You won’t find many superheroes punching their way around Broken Frontier, but in Midnighter, writer Steve Orlando and his collaborators have nailed readers with a potent mix of emotional conflict and hardcore action.
If you still needed proof that 2015 was a year of grand ideas for the comics biz, you need look no further than our “Best New Series” shortlist. This year’s contenders brought us to the far reaches of space and time (Descender, Invisible Republic), as well as the shadowy haunts of a Southern Gothic fairy tale (Harrow County). And yet, it was a scrappy superhero title from the tried-and-true DC Universe that rose above the competition to take this year’s top honors.
Midnighter launched as part of the “DC You” explosion of 24 brand-new titles, centered on the somewhat tenuous notion of offering “something for everyone”.
At first glance, the human killing machine known as Lucas Trent seemed something of an odd man out in an initiative geared at broadening the comics-reading audience. The character’s pastiche of grim-and-gritty heroics was distinguished only by Trent’s status as an out gay man – a quality that had often defined rather than expanded the character’s relevance.
But from the first page of the first issue, writer Steve Orlando and a talented succession of artists delivered something bearing little resemblance to any other book on the stands. The character’s sexuality is only part of it – although a passionate scene in issue #1 serves as a reminder of how few precedents there really are for this book.
More notably, the book isn’t afraid to put its emotional conflicts in the spotlight as well as its bloody ones (not that the two are always disconnected). Following a bitter split with longtime partner and Stormwatch colleague Apollo, Trent finds himself in the throes of a promising new relationship with Matt – a “normal” man who sees another side to Trent’s penchant for violence.
“It’s fascinating to experience a place through a mind that works like yours,” Matt says during an early date in Moscow in issue #2. “You see the world, and see how we can beat the odds. Anyone not amazed by Midnighter, what he means, is the real idiot.”
Don’t let the tenderness fool you, though – this book has bite aplenty. Midnighter‘s high-concept catalyst (the theft of an ultra-secret arsenal of biotech weapons that’s connected to Trent’s forgotten past) is a perfect match for its creators’ hard-hitting pulp sensibilities.
Orlando has shown his skill with genre tropes before in his “queersploitation” epic Virgil. For much of this opening arc, he’s paired with artist Aco, whose crisp, ultra-sleek style feels as modern as the spy-fi tech that Midnighter is chasing down.
Stephen Mooney’s harder-edged linework (as seen in the retro-chic Half Past Danger) is equally suited to the two-issue team-up with Grayson. The interplay between the two wildly different male leads also made for some fantastic character moments, setting Trent on the course for a game-changing conclusion to the book’s first arc.
Midnighter has emerged as a title that’s hard to pin down, and even harder to ignore. In other words, it truly is this year’s “Best New Series.”