In case you missed it, DC comics recently announced that they will be introducing a slew of new series after cancelling 13 others. Among them, is one about a character named Midnighter, written by Steve Orlando. Few people outside of the comic book world know who this B-list character is, but this title has great significance for us in the queer community. Why?
Because Midnighter is an openly gay, tough-as-nails, badass superhero.
Exhibit A (Family Friendly Edition):
Exhibit B (Look Away Kids! Edition):
So what? It’s 2015. There’s all sorts of diversity in comics these days…
Sure, we’ve come a long way in this recent decade, but—believe it or not—this is the first on-going title from one of the main Big Two publishers (Marvel & DC) to feature a gay man in the lead. By itself, that’s groundbreaking (and hard to believe that it’s taken this long).
Now, to be fair, there have been others in a similar vein.
The first gay male to be featured in a solo series was Alpha Flight’s Northstar. Marvel published a 4-issue limited series starring the flying speedster in 1994 (two years after the character came out), but the series had no references to his sexuality or romantic life.
The first gay woman to have her series, Batwoman, has been met with much media acclaim and a strong following. However, DC waited until 2011 to give us a series focusing on a lesbian crime-fighter, and the initially strong series became plagued by controversy and has now been effectively canceled. The series will have run for a total of 40 issues.
The longest running series to be held by a queer man—this time a bisexual—is actually Vertigo’s John Constantine. The series called Hellblazer began in 1988 and is still going today (although it was rebranded Constantine when it was re-absorbed into the DC universe proper). John’s bisexuality wasn’t mentioned until 1992 and wasn’t depicted until 2002. Here’s something for your wait…
Midnighter had wild success as a character owned by the smaller Wildstorm Comics, being a trailblazer in the comic genre. The character debuted in 1998, and was established in a stable and loving relationship with Apollo by 1999, becoming the team’s solid anchor-couple. In 2002, the duo were also the first superhero couple to be depicted being married and adopting and raising a child together.
Oh, the feels….
In 2006, Wildstorm decided to let Midnighter go out on his own in what was supposed to be a 6 issue mini-series—it turned into a 20 issue run. Capitalizing on his success in 2007, the company gave Midnighter an unprecedented second series where he was paired up with Grifter (in the eponymous Grifter & Midnighter) which lasted for 6 issues.
All this time, DC comics had been the parent corporation of Wildstorm (which it had bought as an imprint) and decided to dissolve Wildstorm Comics in 2010, bringing over many of the main characters to the DCU proper.
So then what’s the fuss? If Midnighter was owned by DC Comics during every ground-breaking step, what’s the big deal?
Think of it this way: Pixar was able to make great films on its own, but once the money and muscle of Disney got behind them, they became unstoppable. Similarly, Wildstorm put out some great comics, but many of them went overlooked by casual fans and the general populace. What DC has been doing since integrating Midnighter into their universe is bringing knowledge of this amazing character to a wider audience: first with DC’s new Stormwatch, then in a supportive role in Grayson, and now to star in his own title.
And the writers of DC’s titles have not been backing down from Midnighter’s complex characteristics, his sexuality included. The same brash person who delights in ripping out a man’s spine, is the tender father who doesn’t want his daughter to have nightmares, is the passionate lover who will do anything for his husband, is the mans-man warrior with an increased libido who doesn’t mind commenting on handsome dudes.
(For your enjoyment, one of the best scenes in a comic this year: Midnighter recognizing Dick Grayson from his pert little ass.)
And this is why I love Midnighter: he embraces all of the qualities of what it means to be macho and at the same time is able to indulge in tenderness and compassion from having been an outsider to that masculine world. One of my favorite scenes from his time in Authority is where, instead of duking it out with an opponent, Midnighter is able to understand how ostracized that man must feel and end the battle with a hug.
The truth of the matter is—while every man has the capability to be thinking, feeling, and loving beings—many men don’t or won’t because of the fear of being labeled as anything other than manly (be that feminine or gay). Batman would surely never take the time to empathize with his villains. But Midnighter, by virtue of being gay, is allowed to blur those lines and break down the barriers without criticism. And it will take a skilled writer to handle that amount of complexity and not simply boil Midnighter down to a cliché.
From my research and Twitter stalking, Steve Orlando—known primarily for Image Comics’ Undertow—seems to be the right man for the job. He has been published in an anthology titled Anything That Loves, published a Kickstarter project called Virgil about a gay cop, and many of his tweets are open-minded and/or supportive of the queer community. Here’s hoping that Orlando will do justice to our favorite kick-ass leather queen.
What are your thoughts? Jump into the comments below!