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Friday, October 7, 2016

Comics Review: MIDNIGHTER & APOLLO #1

I didn't have super high hopes for the Mignighter series as announced by DC during their aborted DC You push. He always, to me, seemed like such a laughably edgy take on the Batman idea -- kid suffers immense trauma, becomes a martial artist, and fights crime at night dressed all in black... but, you know, with murder and bad-ass monologues. I had liked the Ellis/Hitch Authority run that introduced me to the pair, but every time I saw Midnighter outside of that context, I was always struck by how juvenile the character felt to me. At the time, I had never heard of Steve Orlando or ACO, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. But when I tried out the first issue, I was impressed by the effortless energy that leapt off every page; by the ninth issue, I was in love. Now? Now I'm just glad that Orlando is back and Midnighter has an all-new series. Did Midnighter & Apollo losing the old art team cost the book its spirit? Or is Midnighter back in all his previous glory?

Preview from comicbook.com & DC Comics

Yeah. I'm thinkin' he's back.

Midnighter and Apollo, the Batman-and-Superman-esque Wildstorm heroes and longtime lovers, reunited at the end of Midnighter after a long separation, and so far, the relationship is holding. As the issue begins, they've settled in to their typical routine, saving a group of children from Subway Pirates looking to sacrifice the kids to their dread god and then meeting other friends for dinner. But Henry Bendix, who helped create Midnighter and who led the Stormwatch team that brought them together, has neither forgiven nor forgotten how the pair of them have stood in his way. He seeks to ally himself with some of the darkest forces known to man and finally bring Midnighter back under his thumb, and his new plan just might work.

Fernando Blanco replaces ACO and Hugo Petrus here, but he is clearly working in a similar style. The inset panels offering small details in a fight, from a boot to the face to a pained expression, were a stable of ACO's, and gave him a good way to portray fights at a bit of a remove and really sell the strength and movement of them, and Blanco manages to pull them back in here in a gorgeous early-issue two-page spread. He works particularly well with colorist Romulo Fajardo, Jr., who has found an earthy color palette that nevertheless lets him portray the odder, more colorful corners of the DC Universe in which the book is playing. It can be hard to find a 'look' that works equally well for all the different modes this issue runs in, action, horror, and domestic drama, but I think Romulo and Blanco shift from bombastic action to loving sexuality comfortably, and the book's final pages suggest yet another direction for the book.

At its best, Midnighter was high concept, ultraviolent sci-fi action with a surprising amount of heart at its center. Midnighter & Apollo #1 manages to bring all that back in just a few short pages, and build on that foundation in a more nakedly emotional direction. If the first series often celebrated the effortless cool of Midnighter as a character, here Orlando brings the character into question in a way he never really did before. Midnighter is every bit the smirking, homicidal anti-hero we know and love and Fernando Blanco brings the brutal pop-action sensibilities I enjoyed about the previous book back in full force, but Blanco and Orlando seem to be approaching the hero in a more thoughtful way. Some of Midnighter's signature bad-ass moments here are undercut or criticized in a way they rarely were in the last series, and Orlando has found a more tender approach to Midnighter than I typically see.

Specifically, he seems to be asking, why is Midnighter so violent? I mean, on the one hand: Because he's a Warren Ellis-created satire on Batman from an 'extreme' imprint during comics' most 'extreme' era. But now that Orlando is bringing a slightly more grounded look to the character, focusing more on relationships and sexuality... again, why is he so violent? Midnighter is a character who revels in doing monstrous things for a good cause, but is there a human cost to that decision? It's a fascinating question, and if Midnighter followed a reckless, carefree single Midnighter, I'm interested in seeing how Midnighter & Apollo changes that formula up.

Put quite simply, Midnighter & Apollo #1 is just an excellent comic. Orlando, Blanco, and Fajardo managed to take the effortless cool that defined the character's previous run and add a little of the self-reflection that can come with a longterm romantic partner. As much as I loved Midnighter, I think it is a strength of this book that Apollo brings new dimensions to the kinds of stories Midnighter can hold up. I'm intrigued by book's direction going forward and, outside of one brief moment, this should read smoothly even to those who hadn't read the preceding series. A beautifully-crafted action book like this is always worth a read, but for those lucky few who read Orlando's first take on the character, Midnighter & Apollo #1 manages to add depth to an already-satisfying read.

Midnighter & Apollo #1 is out now from DC Comics. Illustrated by Fernando Blanco, colored by Romulo Fajardo, Jr., and written by Steve Orlando, Midnighter & Apollo #1 is the first part of a six-issue miniseries. 
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