicated that she wanted to open a wider range of clinics around the city because during the Civil War and registration crisis, unregistered heroes couldn’t get medical care anywhere else.

The Immortal Iron Fist #2: The Night Nurse treats Iron Fist.

The Immortal Iron Fist #2: The Night Nurse treats Iron Fist.

I’ve always been intrigued by the behind-the-scenes aspects of the superhero world, so after reading the Night Nurse’s appearances in both Daredevil and The Immortal Iron Fist, I wanted to know more about her. The idea of a clinic that treated superheroes under the radar was fascinating to me, so when I heard that she had a major role in Doctor Strange: The Oath, a miniseries by Brian K. Vaughan, I had to check it out.

The miniseries is a rather straightforward tale that retold bits and pieces of Doctor Strange’s origin story as he tried to save his servant Wong’s life. However, despite being about Doctor Strange (aka Stephen Strange), the story opened at the waiting room of the Night Nurse’s clinic.

Doctor Strange: The Oath #1: A normal night at the Night Nurse's clinic.

Doctor Strange: The Oath #1: A normal night at the Night Nurse’s clinic.

It appeared to be a quiet night at the clinic until Wong appeared carrying a severely injured Doctor Strange. Stephen had been shot and the Night Nurse quickly jumped into action, revealing that she was much more qualified than her code name indicated. She told Stephen’s astral projection that she was actually a trained doctor, but that Night Nurse sounded better as a code name.

Doctor Strange: The Oath #1: The nurse is actually a doctor.

Doctor Strange: The Oath #1: The nurse is actually a doctor.

After saving Stephen’s life, she joined him on his quest to recover an elixir that could cure all cancer and therefore save his assistant Wong’s life. She insisted on accompanying him because he or Wong may need medical care since they were both unwell.

Over the course of the journey, the Night Nurse proved that she was skilled at more than just medicine. Apparently she’d picked up a few tricks from the superheroes that she’d treated and showed that she could pick locks:

Doctor Strange: The Oath #2: The Night Nurse picking a lock.

Doctor Strange: The Oath #2: The Night Nurse picking a lock.

She was also more than able to defend herself when she needed to:

Doctor Strange: The Oath #3: She's not a damsel in distress.

Doctor Strange: The Oath #3: She’s not a damsel in distress.

Ultimately, the miniseries is about being a doctor. The oath from the title is the Hippocratic Oath, and as such, her inclusion in the story was very appropriate. Her dedication to her patients and her chosen career is clear here. The story features other doctors as well—Doctor Strange, whose arrogant past led to the loss of his neurosurgical career, and the villain, who meant well, but who was led astray by his insecurities and a corrupt pharmacological company. Each character’s relationship with the Hippocratic Oath and their profession is the core of the story.

The miniseries helped flesh out and establish Linda Carter as a strong female character in the Marvel Universe. She isn’t a superhero in the comic book sense of over the top powers and costumes, but she is a hero in a more real-world sense. She’s intelligent, capable, and brave as she provides medical care to heroes that need it.

The only real criticism I had was the kiss at the end between her and Stephen. I have no problem with the idea of the Night Nurse in a romantic relationship, but too often it feels like romances are tacked on because having a woman working with men automatically means they should be romantically involved with one of them. Other than a bit of banter there wasn’t much build-up to the kiss, and it happened on the last page, so the audience didn’t get any real resolution either. It just felt like an afterthought.

On the other hand, I think the miniseries was supposed to set up a future situation where the Night Nurse would rebuild her clinic in the Sanctum Sanctorum—Doctor Strange’s mystical home—and would potentially have a more significant relationship with Stephen. I know that they appear together in later comics, so perhaps there was more resolution there, but I found it to be a rather lazy ending. Romances need more than just a grand kiss at the end of a miniseries to give them foundation.

As someone who enjoys gritty street-level comics, where injuries are a reality of life for the heroes, I love the addition of the Night Nurse to the Marvel Universe. She hasn’t appeared in many comics over the last few years, but hopefully Marvel will choose to explore her more in the future.

 

Doctor Strange: The Oath. Written by Brian K. Vaughan; art by Marcos Martin. Published 2007; collects Doctor Strange: The Oath #1-5. Find it on Amazon or buy it from comixology.

What do you think about the Night Nurse or Doctor Strange: The Oath? I’d love to discuss them with you in the comments!

2 thoughts on “The Night Nurse: Doctor to Superheroes”

  1. Eric Mesa says:

    That’s awesome. I’d never heard of The Night Nurse, but I feel like she should have been in a lot of ASM issues. The waiting room banter seems to strike the same tone as that series. It also reminds me of The Bar With No Name (I think that’s what it’s called – it’s a villain bar that I think was introduced in ASM). Another great banal aspect of the villain and super hero world. They need doctors and they need a place to drink.

    Great job on the image scans – I love Iron Fist sitting on in the waiting room with ice on his leg. So often we see supers taking a beating that is just a scaled of version of what would certainly leave us normals hurt. So they must get hurt too. Teams often have doctors – the X-Men have several, but the more indie supers would have to see The Night Nurse. Also loved “I know kung fu. hi-yah!” hehe

    It’s also neat to see when comics take a silly character from their past – Night Nurse – and then make them relevant for today’s audiences either via update or total retcon (as in this case). Other flaws aside, it’s one of my favorite things that both Grant Morrison and Jonathan Hickman do.

    1. Tracey Mania says:

      Yikes! I’m sorry I missed replying to this comment.

      “Also loved “I know kung fu. hi-yah!” hehe”

      I really love Danny Rand. His character is such a complicated mess, but Fraction and Brubaker really did a good job updating him in the Immortal Iron Fist run. He’s another character that has been made more interesting and relevant in recent years.

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