Since his first appearances in 1998 in DC comics’ Stormwatch and The Authority comics, published under DC’s former Wildstorm imprint, Midnighter is a character who has struggled to escape the shadow of his own concept: he’s essentially just an analogue of Batman. He wears black, fights crime at night, and happens to be very good at hurting people with his bare hands. And yet throughout the years through different comic series Midnighter has had the room to develop into his own character, one who’s complexity propels him beyond his simplistic idea, so much so he’s perhaps now more defined by his differences from Batman.
For one, he’s more than willing to kill bad guys, and even enjoys it. One of his defining characteristics is his ability, thanks to a series of cybernetic implants, to read his opponents and predict their every move. This allows him to calculate and play out a fight in his head countless times before it’s even begun, making him a nigh-unstoppable combatant. A glimpse into his unique perspective was provided in a 2007 issue of the first Midnighter solo series, written by Brian K. Vaughn of Saga fame, by telling the entire story backwards.
All of these violent tendencies would make Midnighter seem like a sociopath or super villain in his own right if not for another of his defining character traits: his tenderness. As one of DC’s openly gay characters, Midnighter has had a long time relationship with Wildstorm’s Superman analogue, Apollo. The two have been one of the most famous couples in comics, even raising a daughter together. This has established Midnighter as a intriguingly complex man: one who is unrelentingly brutal and cruel towards his enemies and yet sensitive towards innocents and his loved ones. This dichotomy is something that is refreshingly explored in the first issue of DC comics’ new Midnighter series.
The issue begins with a subplot involving an unknown assailant infiltrating the God Garden, an orbiting space station where superhumans, including Midnighter, are engineered. The station’s overseer, an elderly woman named the Gardener who is also Midnighter’s faux “mother”, attempts to protect the station’s trove of advanced weaponry, but is incapacitated by the shadowy infiltrator.
We’re then introduced to Midnighter, who is newly single and on a date with a man named Jason after breaking up with Apollo. It’s worth noting that Midnighter probably has the greatest online dating profile of all time, including a profile pic of him in full costume and choice phrases in his bio such as “computer in brain” and “have headbutted an alien.” It’s one of a number of fun choices that writer Steve Orlando, himself a gay man, makes as he depicts Midnighter confidently exploring his sexuality.
Midnighter’s date, however, is interrupted by a group of teleporting mercenaries with rage-inducing guns. Because these are the kind of things that happen to you when you’re Midnighter. Despite its gratuitousness, the ensuing action scene is a dynamic, colorful and overall fun depiction of Midnighter’s famous abilities as he creatively disposes of the mercenaries. This includes kicking a steak bone through a man’s head and breaking another’s neck with a tablecloth, all accompanied by X-ray details of the fatalities in the manner of the most recent Mortal Kombat games.
The rest of the issue is dedicated to Midnighter’s personal life as he continues dating Jason (who somehow hasn’t run for the hills), ultimately culminating in the two men hooking up at Jason’s apartment. These short scenes are probably some of the most illustrative and representative looks at a gay relationship that DC has put out in recent years in its mainstream comics, and are definitely a positive and ensuring step forward in DC’s depiction and treatment of its gay characters, something DC has also done effectively in books such as Batwoman. The dynamic between the two men is made fun and believable, such as Jason’s response to Midnighter injecting him with a subcutaneous communication device (“just so you know, this is the definition of coming on strong”).
We also get a look at Midnighter’s gentler side as he talks to Jason about his first love, Apollo. Interestingly enough, Midnighter takes the blame for the breakup, declaring Apollo to be better than he deserved and perhaps too much for him to handle. It’s a sincere emotional look at a man who maybe ten pages back we saw punch through another man’s spine.
The issue ends with Midnighter receiving a distress call from the God Garden. He teleports there to find the Gardener, who informs Midnighter that along with the station’s weaponry, his personal file detailing his life before becoming Midnighter has been stolen. This leaves us with the hopeful promise of further revelations of Midnighter’s character.
In keeping with the intensity of a character such as Midnighter, artist Aco’s layout for the issue is very lively. On top of the traditional box layout Aco utilizes additional, smaller boxes to depict other details from a scene, such as a bystander’s expression or the ominous approach of boots. This works with varying degrees of success, sometimes working well to illustrate Midnighter’s holistic intake of a scenario, but at other times making pages cluttered and sequences difficult to follow. The painted art style, however, at times reminiscent of computer or video game animation, lends itself well to character expression such as the unmasked Midnighter during his more reflective moments.
Overall, Midnighter #1 is a reassuring and faithful reintroduction to the character, and one that leaves open a lot of room for exploration. Here’s hoping it continues the level of depth we’ve begun to see here. With punching.