Kyle Garret: There are four types of solo superhero books. There are the bad ones, the average ones, the good ones, and the great ones. By and large we get average ones with a few good thrown in. Every once in a while we get great ones.
Midnighter #1 is an important book, but I don’t know that I’m really qualified to espouse upon that, nor do I think I would do it justice.
But it’s also a great solo superhero book and it achieves that by doing something so rarely seen in such comics: it has a narrative that reflects the main character.
Mark Gruenwald’s time on Captain America is considered a defining run. Part of the reason for this is that the way Gruenwald told his Cap stories reflected who Cap was as a character. There was something straightforward and earnest about the stories. Gruenwald wasn’t burying secret messages in panels or creating doubt in the reader’s mind regarding Cap’s choices. Everything was very much above the board, very much in keeping with who Steve Rogers is. The way the stories were told felt like Captain America.
Batman: Year One features a shifting POV, from Jim Gordon to Bruce Wayne and to a lesser extent to Selina Kyle. But the way the story is told tells you whose story it really is: it’s Jim Gordon’s. The grittiness of the city, the clearly defined line between bad cops and good cops, the equation of the powerful with the evil, these aren’t concepts that are necessarily inherent in Bruce Wayne yet and aren’t expressed via Selina Kyle. This story feels weighted, it feels oppressive, like the weight of the world is on the reader’s shoulders, like we’re fighting an uphill battle that we can’t possibly win, but we have no butler or mansion to return to.
Anne Nocenti and John Romita, Jr. do much the same thing with their run on Daredevil. It’s a punishing run, never letting up, never taking the foot off the pedal as Daredevil is beaten down over and over and over again. It’s is very nearly too much for the reader to take, yet we kept reading, as if we deserved it, as if we knew we had to live through this hardship. We went through the suffering and ultimately grew to think we wanted it, as if we were doing penance.
It is rare to get a story like this right. It is such a unique quality in comics that I can only think of a handful of examples, although all of which I just rambled on about. You’re not just writing about a character, you’re not just getting the character’s voice right, but you’re basing your entire storytelling technique on who the character is.
Steve Orlando and ACO do this with Midnighter #1.
Jason Sacks: Beautifully stated, Kyle, and so true. There are many things that make Midnighter special, but the most important element is the way that this comic represents an introduction to our new favorite character in a way that allows readers to see things both objectively and subjectively at the same time. Steve Orlando and ACO present this comic in a jagged, fragmented. but fully controlled style that preserves widescreen wonder while embracing the unique power of comics in ways that are unique and delightful and powerful.
For instance there’s an opening battle when terrorists attack while Midnighter is on a date, and the scenes are presented in a way that’s both jagged and coherent — with mysterious lines of power, flashes of faces and weapons and contacts and heartbeats, all showing the way that Midnighter sees everything that is happening around him. In that scene we both see his super-power and experience it viscerally, in a way that makes the panels and pages pulse and thrill and make us for a moment feel like our hero. We get why he’s important, what makes him an incredible force to battle, see proof of his boasts about who he is. From the jump, we’re given a reason to care about and be intrigued by this hero.
KG: I have to say, I’m glad that ACO, who has been something of a secret weapon at DC, is on a high profile book now. As soon as the artist was announced, I knew I was going to get this, but Orlando brings the writing chops, too.
JS: Midnighter may have been born as a sort of perversely jokey Batman analogue, but this issue shows he’s far more unique than that. He’s truly unique and truly special.
Our hero’s sexuality is only part of that uniqueness. I’m having trouble thinking of another set of scenes in a mainstream comic that did such a wonderful job of conveying passionate sex and what happens when you wake up the morning after. It’s not the happy reality of Midnighter’s sexual orientation that matters in those scenes. It’s the emotional honesty, and the integrity of the characters, and the ways that Midnighter is shown as being both deeply weird and terribly normal.
That means his secret identity is a reflection of his personality, which means that all the aspects of Midnighter are parts of a whole. That multiplicity of identities and views makes Midnighter feel like a real and fascinating character, and makes Midnighter a damn special comic. The entire comic represents who the character is.
KG: That’s the great thing about Midnighter’s version of dating: he’s got no time for it. He cuts to the chase. He puts his actual description online which a) no one really does and b) is about him being a superhero! In many ways, he’s more no nonsense than Batman, because he’s applying that approach to the real world.
And while knowing his history helps, every reference to the end of his relationship with Apollo is heartbreaking. The whole “he’s better off without me” bit doesn’t feel as cliche as you would think, I think in part because Midnighter isn’t a melodramatic guy. If he says Apollo will be better of without him, then it’s probably true, which makes it all the sadder.
JS: Those moments when Midnighter reflects on his lost relationship with Apollo are wonderful. They humanize this character who had seemed near-omnipotent and imply depth about his character without having to dwell on every last moment. In the wistful sideways look that Aco gives our protagonist when discussing Apollo, we get just the right amount of storytelling to make the scene work. This is continuity as it should be: it reinforces a world and gives it depth without acting as a straightjacket or a limit to access.
It’s also striking how good Aco is at showing the simple moments as well as the grandiose action. The storytelling slows down in the quiet moments, as it should, and as a reflection of Midnighter’s peace at those moments. Those small things work wonders (as we’ve seen in our reviews of Crisis on Infinite Earths).
Julia Walchuk: Okay, so, I didn’t really get Midnighter. And I hate saying that about a comic that I know is well done and I know is doing amazing things, but I can’t write a review without being honest. The hard thing about not getting a comic like this is that intrinsically I understand how phenomenal and interesting the artwork is and how powerful Midnighter is as a character and how great it is that his life is being shown with such honesty and straightforwardness, but put that all together and I’m left with just kind of an ‘Eh.’ feeling after reading it.
It’s a weird kind of place to be where there is nothing I don’t like about the comic except for the comic itself. The story is dynamic and invigorating when it needs to be and intimate and quiet at the perfect times, just as Jason mentioned earlier. The events of the story are exciting and intriguing. I could gush about how great the art is for hours, with offset panels framing a larger image on several pages and a unique sense of nonlinear, yet understandable movement throughout. The characters are developed stunningly and as was also mentioned earlier, the relationships shown are so brutally and beautifully realistic that an immediate sense of understanding and empathy is built between the reader and Midnighter. Both in his romantic relationship and in his familial relationship, Midnighter shows the struggles of balancing commitment, passion, obligation, and your own mind and experiences.
But it still just didn’t really do much for me.
Maybe it’s my mood today, maybe it’s the violence, maybe it’s just not my style. I think a major issue here is that I’ve never read any Midnighter stories before. I was hoping that this would be a comic that I could just jump into, like with Squirrel Girl or Ms. Marvel or even Silk, who had more confusing backstory than the other two, but still was a relatable character to me from her first solo issue. But with Midnighter I felt like I was missing something. Like meeting a friend’s friend from their past. They may be a great person and have lots of qualities you’re drawn to, but if you didn’t share that tenth grade field trip to the Science Museum with them or see them go through all of their awkward hairstyles, that connection just might not be there.
Midnighter is a phenomenally well written and well drawn book that I really wish I liked.
KG: I will completely agree with you, Julia, that this book isn’t the introduction to Midnighter that it could or perhaps should have been. There’s no much detail given as to why he is the way he is or even what his purpose is. And given that there is an actual god named Apollo running around, it’s entirely possible to read this thinking Midnighter is somehow an offshoot of the current Wonder Woman series. It’s entirely possible that many people will read this and wonder why gay Batman gets his own series.
My hope is that those who do read this and are left feeling like they’re missing something, will do some digging to find out more. I hope you’re intrigued enough to go read the Ellis/Hitch era of The Authority, at the very least.