Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

10 June 2016

Midnighter, v. 1: Out

Collects: Midnighter #1-7 and Convergence: Nightwing / Oracle #2 (2015-6)

Released: February 2016 (DC)

Format: 160 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9781401259785

What is this?: Midnighter, the gay Batman, has split up from his lover and is trying to find himself. Unfortunately, someone has stolen a bunch of superweapons, and Midnighter has to find them and the culprit.

The culprits: Writer Steve Orlando and artists Aco, Stephen Mooney, and Alec Morgan

I really wanted to be able to recommend Midnighter, v. 1: Out, but I just can’t do it.

Before I read Out, all I knew about Midnighter is that he was, essentially, a gay Batman, originally from the Wildstorm Universe, whose lover was Apollo, a gay Superman. In Out, I quickly learned that second part is out-of-date, as Midnighter dates a string of men. In the second story, I found out Midnighter has a computer in his brain that allows him to see all possible outcomes of a fight, which allows him to choose the path that will lead to victory.

Midnighter, v. 1: Out coverBy the end, other than the reason Midnighter and Apollo broke up, that’s still all I know about Midnighter.

Out’s plot kicks off (in the book’s second story) with the theft of a super-arsenal from the Gardener, who also created Midnighter. Between dates, Midnighter follows the trail of the weapons, trying to find the thief. Writer Steve Orlando and penciler Aco (#1, #3, #6-7, and the story from Convergence) are trying to tell a complex, nuanced story, but their attempts come across as needlessly complex rather than interesting.

The text is littered with plenty of Warren Ellis sci-fi items, which I’m guessing is a relic of Ellis’s role in co-creating the Authority and Midnighter. Some of these terms and descriptions don’t have any logic behind them; for instance, a terrorist group from Modora (which I’m assuming is a country and not an insurance conglomerate or medical NGO) has blasters that kill people with their own anger. The rest could mean anything; the Gardener threatens her attacker with “doubt darts” and “manticore drones,” and items taken from her include the “six killing sounds,” which are rendered in Chinese, and “Holt-Griffin skin,” which is “invisible to technology.” Such vague, sci-fi items are meant to intrigue, but they annoy me instead. If a writer is going to use them, though, he needs to double down and make the text thick with them. Instead, they pop up as the next item to check off on Midnighter’s quest, and that’s not enough to justify their use.

Aco’s style makes it easy to figure out which stories are his and which are fill-ins: all of Aco’s issues have fiddly little blow-up boxes littering the page. The boxes don’t help the reader understand what’s going on, and their tiny size doesn’t actually magnify anything, but they are all over the place, so readers will have to get used to them. Aco’s art is tight and almost admirably miniaturized, but his ability to get a lot of art on a page doesn’t increase the amount of information that is conveyed, as Midnighter’s super-brain allows him to do things the art has trouble showing.

Admittedly, Aco isn’t aided by Orlando’s occasional forays into non-linear storytelling — the transition from #2 to #3, which goes from “now” to “hours earlier” to “later” to “back to now” ten pages later, is needlessly confusing and would be regardless of who was drawing #3. The switch from Alec Morgan (#2) to Aco doesn’t help things, either.

(Also: Would it kill DC to label each issue? I mean, even leaving a small number in one corner of the cover art would help me immensely; it also would have let me understand why what looked like Midnighter #1 was so short. It turns out the story was actually Convergence: Nightwing / Oracle #2, which is listed as part of the contents in the indicia’s tiny print but not on the cover.)

Confusing storytelling and high-sounding but disappointing Macguffins can be forgiven if the character at the center of the story is interesting. Unfortunately, we barely know him. What is it that drives Midnighter? He tells Apollo he’s leaving their relationship to find out who he is, but the reader never discovers what that is, other than a Batman copy with a computer in his brain. What other abilities does he have? He can teleport. Maybe he has superstrength? Maybe not. Maybe he’s just Batman with a fight computer in a brain but fewer detective skills.

Midnighter says he enjoys employing violence against bad people, and he specifically chooses the villains in this book because they robbed his … mentor? of a cache of superweapons. He seems to be irritated by criminals more than outraged. He has a small coterie of friends and a hangout; is this different than his status quo when he was dating Apollo? Midnighter seems to lack complexity; he’s a blank slate that likes to punch people.

What a lot of heterosexual men mean when they leave a relationship to “find themselves” is that they want to sleep with a lot of different women. Midnighter certainly succeeds in the homosexual version of that, sleeping with numerous men in Out. Morally, I don’t have any problem with that, but I am unconvinced that Midnighter’s dating pattern is a wise idea, from a security standpoint — and as it turns out, I’m right. It’s hard to respect Midnighter’s intelligence by the end … or maybe this is just another example of a man thinking too much with his little brain rather than the one in his skull.

The choice of the villain in Out is perfect: Prometheus, a villain who can download (and use) the knowledge and fighting skills of the world’s greatest martial artists. The battle between someone with these skills and someone who can calculate the future, like Midnighter, should be epic, as much a chess match as a physical encounter. Instead, Aco and Orlando give readers a straight slugfest, with two fighters trading bloody punches. The most innovative move shown is Midnighter smacking Prometheus with a poker. What a waste.

Dick Grayson, the original Robin and Nightwing who is now a secret agent, guest stars in #4 and 5. Contrasting Midnighter and Batman would be interesting, but other than Midnighter’s crack that Grayson must be “used to taking orders from a man in black,” the comparisons are all in the reader’s mind. Grayson seems almost to be humoring the ersatz Dark Knight by accompanying Midnighter on his mission; Midnighter handcuffs himself to Grayson because he claims a fight is boring him, but I find it hard to believe the protégée of Batman would remain handcuffed to Midnighter during a fight for any reason other than pity.

I enjoyed a few elements of Out. Midnighter’s glee at discovering he would be fighting Multiplex, a criminal who makes copies of himself, because it would give him so many bodies to beat up was a great character moment, and it’s amusing as well. The same goes for his approval of a fake vampire using insects and rats to fight him (“The vermin thing. Old school. Your respect for obscene tradition does not go unnoticed”). Midnighter’s final words to Apollo in their last argument — “I already know how this fight ends” — echoes his boasting from his physical fights. Those touches show up too seldom to save the book, though.

I have some sympathy with the assertion that a sex-positive comic book has value in and of itself; I also understand the idea that it’s good to show a gay hero who actually dates multiple men. And I admire that the creators of Out had ambitions; aiming high and missing is often better than aiming low and connecting. But the book itself isn’t interesting, and its misses aren’t that entertaining.

Rating: Batman symbol Batman symbol (2 of 5)

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