Review: Midnighter Vol. 1: Out trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, November 21, 2016

With Midnighter Vol. 1: Out, Steve Orlando cements himself as worthy of standing with Tom King and Tim Seeley as the newest crop of top tier writers at DC Comics. Orlando takes on the unenviable task of crafting an entire series around a vigilante who's by definition almost unbeatable, and does so by offering that as much as Midnighter shines on the battlefield, he's equally befuddled by matters of the heart. Orlando's story is deep and emotionally complex, and brings with it some genuine surprises to boot. Constantine's Aco's trademark vignette paneling brings to life Midnighter's "visualize all possibilities" powers, and his pages are as good-looking as this book is smart.

[Review contains spoilers]

Orlando demonstrates to the reader early on that despite (or because of) Midnighter's crime-fighting prowess, his personal interactions aren't so easy. In short order he manages to scare off new flame Jason after marking him with a "super GPS"; in flashback we see his inability to be honest with Stormwatch's Apollo lead to their breakup; and Midnighter can only initiate a team-up with Dick Grayson by kidnapping him. Out's ending twist comes off even more tragic on second-read, as Matt, the one guy who actually seems to appreciate Midnighter for who he is, turns out to be the book's mystery villain.

In this, Orlando manages to make relatable and give personality to a character at this point stretched well beyond his original role as a Batman analogue. But wisely Orlando never lets Midnighter's romantic troubles devolve into melodrama, and the angst, at least on the surface level, is minimal. Orlando brings a strangely normalized tone to the book in between bombastic, violent fight scenes, surrounding Midnighter with a group of friends who take his superheroics in stride. In large part one of the most adroit aspects of Orlando's book is how he writes everyday people simply talking to one another.

Out's chapters involve Midnighter hunting rogue tech stolen from the "God Garden" that also gave him his powers; the strongest among these is the Grayson team-up in the fourth chapter (which continues into the fifth). Orlando's Grayson follows seamlessly from King and Seeley's, and it's particularly admirable how well Orlando uses the God Garden storyline that the other writers set up. At the same time, Orlando effectively torpedoes any Midnighter origin we've so far seen in the New 52, which is his prerogative (and I prefer "my origin was a lie" to a cosmic reboot) but I still found it slightly jarring. In this particular chapter, Orlando parallels well Midnighter's penchant for and even enjoyment of violence with a club where people can pay to kill innocents; clearly Midnighter's motives are more heroic, but his uncharacteristic moment of distraction shows that the villain's taunts along these lines get to him.

Regarding this book's mystery villain, Prometheus (late of Grant Morrison's JLA and etc.), good for Orlando for using him in frightening fashion and for recognizing how great a foil Prometheus's ability to remember and subsume others' talents is for Midnighter. After creating a splash initially, many of Prometheus's subsequent appearances didn't measure up, perhaps a sign of a character stretched farther than he was originally intended (another thing in common with Midnighter), but Orlando uses Prometheus really well, and that Matt was Prometheus truly is shocking and tragic. I also appreciated that Orlando hews close to Prometheus's original origins, very nearly overlaying them exactly against a New 52/DC You canvas.

At the same time, not unlike the reveal of another "classic" villain over in Superman/Wonder Woman, the shock here relies largely on the audience's recognition of Prometheus from having read him in the pre-Flashpoint continuity. The surprise is a little bit story-based but mostly comes from the reader's familiarity with a continuity that purportedly one wasn't supposed to need to enjoy the New 52. Obviously I'm a knowledgeable fan so this lands just like it's supposed to, but the fact of New 52/DC You titles doing this kind of stuff (in a variety of seriesw) negates its own ground-rules (even as, with Rebirth, that's all been by and large jettisoned anyway).

Steve Orlando's Midnighter Vol. 1: Out is slick and entertaining and thoughtful. Kind of like the DC You Constantine: The Hellblazer, it is to some extent as much about Midnighter's life off the battlefield as it is on, but in an improvement over those books, Orlando's fight sequences also shine (ably helped by Aco) and the book has a startling, scary villain at its center. Midnighter's good on its own, but most notably it bespeaks more good things to come from Orlando.
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9 comments:

  1. The Prometheus reveal was just about the biggest "stand up and cheer" moment I read reading a comic this year. Orlando is the real deal, and I'd argue that he writes a better Midnighter than even Ellis and Millar.

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    1. Orlando used Prometheus really well, and indeed Prometheus vs. Midnighter seems like such a natural pairing I'm surprised it took this long. I'm eager to re-read this book, actually; in writing this review and reading Vol. 2: Hard, I kept remembering moments -- Matt said this -- and then I'm like, but that was Prometheus ... Orlando wrote a really smart, really tragic story.

      At the same time, if you don't know who Prometheus is, does the reveal land? Is it in some respects lazy storytelling (not using a reveal that somehow relies solely on this book alone)? Does it suggest the power of the long history of the DCU, suggesting the need for the kind of return that Rebirth is heralding? Or does it point out how DC's history has been a crutch, allowing for reveals that are essentially "Hey look, it's this guy from that comic twenty years ago?"

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    2. I thought about that, and you're right that the reveal is only truly impactful for people familiar with Morrison's JLA, but Orlando did a great job retelling Prometheus's origin for the benefit of readers who don't know the character, and the reveal was still a heartbreaking moment for people who were invested in Midnighter's relationship with Matt.

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    3. So heartbreaking! Jason broke up with him because Midnighter was being too Midnighter, but then Matt comes along and seems to understand him so well (somewhere in the middle of the book, I thought, "Wow, Orlando's really playing up how great Midnighter is via Matt ..."), and then, and then ... oh, it was all just so well done.

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  2. I read this before Morrison's JLA run so I didn't know who prometheus was, and now I really want to go back and reread this. I really loved this, and even not knowing who P was at the time it was still tragic that he couldn't have a regular relationship.

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    1. Appreciate the extra insight. Prometheus's first appearance in JLA remains the best, but I believe Sterling Gates had a good special of some sort with him later on.

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  3. Such a fantastic little run. Orlando takes a character that's considered to be invincible, and (without de-powering him) exposes his insecurities and makes him vulnerable. Such a good character study. The Midnighter/Apollo mini (also by Orlando) is pretty good, too.

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    1. Having now read Midnighter, I'm thrilled to see both Orlando and Aco on that miniseries. I'll definitely be getting it.

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  4. Wow! After reading this review and everyone's comments, I think I'm going to have to go get this trade.

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