Somewhere between the endless rehashing of Bruce Wayne’s origin story and his persistent lack of actual superpowers, I gave up on trying to get Batman. He’s a guy in a costume with a lot of weapons, a lot of money, and a place in pop culture history that makes it taboo to say he isn’t all that interesting.
Meanwhile, DC’s most compelling characters are villains like Catwoman, Two-Face, and Harley Quinn who shift in and out of moral grey areas. The Dark Knight, for all of his 75 years of crimefighting, sticks pretty closely to a loosely defined code of ethics. Even when he’s at his worst, he’s unwaveringly good in a way that doesn’t always satisfy.
But what if Batman did the sensible thing and offed his enemies? What if Batman had a quick wit to offset his gruff demeanor? What if Batman was openly gay and a living supercomputer that once dated an openly gay Superman while the two were on the run from a supervillain?
Well, this Batman exists. His name is Midnighter and he might just be the hero to get me reading DC’s comics.
While Midnighter the character may not be the newest face in the DC universe, Midnighter the series is the first mainstream comic to centrally focus on an openly gay man. This week, DC released the first issue of the Midnighter solo series featuring its titular character weaving his way into DC’s mainstream universe after spending the bulk of his existence in the company’s WildStorm imprint. Where DC’s Justice League was a team of virtuous paragons of justice, Wildstorm’s Authority are heroes willing to protect the world by any means necessary.
Jenny Quantum, the Authority’s one time leader, was the living embodiment of the 21st century. Apollo, WildStorm’s answer to Superman, was a genetically modified American soldier who derived his powers from the sun. The Midnighter was like a proper Batman for adults, a foulmouthed, violent guy who acknowledged that he was probably a sociopath. But like the good kind of sociopath who helps people. Like Dexter. Unlike Dexter, Midnighter's more your traditional super vigilate, hiding a shock of red hair beneath a mask that looks like Batman's with the iconic ears shaved off. He also rocks a trench coat—because real heroes don't wear capes.
Midnighter #1 reintroduces us to a new-ish version of the character now firmly grounded in the same world as Batman. Apollo, his husband, is nowhere to be found and, like a substantial portion of gay men, he’s on Grindr looking for love.
Steve Orlando, the series’ openly gay head writer, has spoken publicly about his decision to write the new Midnighter as a comfortably single gay man. The choice, he explained to Comics Alliance, was about representation.
“We need to embrace gay male sexuality instead of ignoring or sweeping it under the rug,” he said. “We need to say there’s nothing wrong with gay male sexuality, and show a confident, sex-positive take on the life of an active gay male.”
When they were introduced in 1998, Midnighter and Apollo were two of the only openly queer comic book characters to appear regularly in any publication. As time has gone on, mainstream characters like Batwoman, Northstar, Hulkling, Wiccan, and a time-displaced a young Iceman have all come out of the closet. Oddly, the stories addressing their sexual identities have all revolved around coming to terms with sexuality or struggling to maintain traditional relationships with their partners.
Johnny Murdoc, publisher of Queer Young Cowboys, says that the new Midnighter’s characterization reflects a more authentic depiction of a queerness, if only for the fact that it’s different than most.
“I've been looking for Marvel or DC to start hiring more diverse creators to work on their new attempts at diverse characters, and the move appears to have paid off,” he told Fusion. “Steve Orlando is a queer man writing a queer character. Midnighter's sexuality isn't his only feature, but it's a core one, and the issue is gay enough that I imagine more than a couple of straight men are put off by it.”