Steve Orlando’s Midnighter Embodies Both Machismo and Vulnerability
The best heroes always have some kind of personal problem that can you latch onto. This was how the Marvel empire was made with the Thing struggling with his disfigured appearance, Peter Parker dealing with bullies at school and balancing superheroics and life as a teenager, and the X-Men being stand-ins for any kind of oppressed people group, especially once Chris Claremont starting writing about them.
And this goes for heroes of action movies as well. Sure, it’s fun to see Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Seagal, or Lundgren mow down aliens or random mercenaries for an hour or two, but the action heroes that I remember are the ones with vulnerability. What made the first Die Hard so compelling was that John McClane wasn’t a superhero jumping on fighter planes guns ablazing like in the sequels, but that he was just a simple beat cop from New York with a marriage on the rocks that happened to get caught up in an insane situation. He gets duped by the villain, his feet bleed, and both the LAPD and FBI are terrible to him. John doesn’t ever reunite with his wife and even develops a drinking problem in Die Hard with a Vengeance, and his estrangement from his daughter is part of the main plot of Live Free and Die Hard. However, he’s not a lonely, mopey loser and still somehow beats the bad guys in each film while uttering some of the most hilarious one-liners. And heroes with a vulnerable side, who still manage to kick ass, have headlined some of the highest grossing action films of this millennium from Daniel Craig’s James Bond (especially in Casino Royale where he struggles to kills and falls for Vesper Lind) to Jason Bourne and even Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of Tony Stark, who both quips and has panic attacks.
Midnighter as written by Steve Orlando and drawn by ACO, Alec Morgan, Stephen Mooney, and colored by Romulo Fajardo falls into this post-John McClane action hero with problems tradition albeit with more science fiction and superhero trappings because he is a part of the weird, wacky, and multiverse rocking DC Universe. In case you don’t know, Midnighter was experimented on by a mysterious woman named Gardener, who gave him special enhancements, including a fight computer that allows him to see the outcome of any fight. He doesn’t know anything about his childhood, has no secret identity, and isn’t afraid to kill evil doers. But he doesn’t brood like his original inspiration, Batman, and is always ready for a snappy rejoinder after punching someone’s head off or before defeating them in combat. Midnighter is also the only gay male superhero to have his own title at both Marvel and DC and is single after a long term relationship with Apollo, who has godlike powers similar to Superman.
And it’s in his romantic and interpersonal relationships that we really find Midnighter’s vulnerable side beneath his snarky one-liners and the incredible action sequences choreographed by ACO, Morgan, and Mooney. Orlando gives us just the right amount of flashbacks featuring Midnighter and Apollo’s breakup in Midnighter #2-3 as Midnighter struggles to find his identity as both a human being and out gay man apart from him. These scenes show Midnighter at his most cynical as he tells Apollo that “Midnighter is a nameless, hopeless fight robot” and kissing him one last time because he knows the outcome of this fight will be a breakup thanks to his fight computer.
And Midnighter’s post-Apollo love life is fraught with even more instability as he wonders whether to take things fast or slow with several men, including Warren, who seemed to only be a one night stand in the Midnighter preview comic; Jason, who he puts a kind of biotechnological GPS tracker on and ends up being “just friends” with after moving too quickly, and Matt. Matt was just the worst. After Midnighter saved him from homophobes in Russia, had romantic chats with him on rooftops, built him a new apartment using special God Garden technology, and even had a heart to heart with his “dad” about Matt coming out a while back, he is revealed to be the Big Bad of the first arc, Prometheus.
His and Midnighter’s easy romantic chemistry gets twisted when it’s revealed that Prometheus has an implant that can shut down Midnighter’s fight computer, and his brain is programmed with the moves of 30 great martial artists, including Batman, Lady Shiva, and of course, Midnighter. He also has access to Midnighter’s “origin file” containing all his childhood memories from the God Garden, which Midnighter destroys in an emotional double page spread from ACO with all of his anguish about his failed relationship with Matt taking the form of a brain punch. The post-mortem after the fight scene with Midnighter chatting with some of his friends that he has made throughout the arc, like Tony the pool player and Marina the martial arts instructor turned human weapon saved by Midnighter, is even tougher as Midnighter thinks he can’t get close to anyone because he can’t predict their moves. Sadly, there’s no fight computer for human relationships, and this is hard for Midnighter to wrap his mind around. Hopefully, his love life is better in the next arc, but solicits teasing appearances from Apollo are sure to complicate and continue to bring out those sad emotions from the DC Universe’s biggest badass.
And yes, Midnighter is definitely a macho dude with a quit and a penchant for the theatrical, like when he uses Dick Grayson’s limber body as a spear in an atlatl, tears out his eardrums in Midnighter #2 to take out a woman who kills with sounds, or puts “headbutted an alien” on his Grindr profile. Each issue of Midnighter is action packed as he fights different supervillains, mercenaries, or generally bad folks, who are using the God Garden technology to exploit regular people. Some of these missions bring out his softer side, like in Midnighter #3 when he empathizes with a young girl, who was kidnapped by human traffickers telling her that none of this was her fault and about his kidnapping as a child. But because he’s a violent and a killer, he doesn’t join the girl and her mother for dinner going on to the next battle because he thinks that fighting is all he is good for. It’s a bittersweet ending to his non-stop punching of Multiplex thanks to ACO’s crazy layouts.
Steve Orlando makes Midnighter a compelling action hero by having perform cool fighting moves and say witty things while also having relatable problems for readers like me, like dating after a long, practically life defining relationship. (Apollo is the only man Midnighter has dated after coming out.) The title “Out” is a perfect one for the first Midnighter arc from Orlando, ACO, Morgan, and Mooney as Midnighter must simultaneously find his personal identity as a newly, single gay man as well as It’s the perfect marriage of text and subtext to go along with Midnighter punching the brain matter out of homunculi and walking shirtless in saunas with Dick Grayson.