In Midnighter #4, our titular anti-hero continues to hunt down Akakyevich, the man who has the secret of his origins and God Garden implants, but this isn’t all darkness and angst even though readers do find out why Midnighter likes to kill. Instead, writer Steve Orlando and artist Stephen Mooney, who recently illustrated an issue of DC’s digital series Bombshells, bring out DC’s resident chiseled beefcake Dick Grayson for a team-up as they fight Russian vampires (kind of) and a high on their own testosterone “thrill killing” club. Mooney uses triangular panels to add panache to the fight scenes while Orlando utilizes both a monster of the week storyline and special guest star to further his long game with a jaw dropping final page as the cherry on top.
Thematically, Midnighter #4 looks at masculinity and class struggle. The first pages show a bunch of wealthy Russian young men in their nice Oxfords, drinking profusely, and acting like the dictionary definition of “bro”. (That word gets bandied about a couple times in what might be a tribute to the Tracksuit Draculas from Hawkeye.) They enter a top secret supernatural themed fight club, but Orlando and Mooney subvert the age old trope of aristocrats hunting dangerous beasts for sport (From the Calydonian Boar in Greek mythology to foxes in 20th century UK and even the current reprehensible practice of lion hunting.) and have them gang up on an ugly, bloated vampire that readers later learn is a starving, homeless person. This changes the issue from a decent episode of Angel (Which isn’t a bad show to emulate when doing morally grey urban fantasy.) to a classist struggle and preying on the weak, which is what Midnighter is trying to stop. Even if he enjoys violence and killing, he won’t punch down and lets Baba, the proprietor of the inn, go free as he literally and symbolically fumigates her place. because he knows that she is being manipulated by force beyond her control. It also fits with Grayson’s ethos as well as he became an orphan through the violent actions of a powerful mobster.
Orlando and Mooney’s ideas about masculinity really come out through the art in Midnighter #4 as they give the horrible, heteronormative idea that gay and bisexual men are effeminate quite the kick in the ass in the infamous sauna scene, which caused brows to perspire even before the issue came out. While the members of the thrill killing club slap each other around with branches (Double entendres are firmly in play in this comic.), Mooney shows Midnighter and Grayson striding in confidently and quipping. Colorist Romulo Fajardo makes their surroundings grey to draw attention to their glistening bodies in a rare moment in a superhero comic that serves the non-heterosexual male gaze. These characters are secure in their masculinity and just live their lives and do their jobs with a wink and a flirt without getting into pointless fights and calling each other “heroes” or “superheroes”. Orlando and Mooney take the Tywin Lannister quote from Game of Thrones, “Any man who must say, ‘I am the king’ is no king” and apply it to masculinity as Midnighter (Though he enjoys the fighting part more.) and Grayson just fight the fight and live their lives without the macho posturing of their thrill hunting opponents. (They do happen to be well-endowed in the, well, macho parts.) They do all this while actively and hilariously flirting with each other and making every old-timey, homophobic action hero roll in their graves.
Stephen Mooney’s art style is a hybrid of Aco’s from Midnighter #1 and #3 and Alec Morgan’s in Midnighter #2. He uses Aco’s flurry of panels technique several times to show the speed of Midnighter’s computer brain in figuring out how to finish a fight, most poetically in a scene where he stomps several cockroaches and rats coming out of a self-proclaimed “primal evil” creature. Mooney’s figures have the same weight and power as Morgan’s, which comes in handy when Grayson and Midnighter are in the same panel. Grayson is a true acrobat, always in motion, and quick to have his compatriot’s back. (Maybe from the days when he used to cover Bruce’s ass with his speed.) Because of his enhancements, Midnighter doesn’t really need anyone to get his back, but he lets Grayson have some small victories by standing perfectly still while Dick shoots or kicks the last goon. Finally, Mooney makes their action scenes more exciting by showing the highlights of the fights, like the biggest kicks, the coolest dodges, or the bloodiest takedowns from Midnighter, using the comics medium to its full potential and also showing Midnighter and Grayson’s fighting prowess compared to the thrill club members, who are just rich bullies.
In the midst of the fast paced plots and quick developments, writer Steve Orlando never neglects the “comedy” part of “action comedy” with flurries of homoerotic innuendo, Midnighter’s trademark dry wit, and even some violent physical comedy from Mooney and Fajardo, like a full page finishing move from Midnighter that Matthew Vaughn wishes he could have used in Kingsman. Along with a sense of justice for those who have been manipulated by alien technology, it’s Midnighter’s sense of humor that makes him a likable character and evokes shades of action heroes past, like John McClane, who could take or give a beating while being funny at the same time.
Midnighter #4 is the funniest, sexiest, and most thematically deep issue of the series so far. Writer Steve Orlando uses Grayson to give Midnighter a foil, who can he both flirt with and see a different way to help the hopeless. Grayson and his espionage connections also happen to play an important role in the series’ ongoing plot. Artist Stephen Mooney plays off Orlando’s witty dialogue with a masterful command over his protagonists’ bodies to craft some epic fight scenes while being expressive enough to sell their winking one-liners. And colorist Romulo Fajardo pulls everything forever with his dark, but not muddied color palette and splashes of white and dark red for extraterrestrial tech or moments. This is truly the hottest superhero team-up this summer.