Having greatly enjoyed Steve Orlando and ACO’s Midnighter series, I was happy to see Orlando back with artist Fernando Blanco for a Midnighter and Apollo limited series. Fans of Orlando’s Midnighter will be happy to hear that this reads like an additional six issues of that run. In fact, Apollo’s inclusion in the title seems a bit odd, as he tends to occupy the “boy hostage” slot through much of the series.
The story, script, characterization, and art were solid throughout, but what really jumped out at me were the persistent nods to DC comics of twenty years past – to characters and images that have largely been ignored, or at least not properly absorbed into the day to day continuity of the DC Universe. While it has long been standard practice at DC to use (and reuse and reappropriate and reinterpret) anything written by Alan Moore, characters and ideas presented by other well-regarded writers have been left alone, perhaps out of some misguided form of respect. As a living, growing universe, it would seem reasonable to think that any contribution to DC Comics is offered the greatest possible respect by being folded into and bounced off of the current continuity.
As such, it was refreshing to read a 2017 comic that so freely referenced so many less than iconic characters and images from 20 years ago. 1997 may not be remembered as a classic period of creativity at DC, but Grant Morrison and Garth Ennis were certainly on fire.
One of the main villains in this story is the Mawzir, seen mostly (exclusively?) in Ennis and John McCrea’s Hitman. How such an arresting image – a wide-mouthed demon with several (who cares how many – you’re dead before you can count them) flailing arms, each holding a gun from a different era of humanity’s violent history — could be so completely ignored for so long is a mystery for the ages.
Mawzir is the demon servant of the Arkannone (also known as the Lords of the Gun), who look like they have spent a significant amount of time on the wrong end of a gun.
Orlando also makes use of the Ace of Wincesters, a magic gun created by Ennis in Hellblazer and used by (and against) Mawzir in Hitman.
But the big bad of the series is Neron, the ruler of Hell. Here we see him enjoying a fine beverage.
And here he is in 1997, on the cover of Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s JLA 6:
Orlando also (briefly) makes use of a criminally underused Grant Morrison/Howard Porter creation from JLA: Asmodel, the King Angel of the Bull-Host of the Pax Dei. (I kind of wish I could say that I had to look that up, but the sad truth is that I didn’t.)
Such a fantastically designed villain should be seen more. After all, this is the angel that Superman wrestled against.
About a decade after his classic JLA run, Grant Morrison redefined the crossover event with Seven Soldiers, a series of seven interlocking four-issue mini-series intended to revitalize the DC Universe by recreating the seven characters and their worlds. I really hope Morrison gave Midnighter and Apollo a look, as the first issue opens with the Midnighter facing off against the Subway Pirates from Seven Soldiers: Manhattan Guardian.
Most gloriously, Orlando riffs on Morrison’s Anxiety of Influence (the Manhattan Guardian series featured the Alan Moore stand-in All-Beard battling to the death with the Morrison stand-in No-Beard) and gives us the delightfully ridiculous Half-Beard.
Orlando even threw in a sly reference to a Marvel book with this overture to violence
…which echoes a similar promise from a Geoff Johns Avengers comic.
And, since all DC comics seem to begin and end with Alan Moore, we can do no less. It is hard not to notice that the plot of this series – main character’s lover dies and is unjustly confined to Hell, main character breaks into Hell to rescue lover’s soul, main character fights all manner of demons, true love prevails – is the exact plot of Moore’s Swamp Thing Annual 2.
Lastly, to those who would accuse me of over-analysis, I offer the final panel of the series, which must have seemed familiar to even the most casual of readers.
In case you missed it: