Title: Midnighter Volume 1: Out
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artists: Aco, Stephen Mooney, Alec Morgan
Inker: Aco with Hugo Petrus (Aco issues)
Colorist: Romulo Fajardo, Jr., Allen Passalaqua, Jeromy Cox
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher, Tom Napolitano
Cover Artist: Aco and Romulo Fajardo, Jr., Artyom Trakhanov (Issue 3)
Spoiler Warning! This review talks about the plot of the graphic novel being reviewed. Read at your own risk!
What if Batman reveled in creative brutality, made quips sprinkled with innuendo, and hung out in bars? You’d probably get a character very much like Midnighter as he’s portrayed in this series. After the lukewarmly-received Stormwatch ongoing that launched with the New 52, writer Steve Orlando and a stable of great artists have found a place for Midnighter in the DC Universe, and it fits even better than his awesome leather coat.
When Wildstorm’s characters were folded into the DC Universe after Flashpoint, it was going to be a tough sell to have Apollo and Midnighter exist on the same Earth as Superman and Batman, as the former were conceived as analogues to the latter, but in a romantic relationship. To make Midnighter work on his own, the creative team broke him up with Apollo, kept the deep weird of New 52 Stormwatch, and pitted him against existing DC villains who prove excellent foils to him. Without Apollo, Midnighter finds an active dating life that we don’t see with most gay superheroes before settling into a new monogamous relationship with a man named Matt. It’s immensely interesting to watch Midnighter seeing other people, and I think it’s a testament to the importance of creative diversity as well as character diversity, as Orlando is an out bisexual man who has a perspective a straight writer wouldn’t.
As far as deep weird goes, issue 1 starts with a mysterious person robbing the God Garden, the orbiting weapons development facility that put a computer in Midnighter’s brain and made him an unrelenting human weapon with no past. Its leader, the Gardener, refers to defenses like “doubt darts,” “manticore drones,” “bacterial sentries,” and “Hermes Harness” in the first two pages alone. It’s casual name-dropping of obviously off-the-wall concepts that are probably better imagined than shown, and Orlando and Aco understand that. Over the course of the other issues collected in Out, Midnighter encounters rage guns, a harness that allows its wearer to use “the Six Killing Sounds,” Martian DNA splicing that creates “weaponized folklore,” instant teleport doors, and “urban cells” that can adapt to grow apartments and even houses like plants. It’s all high-concept, and Midnighter, for all that we see him being an everyman when he’s hanging with the guys or having dinner with his boyfriend, takes it all in stride with a speech declaring he’s already fought the battle a million ways, as he never gets tired of saying and I never got tired of reading.
It’s one way the book characterizes Midnighter in a way that throws off the shackles of being a Batman analogue. He doesn’t keep a secret identity because he doesn’t have one. His friends might call him “M,” but they’re very aware of what he does. And while he might be happy with the single life, he also feels his break-up with Apollo. He and Apollo were very much in love, and the hurt lingers. It’s believable and humanizing, contrasting exquisitely with, for example, his run-ins with the self-cloning Multiplex. The fun of pairing him with Midnighter is best summed up in an exchange from issue 6. Multiplex tells Midnighter, “You’ll never kill us all!”, to which Midnighter replies, with a big grin, “I know. That’s why you’re my favorite.” This in turn is contrasted even more exquisitely later in the issue when Matt stabs Midnighter and reveals himself to be the man who robbed the God Garden: Prometheus. This version takes cues from the Prometheus introduced during Grant Morrison’s time writing Justice League, who was, like Midnighter, a Batman analogue with a computer in his brain. I cannot think of a better antagonist for Midnighter. Even better, this break-up hurts M, too, though he hates to admit it. Orlando masters the balancing act between Midnighter’s brutality and his humanity.
Speaking of brutality, Aco and Hugo Petrus bring truly visceral action to the proceedings. To simulate Midnighter’s fight computer on the page, Aco uses a flurry of inset panels to show everything happening at once in a superb visualization of M’s processing speed. Some insets show the internal damage Midnighter deals his opponents, such as when he kicks the round bone of a steak through a terrorist’s skull. It could very easily be gratuitous, but even when every fight stains M with blood, there’s surgical precision to his movement that the artists sell, whether it’s Aco with Petrus, Alec Morgan, or Stephen Mooney. Morgan drew issue 2, and his art has rougher edges, with more lines and wrinkles in clothing and faces. It’s a great look for someone as violent as Midnighter, so while it’s rather different from Aco’s more photorealistic aesthetic, it stays true to the book’s tone. Appropriately, Mooney draws issues 4 and 5, guest-starring the once and future Nightwing, Agent 37, who he draws over in Grayson. The way he draws Midnighter while M pitches half-flirtatious sass at Dick is a study in great panel acting, like the relaxed lean in his chair when he makes a comment about Batman and holds his fingers to his temples like the Batsuit’s ears.
Romulo Fajardo, Jr. does the lion’s share of the color work for the seven issues in Out, with Allen Passalaqua picking up a few pages here and there and Jeromy Cox following Mooney over from Grayson for the final pages of issue 5. Midnighter’s black is deep and inky. It complements shadowy environments well, and Fajardo, Jr. also works in contrast with more colorful environments. Whether it’s a rave-lit club or a subway station littered with Multiplex corpses, crackling energy weapons or Prometheus’ purple armor, Fajardo, Jr. is a jack of all trades. He plays to the strength of each line artist and works well with his fellow colorists. Both letterers, Jared K. Fletcher and Tom Napolitano, have an interesting, thin style, sleek and almost sharp. If they had any hand in the sound effects for Aco’s issues, I doubly applaud them, as they’re always perfectly suited to the scene and action. If Aco drew his own SFX, then there’s another feather for his cap.
I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of everything there is to love about Midnighter, but there’s only so much room. Its absence from DC’s new Rebirth initiative is sorely disappointing. Still, to have gotten a book as unique and interesting as this one is a true joy. To skip Midnighter is to skip perhaps the strongest new title to come out of the DCYou launch. Read it.