By Joe Glass
Midnighter & Apollo #1 came out last week now, and I have read that comic, what, eight times by now I think? It's just that good. It's everything I've been crying out for in terms of full on queer representation in mainstream comics. You have gay leads, front and center. They're happy (albeit with their own personal and superhuman dramas). The comic is action-PACKED! It's all just incredible.
But one thing I was not expecting it to do, and which didn't even occur to me until my second or third read-through….it subtly makes a challenge to notions of masculinity that are both a basis for homophobic reactions to gay men, and is a major form of discrimination within the gay community as well (and maybe to some extent to larger LGBTQ community).
That suggestion, and I guess fairly small spoilers follow?
Midnighter is a bottom.
Now, to the uninitiated, or those who have not yet read the Gay Agenda handbook, I shall break it down for you. To me, it seems pretty obvious, but then I'm a gay man, and I've had straight friends look at me really confused when I use some of the finer points of queer linguistics before.
A bottom in gay penetrative sex terms is the man who is penetrated. A top is the one penetrating. And a versatile is a guy that does either. At its most basic, of course. It can mean so much more, but I'm not here to educate you on the finer intricacies of man-on-man love.
Now, in a sweet, domestic and steamy quick scene in the first issue of Midnighter & Apollo, the panels seem to suggest that Midnighter is a bottom (or at least versatile).
Why is this a subversive challenge to notions of masculinity I hear you ask? Well, one form of homophobic abuse stems from the notion that to be the man who receives during anal sex makes you somehow less of a man. That this act in itself somehow destroys your masculinity and feminizes you. It's an insidious form of homophobia that has even led to derisory opinions of men who bottom within the gay community itself, and damaging some men's sense of masculinity. Even now, a guy might be more than ready to admit that he is gay, but he may not want to admit he is a bottom (aside from the fact that that is a DEEPLY personal question, and unless you're buying me a drink and a meal first, you ain't finding out).
In M&A however, we have Midnighter, a hyper-masculine, bad-ass, head-smashing, bone-crushing, uber-violent man's man taking one for the team. Or more accurately, for Apollo. The man he loves!
It's an awesome moment for those who have had their masculinity challenged, not just for who they decide to love, but how they decide to practice that love in the privacy of their own homes.
In fact, during a panel at NYCC, writer Steve Orlando mentioned how a fan came up to him saying he'd 'scored one for the bottoms'. He went on to describe more how the inclusion of gay sex scenes are important parts to creating honest queer stories in pop culture. And certainly, this scene is no more graphic than anything that's appeared in previous issues of Green Arrow, or hell, the New 52 even began with Catwoman and Batman getting down to it on a rooftop while still wearing their masks.
In this small, wonderfully domestic, racy yet romantic scene, we have another subversive attempt at normalizing what should already be normal i.e. romantic and sexual homosexual relationships. But also a little challenge at the more stringent and toxic ideas of masculinity that can result in homophobia and the happiness of men in themselves and their love lives.
Midnighter & Apollo is a challenging book in that it it challenges you to read it and see their love as anything other than perfectly normal and deserving of respect. It's fun because it brings quirky touches like subway pirates and magic guns. It's gripping because it has more superhero action, violence and drama than most other superhero books manage in a whole six issue arc. Orlando, Fernando Blanco, Romulo, Fajardo Jr and Josh Reed have made a fantastic book.
Midnighter & Apollo is an incredible book on oh so many levels, even to a small throwaway half off-panel moment. Buy this book. Do like myself and buy it twice! And make DC realize that this is a book that NEEDS to become an ongoing.
Joe Glass is a Bleeding Cool contributor and also a comics creator. He's the writer and creator of LGBTQ superhero series, The Pride, the collected edition of the first volume of which is now available on ComiXology and on The Pride Store. He is also the co-writer of Wales-based horror comedy series, Stiffs.