‘Midnighter And Apollo’ #1 Is The Best Thing About Rebirth So Far
If the stated goal of DC's line-wide Rebirth was to restore the connections and the sense of history that have been building between those heroes for 75 years, then at this point, I think we can call it a success. For the first time in a long time, the DC Universe feels like a universe again, and that foundation of interconnected characters and relationships, all those bits and pieces that can unify all these disparate stories, have led to some truly great comics. The unity of the Batman books, the bizarre excesses of Superman and Son battling against an island of dinosaurs, the breath of fresh air that's giving the Green Lanterns a whole new appeal, and all the way down the line. For a reader like me, who has a love of that universe that's built on those connections and tied up into those relationships, there's so much out there that's genuinely great.
And nothing on the stands has done it better than the first issue of Midnighter and Apollo.
Admittedly, part of that reaction comes purely from seeing things I love from other books, pieces of the universe that have never gotten the attention that I thought they deserve, being brought back into prominence. It's a trick that writer Steve Orlando has been pulling since the launch of Midnighter in 2015, diving deep into the Grant Morrison library to resurrect characters like Freedom Beast and Prometheus and tailoring them as foes for a hyperviolent Batman analogue with a computer brain.
Here, though --- and brace yourself for spoilers if you haven't read the issue yet --- it's a step further than it's ever been before. In a single issue, Orlando, Fernando Blanco, Romulo Fajardo Jr., and Josh Reed bring back the Subway Pirates from Seven Soldiers: Manhattan Guardian, the Mawzir and the Ace of Winchesters from the pages of Hitman, and set up a story arc that pits the Authority's dynamic duo against Neron, a demon bent on bargaining for souls who rocked the DC Universe in 1998's Underworld Unleashed.
That's where they're going in one issue, and that's not even counting the single-page cameos from characters like Ali-Ka-Zoom, another refugee from Seven Soldiers, and a character I don't think any of us were ever expecting to see again, Extraño of The New Guardians!
Seriously! Extraño! They actually brought him back!
Those are all pieces not just of the DC Universe, but my ideal DC Universe --- which, purely by coincidence, is the DC Universe that existed when I was a teenager --- and the simple fact of the matter is that there's going to be a thrill of excitement for me whenever I see them on the page.
But at the same time, I'd like to think that I'm jaded enough that just having something I like in a comic won't automatically make me love it, even if a couple of those somethings were last seen in Manhattan Guardian. In fact, while it's definitely enough to get me in the door, throwing in a reference to a series I love runs the very real risk that I'll just end up mentally comparing it to some of my favorite comics, and when someone's stacked up against nostalgia --- especially nostalgia for something that's actually good --- that's not an easy battle to win.
At the end of the day, all of those things are, like everything in a shared universe superhero comic, just tools. They're building blocks. They're Lego bricks. Just having them isn't enough --- and as anyone who has Lego knows, just leaving them sitting out there means you're going to step on them and end up hating the experience way more than if you'd just not had them in the first place. Instead, it's all about what you build with them.
And that's what Midnighter and Apollo does well. The brilliance of what this book is doing --- and what Midnighter before it did --- is that even though it has all of these familiar elements cropping up, it's not derivative. It's restorative. It's additive, standing on the shoulders of those great comics and building something new.
It's a little too dismissive to say that stuff like the Subway Pirates and Neron are just set dressing, because they really are integral to what Orlando and Blanco are doing here. Having those pieces here --- and especially having that many of them in a single issue, right up front at the start of the series --- sends a message that underscores the mission statement of the book. Like Midnighter before it, and like Stormwatch and The Authority fifteen years before that, this is a story that's about confronting threats that are strange and unusual, even by the standards of superheroes. It's about the bizarre and the forgotten, and how those half-remembered threats can always come back for more trouble.
That thematic resonance is an important part of what makes Midnighter and Apollo's first issue work, but it's not what makes it great, not by itself. What makes it great is that it's all combined with character work.
When I say that it's restorative, I'm specifically thinking of the way that it presents Apollo and Midnighter as a couple. Seeing Midnighter single in the pages of his ongoing --- and watching as he fell into a superheroically disastrous relationship that ended with one of my favorite twists of the past few years --- was a whole lot of fun, but getting them back together, as two people in love, adds an entirely new dimension to the story.
It's always been there, but the way that Orlando and Blanco present it here, contrasting those strange cosmic threats with the uneasy tenderness of two people rekindling a relationship that's been strained to the breaking point makes everything better. And, since it's a superhero drama, that trouble that creeps into that relationship just as it's getting started again is the biggest and most unconquerable divide that two people in love can face.
Or at least, it would be in our world. For Midnighter and Apollo, it's a much smaller problem.
But like everything else in this book, it sets the stage. The challenges are there, the relationships, the themes, all the pieces of the universe that are there to thrill readers like me, they're all present, in a comic that's written, drawn, and staged beautifully. And together, they make one of the best comics on the stands.