Those of you reading comics in the late 1990s and early 2000s may remember a character known as Midnighter. Created by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch in the pages of Stormwatch, Midnighter is a masked vigilante with a mean streak, who relishes nothing more than putting the hurt on some creeps. Midnighter also happens to be one of the few characters in comics who is openly gay. Frequently paired with his husband Apollo, many saw the duo as a parallel of sorts for Batman and Superman, respectively (Although he has way more of a Punisher vibe, as Eric Diaz pointed out.) With a sinister smile, clenched fists, and a quip at the ready, Midnighter kicks ass and takes names with the best of them. Over the past 20 years, Midnighter would pop up now and again in books like The Authority, Kev, and an ill-fated 20-issue solo series, but for the most part, he was relegated to the sidelines of the DCU.
In the New 52, Midnighter has most recently been spotted in the pages of Grayson, working against the black-ops agency Spyral as they try to collect the body parts of a deceased metahuman that will endow those who possess them with the powers of the Justice League. In the wake of Convergence, however, Midnighter will finally be getting his own solo series, appropriately named Midnighter. Written by Steve Orlando (Undertow) and drawn by ACO (Constantine), Midnighter looks to put the ultraviolent character back in the spotlight. It’s also important because this will make Midnighter the one of the few ongoing comics series at a major publisher with a gay male lead. This time, though, Midnighter won’t be married to Apollo, so in addition to exploring his life as a masked ass-kicker without a secret identity, we’ll be exploring his life as a single gay man in meaningful ways.
Just look at that brutal cover art.
Here’s the official synopsis for Grayson #1:
“Spinning out of GRAYSON comes a solo series starring the man who can predict your every move… but no one will be able to predict what he’ll do next! A theft at the God Garden has unleashed a wave of dangerous biotech weapons on the world, and Midnighter intends to put that genie back in the bottle by any means necessary. But something else was stolen from the Garden as well…the secret history of Lucas Trent, the man Midnighter once was!”
Recently, at a DC Comics press day at their Los Angeles headquarters, I caught up with writer Steve Orlando to pick his brain about what to expect from his version of Midnighter, what the character means for LGBT representation in comics, and more.
N: So, I have to say, of all the titles coming out, Midnighter is definitely up there in terms of what I’m most excited for.
Steve Orlando: That’s great!
N: I was very excited to see him appear on the pages of Grayson, but I feel like he’s been underserved, or at least pushed to the side of the main DC canon. What about this character excited you when you realized you were going to have the opportunity to write this book?
SO: You know, it’s the inherent, sheer confidence of the character that’s existed. He appeared in the late ’90s, and it’s there in Grayson, and it was there in Stormwatch too. The idea that we can now present a character who is equal parts LGBT, but also just incredibly bad-ass, is something that’s relatively unseen, and it’s good to show that you can do things and you can be queer more than one way.
But also, the ability to present him in a way that lacks any type or sort of self-deprecation. I loved in Grayson, where it’s just sort of off-handed that he knew it was Dick Grayson, because he’d know his ass anywhere. But not in a way where there’s a press release or things. It’s just like, “Yeah.” He is all these things, and that includes him being gay, so this is how it happens.
And so the idea to do that, it like strokes one part of the inside of my brain, which is exciting, talking about this incredibly confident, like no secret, no strings type of gay man. But at the same time, he’s also known for this crazy type of John Woo action, which is the other part of me. Nothing more pleases me than the sort of classic action movies, like real tough guys–Charles Bronson-type characters. So to be able to do that, and sort of craft these action scenes that break the budget and sort of even make other characters in costumes turn around and be like, “Damn!” I couldn’t be more excited about it.
N: I feel like that first piece of promo art said everything, where it’s just him with the blood streaked down his face. I feel like that immediately communicates “Hey, get ready! This is not what you expect. Park your expectations at the door. He’s going to kick ass and take names. Oh, and by the way, he happens to be gay, but that’s not the defining characteristic.”
SO: Yeah, I think that is true, though I think it is important to show him sort of struggle as an adult gay man in some ways, instead of being in these sort of storybook type romances. Certainly part of the book, but I think the teaser also says an important thing that I believe about the character–he’s smiling in the teaser, and I think another defining thing about the character is that so many people expect him to be an anti-Batman, or something like that. So many of those types of characters are very brooding.
I don’t think Midnighter broods at all. Midnighter loves his jobs. It just happens that his job is horrifying. And that sort of joy, I think, is also kind of unique about the character. Remember his first appearance in Authority, he blows up Kaizen Gamorra’s island, and then the last shot is him with a goofy-ass smile on his face, saying “I love being me.” He cares immensely for innocent people, it’s just that unlike people who are maybe better adjusted, his caring comes through by way of super-sadistic violence against people who are hurting those people.
He almost can’t help himself. But the key–look, almost all of his original appearances, he is having the iconic Midnighter moments–talking about winning the fight before it’s even begun, and just taking down opponents greater than him, but he can see that it is very serious for him. Almost his initial appearance in Authority #1, he saves a kid from a super-human soldier. I think he has to rectify the parts of his life where he can–he knows that he likes hyper-violence. He knows that he has this thing, this itch he has to scratch, but he’s doing it in a way that can help people. He’s doing it in a way that lets him sort of celebrate it–at the same time, not go completely over the edge.
N: Usually when we’ve seen Midnighter, he’s been part of a team, or he’s been in the context of Midnighter and Apollo. This seems like we’re going to get to see Midnighter come into his own a little bit. Can you speak to that?
SO: Yeah, you definitely will, and I think that that is, again, a lot of the ideas of the book are getting back to the roots of the character. He’s almost 20 years old. It sounds crazy for me to say. But when you first saw him, he was homeless. He didn’t have these super teams, he didn’t have all this technology. He was living on the street with Apollo, and they were still helping people. So I think having him set out on his own and sort of letting him deal with people on a micro level–obviously, if he can affect macro change, that’s exciting for him. But he’s a person-to-person guy.
If he sees someone getting mugged, he wants to jam that muggers face into the trash can and then move on, because he knows that’s change he can elicit. I think it’s important to dig into that. He’s definitely going to be developing new relationships, and sort of finding new ways to help people, but all in a way that’s totally true to his origins as being this crazy being this crazy, action-movie version of The Shadow. I think that the through-line is there. The material is there. Look in the 1920s–The Shadow is not like Batman, where he just, like, punches people–and Batman grew into this as well–but criminals are genuinely afraid of The Shadow.
And that’s Midnighter, too. He frightens the frighteners in a way where I think it’s important, and empowering for people to see a character that basically puts the fear that we have, the sort of primal fear of the unknown, and criminal activity–someone who brings that fear to the people who generally perpetrate it. I mean, having a chance to see him in the real world, affecting that with people, is going to be very exciting.
N: It is crazy that this character is now 20 years old, and he’s now getting his own solo book. Also people have been very excited about the fact that this is sort of the first mainstream comic book that is starring a gay male superhero. With that in mind, is that something that’s exciting for you, or are you daunted by anything that comes with that?
SO: It is exciting, and it’s important to me. I think that, obviously, there are always expectations, but I also think that’s sort of a cheat. I think there are as many faces in the queer community as there are to anything else. It is actually scientifically impossible to do a book that reflects the entire queer community, so my expectation, my goal for myself and ACO is not to create some type of opus that is explaining what life is like for every queer person. It’s not possible.
But what I do want to do is present him, hopefully, better than ever before, living the life of an adult gay male, and it’s his life. And be true to that, and show where he’s at, show what he deals with in a way that I think is 100% true to a character like him, and to the people around him. We are going to be digging into the queer community more than other Midnighter books, more than other mainstream books have, especially building his supporting cast.
You know, we very often, very frequently you’ll see this sort of tokenism with the representation, but the characters are really not allowed to be gay, except in name only. That’s anything but the truth here. We want to show him interacting with other real people, we want to show him facing the type of relationship problems that other people have. Balanced with these places where he’s, like, punching through robot faces and things like that, of course.
But I think that is really important, because the only expectation that I would have is that we create a world that is filled with true depictions, even though we won’t be depicting everything. It’s not possible. Even if you look at other mediums that have these sort of trumpeted for gay representation, it’s still set in one city, it’s still set with a cast with a maximum of five people, and so we can’t–it’s folly to expect that we could do more. All we can do is place him in a world, and make that the sort of world that the queer community is living in now, and see how they react to him.
He is a symbol, and as I said, one of the things that I talk about is–he’s out of the closet, no kidding, ha ha–but it’s also about everything. He’s out of the closet as a superhero, too. He has no secret identity, and everybody knows he’s Midnighter. I think that will be empowering for characters around him to see his confidence about that, and hopefully empowering for readers as well.
N: With this whole relaunch, the sort of prevailing party line seems to be “Story will trump continuity.” A lot of these books have been around for decades now. I mean, Midnighter has been around for 20 years. What does that mean to you as a creator? How is your book going to embrace that sort of maxim?
SO: I think that it’s been very easy in the case of Midnighter. Yes, he’s been around for–well, for almost 20 years–2018 will be 20 years for him. But at the same time, he hasn’t appeared so much that there’s going to be a lot of problem with contradicting continuity. But I think more so it’s the general mindset, the general aesthetic, that even if it doesn’t particularly affect Midnighter, the push to sort of tell stories that are true to themselves and sort of beautiful type of–have a beautiful honesty to them, and interior cohesiveness–is a great feeling when you’re working with editorial.
It may not appear in this book, but maybe it will down the line. And the idea that people are willing–DC is willing to get out of the way, essentially, and let people craft these stories that are more concerned with being wonderful, and less concerned with the nuts and bolts of things that happened 20 years ago. And it’s very easy to be respectful to that, as well, but it shouldn’t ever work against the flow of the story, and against the narrative motion.
Now they’re sort of letting that go free, so to speak, and let us tell stories with these characters that can hopefully go on to be iconic.
N: Excellent. Well, thank you very much, and I really can’t wait to read the book.
SO: Thank you.
Midnighter #1 is available June 3, 2015.