Tales From The Four Color Closet – Midnighter: The Hero We Need!

By Joe Glass

IMG 0002This week has seen the release of the first DC comic headlined by a gay male lead, in the form of Midnighter by Steve Orlando, Aco and Romulo Fajardo Jr.

Midnighter is of course an existing character, albeit one who's gone through some changes since the New 52 came around. In the 90s, he was introduced along with his partner, Apollo, and was seen as the gay Batman and Superman of extreme superhero team The Authority (although initially introduced in Stormwatch) by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch. What was hugely important and relevant at the time was the fact that these characters were presented in as totally natural a way as possible, the fact of their queerness seemingly irrelevant and not blown out of proportion. These characters were superheroes first, and gay second, and a couple third.

Fast forward a couple decades to the New 52, and Stormwatch came into the DC Universe proper, along with Apollo and Midnighter, but with a key difference: these characters were meeting for first time, and their previous marriage (like so many others across the DCU) no longer existed.

Sadly, Stormwatch wouldn't last, mired as it was in constant shifts in editorial direction. Likewise, although Apollo and Midnighter were in a relationship, it didn't get a great deal of focus, certainly nowhere near as much as it did in the heights of The Authority's days.

For a while since then, Midnighter has been seen in Grayson, as a kind of recurring character. But now we're seeing the mini-relaunch of DC where diversity seems to be the keyword.

That brings us up to now and Orlando's incredible first issue of Midnighter, a comic featuring a solo, headlining, leading gay male.

But he's also important for another reason: Midnighter is presented as a sexually active gay man.

In fact, the very first time we see him in the issue is Midnighter's Grindr profile. For those not in the know, Grindr is a social networking app for gay and bi men to meet each other – which has kind of been taken onto being used for gay and bi men to hook up with each other.

IMG 0001This is important for two very big reasons: one, LOTS of gay men use Grindr. It's showing a very modern and often hidden away side of gay life in a perfectly normal, and interesting, way. It's giving the gay audience something they can instantly recognise and relate to on an innate level. Whilst granted not ALL gay men use Grindr, many do, so being willing to show a gay character who uses things like this adds a level of familiarity which is hitherto unseen in mainstream comics for a queer audience.

Second, this is a sex positive hero and that is frankly quite incredible.

For the longest time, even when things seemed to get better, gay male characters in mainstream media, whether it be TV, films or comics, were presented as almost sexless characters. Often their the gay best friend, or are shown in very chaste relationships. Certainly, one other major gay couple in comics saw themselves put through this kind of representation.

Wiccan and Hulkling over at Marvel's Young Avengers never even kissed for the longest time. In fact, despite being shown as a couple from almost the get go, the first on panel kiss the characters are even seen sharing is in Young Avengers: The Children's Crusade #1 – years after the characters creation. And despite being red blooded teenagers, the pair have never been alluded to as having anything approaching a sexual aspect to their relationship.

Now, I'm not advocating that we should see them or all gay characters having XXX rated intercourse on panel, but it's rare to see gay characters even in bed in mainstream comics. And whilst many will throw out the 'won't somebody think of the children' argument, there are literally tons of examples of the heterosexual characters of the comics universes waking up in bed, in some cases clearly post-coital or the morning after, in the mainstream comics. But it's a lot harder to come across any gay characters with this level of….acceptance.

And I say acceptance because that what it is: acceptance of the normality of the situation and of LGBTQ people and situations and concerns as a part of life.

In Midnighter #1, we see Midnighter on a date, on Grindr, having sex, gleefully messing with some homophobes AND kicking ass in brutal and badass fashion.

IMG 0003It's perhaps the most normalised and non-fetishised and truest representation of a gay character in a long time, and it's an awesome read to boot.

This is not to say that Midnighter represents ALL gay men – of course not, no single character could ever possibly, just as no singular female character can present all women. But this is an incredibly powerful and superb example of what we can do and how awesome it can be to have diversity in our medium.

And what's more: people are loving it. On Wednesday, #Midnighter was trending on twitter and has been receiving exceedingly positive reviews.

That's right. A sex-positive, honest, and on some levels realistic, gay male lead comic is blowing up, despite some editors in some comics companies suggesting that the time isn't right for such a book.

Well, I guess this can be seen as a wake up call.

Joe Glass is a Bleeding Cool contributor, and creator/writer of LGBTQ superhero team comic The Pride, which is available on Comixology and at The Pride Store. He is also a co-writer on Welsh horror-comedy series, Stiffs, which can be bought at the Stiffs Store and is now also available on Comixology. You can follow him on twitter and tumblr.

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About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.
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