It took years, but DC Comics finally began loosening their editorial reins on requiring a house style of grim and violent stories in its New 52 reboot. 2015's “DC You” branding was all about seeing yourself reflected in DC's superhero universe. Representation matters for both the characters in the stories and the creators behind the scenes, and Midnighter is one DC You’s best examples of how that combination can create something authentic. Writer Steve Orlando, who is bi, put together a great introduction to the character and gave us a rare DC series that felt like it was written for queer people.
Unfortunately, it was quickly cancelled, ending after only 12 issues. I feel that DC’s aversion to advertising Midnighter as a gay character played a role in not letting the audience find him.
Midnighter is a leather-clad, brutal vigilante who graduated from cameos in other New 52 books to headline his own. The series proved he's so much more than his reputation as “the gay Batman” (not that there’s anything wrong with a gay Batman, or as I call him, Batman). Orlando never fails at making Midnighter memorable and more than capable of being a main character. He's all about pride in every sense of the word, and not at all like Batman: he revels in maiming and killing, he has superpowers from a computer in his brain keeps him several steps ahead of his enemies, and he's smug enough to let everybody know.
Midnighter Drinking Game: Take a drink every time Midnighter brags about his computer brain. Finish your drink if it's while he's punching someone.
We're spared an origin story and jump straight into Midnighter's life of fighting crime. Like many other DC comics, it's violent, but thankfully it breaks from the mold and avoids being joyless. Midnighter knows he's good at his job, loves who he is, and cares about the people around him. His biggest advantage isn’t his computer brain but his self-confidence as a queer man, which is just as powerful.
Everything about Midnighter is queer: the way he quips with enemies, the hookups, his relationships, and especially the writing and art in the book itself. Main artist Aco and colorist Romulo Fajado, Jr. deserve tremendous credit for their ability to make a chat with a bartender equally engaging as an elaborate fight scene. This is a gorgeous book; it’s drawn like an action movie viewed through a queer lens.
What struck me most about Midnighter is how it avoids tropes that usually dominate queer stories in superhero comics. Midnighter is nobody's gay best friend. His sexuality is front and center; he doesn’t exist simply to solve the problems of his straight friends. At no point do characters stop to explain what Grindr is like in Smithers' recent coming out episode of The Simpsons. He doesn’t deal with homophobic villains or struggle to come out—in fact, the series opens with his date asking about how he could be out and a superhero, to which he replies, “Do I look like a guy who cares what people know about him?”
The casual scenes with his friends and lovers contrast the brutality of the main story, but the superheroics he takes part in are just as engaging. Though the main storyline is intense, we do get some diversions. Here’s an example: sidekick-turned-superspy Dick Grayson and Midnighter team up to investigate vampires and fight Russians in a sauna. This alone is worth the price of admission. Grayson's face is obscured by spy tech but Midnighter immediately recognizes his butt—this becomes a running joke in other DC comics as a way that others recognize Grayson. My inner Tina Belcher is thrilled.
The first seven issues are collected in a graphic novel called Midnighter: Out. It's accessible for newcomers other than its references to the earlier version of the character. It’s a steal at $15 and is highly recommended.
I also highly recommend you stop there. The remaining five issues don’t tell a full story, instead derailing with a particularly dull Suicide Squad crossover. Things start to pick back up when his ex-partner and Superman analogue Apollo reappears—only for it to be cancelled abruptly, with no sign of Midnighter showing up in the DC Rebirth line of comics launching this year.
What killed our hero? Midnighter was struggling with sales throughout its entire run. I think it comes down to two reasons: the advertisements ignoring his sexuality and the delay in the first graphic novel’s release.
The few ads for this series ignored his identity and personality, only focusing on violence. All twelve covers of the issues followed the same tactic, totally foregoing the queer gaze that made the internal art stand out. Why create such an honest and exciting book and bury what makes it unique? I'm a queer guy who hangs out in a comic book store and I only heard about this series because of a friend’s recommendation. It feels like they didn’t want to alienate straight readers, but putting Midnighter in the closet undermines the whole point of DC You.
“No one can predict what he’ll do next!”
Not that you’d know from the ads, but the answer is most certainly “a guy.”
The collection of the first story arc didn't hit retailers until eight months after the first issue came out. This was in February 2016, the same month that DC announced the series was cancelled. Many discover new series only after the first trades are released since they are available at Amazon and bookstores. This is especially true for obscure characters and the audience of new readers that DC You was trying to appeal to. Image Comics counters this by releasing the first collections of their books quickly and at a lower price--DC should follow suit.
Midnighter is just one of several titles starring queer characters, women, and people of color getting the axe or being retooled to be more mainstream as DC's Rebirth line of comics begins later this year. It's disappointing to see how DC is going back to old teams and characters and I'll mostly be checking out as a result. It’s criminal we don’t have a Midnighter & Grayson (Midnighter x Grayson?) book on the way, but a few fresh series like Gotham Academy survived Rebirth.
Quality: 3.5 out of 5 stars. This would be higher without the massive drop in quality after the first story wraps up. The first trade alone would be a 4.5!
Queerness: 6 out of 6 Kinseys. Midnighter and his relationships had an authenticity and excitement I rarely see in queer genre fiction, especially in a mainstream superhero book.