Post Convergence, DC stands at an impasse similar to one they stood at in August, 2011. The publisher once again has the option to relaunch old titles and start new ones, correct the state of their recently tangled continuity, present characters in a new, fresh way and tell stories they haven’t been able to in years. This time, however, much of that correcting is mistakes made from their last relaunch.
Few properties suffered under the banner of the New 52 more than the acquired Wildstorm characters. Once champions of the ’90s creator-owned, anything-goes-as-long-as-it sells-aesthetic, characters from Stormwatch, The Authority and WildCats were left under a more controlled, less open publishing initiative where everything needed to work together. While there were successes, few characters and concepts suffered more than Apollo and Midnighter. The pair were forced into Stormwatch, arguably the least successful New 52 book because it was the least essential. In the New 52, a super brutal team watching the events of the world didn’t need to exist; it already existed in Geoff Johns’ inexplicably violent Justice League. As such, the pair were treated as little more than the Batman and Superman pastiches they were originally meant to parody and the role suited neither of them.
The newest Midnighter series from writer Steve Orlando and artist ACO has a chance to show what makes Midnighter so much different than the character he was meant to pay homage to. Orlando takes the opportunity by taking Midnighter out of every comfort zone he has. He’s far away, physically and emotionally, from his ex and the manipulative Gardener and he’s trying to enjoy being a not-quite-hero as well as an out and on the prowl gay man.
You see, that’s the biggest risk Orlando takes in this issue and ACO sells that risk through bold, extremely modern choices. After an in media res opening, we see Midnighter’s Grindr profile and him on a date with the curious Jason. While he doesn’t appear in the issue, Apollo hangs over the book and clearly, the protagonist’s thoughts, but Orlando knows the value of keeping the character off the table. In a recent Comics Alliance interview, he spoke of the representative power of presenting Midnighter without his partner saying, “Often gay males are shown in mainstream media, but they’re coupled, they’re safe and chastened. And for a while, that alone was bold because gay men could be shown in mainstream media at all. But now that’s primetime family television.”
While allowing Midnighter to exist on his own, without Apollo and a support system puts the character in a new situation worthy of a debut issue, it’s the emotional move that’s more powerful. Midnighter is on his own, confident and on the hunt. He’s defending what’s his but he’s also looking for what he can have for the first time in a long time. When he and Jason have sex near the issue’s conclusion, there’s a real sense of the mix of desperation and desire that makes up the wild courtship this book is trying to sell.
Where the emotions are wild and dangerous, ACO portrays the violence in Midnighter #1 as an exercise of practiced control. Both in the new issue and the 8-page preview DC released last month, ACO uses loaded, energetic panels as a way to put us in the protagonist’s head. Midnighter’s computer brain is constantly calculating options and the Andrea Sorrentino-esque layouts give readers the same sort of clear-cut, razor-precise framework we need to get inside Midnighter’s head as he deals with bounty hunters and a threat against his very identity at the issue’s conclusion.
More than anything, the comparison between precise violence and wild, passionate sex provides a mission statement for the book. The most dangerous, unpredictable thing Midnighter is going to face is going to be at the dinner table and in the bedroom, not on the battlefield where he is little-less than a god. As he says over dinner and drinks, Midnighter is always game for some “aggressive anthropology” and I’m ready to see exactly what all that entails, on the streets and in the sheets.