Midnighter and Apollo 1

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Today, Mark and Spencer are discussing Midnighter and Apollo 1, originally released October 5th, 2016. As always, this article containers SPOILERS.

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Mark: The creative pinnacle of Midnigher and Apollo 1 for me is the moment Extrano makes an appearance. Extrano is one of those embarrassing gay characters introduced in the 80s. Limp wrists heavy with scarves, Extrano played the part of perfectly inoffensive gay best friend for everyone, called himself “Auntie,” and, don’t worry, contracted HIV (because of course he did). He may be the first openly gay superhero, but there’s a reason Extrano was shoved shamefully to the back of the comic book closet. Extrano was a character defined by his gayness, one note played over and over until he was inevitably given HIV, because what else are you going to do with a gay characters in the 90s but make him a victim of the gay plague?

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Leave it to Steve Orlando and artist Fernando Blanco to quietly reintroduce Extrano in Midnighter and Apollo 1. Throughout his run on the exceptional Midnighter (in the conversation for best New 52 book), Orlando wrote a character whose sexuality was central to the character, but did not define the limits of the character. It wasn’t so much a reboot of Midnigher as it was an emotionally complex portrayal. Both DC and Marvel thrive off of the publicity generated by character reveals, “Iceman is gay!”-style, like they’re Lance Bass or something. And while I don’t doubt the sincerity and good intentions behind many of these REVEALS, have any of them been written by an actual queer person? Midnigher was remarkable for its honest portrayal of the title character’s sexuality, and it’s no coincidence that Orlando is himself bisexual.

Despite its quality, Midnigher also sold dreadfully, so there was every reason to worry that our favorite heroic murderer might find himself back with old Extrano. Luckily, miraculously, Midnigher and Apollo 1 picks up right where Midnighter left off. Lobot — I mean, Henry Bendix — is recruiting superbeings to take down Midnighter and Apollo. Orlando has always had a penchant for mining the dustier corners of the DC library to great effect, and there’s a real who’s-who of Z-list DC cameos this issue (including our friend Sexy Extrano, still rocking the scarves), starting with Subway Pirates. Blanco’s art shines here. I will miss ACO’s complex layouts, but there’s nothing to complain about in an issue with moments such as Midnighter crashing through a Los Angeles Metro train and kicking the asses of every Subway Pirate inside.

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I think the only slight bummer for me is the cliffhanger at the end of the issue, indicating that Apollo and Midnighter will be spending a bit of time apart. Maybe it’s too much to ask for two incredibly overpowered superheroes to team up every month, and I am never, ever going to complain about the potential opportunity for Apollo and/or Midnighter to beat up the forces of Hell (that is a Mark Mitchell guarantee, y’all), but it’s great seeing them together again if even for only a few moments.

Man, I’m just excited we get more Midnighter.

What’d you think, Spencer? We spent a lot of time discussing Midnighter (we even talked about it on a podcast together!), so I’m eager to hear if you appreciated this issue as much as I did.

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Spencer: I think we’re on the same page here, Mark — it’s a joy seeing Steve Orlando’s take on Midnighter again, especially with him essentially picking up right where he left off in Midnighter 12. Everything I loved about Orlando’s take on the character is front-and-center in Midnighter and Apollo 1 — Midnighter is a character who shatters stereotypes about homosexuality and masculinity as easily as he shatters bones.

Orlando and Blanco highlight those qualities throughout the first half of the issue, which effectively reintroduces both leads to any new readers. Besides giving Orlando a chance to show off his penchant for out-there, high-concept villains, the battle against the Subway Pirates also highlights Midnighter’s uber-violent competence and willingness to kill (which becomes a plot point later in the issue). Yet, we also see his compassion showcased — he clearly cares deeply about the children he frees from the pirates, makes a sincere effort to comfort them, and makes sure they’re taken care of afterwards. Midnighter isn’t a vicious mad-man who is only interested in hurting people — hurting people just happens to be what he’s been built to do, and he uses that innate skill to stop anyone who preys upon the innocent. It really is a brilliant take-down of the kind of toxic masculinity that fuels some ultra-violent characters (or even certain depictions of the character that inspired Midnighter, Batman).

The humanization of Midnighter continues throughout the dinner party at Apollo’s, as he’s surrounded by his three closest friends.

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It’s great seeing Midnighter and Apollo joke around like they aren’t god-like beings, but what I want to focus on — and what Blanco himself highlights via his layouts — is the food. Writer Gail Simone has long proclaimed that showing characters eating humanizes them, and I’m inclined to agree with her. What’s more normal than sitting down to dinner with some friends, chowing down and making jokes? Blanco frames inserts of the characters picking up glasses or cutting their food the same way he frames shots of Midnighter smashing a man’s head beneath his boot or decapitating a man with his knee back on the train — Midnighter’s simple civilian existence with Apollo has become just as vital a part of his life as his superhero battles.

I’ve always found that duality to Midnighter kinda revolutionary. He’s an ultra-violent killer with a heart of gold, sexually open (and voracious) yet a monogamist at heart — in short, he’s a complex, fleshed-out character in a medium where, until recently, gay men have rarely had a chance to be.

The most revolutionary moment in this issue, though, is quite obviously “the” sex scene.

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I say “the” sex scene because the internet is (rightly) all atwitter over this thing, and not just because it’s hot. At a time when some have been worried about DC’s “Rebirth” initiative seemingly moving backwards in terms of representation, this is a welcome sign that DC is still supporting diverse ideas, even ones that could never have made the page even just a few years ago.

The most important detail of this scene, though, is the fact that Midnighter appears to be the penetrated partner. There’s a particularly nasty stigma against “bottoms” even within the LGBT Community — Midnighter being one obliterates every one of them. It’s a beautiful thing.

Thankfully, Orlando doesn’t get so caught up making Midnighter a gay icon that he ends up presenting him as flawless.

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As always, Midnighter is fully confident in himself, but we’ve also never seen Apollo be wrong — so there’s a possibility that Midnighter could need to reassess his use of lethal force, and that would be a fascinating aspect of the character to explore. I love the way Orlando presents this point, too — Apollo doesn’t condemn killing altogether (which would not only be hypocritical, but a bit tired), and nor does he beat Midnighter over the head with the point or try to forcibly change him. This is exactly how you would ideally broach this kind of topic with a partner, and it’s great to see these two be such a functional couple, especially in a medium that consistently tries to mine needless drama out of relationships.

Hm, I’m starting to notice that I’ve spent far more time talking about Midnighter than his better half — mainly because, despite his name being in the title, this issue still treats Apollo like a supporting character, as Midnighter’s supportive boyfriend, so handsome, pure, and strong that he literally (and metaphorically) glows. I suppose that’s why, unlike Mark, I’m excited for Apollo’s sojourn in Hell. Being trapped in a place that only exists to snuff out his light should be a great way to explore Apollo’s past, perspective, and very will — it’s the perfect arena for Apollo to show why he glows so brightly to begin with, and that’s a wonderful way for him to earn his top-billing.

So yeah, I’m pumped to have Midnighter and Apollo back. These characters, this book, and this creative team all fill an important role within the DC Universe (and do so in complex, satisfying ways), and I hope to see the story continue on in some form or another once this mini ends. I’m not ready to lose them again.

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For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

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13 comments on “Midnighter and Apollo 1

  1. Nice to see a reference to me in the post. I never got round to Midnighter during DC YOU, so haven’t read this. Just wish the book that seems to be making big strides in representation didn’t appear to exist solely to tie up DC YOU loose ends – this feels like the last gasp of DC YOU and not part of Rebirth, so I struggle to give DC too much credit. The real credit comes from a continued commitment, and that requires something that isn’t a leftover from DC YOU like this. I’ve wondered what it would take for me to read DC again. Broadly, it will be because of a book that excites me again. I was going to say a book that actually seemed to push representation forward, until DC announced Batwoman and proved me wrong (giving a book to the character they just hollowed out and gutted so that the queer woman would be subordinate to the straight man, and then making the book an explicit spinoff of the series that hollowed out and gutted her? Like I said, it felt like I made a wish with a cursed Monkey Paw). But if DC actually follow up this miniseries with something else that continues Midnighter’s story, and proves that this miniseries is not just the last dregs of DC YOU, I will give DC another chance.

    Also, now that the New 52 is over, it would be interesting to have the conversation on what the best New 52 series were. The right answer is Omega Men, but as other nominations, I would say Scott Snyder’s Batman, Genevieve Valentine’s Catwoman, Prez, the first arc of Fletcher, and Stewart and Tarr’s Batgirl of Burnside, with Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld as a wild card (The end is far too rushed to truly count as one of the best, but it was a great book ruined by a sudden cancellation). And of course, you mentioned Midnighter. Anything else?

    • I’d put Azzarello’s Wonder Woman up there. I really enjoyed the beginning and end of Lemire’s Animal Man, though I have to admit Rotworld went on WAY too long. Oh! And Dial H — that series was a grower, but it was truly fantastic by the time it wrapped up. Do we count the second volume of Batman, Incorporated as a New 52 series?

      • Dial H certainly belongs on the list. And I’d count the second half of Batman inc as New 52. Ultimately, it was a New 52 story, even though it originally wasn’t be

        I’ve been meaning to read Azzarello’s Wonder Woman and Lemire’s Animal Man, but haven’t got round to them yet. But really looking forward to them

        • If you’re going to go through the Animal Man run (and I would totally recommend it), I’d also suggest the Swamp Thing (under Snyder first and Soule later) runs. Drew already mentioned that Rotworld dragged on a little too long, but I feel like it was actually worth it if you were reading both of those series (and no need to pick up those Frankenstein issues that crossed through it).

          CAVEATS: I don’t know that Animal Man finished strong after Rotworld. It was nice to see Albuquerque’s art paired with Lemire’s writing, but it seems like he had mostly shaken Travel Foreman’s impressive viscera by then.

        • Patrick’s right about the ending of Animal Man — Lemire clearly had big ideas for where to go with it, but I think he was forced to cram them in before the series ended. The scope was meant to get much, much bigger than Rotworld, but with comparatively few issues to flesh it out, it doesn’t quite carry.

        • Hey Drew, what do you think about the Swampy rec? We held that thing in very high regard while it was happening, but it’s mostly faded from my memory. I sorta can’t imagine reading AM without ST, but then, that’s how we experienced it.

        • You know, I’m not sure I would put Swamp Thing up there. Some issues were great, don’t get me wrong, but I’d say overall it was less consistent. Moreover, I think it suffered even more from the kind of pacing issues we’re knocking Animal Man for.

      • I never heard too much about that run of the Flash. No one ever seemed to talk about it much, so never considered reading it. I’ll make sure I do

        • Retcon Punch were pretty big boosters of the run at the time. It’s got smart visual storytelling, dazzling art and colors, some really fun stories, and a powerful overarcing message to it. I can’t talk it up enough.

        • Yeah, that was one that Drew and I latched on to early. It does a pretty hard reset on Flash mythology (unlike Batman, which is sort of a sideways step), but you really can’t beat Manapul drawing Flash. Visually, it was almost like he was doing Hawkeye before Aja – maybe not quite as graphic, but more energetic.

        • That was one of my favorite series when it started. I think it lost some steam as it went on, but Manapul was on fire during that opening arc.

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