The Midnighter Playlist: How Music Enhances Comics

If you travel to fandom spaces online, you will find something that might surprise you. One of the many ways fans expand upon the experience of watching their favorite television shows or reading their favorite books is by finding thematically related songs or making entire playlists to associate with these characters.

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 4.51.09 PM
art from Midnighter #3 by ACO, colors by Romulo Fajardo Jr.

This is merely a natural extension of humanity’s use of music to express deep emotion. Music, after all, serves as a soundtrack to our lives that helps to record and recall memories. Think about the songs that evoke nostalgia whenever you hear them: the classic rock track that blasted from the radio as you watched your dad work in the yard as a child, the obnoxious hip hop song your little sibling set as their ringtone, or the sentimental tune that got overplayed at the end of that one school year.

As such, listening to music while reading comics not only intensifies the reading itself, but allows the reader to return to the story through another method. It helps, of course, that music is now more portable than ever. You can revisit your favorite book anywhere even if you’re not sitting down and reading it at that moment. And so, to celebrate the end of the DCYou Midnighter series by Steve Orlando and ACO, I created this 24-song playlist. It’s not just for me, but for other fans of the series who will want to revisit the title for years to come. The comic may have officially ended, but that doesn’t mean we can’t bring Midnighter with us everywhere.

Spoilers below for basically every issue of Midnighter. So if you’re new to the title, WELCOME! But maybe also don’t read this.

Midnighter #1

Bite the Bullet by Machine Head

One look at Midnighter tells you his genre of music. The man is clad in black from head to toe and his long, leather trench coat is a significant part of his iconic look. Obviously, he’s on the heavier side of rock ‘n’ roll (although not every song on this playlist is rock). Machine Head, per their name, is technically a metal band and Bite the Bullet is the hardest track here. I considered not adding them due to their particular sound, which is not necessarily attractive to general audiences, but they’re a band called Machine Head on a playlist about a guy with a computer brain. I didn’t really have a choice.

You want more?
You’ll get it
Determined, ferocious
Grit down and bite the bullet
Dare to unbind
Smash and redefine

What It Means to Be Alone by The Dear Hunter

While the first half of Midnighter #1 introduces the character as the badass he is, the second half delves into his current emotional state. Fresh from a break-up with Apollo, Midnighter has only started to create a foundation that is purely his own.

Oh, you are born with the sun/And oh, you will die with the moon

What It Means to Be Alone not only refers to the iconic sun/moon imagery that represents Apollo and Midnighter, but is also a song of palpable loneliness (Now the only one you have is you). Although he’s often surrounded by people, we still get the sense that Midnighter feels unmoored when he spills his guts to Jason; a man who is still basically a stranger. The Dear Hunter’s soft prog-rock melody and vocalist/guitarist Casey Crescenzo’s crooning forms a piercing, but quiet atmosphere of emotional struggle.

Midnighter #2

Over the Edge by Hole

The second issue of Midnighter begins with Marina Lucas; a woman whose husband died because of corporate greed. Instead of grieving helplessly, Marina takes things into her own hands, and obtains the “Liu Sha Jue” (the six killing sounds) in order to enact revenge on the people behind her husband’s death. What’s more suitable for a strong woman than the rough and dirty guitar work of Hole and Courtney Love’s defiant cries? Although initially intended as some sort of break-up song, the lyrics in Over the Edge suit a nice anti-corporate feel:

Don’t do the things you do/Don’t have to oblige you
Make choices on my own/Don’t buy the shit they sell

Who Loves the Sun? by Velvet Underground

The second half of Midnighter #2 contains the scene where Midnighter breaks up with Apollo, the Sun King. This, by far, turned out to be the easiest pick of the entire playlist. Writer Steve Orlando’s soundtrack while writing Midnighter included the band Velvet Underground. One look at the discography turns up Who Loves the Sun? and within a few bars, it’s quite obviously a break-up song.

Who loves the sun?
Who cares that it makes plants grow?
Who cares what it does
Since you broke my heart?

Midnighter #3

It’s Raining Men by The Weather Girls

Like any other song would play in Midnighter’s head as he fights the countless number of Multiplex clones! Also, it conveniently works very well with the gay club sequence.

Get Up by Ours

Ours is a fantastic New Jersey band that’s been around since 1992, and led by the blessed-voiced Jimmy Gnecco. Their music often tends toward the soft, and eerie with slow vocals, and subdued instrumentation. Despite the melancholic quality of their style, however, do not mistake Ours for a goth, or emo band. Overall, their lyrics aim for uplifting messages such as what is heard in Get Up.

Get up
Stop beating yourself up
These are the things you know will just hurt
Don’t let them weaken your heart

Midnighter #3 has a similar contrast in the moment when Midnighter rescues Amanda. While dark things have happened to them, and will always follow them, they will ultimately survive. As Get Up turns from a man singing about a woman to being sung by a woman, Midnighter #3 passes the narrative from Midnighter to Amanda: “You’re safe. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

Midnighter #3 by Steve Orlando and ACO
Midnighter #3 by Steve Orlando and ACO
Midnighter #4

The James Bond 007 Movie Theme by John Barry

Dick Grayson under his Agent 37 identity is back! Until we have an audio version of Dick’s own lyrical contributions to the iconic track found in Grayson #16 by Tom King, Tim Seeley, and Mikel Janin, the James Bond theme is the best we’ve got to introduce him.

Not My Idea by Garbage

This is not my idea of a good time
This is not my idea of a good time
This is not my idea of a good time
This is not my idea

Garbage’s lyrics or Dick Grayson’s internal chant throughout 99% of Midnighter #4?

Midnighter #5

Bad Boyfriend by Garbage

Using two Garbage songs back to back links together the crossover that fans loved in the first arc of Midnighter. Bad Boyfriend flips the perspective from Grayson to Midnighter that brings a humorous, and flirtatious soundtrack as he drags Dick all over Moscow. There’s also a nice link between the first lyric I pulled out below, and a very popular quote from the previous issue:

I wanna hear you call out my name
I wanna see you burn up in flames
Keep you on ice so I can show all my friends
C’mon baby be my bad boyfriend

Although Midnighter has always bring in a good amount of fun, the Grayson crossover brought extra levity that seemed to strike a chord with readers. Garbage, with their poppy beats, and strong hooks, complements this addition.

Midnighter #4 by Steve Orlando and Stephen Mooney
Midnighter #4 by Steve Orlando and Stephen Mooney

Roll Up by Wiz Khalifa

Whenever you need me
Whenever you want me
You know you can call me, I’ll be there shortly
Don’t care what your friends say, because they don’t know me
I can be your best friend and you be my homie

Midnighter as the gnat that returns to fly around Dick Grayson’s face, whether he calls or not, is a relationship that will stand the test of time, I’m sure of it. Also, imagine Batman as the boyfriend in this song who “ain’t acting right” in order to enhance your listening experience.

Midnighter #6

Otherwise known as the issue where shit gets real. But first:

Simple Man by Shinedown, cover of an original song by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Midnighter #6 returns from a vacation with Dick Grayson to the main plot which involves Midnighter, and his boyfriend Matt’s place blowing up so that they, too, have to go on a vacation. We might have to admit to ourselves that we don’t just want to be Midnighter because he’s a badass who doesn’t care, but also because his job has the best Paid Time Off plan ever. However, since this is not an ordinary vacation, this means the playlist shifts from radio-friendly pop back to the harder rock genre.

During this issue, Matt brings Midnighter to his home where Midnighter gets to see what a nice, normal life Matt had that he missed out on complete with a nice, normal dad. Most of the lyrics of Simple Man, although narrated by a boy’s mother in the actual song, outlines the kind of person Midnighter sees in Matt’s dad (or, as revealed, the kind of man he might have seen in his father), and the type of person he might have become before getting mind wiped and experimented on. And then there’s these plot-related lyrics:

Oh don’t worry
You’ll find yourself
Follow your heart
And nothing else
And you can do this (oh baby) if you try
All I want for you, my son, is to be satisfied

Forsaken by Seether

There are a million betrayal songs with self-pitying lyrics, and tone but that’s not appropriate for Midnighter at all. The character’s most defining trait is his refusal to self-pity. Instead, the determined lyrics of Forsaken better highlight his thought process on that final page of Midnighter #6:

I’ll never believe in you again
I’ll never forgive those things you said
My only relief is gone and dead
I’ll never forsake myself again

You probably know Seether best from the version of their song Broken that features Amy Lee. Most bands can conjure up that rawness for maybe one or two songs, but the amazing thing about Seether is that they’re raw nearly all the time. Neither Broken nor Forsaken, despite their titles, contain cliche sentimentality. The vehemence behind their melodies, and lyrics soak you bone-deep in their feelings. Perfect for the knife Matt, or Prometheus, pushes into Midnighter.

An extra note: I didn’t recognize this until playing with the lyric Your halo is aflame, but that page, and the following Midnighter #7 are meant to be a symbolic reversal of Midnighter’s betrayal of Apollo, turning the phrase “backstabbing” into an almost literal image.

Midnighter #6 by Steve Orlando and ACO
Midnighter #6 by Steve Orlando and ACO
Midnighter #7

An Evening With El Diablo by Chevelle

This song is the hardest we’ve ever gone, in the first arc, since Machine Head which is appropriate because this entire issue is Prometheus, and Midnighter kicking the shit out of each other. At this point, the few screaming vocals are totally atmospheric. From Prometheus’ point of view:

High up on you, you display
Good traits, though few
We’ve found, time alone will tell
The disease keeps holding me down.

While Chevelle’s shredding guitars, and drums convey the violence of the issue, the vocals shape the hate of the singer toward the subject. The wavering sounds of An Evening with El Diablo creates a kind of predatory feeling, making the lyrics a snide commentary. Even though Prometheus hates Midnighter, and all he stands for, he has very much been “high up” on the man for a number of months. The kind of betrayal he committed has such an intimacy that it would require seeing “good traits” in order to make his performance of the lovestruck boyfriend seem more real.

Prince by Deftones

With his parents as renown Bonnie-and-Clyde like criminals, Prometheus is alluded to being some sort of nobility of the criminal underground. Prince complements An Evening with El Diablo by picking up on the same sense of snideness in order to evoke anger toward its subject. The opening of the song has vocalist Chino Moreno hissing “I relate to your kind your design“, referring to a similar form of strange empathy that we heard in Chevelle’s “good traits, though few.”
Although Deftones has definite similarities with Chevelle, and Seether musically, Moreno’s vocal style uses similar tricks to Ours’ Gnecco. He not only sings, but whispers, and yells as the instruments ebbs, and flows in tandem creating various dramatic effects. And so, similar to Chevelle, this track carries an anger, and taste for vengeance suitable to Prometheus’ motivation.

Midnighter #7 by Steve Orlando and ACO
Midnighter #7 by Steve Orlando and ACO
Midnighter #8

Changes by David Bowie

Like It’s Raining Men, Changes performs a dual function. Not only is this the first issue of the second arc in the series, which invokes a plot, and character shift, but Midnighter #8 centers around Dominic Mndawe who can talk to animals and create and separate chimeras.

The Animal Song by Savage Garden

If we didn’t have an animal song when a superhero whose powers revolve around animals was present, this playlist would be incorrect.

‘Cause I want to live like animals
Careless and free like animals
I want to live
I want to run through the jungle
The wind in my hair and sand at my feet

Midnighter #9

My Friends/The Ballad of Sweeney Todd by Stephen Sondheim, Len Cariou, Angela Lansbury, Sweeney Todd Ensemble

There is no Broadway play as bloody as every issue of Midnighter…except for Sweeney Todd. Here solely for the “at last my arm is complete again” line, which originally comes from the end of My Friends.

"Midnighter #9" by Steve Orlando and ACO
“Midnighter #9” by Steve Orlando and ACO

Had a Dad by Jane’s Addiction

Ah, Henry Bendix, you magnificent bastard. Midnighter is the first time he’s ever specifically referred to as Midnighter’s father, but in the Wildstorm canon, he kind of always was the horrible narcissist parent who killed five of his children after he decided they weren’t good enough for him. Surprisingly, a lot of “bad dad” songs lean toward the more depressing side of the coin, or their lyrics are too specific, but Had a Dad is short, brutal, and angry. Just what Midnighter feels basically all of the time.

He’s the one
Made me what I am today
It’s up to me now

Midnighter #10

Waiting Room by Fugazi

Initially, I meant to give more real estate to the Suicide Squad, who play an integral role in the second arc. Alas, Broadway references, and favorite villains got in the way. I settled on Fugazi’s Waiting Room after considering Kanye West’s Monster, and Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life. Although all of the songs are in their own way appropriate to the team, Waiting Room sounds more like the direct concept for the Suicide Squad than the multiple voices on Monster or the sadistic joy in Lust for Life.

But I don’t sit idly by
I’m planning a big surprise
I’m gonna fight for what I want to be
I won’t make the same mistakes
Because I know
I know how much time that wastes

Although the song refers to the singer in a “waiting room”, one can replace the setting with Amanda Waller’s cells, and the thought process each member goes through as they are brought out to use their talents.

And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going by Dreamgirls

The song that spontaneously played in my head when I saw the last page of Midnighter #10. Thank you, and goodnight.

You’re the best man I’ve ever known

Midnighter #11

Sun King by The Beatles

So this is my new theory: Warren Ellis got Apollo’s title “The Sun King” straight from this song. Apollo, and Midnighter are already a musical reference; the band The Midnighters used to play in the Apollo Theatre. The song, Sun King, is literal gibberish composed of words, and phrases from several romance languages. Despite being gibberish, it’s lovely, and sweet, and it emphasizes the words “mi amore” among it’s numerous stringed instruments, and slow drum beat to replicate the sound of a love song. Kind of perfect for the reunion of Apollo, and Midnighter, and it loops nicely back to the Velvet Underground title earlier in the playlist.

Midnighter #11 by Steve Orlando and ACO
Midnighter #11 by Steve Orlando and ACO

The Scourge by Periphery

The end of Midnighter #11 races up toward the final battle stopping short of the spectacle that takes place in the next issue. The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been, and with Bendix unleashing The Unified onto the world, Midnighter has met his Big Boss. I wanted something hardcore here, but also something you might hear in a videogame to amp up the tension, and expand the fight.

Periphery came onto the metal scene with a splash in 2005. They are known as a progressive metal band which is to say a band that is highly influenced by classical composition much like many videogame soundtracks. Listening to Periphery is comparable to listening to an orchestra where a first listening isn’t enough to absorb all of the genius that goes into the tracks. I picked The Scourge for its triumphant lyrics. Vocalist Misha Mansoor’s voice soars over the solos, and busy drumwork of his bandmates much like how Midnighter skillfully leaps around the Mondoran chaos as he fights The Unified.

Glass ceiling above drop rage upon them
Stone cold fist and a memory
Running from the blunt end of a blade
The blood that spills shall start my serenade to you
I will survive

Midnighter #12

We Will Rock You by Queen

Midnighter #12 not only maintains the feeling of unison, and victory from the title’s previous installment, but includes iconic imagery as well. The first page of the issue references a panel from the original The Authority run by Warren Ellis, and Bryan Hitch; the platform where Midnighter first reached a wide audience in the direct market comics industry. Therefore, the playlist for this issue needed a classic. It needed something as tough as Midnighter, and as enduring as his legacy.

We will rock you
We will rock you
We will rock you

My Love by Paul McCartney and the Wings

Of course, along with the lasting feeling of triumph comes the conclusion to Midnighter’s relationship with Apollo. The second half of the issue devotes a significant part of itself to their reunion where Midnighter’s past mistakes are forgiven. There are a million love songs to choose from, and I eventually settled on My Love to connect it back to Sun King from Midnighter #11. While the track harkens back to the slow, sweet melodies, and simple lyrics to The Beatles’ song, McCartney’s lyrics in My Love are far from gibberish. The adoration present in this song rings out loud, and clear to signify a new, and deep commitment like the kind Apollo, and Midnighter have promised to one another.

Midnighter #12 by Steve Orlando and ACO
Midnighter #12 by Steve Orlando and ACO

Now it’s time for you to reread, and listen away!

Ray Sonne

Ray Sonne

A comics reader since the first Raimi-directed Spider-Man movie, Ray now works as a copywriter. When not writing or training in Krav Maga, she likes to expand her queer comics knowledge and talk with fellow nerds on twitter @RaySonne.