Midnighter: DC’s Gay Superhero Could Use Some Rescuing

Almost ten years ago, writer Warren Ellis and artist Bryan Hitch created Midnighter, who this past November became the first gay DC superhero to headline his own standalone series. But as of June's issue, Midnighter's sexuality has yet to be fully integrated into his character or his story. In anticipation of the arrival of a new regular writer for the series, AfterElton.com looks at Midnighter's origins and the handling of his sexuality by various writers and artists over the years.

StormWatch #4 (Wildstorm/Image Comics, cover date Feb. 1998) introduced two characters that would soon become symbols for a generation of gay comics fans: Apollo and Midnighter. At first glance, the pair were seemingly analogs of Superman and Batman: while Apollo was strong, fast, invulnerable and dependent on the sun for his powers, Midnighter was clad in black leather, could predict his opponents’ moves and liked to inflict heavy damages on bad people. So far, so good.

But from their first appearance, something was unusual: They were sometimes seen half-naked, dressing together before another day of fighting, as yet unaffiliated with any other heroes. (They were secretly rebuilt as human weapons by yet another power-mad character, with no memory of their previous life.)

A year later, as the StormWatch series morphed into The Authority (with the Wildstorm imprint now published by DC Comics), the two characters were included in the eponymous group, and over the course of their 12-issue run, Ellis and Hitch gave more and more hints that, unlike Superman and Batman, these two new characters were, indeed, more than friends.

The interesting thing is that the word "gay" wasn't used at the time. Instead, readers came to understand what was going on through scenes showing Apollo and Midnighter caring for each other, as in issue No. 7 when Apollo is wounded and Midnighter holds him in his arms. It was subtle (which was definitely the goal of the writer, who at first hadn't even told the artist the characters were gay), but very clear. Gay superhero fans finally had an enduring gay couple in their comics.

Then writer Mark Millar took over, and while the gay genie was certainly not put back in the bottle, the subtlety quickly evaporated. Millar's run, which lasted about 20 issues (including a four-issue miniseries), was full of homophobic insults hurled by villains, anal sex jokes and rapes (of Apollo, and then of his attacker by Midnighter) with large, tubular objects, a fate rarely, if ever, endured by straight male superheroes.

The characters were more or less reduced to their gayness, though they also got married and became foster parents of a young, superpowered girl — definitely a first for mainstream superhero comics. And at least they were portrayed as the more stable members of the Authority team in terms of relationships, which was a nice blow to stereotypes.

Various members of the Authority also had sexual relationships, but they were strictly temporary and shown as being more about good sex between friends than love. On the other hand, the gay couple is never actually depicted crumpling the bed sheets, unlike the straight characters whose sex lives don't have to be inferred.

Other Midnighter creators of interest include Ed Brubaker (story) and Dustin Nguyen (art) for their 12-issue The Authority: Revolution (2005) story, which actually used the relationship between the two gay characters as a catalyst for the team's dismantling. Only Apollo could have convinced Midnighter that disbanding was a sensible idea, and only Midnighter could do it by just walking out on his teammates without any explanation. Brubaker clearly understood how to use the deep love between the two men, as well as Midnighter's tendency to secrecy.

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