Technically, I’m slightly cheating with this one, because Midnighter and Apollo isn’t exactly a DC Rebirth book. There is no “Rebirth” banner on the covers. In fact, it’s not even a continuing series, but rather a six-issue mini-series, serving as a sequel to Orlando’s previous Midnighter book. And yet, this book not only contains the overall themes of DC Rebirth (love and legacy), but is also one of the best books DC has put out and ends with a powerful statement that is needed, especially these days.
First, a bit of context:
The characters of Apollo and the Midnighter first appeared in Stormwatch vol 2 #4. They were created by Warren Ellis to be members of a JLA-esque team — each team member was a pastiche of a member of the Justice League. Apollo was Superman and the Midnighter was, of course, Batman. The twist here, however, was that this Superman and Batman were gay and in love with each other.
However, this was 1998 and even though times had changed in regard to diversity in comics, the changes were still incremental. When Apollo and the Midnighter became major characters in Ellis’s The Authority, they were allowed to kiss...on the cheek. Apparently, Ellis scripted them having an actual kiss, but DC editorial got cold feet at the last moment and changed it. Midnighter killing loads of people? A-Okay. Kissing his boyfriend? Nope.
Eventually, that changed and Apollo and the Midnighter were allowed to kiss and even marry, adopting Jenny Quantum as their daughter even. Their relationship had its ups and downs — the less said about the solo Midnighter book, the better — but it was generally shown as a positive and healthy relationship.
Cut to: the New 52 and the integration of the Wildstorm characters into the wider DC universe. Midnighter and Apollo became heroes at the start of their career, just figuring out their feelings for one another. They were used in Paul Cornell’s Stormwatch series and then Midnighter made several appearances in Grayson before getting his own solo series again, this time written by Steve Orlando and illustrated by ACO.
This solo series broke up Midnighter and Apollo and used the character to explore more in depth themes of violence and sexuality. Eventually, the end of the book found Midnighter learning more about his origins and reuniting with Apollo and resuming their relationship.
And now onto Midnighter and Apollo, again written by Steve Orlando and illustrated by Fernando Blanco. A book which I’m almost certain was made to give a giant middle finger to the “Bury Your Gays” trope. Beware: I’m going to spoil the ending to this book, because I think it’s pretty damn important.
Midnighter and Apollo picks up after the end of the last book, with Midnighter and Apollo teaming up and, well, generally being in a loving relationship again. Until Henry Bendix arranges for the Lords of the Gun to assassinate Apollo and send him to Hell.
At which point, Midnighter says, “Fine. Guess a lot of people are getting their wish, because I’m going to Hell.”
Side note: a very cool thing Orlando does in a lot of his works is bring back old, obscure characters. In Midnighter and Apollo, that old, obscure character just happens to be Extrano, a member of the “New Guardians” from back the late ‘80s. The New Guardians was a pretty infamous comic, from the supervillain-powered-by-cocaine Snowflame, to the fact that Extrano, who was pretty flamboyantly gay, ended up killed by a creature called the Hemo-Goblin in what must have been the most painfully stupid metaphor for AIDS ever.
Thankfully, Orlando not only brought him back, but changed Extrano from looking like this:
To looking like this:
So, with the help of Extrano, Midnighter goes to Hell, faces off against legions of demons, fights Neron, the King of Hell himself, and ends up bloody and battered, but still alive when Apollo is freed.
Remember when I wrote that this book was a huge middle finger to “Bury Your Gays”? This isn’t just subtext in the book. It is, in fact, literal text.
Apollo’s words — the words that Steve Orlando wrote — are a full-blown rebuke against “Bury Your Gays.” In another story, Midnighter might have sacrificed himself to resurrect Apollo or vice versa, but not here. Here and now, both get to live. They live and survive by their own power, they beat back the Devil and Hell itself to survive and they are alive.
Hey, remember when DC editorial got cold feet about showing Midnighter and Apollo kiss? Not anymore.
So Midnighter and Apollo escape Hell, stay in love, and get their happy ending. But wait, there’s still a bit more. Because, again, this book isn’t just about Midnighter and Apollo. This book was announced in June 2016, the same month a gay nightclub in Orlando was shot up and 49 people died. I’m sure DC and Steve Orlando didn’t think they would be commenting on that when the book came out, but that’s exactly what they ended up doing.
Because the last pages of the last issue go back to Extrano and his husband, Hugh Dawkins (another member of the New Guardians), as they host a dinner party with Apollo and the Midnighter as guests. And Extrano makes a surprisingly poignant and meta speech.
This is what the book is about: love, acceptance, and, above all, hope. Even if there is only hope in Hell, there is still hope.