Updated: Mar 14
In my quest to find queer representation, I turned to one of my favorite mediums of art and storytelling -- comic books. Midnighter and Apollo, written by Steve Orlando with art by Fernando Blanco, Romulo, Fajardo, Jr, and Josh Reed, is a visually breathtaking story of queer lovers who will stop at nothing to save each other. If you're like me and had no idea Midnighter and Apollo existed because you've been an adamant Marvel fanboy or obsessed with the independent comic scene (i.e., Saga, Sex Criminals, etc.) then let me explain.
Midnighter is a sarcastic badass who has a computer implanted in his brain, making him the perfect killing machine. Apollo is a solar-powered hunk who uses the power of the sun to wreak havoc on bad guys. And they're together. It sounds like the ideal match if you ask me. They're the power couple we deserve (read: better than Bucky and Captain America). Midnighter and Apollo starts out guns blazing, full of action and romance. The very first panel is a scene of Apollo and Midnighter in a seemingly post-coital glow. The colors and linework found in this comic have the perfect balance of grit and beauty.
This scene is quickly interrupted by Midnighter taking down villains at a train station. He casually impales multiple bad guys with a metal rod and finishes one-off by stomping his skull in. Oh yeah -- it's a little violent. However, we also see Apollo talk to Midnighter about his habits, expressing his apprehension towards killing. Midnighter responds that killing is what "he was built for." Facing what it means to be moral is a point of contention between the couple. Is killing in the name of subjective goodness worth it? It's something I think all comic book heroes should reflect on (especially Superman in Man of Steel).
Next, We see Midnighter on a hunt to kill the man that "ruined him," Bendix. Midnighter finally reaches Bendix, but it ends up being a trap. Bendix isolates Midnighter and reveals that Apollo is fighting a Demon named Mazir, who has fatally wounded Apollo with magical bullets. As Apollo is seen surrounded by demons in what appears to be Hell, Midnighter is sent into a frenzy and impales Bendix with a stapler before fighting through the gauntlet of enemies to make it to Apollo's body. Before Mazir escapes, he reveals a deal with Bendix to end Midnighter's lover in exchange for the only weapon that could kill him, making Mazir virtually immortal. Midnighter is left holding Apollo in the street.
The story only picks up steam from here. Midnighter fights through Hell for Apollo with the assistance of the magical Extrano, taking on hoards of demons and eventually confronting the king of hell to save his soulmate. Midnighter and Apollo is ultimately a story of sacrifice and acceptance between two flawed lovers.
Why it Matters?
As crucial as stories about "coming out" and stepping into your own queer identity are, we must diversify our queer stories and prevent becoming a caricature of our own identity.
Midnighter doesn't have a dilemma with his own sexuality. He doesn't feel the need to justify his love for Apollo, and it's refreshing. Too often, we see queer characters reduced down to self-hatred because of who they love. I would be dishonest if I said I did not feel that self-hatred myself, but we need representation to move beyond that experience and show us what radical self-acceptance looks like.
Midnighter's dilemmas are based in the morality of killing. He wonders: is murder ever justifiable? Do "heroes" get to be judge and executioner? This is the depth I look for and crave. I want stories that move past accepting one's sexuality and dive deeper into questions of humanity. I want characters with sexuality as a footnote. I want to be seen, but I don't want to be reduced down to what gender I'm attracted to.
Comics have had a pretty problematic history with representation. For instance, when Extrano was first written, he was depicted as a flamboyant stereotype. His main story arc consisted of contracting HIV from a white supremacist vampire named Hemo-Goblin. Big yikes. Thankfully, Extrano is reimagined in this comic. He's a powerful wizard akin to Doctor Strange. He's a character with an inexplicable bond with Midnighter, perhaps because they both understand being queer, and more importantly, being in love.
Unfortunately, in mainstream comics, I still see a strong emphasis on story arcs that will never be given canonical stories of queer romance. I love "shipping" characters, and I love fanfiction (see my previous Twist and Shout piece ), but there's something to be said about canonically queer characters like Midnighter and Apollo. They're important. We all want Captain America and Bucky to make out and live happily ever after on a farm together, but that just isn't in the cards. We need to be critical of this genre, to be upset about "Stucky" (the shorthand for Captain America and Bucky's ship) being entirely rejected by the creators of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I'm not going to ignore the fact that Captain America rebelled against Shield to protect Bucky, his casual "best friend" (read: soulmate), but maybe we need to focus on queer characters who are written as queer. We need to focus on queer creators writing queer stories.
Midnighter and Apollo are unquestionably in love, they don't fear their feelings for each other. We have actual panels of men together after sex! We have beautiful panels of men kissing! And thankfully, we get a happy ending, eschewing the toxic "burying your gays" trope.
When championing more representation, I think it's important to understand the context. We shouldn't be begging for scraps of queer-adjacent content, also known as queerbaiting. If you're looking for a story of canon queer romance and sacrifice told through beautiful visuals, do yourself a favor and check out this comic.