The Vocabulary of Violence: 4 Takes on Steve Orlando’s Midnighter

Midnighter 2015, DC Comics, Land

Midnighter #1-6

Steve Orlando (Scripter), Stephen Mooney (penciller), Aco (penciller), Alec Morgan (penciller), Romulo Fajardo Jr. (colourist), Hugo Petrus (inker #3 and #6), Bryan Hitch (cover artist #1), Artyom Trakhanov (cover artist #3)
DC Comics
May 2015 – Present

In May 2015, the DCU welcomed longtime Stormwatch and Authority character Midnighter to the fold with a free Sneak Peak relaunch, by writer Steve Orlando and artist Aco. The issue was strong, intriguing, and was followed by issue after issue of explosive action, bad attitude, and exhaustive explanations of just how inevitably fucked everyone testing the fight computer in Midnighter’s brain is. But Midnighter isn’t just a fun action comic—and damn fun, let me tell you—it’s also a rare comic about an out and proud gay man with an active sex life.

So I gathered three of my WWAC colleagues—Meg Downey, Christa Seeley and Desiree Rodriguez—to discuss the art of action, the vocabulary of violence, and the importance of comic book Grindr profiles.

Fight choreography and elaborate threats—that Midnighter always carries out—are a big part of this comic. What are some times the steady fight film cadence of the book was really exceptional or fell flat?

Meg Downey: I struggled a bit in learning the “vocabulary” if you could call it that of this book’s fights. I think the first two or three issues tripped me up a bit with the way the panels would be deconstructed, or different elements would be highlighted and what not. After that though, when I finally got used to the rhythm and the flow of each of the big fight moments, it was totally smooth sailing. I think this last issue in particular was a good showcasing of that, particularly the moments on the bus. I love the way the movement is interspersed with M’s monologuing.

Desiree Rodriguez: I had the same struggles as Meg at first. In Grayson, Mikel Janin does something similar in the way he depicts Dick Grayson’s fights, they follow his acrobatic movements. There’s a certain ebb and flow to the way the fights go that is distinctive to the character and that echos in Midnighter. It’s one of the things I think makes the book so special. I’m not a fan of “house style” art, and fights that are pretty basic by-the-numbers kick, punch, flip. When reading Gail Simione’s run of Batgirl when the New 52 launched, Ardian Syaf and Vincente Vincente employed house style art and I was so bored. The fights were so generic, one panel is a kick, another is a punch, someone falls into a wall, and so on. Batgirl Vol. 1 is just one example, but it’s pretty common in mainstream Big Two books. So one of my favorite aspects about Midnighter is the way his fight scenes are broken down into singular boxes and flow together because we’re getting a direct look into the Midnighter’s mindset.

Megan Purdy: I think any time the artist has decided to do something a little different in terms of panels and pacing it takes some time to, as Meg says, learn the vocabulary. The switches in pencillers has been a bit more jarring than usual because of it: Aco and Stephen Mooney both understand that this needs to be a kinetic book; that movement and sharp turns of plot and thought need to be indicated in the page and and panel structure. The consistent colouring work from Romulo Fajardo Jr. helps to create continuity between the issues. Alec Morgan’s single issue on the book, #2, is the weakest in terms of visual interest and making the fights immediate. When it comes to Aco and Mooney’s issues, it feels like a real collaboration.

The art in Midnighter—the pencils, inks, and colouring—is essential to our understanding Midnighter’s character. It’s quick, it’s brash, more than once pages are more networked than linear, and it’s bold. Reading Midnighter is a bit like living in his head.

I asked about the dialogue, and his threats in particular, because I remember it being a sticking point for some readers. Like, “why won’t he stop telling people about his brain?” Because that’s Midnighter. He loves talking about his computer brain. And, like any great fight film character, he loves to narrate his greatness, to set a scene before launching right into it. It reminds me a bit of audiences put off by the operatic exchanges in Kill Bill. It’s a trope. The content—elabourate and particular—and the rhythm are a delight.

Christa Seeley: I really enjoyed how chatty Midnighter was during the fight scenes. I’m deep into a Daredevil binge right now and there are significant chunks of time during a fight where he barely speaks (out loud anyway) and it can get so boring. Although that’s not to say the only reason I enjoy Midnighter’s threats and dialogue is because it gives me more to read. I also think that’s when we really learn the most about him—not when he’s with his friends or out of dates—but right when he’s the heat of a fight. He’s not as guarded and more relaxed (which is weird to say as it’s not how you usually describe someone facing down dozens of foes at once).

The way the fight scenes were presented on the page was incredibly engaging as well. The way there were constructed and paced was so unique and really forced me to take the time and really consider everything on the page. I agree with Megan that issue #2 was the weakest in terms of style. It didn’t have the same energy as the other issues. But issue #6 was so incredible and visually stunning that I’m willing to overlook it.

Midnighter’s relationship with Dick Grayson is weird and amazing. He seems to see Grayson as an adorable junior partner worth respecting. M’s closer relationships in the book seem to fall along similar lines: admiration and condescension; affection from a big brother who knows best. What do you think of how Steve Orlando has portrayed Midnighter as friend?

Meg: Midnighter and Dick Grayson are pretty much my comic book dream team right now and there are times when I still can’t believe that it’s a real thing that’s really happening. Their friendship is so antagonistic, casually flirty, fun…it’s just perfect for both of them. And I think it really showcases sides of both characters that we don’t get to see when they’re working solo—they’re both characters who benefit greatly by having someone to play off of. M’s fighting alongside someone he doesn’t have to flat-out protect, and Dick’s able to step out of his role as the one who provides all the banter. I also love that M is able to unapologetically express that he thinks Dick is good looking and there’s never a “no homo” element between them.

Desiree: I love that last comment Meg, because it’s really fantastic. Midnighter is able to openly acknowledge Dick is attractive, be flirty even, and Dick will even flirt back some. It showcases that their friendship isn’t one completely of convenience but one that’s been developing slowly and truly.

One thing I’ve really enjoyed about Midnighter so far is that Midnighter is able to show emotion, be kind even, but he’s still kind of an asshole. He’s still condescending, blunt to the point of being rude, but he’s not a bad guy. I think that’s why Dick likes him in a way; Midnighter is honest, even if he does things his own way. In #5 Midnighter could have easily killed that guy even with Dick’s interference, but he didn’t. There’s a level of respect between them that I really enjoy seeing especially considering how Midnighter and Dick both have such a different set of moral outlooks.

Megan: I have to confess that I don’t give a fuck about Dick Grayson. I read a few issues of Grayson and while I recognized that it was perfectly all right, I didn’t connect with it. So, I don’t care about Dick Grayson, but I do care about his friendship with M. As a supporting character in Midnighter, Dick brings something that’s otherwise lacking in the book—a contemporary. Of course, as much as M respects Dick, he doesn’t quite seem to think of him as an equal. But that’s ok. Midnighter’s computer brain does put him ten steps ahead of most everyone else, and yeah, he’s an asshole about it.

Christa: Megan I am so happy to find someone else who doesn’t give a fuck about Dick Grayson. He is just not a character I’ve ever found particularly interesting. I do however, like the role he plays in this comic. It makes me sad when superheroes don’t have friends they can talk to and rely on because really who could cope with the job otherwise?

Dick is someone who, at least in some way, understands Midnighter. He may not do things in exactly the same way and he may not have a computer in his brain but they do share some goals and ideas. As far as I can tell they both respect and admire each other and that gives both of them some extra support—whether it be during physical altercations or in the aftermath.

Several issues of the series are anchored by moments of domesticity and mundane life. I think it’s clear that Orlando both wanted to humanize Midnighter and demonstrate how much he does stand out as “weird” in ordinary life. How successful do you think these scenes are?

Meg: I just can’t stop singing the praises of this book. I feel like these scenes work so well. In his old incarnation, Midnighter and his team, The Authority, were based out of a giant city-sized spaceship so his interaction with mundane things like bars or apartments were pretty infrequent. The Authority books humanized the team in other ways, but there’s a part of me that will always be a sucker for seeing heroes I love in plain clothes doing boring things like drinking coffee or hanging out at a pool hall. Midnighter feels more human and down-to-earth in Orlando’s books than he ever has to me and I love it.  

Desiree: I’ve read the original Authority books and never connected with Midnighter. He always felt like an ultra-violent character who only tolerated Apollo and their adopted daughter. I love to see heroes in more mundane situations, it brings them down to a human level that makes them more relatable. Sure Midnighter is teleporting all over the world collecting god-like technology, but he also kicks back with his buddy Dick in a bar, or goes to clubs with friends and hooks up with hot guys. It creates a balance in the tension of the story. In a narrative, if you’re always trying to hit 100 the audience loses interest because there are no stakes. The Superman Effect as it were, how can you root for a character that always wins, or nothing can beat them? By providing Midnighter with a human life that isn’t separate from his hero life, merely a part of it—I love that he doesn’t have a “secret identity”—there’s tension again. He’s normal, but he’s not, which gives him something to fight for and we, as readers, want to see him fight for it.

Megan: Desiree, I think you’re right to point out how much M’s ordinary life adds to the implied stakes of the book. He has something to lose, even if it’s just casual friendships and equilibrium. But it also does a lot for the pacing. It’s not nonstop grandstanding and action. Those moments provide breathing room and they sometimes work to crank the tension even higher—with every beat of conversation time ticks forward, and not in that flashbang Midnighter-having-fun sense of time. Orlando’s found a good pace for the book, where fights move quickly and don’t, in fact dominate the page count—an ongoing comic can’t be all go. The creative team has also been smart in not distinguishing between M’s “work” and “life.” For M, it’s all work and all life and there’s no suggestions otherwise via art cues, dialogue, or pace. M’s computer brain is always working—see, now I can’t stop talking about it either—there’s no off switch. So, although the action outside of fights is no longer frenetic, that explosive potential remains, and M’s no-bullshit-YOLO approach to human interaction makes even the most mundane conversation quick and full of boobytraps.

Christa: I have to be honest—I had never even heard of Midnighter until the second issue of this series was already out. Thank goodness for friends with great comic recommendations. And though I love how action packed and unabashedly violent this series can be if that was all it was I probably wouldn’t read it. I need that human aspect and I think Orlando does an incredible job depicting that side of M’s life and how the two worlds intersect.

One of my favourite scenes of these first six issues are when the story flashes back to Opal City and Midnighter is packing up his stuff and leaving Andrew/Apollo. This scene is just feels so real and so heavy with all the complicated feelings and thoughts between them. It was only two pages but they’ve really stayed with me, especially as M navigates the dating world from that point on.  

In Midnighter M doesn’t really fit into the Lonely Vengeance superhero mold. Despite having broken up with Apollo, he’s surrounded by drinking buddies, casual and less casual lovers, friends, and assets. What do you think of the networks Midnighter is building and his role in them?

Meg: M’s network of misfits and outcasts is one of the things that really sold me on the book to begin with. I think it’s such a cool, interesting spin on the sort of “responsibility” aspect of superhero’ing we don’t usually get to see. Sure, we might see Superman save someone from a burning building, or Batman resolve a hostage situation, but we rarely see those heroes revisit the people they save. I love that M’s networks literally boil down to him giving his number to people he saves and saying “call me if you need anything else.” It’s such an unexpectedly sweet thing for someone who presents themselves as so ultraviolent to do. And the fact that there’s clear mutual benefit as well is great. M has the luxury of not having a secret identity so he’s free to pull help from anywhere he can find it.

Desiree: Did I mention that I love the no secret identity aspect of the book? Thank you, Steve Orlando, for that. Secret identities, I feel, hinder a modern day superhero story more than help it. It isolates the character from other characters, and makes them look bad for lying. Midnighter has all the makings of being a Lone Vengeance character like Punisher, who’s an ultraviolent, grunting mass of masculine stereotype of a male character. Yet we see Midnighter has various connects to the world around him, making the fact that he protects people, all the more believable. For solo vengeance based heroes, I struggle with understanding their motivations since they’re loners. Midnighter has people in his life, and continues to build a network of people in his life, which creates a human connection between him and the reader.

Megan: I don’t care for secret identities either, Desiree. It’s part of why I gravitated so much more to X-Men than Spider-Man or Batman.

Christa: I mentioned this already when I talked about Dick Grayson but I think superheroes need friends—particularly friends they can be open with and lean on when needed. Otherwise they not only end up lonely but also more than a little unbalanced (*cough* Batman *cough*)

When I opened up issue one and saw Midnighter’s Grindr profile, I knew this comic was going to be my jam. How do you feel about the emphasis on M’s sex life? (I love it.)

Meg: I love it too! The sex positivity in this book is amazing and I love that there are no punches pulled when it comes to Midnighter’s sexuality. He’s an out gay man and, while that is not his sole defining characteristic, it is as much a part of him as anything else, and as such plays a role in his daily life.

Desiree: I saw some people were bothered by the Grindr profile because they had been such fans of Midnighter and Apollo, but that’s not this story. Maybe it was due to my own lack of connection with their pre-reboot relationship, but I prefer Midnighter as he is now. It’s nice to see a queer character who’s presented as a whole person—including their sex life.

Christa: I’m just so happy to see an openly gay man at the centre of a book like this. I feel like I have to pinch myself just to believe it’s real. It doesn’t tiptoe around his sexuality, it doesn’t say he’s gay once and never mention it again, it doesn’t reduce references to his sexuality to stereotypes.  

What did you think of the big twist at the end of issue six?

Meg: I felt so vindicated by it, to be honest. I definitely didn’t see it coming but through this entire arc I thought it was so strange that M had found a boyfriend who looked so shockingly similar to Apollo. I mean, just how many young, buff, white haired dudes are running around? I had thought initially that it might be leading up to a gag about Midnighter having a “type” or what have you, but the actual payoff was SO much better. I can’t wait to see where this goes.

Desiree: Well I felt really dumb cause I didn’t call that something was up with Matt until one panel focused on his logo on his computer. Then I was like, “uh oh”. Now that I reread the first six issues I realized what a strong resemblance Matt had to Apollo—oh Midnighter your type is so obvious—and now I’m wondering if Apollo will make a reappearance in the series. What was so brilliant is that I really liked Matt! Not only because of his relationship with Midnighter but he had real world connections with people outside of him. He reminded me a little of Jean-Paul’s husband Kyle from X-Men. Normal guys, who love a superhero. It was cute, they were sweet, so even if you predicted that Matt was shady, it still hurt because Midnighter really cared for him.

There’s also this brilliant irony because Matt’s, aka Prometheus’, origin is a twist on Batman’s—his parents were killed but by police and he swears vengeance for justice—while Midnighter has always been hailed as “the gay Batman.” But in the story, they both are so much better than those titles.

Megan: I knew something was coming but I wasn’t sure what. It was all a little too easy and comfortable and Matt’s resemblance to Apollo was of course telling.

Christa: I didn’t see it coming at all and now (having just finished issue #6) I immediately want to go back and re-read all of it to see what clues were right in front of my face the whole time.

Desiree, I also really liked Matt! He was sweet and funny and his scenes with Midnighter always made me smile. Which just made his betrayal even more of a shock. He was just a placeholder until they could reveal his true identity, they made him a character we could really care about. Well done Midnighter team. Well done.

Megan Purdy

Megan Purdy

Publisher of all this. Megan was born in Toronto. She's still there. Philosopher, space vampire, heart of a killer.

One thought on “The Vocabulary of Violence: 4 Takes on Steve Orlando’s Midnighter

  1. I loved Midnighter and Apollo together in The Authority when they first appeared, and raising the baby, but I understand that sometimes things change in comics! I skimmed towards the end of this piece to avoid spoilers, but I got enough to let me know I should at least try this out. Thanks for reviewing it, very helpful.

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