I like the Midnighter. Equal parts Batman and Wolverine, Midnighter is a not-so-subtle parody of both. Unambiguously gay and in a relationship with his teammate, Apollo – himself a Superman trope – he makes explicit and then sends up the sexual anxieties that have surrounded Bats for decades; as an artificially enhanced uber-man with an Asian daughter, there’s also some room for a Wolverine-Jubilee analogy. (Though, again, being that Midnighter is gay, he also troubles the connection between hetero-masculinity and ultra-violence.)
But I only sorta like this comic. Interestingly, it reads more like a ‘classic’ Authority issue than the new Authority series does itself. The narrative style of compression and (un?)necessarily gory battle scenes seem pulled, with minor variation, from either of Ellis/Hitch or Millar/Quitely’s runs. The particularly gruesome ways in which Sprouse – one of the medium’s best storytellers, might I add – renders Midnighter’s conversation with the ‘Technical Advisor’ in Afghanistan carries a distinctly Ennis flavor, and the Advisor’s murder is delightfully ironic (and, again, distinctly Ennis) in the context of the slur that Midnighter muffles with his staff.
So it’s a fun Authority-like read with the requisite twist-ending, sure, but is it anything more than that? Even the arc that it’s kicking off seems too familiar – the ‘living weapon compelled to become an assassin for the bad guy’ thing was featured in Wolverine a year or two ago, and Ennis’ own Punisher stories included a variation on the same theme. Sprouse also seems too obvious a choice – like Tom Strong, for which Sprouse is probably best known, Midnighter and the Authority are often characterized as benevolent super-fascists, meta-fictionally wrestling with the moral-totalitarianism of the super-hero tradition and their own particular super-antecedents. (Remember Krigstein and his very familiar super-human army?)
Despite his appropriateness, then, something seems entirely too safe and self-conscious about Sprouse on this book – maybe because it becomes it all the more clear that this is more Solo Authority than Midnighter sans the Authority. Where Twain makes clear that Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is no mere sequel to Tom Sawyer – and is likely even the more challenging book – or where Claremont took steps to justify the creation of a Wolverine title by distancing the solo character’s tales both geographically and thematically from Uncanny X-Men, Ennis makes no such attempt to show us why Midnighter’s stories needed some new outlet. I think that one question needs to be asked of every spin-off and answered to some degree of satisfaction: Does the new title do something so different that it requires its own separate existence? For all of Midnighter’s appeal, this first issue would indicate that the answer is ‘no’.