In June, DC Comics kicked off the start of its Rebirth initiative. After a wave of criticism surrounding the way they have treated their characters’ rich histories since 2011’s New 52 relaunch, DC has decided to rebrand. They hope that by restoring their characters’ pasts, they will restore readers’ faith in them as well. Do they succeed? That’s what the Comics Beat managing editor Alex Lu and entertainment editor Kyle Pinion are here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
Editor’s Note (AL): Earlier in the day, Kyle and I took a look at Young Animal’s newest title, Shade, the Changing Girl #1. You can check out our review of the book right now!
Note: the reviews below contain **spoilers**. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Fernando Blanco
Colorist: Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Alex Lu: Steve Orlando’s Midnighter is a character torn between his obfuscated past and his uncertain future. As a man without memory who’s been experimented on and imbued with an extremely powerful computer that allows him to calculate the ideal movements to execute during a fight, he is a near-perfect killing machine. But Midnighter is still a man. His amnesia troubles him. The parts of his past he is aware of have made him cynical. Midnighter keeps people at arm’s length and cannot trust anyone, save Apollo, a hero who is essentially Midnighter’s foil in every way– or perhaps the person Midnighter wishes he could be. Midnighter and Apollo are one of comics’ best known openly gay couples so it’s great to see the spotlight shine on such a dynamic and strong pairing in Midnighter and Apollo #1.
From the first scene, it’s clear that Orlando and artist Fernando Blanco know Midnighter as well as they know themselves. The book opens with Midnighter and Apollo taking on the Subway Pirates, a group of renegades who live in the depths of city tunnels and hijack subway trains as a religious rite. They’re a welcome sight after Grant Morrison gave them a stunning appearance in Seven Soldiers of Victory, but more importantly, they’re generally faceless and harmless enough for readers both new and returning to get a good sense of how ruthless Midnighter is. He leaps through the front of the Subway Pirates’ god-train. He grabs one pirate by the collar as he slams another into the ground. Immediately after, he kicks a third pirate through the roof of the subway car, grabs a hand railing, and javelins it through two more pirates before launching himself and the last pirate out the back of the train. This is all one page. Blanco illustrates the fight with clarity, drawing each of the panels on the two-page spread from the same profile perspective as Midnighter moves through the train, zooming in with small panels that emphasize specific actions Midnighter makes and then zooming back out to show us the effects of those actions. The macro-to-micro layouts he uses here makes us feel like we’re watching Midnighter’s fight computer at work, drawing us into the carnage and establishing the visual flair this run of Midnighter has become known for.
However, as much as I like a healthy dose of carnage in my superhero comics, the quieter moments of Midnighter and Apollo easily captivate my interest equally as much. After Apollo meets Midnighter’s friends for dinner, he tells Midnighter that he likes them; that “they’re nice.” Midnighter replies that he “didn’t ask,” but Apollo retorts “I know. And I know you want to know.” If you didn’t get it from the title, depth of the coupling between Midnighter and Apollo is the heart of the series and its strongest selling point. So many books, TV shows, and movies make a point of advertising their queer relationships, but what makes Midnighter and Apollo so special is that they’re not just two guys who have a tumble under the sheets on panel. They’re two people who implicitly understand one another. They’re in sync. They know each other’s secrets, desires, and character flaws. When Apollo voices his displeasure with Midnighter’s penchant for murder, they discuss, but they don’t argue. They bend, but do not break. In essence, they’re one of the healthiest couples in comics, and that’s awesome.
This makes the climax of the issue where Midnighter faces off with his villainous creator Henry Bendix hit hard. Bendix has access to the same teleportation technology that Midnighter does and seals the two of them in his lab. He forces Midnighter to watch as Apollo faces off against the deadly alien (demon, thanks Kyle) Mawzir and is taken down. Apollo awakens in some sort of hell where a shadowy figure threatens to “put out that light.” Thus, Midnighter ends the issue forced to reckon with his past as he has his future ripped away from him. It’s a powerful start to a promising mini-series and I look forward to seeing where it goes. How about you, Kyle?
Kyle Pinion: Agreed on all fronts, though I stand by the fact that I think Midnighter was, pound for pound, my favorite comic to come out of DC You, and one of the real highlights of the relaunch in general. DC had utterly struggled to figure out how to pull the Wildstorm cast of characters effectively into the DC Universe proper, the trail of creative bodies left by titles like Voodoo, Stormwatch, and Grifter basically tells that tale better than I could. So, it’s with a tip of the hat to Orlando as the writer that finally cracked that code, along with co-conspirator ACO. The book never sold well in the direct market, but whatever, not everything of permanence has to be the best seller and I’m glad to see that DC recognized the valiant effort in that previous series by allowing it to hit a logical concluding point, while also turning around and offering an additional mini-series to keep a good thing going.
Seriously, Midnighter had great action, compelling romance, (really) unexpected twists, and still my favorite take on the Suicide Squad in years and years.
So with Midnighter and Apollo, we get to pick back up where we left off, and it’s a beautifully executed comic. As you point out, we open with the Subway Pirates, this time with a crew led by Half-Beard…and let me just tell you, there may be no better DC Comic from the mid-2000’s than Seven Soldiers, so I’m instantly hooked and then we shift back over to what I think was one of the enduring strengths of Orlando’s previous volume, the focus on relationships and Midnighter’s friends, in this case Marina and Tony. There’s a sense of warmth there, a lived-in quality between all of these characters that hits me a good deal harder than say, the recent dinner scene between Clark, Bruce and Diana in Trinity. Much of this can be attributed to not only Orlando’s careful planning with each of these characters (if you followed the previous series, you’ll have some already built-in affection for everyone around the table) but also his ability to convey convincing, real sounding dialogue. To be frank, he might be DC’s best purveyor of chit-chat in a way that I haven’t seen since Garth Ennis was at his best. That’s probably going overboard on the praise, but comic character discussions can quickly turn to being terribly mannered, and I’m so appreciative so how that never seems the case in Orlando’s work.
The other strength he brings is how well he’s able to produce action set-ups with his artistic partners. ACO is a tough act to follow, and I was never sure if the way points of impact were displayed (in those little panels within panels) was an affectation of Orlando’s scripts or something ACO brought to the table. While I’m still not sure, I’m happy to say this is something that Blanco has carried over into this new mini. I found the initial train sequence to be especially virtuosic, and perhaps the one area that Blanco maybe excels in over his predecessor is that he presents these combat scenes with just a bit more clarity. While he isn’t as flashy as ACO, you’re also never as overwhelmed with the sheer multitude of panels and your eye has a better sense of what’s actually happening and where to go next. Sometimes that sort of simplification is underrated, but these things need to be read to be enjoyed, and I appreciate Blanco’s approach on that end.
Speaking of Ennis, how great is it that we were bookended by cool continuity shout-outs between Morrison’s Seven Soldiers and then Ennis’ Hitman with the appearance of Mawzir (who is a demon actually) and The Lords of the Gun? There’s actually quite a nice who’s who of DC magical characters as Bendix is trying and failing to find someone who can help him further his plan. It’s just another of these fun little additions that Orlando and Blanco employ. And that final scene? I’ll be honest, it’s got me hoping that the story takes a turn toward Greek myth, as I would love to see another Orpheus and Eurydice type tale with Midnighter having to dive into Hell to save Apollo.
If you want some of the best that DC has to offer, pick up Midnighter and Apollo #1, I would love for this to continue on beyond the bounds of this mini-series. But if nothing else, I’m so happy we get this one return trip.
Final Verdict: Buy!
This week, the other two big highlights in my comics pull come from one usual suspect, and one that I’m a bit surprised by:
- Superman #8 was basically made for me: Superman, Superboy, and Krypto all get trapped on dinosaur island in a picture perfect tribute to the late Darwyn Cooke. It was a delightful little romp with a reference to my favorite bit of Cooke’s The New Frontier. Tomasi and Gleason are really hitting their stride with their scripts on this title, after the already very good Issue #7. It’s a satisfying feeling to have Superman comics that check off all the boxes you hope for out of his line, it’s a real nice homecoming.
- The initial issue of Death of Hawkman also was also a favored read this week. I’ve always been a big Hawkman guy (he’s one of two DC characters I have a pitch for, along with Animal Man, if I ever had an inkling of interest in writing comics), and I very much enjoyed Marc Andreyko and Aaron Lopresti’s tale, which focuses on Adam Strange. Strange got a decent run of comics during the New 52 with Justice League United, especially by the time Jeff Parker was on board, but this book firmly reintroduces him to readers who’ve missed classic style Strange-Zeta beam action. His search for the signal to get back to Alanna was especially fun, where we have four little quests in four distinct DC Universe locations. I had fun with how Lopresti layed out those different paths, and I thought there was a good deal of clever little mirrored bits, I always find that kind of thing to be a hoot. I’m wondering how much focus on Hawkman we’ll actually get, despite the title. I’d be on-board with this story being told completely from Strange’s perspective, if this very enjoyable first issue is any indication.
I’m just full of positivity today! Good on you DC!
Yes! Positivity! This week is the highest I’ve been on DC Rebirth in a number of weeks, in no small part thanks to Death of Hawkman. Going into the series, I was suspicious of launching a miniseries to kill off a character that hasn’t had a real starring role in the DC Universe in years. While curiously, as you mention Kyle, the first issue doesn’t star Hawkman either, I must admit that I had a lot of fun reading this book anyways.
I have the same “huh? Who is this guy?” reaction to Adam Strange as a number of people in this series’ first issue do, but by the time the chapter concludes I feel like I’ve gotten to know Adam quite intimately. He’s a very cool character and his characterization as a lovesick hero makes him extremely relatable. Again, like you Kyle, I really adored the way Lopresti laid out a series of pages that contrast Adam’s normal earth life with his alternate lifestyle as an intergalactic hero. It’s a clever and captivating piece of storytelling that tells you a lot about the man Adam was and the person he is now.
I’m crossing my fingers that DC really justifies the death of Hawkman throughout the rest of the miniseries. For now though, I’m happy to report that I’m optimistic about the future of Death of Hawkman.
And then there’s Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love #1. The series, written by Sarah Vaughn of Alex + Ada fame, illustrated by Lan Medina, and colored by Jose Villarrubia, is one of the more intriguing and strange entries in DC’s Rebirth lineup. Deadman has never been a particularly prolific DC character, but I have a softspot in my heart for his antics.
In this first issue, his story is particularly notable because of how traditionally gothic it is. Everything about the series feels like it came out of a 19th century tale of romantic supernatural woe. The story takes place in an old home named Glencourt Manor. Medina takes pains to fill every page with intricate structural details that make the home feel like the ideal setting for a ghost story. The vaulted arches, haunted family paintings, fainting couches, and chests full of family heirlooms are hauntingly beautiful to look at. The ethereal feel to this story is emphasized by Villarrubia’s painterly style of coloring. The amount of shading gives the story a realistic tinge but is applied in a way that feels more evocative than representative.
And then there’s the story, which focuses on a young woman named Beatrice who is surprisingly in tune with the dead. She is one of the few living people that can actually see and interact with ghosts like Deadman, who has been trapped inside Glencourt Manor by a malevolent force. Beatrice doesn’t get as much shading as I’d like to see in this first chapter given how much time we spend with her, but she proves to have a complicated past that I’m interested in seeing more of. The way the book plays with identity is particularly interesting in this regard as we learn pretty quickly that Beatrice is bisexual. We also learn that one of her best friends, Sam, is gender non-binary and goes by “they/them” pronouns. Both of these topics are handled deftly by Vaughn. She doesn’t hammer on either point but is sure to incorporate them into how her characters interact with the world around them. I’d say this is the series’ strongest selling point.
Deadman himself is surprisingly ancillary to the plot of this first issue. He meets with a ghost of a former occupant of the mansion. She’s been trapped there for ages and by issue’s end they disappear together. Given the title of this miniseries and the way their hands lock as they fade into the shadows and leave Beatrice alone in the manor’s attic, I’d say there’s chemistry, but we’ll find out whether that’s just baseless speculation soon enough. All in all, it’s a great start to a quirky but welcome prestige title from the DC Rebirth lineup.
Buy: Death of Hawkman #1, Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love #1, Midnighter and Apollo #1, Superman #8
The Beat Staff is an elite group of trained ninjas.