If you bought the first issue of DC Comics’ “Midnighter” written by Steve Orlando, illustrated by ACO & Hugo Petrus, with colors by Romulo Fajardo, Jr., you experienced an intense, psychedelic action ride with a character who may seem to be like Batman, but is different from him in many ways.
Created by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch, Midnighter first appeared in the fourth issue of “Stormwatch,” a superhero team book published by Wildstorm that would lead to the spinoff series “The Authority.”
“The Authority” influenced American superhero comic books in a number of ways, but its greatest impact may be the regular presence of a gay superhero couple.
Midnighter and his boyfriend Apollo were breakout characters out of the gate, and their existence, whether intentional or not, was both controversial and refreshing.
Unlike various characters created before Midnighter and Apollo, who were revealed to be gay years after their introductions, the Authority duo were clearly depicted as such through characterization.
It made them, in my mind, a symbol, a power couple in more ways than one.
That symbol, after years of evolution through handling by various writers and culminating in the marriage between the two characters, was given a reset button when DC Comics relaunched their universe in 2011 under the “New 52” banner.
Midnighter and Apollo were reintroduced in a new “Stormwatch” series, but met for the very first time in the first issue.
Readers would see the two grow into the roles that fans of the characters were familiar with, and waiting for.
The role of partner.
However, in the new “Midnighter” series, the main character is without Apollo as his husband, or boyfriend, or regular companion in any context.
In speaking with a friend I reconnected with over the weekend, hearing his dissatisfaction with that relationship status for the character, his feeling that a lone Midnighter undercut the character and the book, I revisited my own feelings about gay heroes in mainstream superhero universes and their status.
Northstar, the Marvel Comics’ character seen in their “Astonishing X-Men” series, is a character I liked since he was first introduced in “Uncanny X-Men”#120.
He was rich, handsome, had a smart-ass attitude, and super powers.
The kind of hero a young pre-teen, which I was when that comic book came out, could find interesting. After all, all four of those qualities make for a good combination.
When “Alpha Flight” #106 was published by Marvel in 1992, and Northstar was revealed to be gay, it wasn’t a big deal to me, but I wondered if that was organic to the character, or not.
No matter what, Northstar became a symbol, as Marvel’s first openly gay comic book character.
It didn’t affect my interest in the character a bit, and it was great to see Northstar get a happy ending twenty years later in “Astonishing X-Men”#51, the issue in which he married his boyfriend.
Renee was one of my favorite characters in comic books… and I was conflicted.
Greg Rucka, the writer who established Renee as a lesbian in the “Gotham Central” series, is a friend of mine, and I’m a regular purchaser of his work.
Honestly, though, when I first heard the news, my immediate thought was “That’s bullshit. Renee isn’t gay.”
During my time as a Batman editor at DC Comics, I worked on many books with Renee, and read many books with Renee that preceded my editorial tenure, so I considered myself an expert on the character.
I reacted first with fan hubris, but reacted second with the lucid reminder that Renee Montoya was not my character, and any possessiveness assumed with her was ridiculous.
After reading the “Gotham Central” storyline “Half A Life” by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, I was sold. Two hundred percent. It was a great story that opened up more possibilities for Renee Montoya than any story preceding it.
One of those possibilities turned out to be Renee’s relationship with Kate Kane, the new Batwoman introduced in DC Comics’ weekly series “52.”
A spinoff from that series was the “Batwoman” title by Rucka and illustrator J.H. Williams III, and during their run the origin of Batwoman was told. The scene where she revealed to her superior officer in the military that she was gay hit me in the chest.
I could never imagine what that moment is like for any gay person, with a parent, authority figure, relative, or employer, but that scene communicated an impact, to me.
Batwoman and Renee Montoya were lovers, but never ended up together.
Recently seen in DC Comics’ “Convergence: The Question,” the two were still not a couple.
Renee Montoya did not get a happy ending.
Kate Kane did not get a happy ending. Not with Renee, and not with anyone else.
Midnighter didn’t get one, either.
There is drama in the breaking up of couples. It’s at the core of soap operas, and various people would argue that American superhero comic books are soap operas.
But the idea that couples need to be destroyed for good story potential is a copout.
You know what drama is? It’s being with someone for a long time.
It’s the things that sit right alongside the great times and the sweet memories and the wonderful sex.
The small disagreements, the arguments, the unresolved issues from days and months and years ago that resurface at the most unexpected times and demand attention and resolution.
The moments where you screw up and think you have just created a chasm that can never be closed.
When you consider it may end today, or tomorrow, and the future you see ahead is one that is perilous and scary.
When you acknowledge culpability, take the blame, and hope that the history you have with your partner is greater than the impact of your mistake, or collection of mistakes.
Those things are part of the drama of couples.
The relationship is just the beginning, but there is so much material for stories in that character model, that the breakup is not required.
It’s not “more interesting” or “more dramatic” or “juicier.”
Why gay characters get different endings at different publishers, I have no idea.
I’ve spoken with gay creators and fans alike who did not support or like the separation of Midnighter and Apollo.
I don’t either.
Midnighter and Apollo are a symbol, of unapologetic unity.
They should have endured.
They could have endured as a couple with an open relationship.
All the drama of couples could be explored for years with that option.
But that’s not their road.
Midnighter’s road is to be a solo operator, to walk alone.
Alongside the gay heroes of DC Comics whom have come before him.
Hopefully, Midnighter will find his way to someone.
If he’s lucky, his soulmate.
I’m looking forward to seeing if Steve Orlando, ACO, the rest of the “Midnighter” team and DC Comics take him there.
Joseph Phillip Illidge is a public speaker on the subjects of race, comics, and the corporate politics of diversity. In addition to his coverage by the BBC and Publishers Weekly, Joseph has been a speaker at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Digital Book World’s forum, Digitize Your Career: Marketing and Editing 2.0, Skidmore College, Purdue University, on the panel “Diversity in Comics: Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexual Orientation in American Comic Books” and at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art in New York City.
Joseph is the Head Writer for Verge Entertainment, a production company co-founded with Shawn Martinbrough, artist for the graphic novel series “Thief of Thieves” by “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman, and video game developer Milo Stone. Verge has developed an extensive library of intellectual properties for live-action and animated television and film, video games, graphic novels, and web-based entertainment.
His graphic novel project, “The Ren,” about the romance between a young musician from the South and a Harlem-born dancer in 1925, set against the backdrop of a crime war, will be published by First Second Books, a division of Macmillan.
Joseph’s newest comic book project is the upcoming Scout Comics miniseries “Solarman,” a revamp of a teenage superhero originally written by Stan Lee.
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