Monday, October 31, 2016

Review: Midnighter Vol. 2: Hard

First of all, get your mind out of the gutter, or at least out of Midnighter's tight-fitting leather pants. The sub-title of the second and final volume of writer Steve Orlando's Midnighter ongoing, the last vestige of the 2011 merging of the WildStorm "universe" with the DC Universe, refers not to the title character's sexual excitement, but how tough he is. "You think you're something? Think you're hard?" Deadshot taunts a temporarily captured Midnighter at one point. Which is rather silly, really, given that this is Midnighter we're talking about. Of course he's something. Of course he's hard.

One has to imagine the double meaning of that sub-title is intentional, however, given that Orlando's Midnighter is one of the few DC superheroes we ever see in a sex scene...and one of still fewer that it doesn't seem weird and gross to see in a sex scene. Like, whenever I saw New 52 Superman and Wonder Woman in bed together, it felt a little like walking in on my parents or something. Midnighter was a superhero character created for grown-ups from the start though.

Hard is actually sort of a mixed bag of a trade collection, including as it does the final five issues of Orlando's Midnighter, and then what could charitably referred to as filler material...albeit high-quality filler. These are the first two issues that followed Garth Ennis' six-issue run on the 2007 Midnighter series, back in simpler times when the character was merely an artificially created Batman analogue, part of a madman's designer Justice League that eventually joined up with some similarly morally uncomplicated superheroes and formed The Authority, a team of super-bastards intent on protecting the world their way, and fuck you if you didn't like it.

The first is a semi-clever issue by Brian K. Vaughan and Darick Robertson that riffs on Midnighter's ability to see into the future by telling the story backwards; it's a pretty straightforward 22-page story, only with the pages re-ordered so it reads 22-1, rather than 1-22. That's followed by a Christos Gage/John Paul Leon issue in which Hawksmoor challenges Midnighter to do something simple and traditionally superheroic, rather than horrifically violent. They settle on helping a little girl find her lost cat, but, luckily for Midnighter, it involves fighting over-the-top cyborgs.

These are both great, even though they don't really line up with the preceding issues of the new series, and really only underscore that Midnighter doesn't really fit into the DCU (surely the Justice League would have gone after him, power rings and eye beams blazing, in an attempt to shut him down by this point), and how needlessly complicated he and his fellows are at this point. For the life of me, I can't imagine why DC decided to launch a StormWatch book starring a mixture of Authority characters, DC characters and all-new characters at the outset of the New 52 rather than an Authority book, given how much more popular that latter concept was in the recent-ish past.

The final bit of filler is the Midnighter and Apollo short from the 2013 Young Romance: A New 52 Valentine's Day Special, which, if I recall, was the highlight of that anthology. It's by Peter Milligan and Simon Bisley, and features the characters in their initial New 52 redesigns, which, in the case of Midnighter, meant the loss of his signature trench coat and the addition of a bunch of spikes, for some reason.

As for Orlando's story, the lead-in is something of a team-up with Freedom Beast–although he's never called by that name, nor by B'wanna Beast, which might be weird given the color of skin. He simply introduces himself as "Dominic Mndawe." When weird hybrid animals start rampaging through Rochester, New York, Midnighter encounters Mdnawe, who tells him he's on the trail of twisted big game hunters using a formula similar to that he uses to create the exotic animals, which they hunt for sport. Not a bad idea, but I'm uncertain why they are doing so in a city, rather than somewhere more remote, like their own personal island, where they might conceivably get away with it.

The rest of Orlando's run concerns itself with a Suicide Squad story. Midnighter allies himself with Spyral to deal with something missing from "The God Garden," which brings the wrath of Amanda Waller and her Squad–Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Parasite, Captain Boomerang and new character Afterthought–on Midnighter. Then Waller allies herself with Henry Bendix and his latest superhuman creation and Apollo gets involved.

It's a pretty big, crazy action/espionage story, and it was kind of fun to see Midnighter trading blows and barbs with the Squad, but I would have preferred clearer, less-detailed artwork...something driven home by the bigger, bolder and brighter artwork that Robertson provides in his issue in the back. Aco remains the top credited artist, and had at least a hand in most of the issues from the current series, but he also usually has several different artists help finish the issues. Given the tendency to break scenes into many little panels, artfully littered across the ones telling the thrust of the story, as a way to visualize Midnighter's powers, the pages generally look crowded, and all those lines and realistic coloring effects don't help any.

Leon's art looks similar to that Aco and company's, but is crisper, while Robertson's looks like very well-drawn superhero comics, which suits the character best, I think, as it draws a greater contrast between Midnighter and other, similar heroes.

The character is already back with Orlando writing him, in a six-issue miniseries entitled Midnighter and Apollo. That's a good thing. Orlando seems to get the character and have a lot of fun with him, and there's certainly a great deal of potential to Midnighter and Orlando's particular take, it just isn't always apparent on the page.

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