In a historical move, DC Comics has slated to publish the first direct market comic book industry title led by a queer couple, Midnighter & Apollo #1, on October 5th. Midnighter and Apollo certainly aren’t the newest kids on the block, however. The two first appeared in 1998’s Stormwatch #4 by Warren Ellis, Bryan Hitch, and Laura Depuy (now Laura Martin), although their coming out didn’t occur until 1999’s The Authority #8 by the same creative team. After that, they became one of the most well-known LGBTQ superheroes.
Excited for the new title? We at Women Write About Comics are. That’s why we’re hosting this roundtable on The Authority. Previously, we talked about Stormwatch, and next month, we will discuss the first Midnighter solo arc by Garth Ennis and Chris Sprouse and one of the last The Authority runs by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, and Simon Coleby. Read on to find us chronicling queer representation in superhero comics over the last 20 years as well as interrogating the definition of the modern superhero through these wonderful characters.
The first question in this roundtable is about the same as the first question of our last roundtable with a step up: How do you feel about Apollo and Midnighter’s coming out?
Heather Knight: I liked that it was a under a really dramatic, high stakes life-or-death situation. Usually at this part in a movie it’s the cliche scene of a guy about to go off and do something dangerous and it’s his girlfriend saying a tearful goodbye but instead it’s two men who have a very touching, emotional exchange where it’s understood that Apollo might not come back from this and while Midnighter objects, he respects Apollo’s choice to go. The scene feels very raw and genuine, and Apollo kisses him sweetly on the cheek before he leaves. There were no fireworks or reactions of surprise from the others in the room following the couple’s official ‘coming out’ on the page, but by that point it seemed like everyone on the team already knew or had a pretty good idea about the nature of Midnighter and Apollo’s relationship.
Desiree Rodriguez: I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of The Authority. I read it at the recommendation of a close friend because of Apollo and Midnighter but they weren’t in it much. Nor did I really connect with them in any big way. I felt the book was hiding their relationship behind innuendos for most of the book until the big finish before Apollo might die in a heroic sacrifice. It wasn’t the worst coming out I ever read, and given the time I can even understand the restrictiveness behind it, but I wanted more. In a way, their coming out reminded me a bit of Billy and Teddy from Young Avengers volume one. Riddled with innuendos and implications until finally someone just says it. But that took one issue, this took twelve. So I guess you could argue that’s progress and Midnighter and Apollo attributed to that progress in a big way.
J.A. Micheline: I’m into it. It had the kind of subtlety that was clearly a matter of craft rather than the creative team feeling like it needed to stay subtextual. Midnighter’s aggressive archetype actually makes the gentleness of the scene significant and contributes to the narrative. It had genuine heart and made me want to know more about them as a couple, which the rest of the comic didn’t quite accomplish.
Ray Sonne: When I first read this scene years ago, fresh off the likes of more recent comics like Greg Rucka and JH Williams III’s Batwoman: Elegy, I felt severely underwhelmed. I have read–but not been able to confirm–that the kiss on the cheek happened because editorial requested that the team move it from a kiss on the mouth, which is a much more appropriate potential goodbye gesture to your romantic partner of five years. However, the scene still retains a sweetness to it and whether the editorial request actually happened or not, it moved mountains in terms of queer representation in superhero comics. It needs to be read with its time period in mind.
Last roundtable, a few of us (understandably) had some trouble grasping Apollo and Midnighter as characters. Do we feel that we have a better picture of who they are as individual people and as a unit now?
Heather: They have more personality, that’s for sure, and more page time to show that. Apollo is full of sunshine and genuinely good natured, someone who believes in doing the right thing even when that might mean sacrificing yourself. It’s a lot more obvious that he’s meant to be this universe’s version of Superman. Same with Midnighter being a version of Batman, though he’s maybe not quite as emotionally stunted as Bruce. While it was already evident that he is a violent grouch, Midnighter also has a healthy admiration for his partner, Apollo, and openly expresses it without reservation even before they “come out.” He might express himself primarily with violence, but I think you can tell more clearly here that beneath that hard shell he can also be a big, ‘ole softy. Midnighter and Apollo as a unit function pretty flawlessly, we already know that they’ve spent years working together before this and they even have a cute little banter between them out on the field. It’s also clear that they have a very deep, caring relationship, evident by the way they embrace once Apollo returns safely. Though the fact that they’re both insistent about only going by Midnighter and Apollo with the rest of the team makes me wonder how much identity plays a part in how they relate to each other, and other people.
Desiree: As I said above, I didn’t really connect with them as characters, but I will argue they are characters in The Authority. They have personalities that, yes take some cues from Superman and Batman (remind me a bit of the We’re You But So Much Gayer fan comic). What I particularly liked was that they had interactions with their teammates. This established them as characters instead of tokens or filling a quota. So though I didn’t connect with them, the way they were written as both partners and a part of a team was nicely done.
JAM: For sure. I would have liked more, certainly, but I can definitely see who each of these men are now, and as I said above, also what they’re like together. They’ve moved past mere archetypes and have their own personalities and senses of humor. They read much more like people. The team did a better job of including intrapersonal conversations and dynamics beyond things that merely drove the plot forward. I like seeing the various facets of Midnighter, his curiosity, and his hesitancy to connect with others. I also like Apollo’s wicked sense of humor and ruthlessness. He’s more interesting than Midnighter, actually. There is not that much daylight between Batman and Midnighter, I think, but there are clear and distinct ways in which Apollo acts differently than Superman (but also the same). I wonder if we’ll ever see him get a solo book…
Ray: JAM, please marry me for being the first person I’ve ever met who said the words “Apollo is more interesting than Midnighter” in that order. There’s a lot of subtle, clever character work in this book with the majority of the team members, but Apollo is my favorite. We get a clear picture of his strengths and weaknesses through The Authority, including how his extraordinary abilities can lead him to foolishly assuming he can get out of anything (we see a negative example of this when he nearly splats into Gamorra’s energy shield and a positive one when he risk death to regain solar energy by jumping out of The Carrier). We see how he can be incredibly annoying and not see a more strategic approach to an opponent when he nags Jenny, but a more complex understanding appears when he correctly reads her dislike of leadership in another more emotional scene. Although Apollo and Midnighter are both deeply empathetic people, Apollo has access to a more interpersonal realm while Midnighter is the more practical of the pair. It’s easy to see how they work so well together.
The Authority uses subtext leading up to the coming out scene, including the “Bert and Ernie” scene with Jenny Sparks and Midnighter smirking in the background as The Engineer expresses awe at Apollo. Do we feel that the subtext was handled here better than in Stormwatch?
Heather: I’m not sure I like them being the butt of a gay joke and I don’t know if the subtext was necessarily handled better, but there was certainly more of it. Between the private walks, the married couple style bickering, the gay Sesame Street references and the use of the art to display certain body language and looks between them, it’s a lot more obvious than anything we saw in Stormwatch. The only thing that felt kind of cheap was the “Bert and Ernie” joke, otherwise everything else was the cute, affectionate sort of behavior you might expect from two people who are in a caring relationship, even if they weren’t being open about it until later.
Desiree: I wasn’t in love with the subtext, but I’m pretty big on “subtext isn’t text; subtext isn’t representation.” Luckily the subtext became canon but the way the subtext was handled was part of the reason I struggled to connect with the two of them.
JAM: I was trying to figure out if that was a subtext thing or what. I thought it might be but then I also thought it might not be? Apparently it was. Anyway–I didn’t need it. The book isn’t any stronger for it. Characters noting that Midnighter only used to speak to Apollo and Sparks is enough. I can do with things noting how close they are. I’ll pass on ‘lol ambiguous gays.’
Ray: Like the coming out scene, the Bert and Ernie scene is very much a sign of the times of when the book was made. Sharp, almost mean humor and not entirely necessary. Sparks putting out her cigarette on Apollo’s shoulder is hilarious, though.
Do you feel that The Authority is a progressive comic in its depiction of gender and sexuality?
Heather: Sexuality, maybe. No one blinks an eye at the notion of two men in a relationship that’s very likely sexual in nature, there’s even “get a room” jokes later on after Midnighter and Apollo start getting openly affectionate on the page. There is also more than one woman in the book who talks about their past relationships in terms of casual sex and there was a distinct absence of slut shaming. However Jenny Sparks was called a whore by an ex, though not in the same conversation, but it still bothers me when writers justify that kind of language. The female characters in The Authority are pretty empowered, seen as equal if not sometimes superior in the case of Sparks, to the men of the group, but seeing as there’s no male equivalent to words like ‘bitch’ or ‘whore,’ it frustrates me when that language is used. It automatically strips power away from the female voice in the narrative, and makes the gender inequality more apparent. I’m also always wary of villains who threaten specifically with acts of rape. It automatically puts things on an uneven ground and shines an ugly light on the women in the story who are then immediately seen as potential victims. It’s unnecessary. I don’t like it.
JAM: Jenny Sparks is great and just does not have time for anyone’s foolishness, which is really nice. I did enjoy her telling Midnighter what would be happening and him shutting up. But, as Heather said, I could have done without ‘rape camps’ and I also could’ve done without The Engineer randomly getting naked in the hallway, even if she was going to get a jacket from Hawksmoor. Both felt unnecessary and easily replaceable.
For the men, I didn’t notice…them. Except Hawksmoor casually creeping on The Engineer I guess. And Apollo and Midnighter being cute.
Nothing really stood out to me gender-wise, though.
Ray: Based on this roundtable, you can argue that the essential characters of the team are Jenny, The Engineer, Apollo, and Midnighter, which leads to some interesting things. Jenny’s character is essentially The Authority’s legacy, so I don’t need to go over how seeing a smoking, crude-mouthed, opinionated woman in charge is so impactful. The Engineer is my second favorite character: a woman in tech who has the genius role usually reserved for male characters and her powers include her essentially SHAPING HERSELF INTO ANYTHING SHE WANTS. Wow, thanks Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch for that motivation!
I actually don’t mind the Engineer appearing nude in the comic because I think she is exploited for cheesecake about as often as Apollo is exploited for beefcake. And, like Heather pointed out, she has a sexual history and isn’t slut-shamed for it. Everyone in this comic is given personhood, regardless of their gender and sexual orientation.
Let’s talk about The Authority’s first antagonist, Kaizen Gamorra.
JAM: Racist as hell. Racist as hell.
Heather: Soooooo racist. So cringeworthy. I had to read those pages with one eye closed, it was so offensive.
Ray: Based on some readings that The Authority is a parody or examination of Golden Age tropes or what a superhero comic looks like at a general sense, that explains the Yellow Peril Kaizen Gamorra. That being said, we have well established since The Authority’s publication that, unless you’re a member of the specific race in question, you do not have the right to re-appropriate racist caricatures. I’m very glad that when DC designed the new The Authority collection, they took Kaizen Gamorra’s image off the cover.