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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Review: MIDNIGHTER #9 Provides Fun, Fearless Action

I hate 'cool'. I sometimes think more shitty comics have been made trying to be 'cool' than for literally any other reason. 'Cool' ruined late-90's indie film and half the terrible blockblusters that land in theaters any given year. 'Cool' is, generally speaking, boring, a set of samey cultural signifiers that offer no depth, no meaning. It's a fantasy, and not a particularly meaningful one.

But every so often, 'cool' works. James Bond is a self-indulgent power fantasy hearkening back to the allure of old-school machismo, but notice that the films that really work are the ones who make that fantasy seem effortless. They leaven the fantasy with humor. They make the story sing with excellent pacing. They find a new way to approach stale material.

Midnighter shouldn't work. The character is a 'cool' knock-off of a 'cool' character, an ultraviolent take on Batman that brings all the queer subtext of the original to the forefront and amps up the power level considerably. And writer Steve Orlando does little to downplay that. His Midnighter is a suave, flirty man's man who can't lose a fight and knows it, a guy happy to show off his toys - which are the best, naturally. Less Batman, more Bond under Orlando's pen, Midnighter could easily tip over, either into rote action formula or bland camp action. But it hasn't yet. Instead, Midnighter is just getting more fun.

The series is great at using guest-stars and picking its enemies. Frequent partnerships with Dick Grayson have given Midnighter someone sane to keep up with and bounce off of, and Prometheus was an inspired choice for his first big bad. The trend continues in Midnighter #9 as our hero is tasked with breaking into the secure vault of the Suicide Squad to steal the Perdition Pistol, an ultra-powerful weapon Amanda Waller is keeping in her back pocket. Waller and the Suicide Squad are the perfect foils for Midnighter, mirrors that take his gleeful brutality just one small, state-sanctioned step too far, and Orlando uses this comparison cleverly. Both Midnighter and the Squad are being ordered about by ultra-powerful female spies operating behind the scenes, both committing acts of violence at the behest of others... but Midnighter, Orlando is quick to remind us, isn't about that. He has friends and casual lovers. He contributes to art. He is constantly aware of the cost of what he does and pitting that against the benefit it brings about, and while he loves violence, he doesn't love meaningless violence.

ACO, who illustrated the series' debut issue, returns for Midnighter #9, and his elaborate paneling is growing on me. His layouts tend to emphasize small details over large moments; Midnighter will enter and leave a room in a single page, the only violence on the page 'suggested' by how ACO frames the shot. This lets him suggest incredible acts of violence with a single insert - a bloodied crowbar, say - while freeing up page space to let the book cover more ground. It also contributes to a feeling that Midnighter is an unstoppable bad-ass in the vein of a horror movie monster; we see the devastation, not the sweat. Because of this, when Midnighter gets into a really challenging fight, merely the act of showing the fight makes us understand its significance. Here, the panel structure is in control; in a real fight, ACO lets things get a little more out of control, inserts popping up chaotically and at odd angles. While it can look visually cluttered - ACO's imitators often fail to find a good balance, and even ACO struggles with it from time to time - when it works, the page layout is an instinctive, easy-to-follow way to pace the story and sell the tone.

Midnighter has that rare quality that makes 'cool' genuine and interesting: It feels effortless. Every single month, Orlando and a rotating team of artists are giving readers some of the most exciting action happening in mainstream comics, and they're doing it in short, engaging bursts of adrenaline. Midnighter #9 is no different, and provides an excellent opportunity for new readers to jump on board.

Midnighter #9 was illustrated by ACO & Hugo Petrus, written by Steve Orlando, lettered by Tom Napolitano, and colored by Romulo Fajardo, Jr. Published by DC Comics, Midnighter #9 was released on February 3rd, 2016 at a list price of $2.99.

Cal Cleary is a writer and librarian in rural Ohio. You can check out more of his work at The Comical Librarian or Cinema Romantique, and follow him on Twitter @comicalibrarian.
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