“I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) at midnight. The clock began to strike and I began to cry simultaneously.” Midnighter is far from David Copperfield, both as a book and a character. But Charles Dickens understood the symbolism of birth at the witching hour. It is the time, rhetorically if not astronomically, when shadows are deepest, mysteries most impenetrable, and the sun the farthest away. At midnight, the walls of the world grow fragile, and dangers crowd round.
Midnighter probably did not cry at his creation. It seems far more likely that others wept. Still, he is a creature of mystery and shadow and, most of all, danger. Not that the three things can be separated. In fact, for all of his surface concentration on the danger of Midnighter, Steve Orlando arguably places the mystery of the character at the heart of Midnighter #1. Oh, he is still the same precognitive enhanced celebration of destruction we have come to know over the years. In fact, one weakness of Orlando’s writing is his developing habit of having Midnighter run through his patented “I’ve fought this battle a million times in my mind” speech. As a condensed representation of the book and the character, it functions sort of like Green Lantern’s oath but without the poetic resonance of that most famous of comic book quatrains. Once in a great while is more than enough.
But the rest of Midnighter’s history has retreated. Earlier in the now-defunct New 52, his identity as Lucas Trent, the experimental victim of aliens, was established. Granted, the continuity of Stormwatch collapsed due to time-line disruptions, but it seems that Orlando has washed his hands of that portion of Midnighter’s backstory. Rather, the author sticks close to the origin put forth in Grayson, where Midnighter’s abilities apparently derive from modifications performed on him aboard the giant spacecraft known as the God Garden. Along with the physical changes, Midnighter evidently lost his memory and former identity.
That provides the motivation for the upcoming arc. A thief armed with extremely advanced technology raids the God Garden, taking away a raft of deadly science and well-guarded personal secrets, including Midnighter’s identity. It’s a neat set up, although Orlando apparently disagrees with Tim Seeley, who introduced the current version of Midnighter in the pages of Grayson, about the nature of the Gardener, the keeper of the God Garden. In Seeley’s telling, the Gardener was apparently a holographic projection, the visual interface for the spaceship’s ruling intelligence. In Orlando’s story, she seems to be an actual physical being, albeit one of very uncertain provenance. However, Orlando maintains the complicated relationship Seeley crafted for Midnighter and the Gardener. The vigilante readily admits that the Gardener is a dangerous fanatic with love title regard for the collateral damage that may result from her more spectacular schemes but, he opines, she is family, and what can you do?
The question of family and relationships is the last great theme of this series. Orlando has set himself the task of creating and celebrating an openly and actively gay hero, and his start is a promising one. It turns out that Midnighter and Apollo, his husband from a former continuity, do not see eye-to-eye on the subject of the Gardener. Midnighter finds himself having to navigate the world of sex and dating while also balancing his duties as a superhero. It is true that, unlike most of the DC universe, he has no secret identity to get in the way, but murderous terrorists and killer aliens are quite enough of a problem.
Orlando could afford to resist temptation a bit more than he manages in the first issue. In his eagerness to prove his understanding and respect for Midnighter, his script occasionally lapses into the formulaic, even the ritualistic. But ritual and formula have their purpose, and Orlando leaves no doubt of his mastery of the character. It is a feat few first issues accomplish. This is the Midnighter indeed, in all his danger and mystery.