Midnighter Vol. 2: Hard includes both issues #8-12 of the series plus two issues from the Wildstorm series and a story from Young Romance: The New 52 Valentine's Day Special was initially concerning. Five issues on their own isn't unheard of for a trade, and the addition of the supplementary material suggests, as it has in other books, something lacking in the main content. Happily however that's not the case here, as Orlando's "Hard" stands on its own as a fine coda to the first volume, Out, and the additional material serves as a "just because" bonus. Even as this volume marks the cancellation of (this iteration of) the Midnighter series, there's a sense of celebration here, including the extra material not out of necessity but just because Orlando's take on the Midnighter character deserves it.
[Review contains spoilers]
It's to Orlando's credit that at only five issues, Hard feels exceptionally complete, with five one-page epilogue sequences at the end and also including a fifteen-page team-up with Freedom Beast Dominic Mndawe. There's quite a few threads being tied in here, not only Midnighter's sparring with both Spyral and Task Force X's Suicide Squad, but also a documentary being filmed about Midnighter and his difficult relationship with Apollo.
As such, while the story here on a macro level is Midnighter versus the Squad, Orlando avoids the trap that any number of closing five-issue stories might fall into, where a decompressed story comes off one-note, but rather in some ways Hard admirably reads as if the end is not already nigh. A couple of times I expected an issue to end only to find more after; the team-up with Freedom Beast plus the arrival of Spyral, escape from a Task Force X base plus a fight with the Squad, and so on.
The documentary is a strange and unexpected undertone to the story. Historically Authority's Midnighter would not seem a prime candidate for a profile, but Orlando's Midnighter is more a man of the people than Midnighters past (as we see specifically in Christos Gage's Wildstorm Midnighter issue, where he's specifically challenged to do something "ordinary"). Orlando is not explicit, but given the suggestion that Midnighter talking about his experience "is going to help a lot of people," we see Orlando positing Midnighter as someone who's essentially survived assault or indoctrination in the manipulation done to his brain. Midnighter likes to tout his enhancements as advantages, but in parallel we see him recognizing his difficulty trusting others as a flaw that holds him back from real relationships rather than an asset; the documentary serves as a tool of sorts for Orlando to bring Midnighter to these realizations.
Orlando's Midnighter has been a departure from the often-troubled New 52 Stormwatch title, with Apollo present in Midnighter Vol. 1: Out but hardly a mention of Midnighter's former team. At the same time, Out's mystery villain proves Orlando a fan of the finer points of the pre-Flashpoint DC Universe. Hard opens things up a bit more with a specific reference to Midnighter battling the Red Lanterns in Stormwatch, and also Orlando introduces here to the New 52/DCYou Henry Bendix, aka the Wildstorm Stormwatch's "Weatherman." If ever there was a good reason to fold Midnighter over into the DC Universe, it's for stories like this, that see Midnighter and Bendix in the middle of a conflict between Spyral and the Suicide Squad, and a closing sequence that has Midnighter sitting down for lunch with Amanda Waller.
Hard includes issues #7-8 of the Wildstorm Midnighter series by Brian K. Vaughan and Christos Gage respectively. Vaughan tells his story in reverse, such to illustrate Midnighter always being ten steps ahead of his foes; Gage's sees Midnighter challenged to solve an average lost pet case, which inevitably turns out to be far from average. Both of these are enjoyable; the gimmicky nature of each serves them well for this book in that you don't need any additional knowledge of Midnighter to enjoy them. At the same time, the fact that neither delves into Midnighter as a person suggests the character as more metaphor than man in his Wildstorm depictions, something Orlando's series has worked to rectify.
But Hard's editors made an unfortunate choice to finish the book with Peter Milligan's Midnighter/Apollo Young Romance story. "Seoul Brothers" actually sees Apollo and Midnighter break up; it's already reprinted in context in Stormwatch Vol. 3: Betrayal, where their breakup in Stormwatch is the beginning and not the end of the story. As Hard sees Midnighter and Apollo reconciling after another break-up, the story of an earlier parting is a dour note to follow the "Hard" story's happy ending.
Though this iteration ends with Midnighter Vol. 2: Hard, the best news is that both Steve Orlando and artist Aco (who shines in a variety of this book's frentic, artsy fight sequences) will return for a six-issue Midnighter and Apollo miniseries. The fact of a miniseries instead of an ongoing bothers me not at all, as Orlando has shown here what he can do with a small space and by and large I think a miniseries puts less pressure on the creative team to tie into line-wide events or chase the same sales as ongoings need. Overall Midnighter has made me excited for Orlando's Supergirl and Justice League of America, and I hold out hope that maybe Midnighter, Apollo, and Orlando's League might cross paths later on.
[Includes original covers, Aco sketchbook and cover designs]