Thursday, 5 March 2015

The Midnighter Book 1: Killing Machine (#1-6)

"Just for the record.  I'm going to kill you all" - The Midnighter

A short bit of background to the Garth Ennis penned set of issues that kicked off  The Midnighter series.  It's a spinoff to the Wildstorm Universe's (now part of the DCU) superteam The Authority, a very popular group of superheroes created by Warren Ellis in a series that pioneered the "widescreen" style of comics.  They were heroes, but also not afraid to get their hands dirty making them edgier than their Marvel or DC counterparts.  The Midnighter is based roughly on Batman, a black clad figure who uses martial arts to take down his foes and can anticipate any move made against before before his foe can make it.  Unlike Batman, he is bionically augmented and perhaps most notable he is homosexual and when this spin-off series was penned, he was married to The Authority's Superman equivalent, the sweet natured if a little dim, Apollo. I have to say much as I like Garth Ennis, he can be a little crass when male homosexuality is concerned so I approached this with some trepidation.  I had nothing to fear, in the first five issues his sexuality is mentioned but not made a big deal of, and issue six features an alternate universe take on him and Apollo and is gorgeously romantic and respectful of his gayness.  However the art lets this book down somewhat.  Chris Sprouse's work on the first five issues can generously be described as "perfunctory", which is odd because his then recent work on Tom Strong was extremely good.  Glenn Fabry illustrates issue six and it's better looking though not up to the standards he previously set in his 2000AD work.

The first story "Killing Machine" begins with The Midnighter moping about The Authority's inter-dimensinal ship "The Carrier", he seems full of ennui and teleports down to a middle-eastern country to blow off some steam.  He attacks some westerners driving tanks, his enchanced body allowing him to do things like kick a tank shell back at the tank firing at him.  He kills all but one man who he tells he knows they were delivering those tanks to the Mujah, when the injured man says it was to keep stability in the region, The Midnighter retorts:

The Midnighter: "You're a salesman.  I never stop watching people like you."

Then he kills the man to send a "message" to his superiors.  He teleports back up to The Carrier, but in the matter stream he is attacked by armoured figures who beat him into unconciousness.

He wakes up with a white suited man standing over him called Paulus. He tells The Midnighter that his ability to anticpate his opponents moves have been disrupted.  The Midnighter gets up and follows him into a corridor where he sees several armoured figures in "shimmer suits".  When one of them provokes The Midnighter with a derogatory reference to his sexuality, The Midnighter punches him, but gets a beatdown again from the rest of the shimmer-suited figures.  He is knocked out again.
The Midnighter and Paulus
Later he comes around and a man appears saying he came to rescue him, they don;t get far bfore the man's chest explodes and Paulus appears saying he hired the man as a demonstration of the bomb now in The Midnighter's chest where his second heart used to be.  Paulus says The Midnighter is going to kill for him and shows him a photo of the target - it's Adolf Hitler.

As Paulus's team start sending The Midnighter back in time ninety-one years, The Midnighter promises he will kill all of them.

The Midnighter: "Bomb in my chest or not.  I'll find a way.  I'll come back and get you.  I always do.  And the results will not be pleasant."

Back in the past, The Midnighter finds himself in the German trenches of World War One.  Then we flash back to him talking with Paulus about why he wants to kill Hitler.  Turns out he and his parents were sent to a concentration camp, his mother was killed and his father struck a guard and was hanged just as the British tanks rolled into Belsen.  The Midnighter says changing the past has consequences, but Paulus dismisses them as "science-fiction".  Paulus says his superhuman abilities will return once he arrives in the past.  The Midnighter sys he won't kill Hitler as a child - "I won't kill children under any circumstances." But Paulus says he is sending him where one more death will not be noticed.
The delights of the WWI trenches.
Back in the past The Midnighter is making his way through the trenches, and hears "Unteroffizer Hitler" reporting to the local officers.  Once he has delivered his message he makes to return to headquarters. The two officers discuss Hitler once he's gone, noting that "the war suits young Adolf down to the ground."  They also mock him.

Silently The Midnighter stalks Hitler, but before he can confront him, French soldiers storm the trenches.  The Midnighter and Hitler fight them off and after some chaotic combat, only The Midnighter and Hitler are left standing.

Hitler: "Who.. who are you?"

The Midnighter: "Let's go for a little walk Adolf."
Fight, fight, fight!
The Midnighter then kicks him hard in the balls then drags him to a secluded spot.  The French rain down bombs on the trenches as The Midnighter gets ready to kill Hitler.

The Midnighter: "You know, there's really no way I can fail to enjoy this."

Suddenly everything freezes, and a futuristic ship appears in the sky and orders The Midnighter to put his hands up.  The tell him he is under arrest for the crime of "temporal realignment".  The Midnighter grabs the frozen Hitler and hurls him at the ship, with this diversion he is able to jump aboard and disarm the crew, then he makes his escape.  The leader, a woman called Bonnie says they need to keep the timeline frozen until they can catch The Midnighter.
Taking out the timeship crew.
She tracks him using futuristic binoculars and spots him on the other end of a very big anti-tank gun.  He fires on them and knocks the timeship about, before returning to have a "chat" with the crew.  But an enraged Bonnie ignores protocol and unleashes a bunch of missiles at him before landing the timeship on top of him, thus they are able to capture and cuff him and start travelling back to the future with him.

The Midnighter: "So you're some kind of temporal police force from the future, charged with preventing the disruption of time by criminals attempting to alter the past?"

He explains about the bomb in his thorax, Bonnie says they'll have to sort it all out when they get him back to the ninety-six century.  Unfortunately there is a big backlog of cases so he'll have to spend some time in custody.
The Midnighter, his superhuman body now healed from having a timeship land on it, snaps his cuffs and breaks out of the holding tank he's in.  He goes to leap out into the timestream, but Bonnie, realising this could cause huge amounts of temporal damage, has the timeship renenter normal time.  The ship crash lands and The Midnighter realises they are now in Berlin, 1945, in the final days of World War Two.

Bonnie: "Oh Christ.  The Hitler timeline!  You know what this means right?"

The Midnighter: "It means I'm running out of time.  I've got to kill Hitler before the bastard dies."

The Midnighter stealthily makes his way through the ruins of the city, before stumbling across four German children fighting off the Russians.  In the final days of the war, all Germany had left to defend the capital was children and old men. The four kids are captured by the Russians who intend to kill them, The Midnighter starts to walk away "too bad kiddies, looks like today's your day." but when one of the children starts to cry there is a ump cut and the Russians are dead and the kids think he is a member of The Gestapo and enthusiastically "Seig Heil" him.  When The Midnighter tries to tell them what an evil dick Hitler is and not worth fighting for, the kids just think it's a test.  So The Midnighter tells them to head west as quickly as they can and not engage in any more combat.
Sadly this really happened.
The Midnighter finds Hitler's bunker where the soldiers are having a drunken orgy now they know the war is lost.  He overhears two high-ranking officers discussing Hitler and Eva's impending suicides - "Christ.  It was fun while it lasted, wasn't it?" Hitler appears at last looking utterly broken, and spots The Midnighter.

Hitler: "I believe I will go to my study now... do I know you from somewhere?"

The Midnighter: ""
A pathetic monster.
And The Midnighter ends up standing round the burning remains of Hitler, sharing a drink with the Nazi's watching. He then returns to Bonnie and the Timeship which is mostly fixed up.  He confesses he didn't kill Hitler, admitting:

The Midnighter: "...watching him walk through that door all I had was this vague, black shadow of an idea.  If I followed him in there, I wouldn't be coming out."

Bonnie: "Creeping me out a little bit here, Dave."

The Midnighter: "Either way, it all seemed so utterly inevitable.  Unchangeable."

He and Bonnie bond some more as she says she's met ninety percent of the world's scumbag rulers: "The past sucks.  But that ain't no excuse for not trynna change the future."  Because he isn't trying to change the past anymore, The Midnighter has an idea that Bonnie can help him with.
The Midnighter and Bonnie share a moment.
The story moves back to 2006.  And old man arrives at Paulus's estate.  He is called Alfred Wolfram from the World War Two German army.  He has a message for Paulus given to him by The Midnighter in the past.  The message is "I am coming".  Then Alfred leaves, saying The Midnighter gave no impression of having been joking.

Back in the timeship The Midnighter is putting his plan in action.  Before they return to 2006 Bonnie asks him if he wants to have sex.  The Midnighter says, no, because he's gay.  Bonnie doesn't understand what he means, when he explains that he is only interested in men she wonders who the hell is only interested in men.  After some more confusion, they finally get things straight.

The Midnighter: "So in the 96th Century body's straight and nobody's gay...? There's no gender based sexual preference at all...? Everyone just does... everyone?"

Bonnie: "That's about the size of it."

The Midnighter: "Aheh. Aheh heh heh.  That's great.  That really is outstanding.  Hey can you hear me in the Bible Belt?  You're all wasting your time! Aha ha ha ha!  That really has made my day."

Back with Paulus, they are trying to track The Midnighter down, but he appears holding a child close to him.  It's Paulus as a boy, heavily sedated and this means the bomb in The Midnighter can't be set off without killing young Paulus as well.  The Midnighter then overloads the shimmer suits of Paulus's guards and then demands the bomb be removed from his chest and his second heart returned.
My hearts will go on...
The Midnighter stays awake during the operation, still holding young Paulus tight.  When it is done he burns down the mansion and drags adult Paulus into the courtyard.  He then tells Paulus that he found out his family were not Jewish, his father was an upper class German officer who was as "bigoted and hateful" as Hitler himself but didn't think Hitler was fit to lead the Reich.

The Midnighter: "In fact, if I had killed Hitler back in 1915, God knows what your father would have gotten up to in his place?"
Tah tah Paulus.
Then he kicks Paulus's head clean off his shoulders, and hands young Paulus back to Bonnie to be taken back to 1945.  He returns to The Carrier, still feeling disatisfied and calls for the door again, this time to take him to Iraq.

The Midnighter: "I am not a lover.  I am not a father.  I am not a friend.  I am what I was bred to be.  And therein lies the problem."

The final issue in this collection is a one-shot called "Flowers For The Sun" which is a non-canon look at The Midnighter is he had existed during the Japanese Shogun era.  It starts with him sitting upon a bone strewn hill, contemplating a gravestone.  Many swordsmen are gathered at the base of the hill having received the same invitation from him.  He says he wants to tell them a story and "we must speak softly for my lover sleeps beneath the Earth".
The "Midnighter" sitting by "Apollo's" grave.
He tells them he has no memory of his youth, that he woke one day clad in black armour with a wazikashi and katana by his side, so he assumed he was some kind of ronin (a masterless samurai).  After impressing a local Shogun with his combat skills, the shogun says he wants to hire him.  His minister says that it is rumoured he "lies with men" but the Shogun doesn't care and The Midnighter is hired to be his bodyguard.

One day a stranger walks into the nearby village, the ancient equivalent of Apollo.  He is being baited into combat and he weeps at having to kill his tormenters.  The Midnighter attracts Apollo's attention with his sword, but is swiftly blocked.

The Midnighter: "You saw it coming?"

Apollo: "I think that's your trick.  I'm merely fast."

The Midnighter: "And merely strong.  Tell me why do you weep for that refuse you left lying in the street?"

Apollo: "Because that way is all they know. Is fighting me your true desire?"
Apollo and The Midnighter meet for the first time.
Back in the present the assembled swordsmen are grossed out when they realise he is the lover buried on the hill and a couple make to attack him.  The Midnighter asks them to wait a little while longer, and let him finish his story.

The Midnighter: "It was a joyful time.  By day I did my duty, while my lover told my master of his travels.  He'd seen things most had only read of, and the Shogun revelled in his company.  The nights were ours."

One night while they sleep, two hundred of the Minister's soldiers, who had drugged the Shogun's soldiers earlier, attack them.  The Midnighter prevailed because he knew no other way: "my lover was merely fast."
You're tearing me apart Garth!
He buried Apollo in the woods where they had spent many happy times.  The Shogun was heartbroken by Apollo's death and also when The Midnighter left his service.  One year later, he returned and killed the Minister who had been so jealous at their relationship with the Shogun.  With his story done, The Midnighter throws himself at the assembled swordsmen.  He kills them all and leaves their hearts on Apollo's grave.

The Midnighter: "The sun has passed. Every year I come here and bring my lover roses.  And every year I weep, for it is all I know."
It's romantic dammit! *sob*
And that concludes Garth Ennis's contribution to The Midnighter's on-going series.  Lacklustre art aside, this is good stuff.  It was the first Ennis stuff I read that wasn't his creator owned stuff and he does a great job.  His love of military history means we get a sensible and accurate use of the settings of both world wars and The Midnighter is well characterised as something of a ruthless anti-hero you can't help but enjoy liking.  Some genuinely funny bits as well, especially his interactions with timecop Bonnie, as well as a perfectly respectful treatment of his homosexuality.  "Flowers For The Sun" deals entirely with that sexuality and does it in a poetic and lyrical way completely devoid of the macho-laddishness that can characterise much of Ennis's writings around sex.  Overall, the strong writing makes this a collection worth owning, and is a good introduction to The Midnighter overall, which gets the series off to a good start.  If neither The Authority nor Garth Ennis are your cup of tea this probably won't appeal, but if you like either of those things give this a looksee, you shouldn't be disappointed.


  1. What are 'widescreen' comics?

    Batman can't anticipate what his enemies will do before they do it, but Batgirl (Cassandra Cain flavour) can, and it's a crying shame she no longer has her own comic. Plus she's not even Batgirl any more, as Barbara Gordon was miraculously healed in order to resume the role ("Take up your cape and walk!"). She's been exiled to the Far East and renamed Blackbat. Which sucks. Not that DC have anything against disabled or Asian characters...

    How can Midnighter and Apollo be married? I thought that the series was written before gay marriage was legalised in the USA, or even in the UK. And in the USA it's only legal in some states. The USA is weird. Like, in some states the government has the power to execute you, and in some states it doesn't. How can all the states be the same country? It's harder to understand than how the Father, Son and Spirit can all be one God! All the emphasis on flag-waving and allegiance-pledging must be some desperate attempt to heal fundamental divisions in the country.

    Wait, Midnighter has two hearts? How? Why?

    I don't think that humans will be like that in the 96th century because that would involve a fundamental alteration of human nature. There will always be humans who like both sexes, and humans who like one, and humans who like neither, and humans who like one particular person but no other, and humans who prefer... other things.

  2. Ugh the whole New52 Batgirl fiasco has really pissed me off.

    I'm just going with The Wildstorm Universe being more progressive than the real one allowing for gay marriage earlier. Of course the Wildstorm UNiverse has been merged with the DCU as of the New 52 and I think we all know how DC feel about gay marriage (Helloooo Batwoman)

    According to Doctor Who and Captain Jack the earth will be pansexual way before the 96th century! However I'm in agreement with you, I don't think everyone will suddenly become Bi. I'm a pretty freethinking kind of gal, and despite having some very close male relationships NEVER could sleep with them. Somethings are just hardwired I think.

  3. yeah, i loved the Authority! I didn't know midnighter got his own series, he was my favoruite character. i'll definitely have to look for some cheap copies of it now i know it exists :)

  4. I haven't read The Authority past the first twelve issues because I have my...problems with Mark Millar's writing. But those twelve Warren Ellis issues are gold.