Another month, another Midnighter and Apollo. Can I just say I needed this? Because I really, really needed this comic. I had a rough November, but, to paraphrase a favorite meme, this comic “cleared my skin, watered my crops, opened my pores, and cleansed my soul.”
Allow me to explain. If you’ve just started Midnighter and Apollo with this issue, here’s the plot basics: the guy who created Midnighter and Apollo had Apollo murdered and sent to Hell. Midnighter will not accept this, and instead goes to his friend (best known as Extraño) for help. Extraño tells him how to get to hell and what he’ll need to fight the demons. Meanwhile, Apollo has to weather the tortures of hell while waiting for Midnighter to come rescue him.
Basically, this comic, man, it’s like if Tarantino and Supernatural had a gay baby, and that baby grew up to have a philosophy and theology degree.
In this issue, we open with Extraño and Midnighter talking about what Mid needs in order to go to hell and fight the demons he needs to fight to save Apollo’s soul. He needs, first of all, a specific black candle to get there. Beyond that, he needs a gun called the Ace of Winchesters. Turns out the Lords of the Gun — a specific demonic sect — have the Ace, according to the demon they stole it from.
Meanwhile, in Hell, we get the real thematic meat of this issue: the Mansion of Happiness. Neron, the demon currently holding Apollo hostage, decides to play this board game with him. In it, players “advance or regress at the whim of their own virtue and vice, struggling to reach happiness.” One of my favorite moments — Apollo’s best, really — comes in this exchange between them:
Neron: Shall we test your virtue, Apollo? Shall we weigh your sins?
Apollo: …Let’s, Neron.
Fernando Blanco and Romulo Fajardo jr. really define this moment with their artwork; the expression on Apollo’s face exhibits the steeliest determination, but also the hesitation and suffering of a sinner in Hell.
I really love that this story doesn’t pull any punches. Apollo and Midnighter are both murderers, and they can’t change that. They can justify it, but that will always weigh on them. Clearly it weighs more on Apollo, or else Neron wouldn’t use it against him here.
Also painfully perfect is Apollo’s line: “I named myself after a god to give people hope. They need symbols. Like I did when I was young.”
I haven’t read anything with these characters before Orlando wrote them, but I can feel that line in my bones. As a queer person, I have needed symbols that society did not give me. I can relate to the hopelessness that colors Apollo’s face in that frame: I needed symbols and didn’t have them, the art clarifies. So he became a symbol himself.
I always seem to love Steve Orlando‘s writing. Like I’ve said before, he gets it, and it shows. But while Orlando maintains his usual standard of excellence, it’s the art that pushes this month’s Midnighter and Apollo to new heights.
Specifically, I cannot get over the structure and repetition used as pacing devices, particularly in scenes between Neron and Apollo. Most of the pages between Neron and Apollo play out in equally sized panels, with nine or twelve panels per page. However, the gutters for these panels actually break up artwork in many cases. This reaffirms Apollo’s position as imprisoned and caged. Additionally, many images are repeated, or the ‘shots’ are from slightly different angles.
As a filmmaker, I can’t stress enough what this means for pacing. It stretches the moment. As readers, we see panels as units. In our heads, a panel takes up a unit of story time, or story focus. When artists use the panel structure in this way, it makes the scene take up longer in our heads. For example, I honestly thought Neron and Apollo interact for more than five pages in this issue. It doesn’t feel like five pages — but in the best way possible.
Overall, Midnighter and Apollo #3 marks the best issue of the miniseries so far, at least for me. I can’t wait to pick up next month’s issue and see how Midnighter brings his fists to a gunfight to get the Ace of Winchesters from the Lords of the Gun, now that he too has come to hell.
Please, if you like gay comics and can handle a dash of philosophy and a dash of gore, please pick up this book. You won’t regret it.