Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Midnighter and Apollo (#1-6)

"Keep your hands filled Mawzir.  I'll find you" - Midnighter

Ah remember the DC You?  That brief period when DC acknowledged LGBT people existed?  Happy times.  Anyway one of my favourite series that ran that year was Midnighter's.  He's an openly gay man, with no memory of his childhood, but also genetically engineered and augmented to be the ultimate hand-to-hand fighter.  He's like a bionic Batman.  He was in a long term relationship with Apollo, a solar powered Superman expy but split up from him at the start of his series and the writer and artist weren't shy about showing Midnighter fooling around with men, although he was burned by the first serious boyfriend he gained who turned out to be super villain Prometheus who wanted to rip out Midnighter's technology and use it.  But Midnighter nearly killed him in the fight they had, Prometheus escaped and Midnighter hit the scene again still looking for love.  In the second book events conspired to get Midnighter and Apollo fighting a common enemy together again.  After the fight Apollo kisses Midnighter passionately and it is heavily implied they are going to get back together again.  And that did at least end the all too short series on a very happy note.  Now alongside the rest of the DC Rebirth, Apollo and Midnighter get a six issue miniseries to wrap up some loose threads from the series and explore the depths of their love for each other.

We start with Midnighter dealing with some subway pirates.  These were a creation of Grant Morrison's and featured in the Manhattan Guardian mini of his Seven Soldiers of Victory series.  They are basically old skool pirates who hijack and ride subway trains.   Turns out this bunch have been kidnapping children to power their trains and people hurting kids is Midnighters beserk button.  He travels through several carriages crushing all who stand in front of him.

He gets a hold of this bunches leader "Half-Beard", he tells Midnighter that the "God-train runs on innocence" so he won't give up the kids and taunts Midnighter saying "There'll be no stopping our God today".  Midnight grins and says  "A God?  Good thing I brought one of my own."  And we see Apollo destroying the train.  Midnighter locates the children and he comforts one by saying Half-Beard is in jail and the rest of his friends are gone. 
Apollo takes out the God train.
Apollo looks a bit uncomfortable as Midnight reassures the girl.  But Midnighter approaches him and rests his forehead on Apollo's saying they did good, "you punched a train golem for me."  We cut to Midnighter's apartment where he and Apollo are having a couple of friends round for dinner, cooked by Apollo. On the balcony Midnighter;s friend Tony asks when Apollo will be moving in.   He says it's been months, Midnighter's fight computer must be telling him it's OK now. 

Midnighter: "That computer ruined this once, Tony.  This time we're taking things as they come."

Then Marina, another friend, calls them in for food.  As they eat Marina says she is glad one of them could cook.  Apollo says he had a pretty normal upbringing unlike Midnighter.  They discuss dating and tease Midnighter a bit.

After they are gone, Midnighter and Apollo wash up but Apollo makes a move on Midnighter and soon the clothes are off and the hanky panky begins. Later they relax post-coitally in bed and Apollo asks if he needs to kill so much.  He knows Henry Bendix took him and experimented on him, stole his memory and put a fight computer in his head, "perfected you for murder", but he worries that killing isn't always the solution.   Midnighter says he was made for, he can't change it and "some people just need to be killed."

We then get a montage of an off screen voice asking various super-natural villains and anti-heroes something.  They all say no, including Extrano a Peruvian wizard who notoriously was DC's first gay male character and was a flamboyantly offensive stereotype.  Though he's toned it down here.  Finally three zombie people agree saying "no price is too high..."

The employer turns out to be Bendix, Midnighter's creator.   He hands them a package which contains the supernatural gun "The Ace Of Winchesters" which first appeared in Garth Ennis's Hitman comic.  In return for it, the beings who are "The Lords of the Gun" will make Apollo and Midnighter suffer. They leave and Bendix calls for a door and walks through it back to his bunker.
Bendix
Midnighter is now on his own.  He also has access to door technology and jump round verious locations beating people up until he discovers one who knows Bendix's location and very quickly transports there.  Bendix isn't phased by this despite how dangerous Midnighter is.  Midnighter states his intention to kill him, but Bendix says he is ready. He blocks off all the door access and limits the way out to on foot, "and in my pocket I've got an impossible choice."

Back in Opal City, Apollo is fighting The Mawzir, the demon who wields the Ace of Winchesters.   Midnighter watches them in horror. The Mawzir fires the Ace of Winchesters at him and they penetrate Apollo's defences.  For Apollo, everything goes black.  Some time later he wakes up where a voice says to think of the time he felt perfect happiness and to "know that you will never reach it again."  The voice belongs to Neron, Lord of Hell and he continues saying "now let's see if we can put out that light, shall we?"

Bendix tells Midnighter that the bunker is teleport shielded and to get to the surface he'll have to fight through a gauntlet he's created for him, "every second you waste your lover is dying."  Bendix says he'll have to spare him and starts to say Midnighter's catch-phrase that he knows how this fight ends, but Midnighter cuts him off by jamming a sharp object into Bendix's throat.

We then get a montage of Midnight smashing his way to the surface while the Mawzir stands over Apollo's prone body. When Midnighter reaches the top he calls for a door and travels to where they are and delivers a mighty kick to the Mawzir's head. Mawzir just tells him he cannot be killed "the Mawzir is the kill."  Midnighter says that's his brand. Mawzir tells him The Lords of The Gun would welcome him.

Midnighter says he attacked Apollo.  Mawzir says Apollo's death is a debt paid and that bargains are their stock in trade.  Midnighter tells him it'll suffer the way Bendix has.

Mawzir: "Absurd.  You couldn't hope to touch me.  I'd think one such as you, and aspiring master of death would appreciate my craftmanship."
He fades away leaving Midnight holding Apollo's dead body, kissing his head tenderly and just sitting with him as a crowd gathers round.
Apollo has fallen.
Three days later Midnighter is jogging with Marina.  She ends up embracing him saying she doesn't have to grieve alone. But Midnighter says that's Apollo's not dead, she thinks he's in denial, but at his home he has Apollo's body laid out, it still glows and doesn't appear to be decaying. He suits up and says "I won't stop Apollo.  I'll never stop."

We then journey to Lima, Peru.  Midnighter is talking with Extrano, he says he's dropped that name, he's just Gregorio now. Midnighter gets down to business, he knows Apollo's soul has travelled, but he needs to know where.  He asks Gregorio to "help me, or show me the door." Gregorio says he was always going to help he just wanted Midnighter to know the weight of the thing.

They drink a potion which makes a spell course through them.  He tells Midnighter not to fight it as they go "beyond our world, beyond the solid, the real... listen...for Apollo's heart."  Which is currently roasting on a fire as Apollo is shackled and being taunted by a Lord of Hell called Percifer.  Apollo is still wounded from where the Mawzir hit him, Percifer says he can be healed at the cost of forgetting Midnighter. 
Apollo in hell.
He ends up making Apollo so angry that he blasts the shackles apart and starts flying up with several other tortured souls holding onto him.  Using his eye beams he blows Lord Percifer up, and keeps heading upwards.  But the blackness never ends and long tentacles wrap round him and drag him back down. He is brought down to where Neron is. Neron tells him there are no gods here only him, "and your light is mine to extinguish".  You may recall Neron as the demon John Constantine tangled with in The Art of The Deal.

Gregorio wakes up and breaks the news to Midnighter that Apollo is in hell.  Midnighter says a lot of people are going to get there wish, "I'm finally going to hell."  We cut to him still at Gregorio's place and Midighter is kneeling in the middle of a magic circle, Gregorio says he's ready now and he hands Midnighter a black candle, one of the voluntary ways to  get into hell. 
The Black Candle.
Gregorio tells him that the Mawzir is made out of stitched together criminals and that the Ace of Winchester is an "eldritch rifle." He tells Midnighter that now he can fight in hell but if he activates its full power his body will burn out, even with his healing abilities he'll burn out in seve minutes.  Midnighter says don't talk numbers,they have Apollo down there.

In hell Neron tells Apollo that many people think his greatest wepon is lies, but that is a lie.  In fact "my sharpest blade, the one that cuts clean and deep is the truth."  Apollo is sitting at a board with a game on it.  It's called the Mansion of Happiness:

Neron: "Players advance and regress at the whim of their own virtue and vice, struggling to reach happiness. In the ages since I plucked the board from time, I've come to love it. Shall we test your virtue Apollo?  Shall we weigh your sins."

Apollo says bring it.   He rolls and moves, landing on a vice square, pride. Neron says for a "fraud God" that's accurate.  Apollo says it's not that simple but Neron says no matter how stubbornly he averts his eyes "aspiring pride and insolence" are his sins.

Apollo says he named himself after a god to give people hope.  They needs symbols like he did when he was young.  He gives up part of who he is so he can be more for them, "it's not pride. It's sacrifice."  Neron takes a turn and lands on a blank square.  Neron tells Apollo "ignore the simple fact... you're not a hero.  because there are none." Apollo makes a move and lands on the "Murder" square, something he and Midnighter know a lot about says Neron.

Back on Earth Midnighter calls on a suburban house in Virginia.  A kindly looking old man opens the door.  But Midnighter can see through that and sees the hulking green demon he really is and he punches him back into the living room.  Midnighter stands over him saying he wants the Ace of Winchesters.  The demon tells him the Lords of the Gun have it now.  He taunts Midnighter saying where is his revenge now?  And so Midnighter smashes his fist into his face to "relieve some stress."

He goes to Al's Masse, his favourite bar. He tells Tony, the bar owner, that he's going somewhere where even he doesn't know what to expect.  He tells Tony this could be their last drink.  Tony asks if he's doing the right thing.  Midnighter says Apollo is gone, this is the only thing he can do.  Tony says go and get his man back but this won't be a last drink, he'll keep a glass clean for him when he gets back.

Back at Midnighter's flat he touches his forehead to Apollo's and tells him to hold on, he's on his way.  He tells Gregorio he didn't find the Ace of WInchesters but he found a bullet.  So if he can get a hold of the gun he can put the bullet in it and fire.  Midnighter then lights the black candle and fades away leaving the candle hovering in the air.
Apollo and Neron play a game.
Apollo and Neron are still playing, Apollo lands on a Murder square again.  Neron says he must take the hint, he kills and kills.  Apollo says Neron doesn't understand killing.  He knows all to well what it means "and I accept it."

Apollo: "It's a bad world.  It hurt me.  It hurt Midnighter.  People deserve what we never had.  They deserve to know the bad things are gone for good."

He says that murder didn't bring him here and he would gladly go to hell if it meant someone else didn't have to.  Silently Neron takes a drink then says he's never lost the game and he said he'd show Apollo the truth that he can hope, rationalise and believe but in the end no one makes it to the Mansion of Happiness.

Midnighter has arrived in hell and is doing what he does best, ripping demons apart. He approaches the Lord of the Gun's home.  The Lords hover above him, telling him where he can find the Mawzir.  They say he has no way of harming the Mawzir, "there are no fight computers in hell.  Just fighting. You're walking into a slaughter house." 
Midnighter versus hell.
Midnight carries on regardless thinking that won't be the first time. Inside the building the Mawzir is in the smashed and broken remains of the Ace of Winchesters is dropped at his feet. The Mawzir says that Midnighter had lost his hope now.  His hands are filled with guns, what about Midnighters?

Back with Apollo and Neron, he says the game is pointless.  Neron says the game has shown him pride, lust, anger and murder. He should give up his soul, "whatever you were in life, hell is where you belong." Apollo yells that it isn't and fires his eye blasts.

Midnighter is facing off against the Mawzir.  The Mawzir throws one of Midnighter's badass boasts in his face.  Then he says that Midnighter is challenging him in the place where "murder was defined." He says he shot Apollo down but the price for Apollo's death was the gun that lies in bits on the ground, the only one that can harm him.  He says Midnighter has no hope, but Midnighter grins and produces the bullet.

Meanwhile Neron and Apollo are hovering in the air, Apollo demands to know what Neron doesn't just take his soul.  But Neron says there is no relish in taking it "when you could give it to me instead".  Meanwhile Midnighter and the Mawzir are fighting Midnighter dodges all the Mawzir's bullets and throws the single bullet he has at him.  The Mawzir catches it sneering that it's not the first time he's caught a bullet, but Midnighter rushes him and headbuts the hand holding the bullet, driving it deep into the Mawzir's brain.
The Mawzir is going down.
The Mawzir collapses and Midnighter tells him that's for hurting Apollo.  Who is currently still floating in the air with Neron, who tells him he wants to break Apollo's mind, "it is the long pain that interests me."  Apollo says he's heard it before.  When he was twelve he came out to his family, it didn't go well and he was sent to live with his aunt.  Then he was abducted by aliens and spent years on an operating table as they tried to make themselves their own version of Superman.

When he escaped and got home his dad now had two reasons to say he wasn't human, "you think you can break me, Neron?  People have been trying to break me entire life."  But he tells Neron that if he wants his soul he just needs to answer one question.

Apollo: "Get it right?  My soul is yours.  Get it wrong?  You restore my power... and I leave this place."

Back with Midnighter, the Lords of the Gun say they are impressed with Midnighter. They offer Midnighter a place with them.  But Midnighter firmly tells them no world exists where someone could hurt Apollo and escape his vengeance.  He grabs one of them and asks where Apollo is, it tells him they bartered his soul to Neron and Midnight asks where to find him.

Neron has accepted Apollo's challenge.  Apollo tells him that he has to guess why Apollo chose that name for himself.  Neron says he thinks he is a god and Apollo thinks he has earned that name and thinks he deserves more, "you think you've earned power, I've seen it before."  He says he has answered and Apollo must speak, Apollo stays silent while Neron rants:

Neron: "Human"  I am hatred itself!  You stand before the wages of your every sin!  You cannot deny me in this place!  You will speak!"

But Apollo stays silent.  Meanwhile Midnighter has fought his way to Neron's castle.  He enters the throne room and sees Neron on his throne and Apollo in a giant bottle.  He tells Neron he is here for Apollo and also to kick his ass. Neron laughs saying Midnighter can barely stand but he'll accept a deal to fight for Apollo's soul.  He says that Apollo tried to outwit him with a riddle, Midnighter says he's always been a thinker but he has something simpler in mind, and caked in demon blood he grins and says "lets go."
Still ready for battle.
We get a flashback to when Gregorio handed over the black candle, saying that as long as it stays lit the portal to hell will stay open.  He then tells him that he has bound something "the most powerful of his kind" inside Midnighter. It will grant seven minutes of power and seven minutes of agony.

Back in Neron's castle, Neron says Midnighter has no enhancements here and yet he would still fight for Apollo's soul.  He says Neron isn't just a name, it's a concept, "what chance does a man have before the inspiration of all that hurts?"  Midnighter says he has his fists.  Neron says he will grant Midnighter the first strike for all the good it will do him.

Midnighter says "screw your charity".  He kneels on the floor and says he's been thinking of how they got here.  He thinks that maybe all the fights they have had, their whole lives have been building to this.  Us against Neron the "father of all bastards."  He says he puts people down using one simple rule, hit softs things with your hand and hit hard things with a utensil, "and I'm wondering as utensil's go..."

..."how's this" and he releases a energy powered being.  Neron says he can see that Midnighter has brought a sliver of an angel's power with him and his body can barely contain it.  But he says he has no power over him, "I devour angels.  I am the living refute to their creator".  He punches Midnighter who just says "liar."
Midnighter and Neron fight.
They grapple as Neron says that he and Apollo were always destined for hell, "you cannot change the working of reality!"  But Midnighter says he's never been much for rules and headbutts Neron. They keep beating on each other until Midnighter throws a punch hard enough to floor Neron. Midnighter stands over him saying that Neron thought he was safe here, "you think you answer to no one.  But you're wrong.  You answer to me".  And he stamps on Neron's head, before saying ".. guess my seven minutes are up" and he collapses.

Neron manages to say to him that he'll never touch Apollo again.  Midnighter crawls towards where Apollo is being held in the bottle.  He breaks out and holds Midnighter saying they'll get out of here and it's going to be OK.  But that turns out to be an illusion, the Apollo was a fake, "is that how you thought it would end?" Neron says standing over Midnighter's prone body.

He says he destroyed Apollo's soul after he tried to outwit him.  So no matter what the outcome of their meeting "... you would never have anyone to save."  Apollo was gone before Midnighter even got to the castle.  But Neron was lying, Apollo is alive and flying around hell somewhat lost.  Neron tells Midnighter that a beating was worth it to craft this moment where Midnighter lost.

Midnighter keeps trash talking Neron despite being badly injured and Apollo, who is flying aimlesssly about hell, hears his voice.  He can't believe it, but he starts racing to where it was coming from saying to himself, "you're late.  But don't worry.  I'm not leaving without you."
Neron gloats.
Neron stands over the broken Midnighter and sneers "do you feel like a winner?"  As Apollo races towards where they are, Neron tells him Apollo is dead and Midnighter gave up his body to beat him, "did you ever think I'd let you go?"  Midnighter redefined murder and was destined to meet him.  There are no heroes in hell, "you've fought me since your first punch."  He is going to unspool Midnighter's soul, "evil wins."
"Not today asshole" shouts Apollo as he blasts his way in and punches Neron smashing him backwards shattering his throne.  He yells at Neron saying he lost the bet, restored his power and released him from his castle, but stranded him a billion leagues across hell. He would have been lost forever but he heard Midnighter's voice. Neron says the illusion Apollo is dead is broken, but Apollo will remain free.

Neron then summons a horde of Midnighter and Apollo's victims and fades away.  Midnighter is on his feet again, Apollo says he hopes Midnighter has a plan to get out of here.  Midnighter says that Apollo was his plan.  Apollo lifts him up and they fly up searching for the portal the candle has been keeping open.  They are still being chased by the beings out to kill them.

Midnighter: "You know, Neron thought he knew how this would end.  He was wrong.  But I knew.  Screw him.  Screw this place.  This is our story.  And in our story... we don't die in the end."

And they come barrelling out through the portal into Midnighter's flat.   Apollo wakes up back in his body and rushes to Midnighter's side.  Midnighter says he feels sore like he hasn't for years and his body and fight computer are rebooting, "just tell me one thing.  Did we kick the devil's ass?" And they have a huge kiss.
And the pair are physically reunited.
A few days later both of them are visting Gregorio in Peru with some of their friends.  Gregorio says it's good to have them here:

Gregorio: "They walked lands few dare to tread.  Beat back death itself.  They did not stop.  And I thank them for that.  For the inspiration to fight on."

He goes on to say that this isn't the end, that more attacks will come over the next few years.  But as he looks around he sees bad news for them, "because we're stronger than ever."

Back in Opal City, Midnighter and Apollo are playing a board game.  Midnighter pauses saying he needs to say something.  He went down there for him, he's already ready to kill, but then he was ready to die. He almost died and that would make anyone rethink things. He knows death better than ever and it didn't scare him, losing Apollo did.  No one should have to lose what's closest to them.

He says that "anyone who tries to take that from people deserves to die. And I'm happy to help". He says that maybe that's not what Apollo wants to hear but that's who he is and he won't change and he just wants Apollo to be sure.   Apollo responds by saying that he beat Neron with one question, why he calls himself Apollo.

He thought it was just power but it never was.  Hyacinth, Apollo's lover.  Apollo knew Hyacinth was doomed but refused to let Hades claim him.  So he turned him into something better. He knows who Midnighter is and eve if he thinks he's doomed "I refuse to accept it".

Apollo: "You and anyone else in the world who thinks they've fallen too far... I'll always pull you back to the light."

Midnighter tells Apollo he loves him. Damn right says Apollo.  So what will they do now?  Midnighter says "I figure we spend the rest of our days reminding bastards they can survive living without a spine.  That work for you".  They walk to the bedroom and start getting undressed as Apollo says, "what do you think?"  And that brings this miniseries to a close.
And the lived sexily ever after.
So we bid farewell to Midnighter and Apollo as they fade back into bit players of the DC universe, probably being wheeled out for guest appearances every now and then. I absolutely think Midnighter will get another series at some point in the future.  He's a very interesting character, hard on the outside with a soft centre.  And of course being a gay man who is not stereotyped or has his sexuality played down makes him a very important character when it comes to LGBT representation in comics.  This story was a excellet one.  I'm a sucker for grand romantic gestures and travelling to hell to rescue your lover is the stuff legends are made of.  Some great fan service too, the Grant Morrison Subway Pirates and the Garth Ennis Mawzir and Lords of the Gun were weaved in seamlessly.  And it was nice to see a rehabilitated Extrano too.  Somehow it's fitting that the first DC gay male character got to appear in a story about a current gay male character reminding us how representations have changed over the years.  Writer Steve Orlando gives us a tight plot that wraps up loose ends from the series and tells the story with wit and intelligence.  I must also praise Fernando Blanco's artwork.  It has a nice crunchy, gritty feel to it but also depicts faces extremely expressively.  It does make me sad that Midnighter right now can't support an ongoing series, I'd love it if DC would make more of an effort to push modern diverse superheroes instead of the same old, same old heroes that have been round for decades and whose characterisation never goes anywhere lest it incur the wrath of fanboys.  Oh well.  Without getting too bitter I will end on a positive note.  This is a grand tale of love beyond death and well worth reading if you are at all interested in the characters.  Two thumbs up.

2 comments:

  1. Aww. This was cute. Despite all the killing. But I've to ask: Why are LGBTQ+ Orphean rescues starting to feel like a trope? I mean I know of at least one more comic with this basic plot. ^^; (Even that is from an afterlife an "l" short of hell.)

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  2. I think that it results on a fresh take on a very, very old trope. I'm all for it but I am a romantic at heart and rescuing your lover from hell is truly a beautiful thing.

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