Over the last several years, a number of gay and lesbian characters have appeared in mainstream comic books, most often as incidental or occasional characters, but in a few cases, as important main characters.
Superheroes and lovers: Apollo and Midnighter from the DC comic ‘The Authority.’
You might remember “The Rawhide Kid,” an older comic character who was reinvented for a five-part series as a super gunslinger and gay man with a modern gay sensibility and exquisite taste but inserted back into the old west.
Gay novelist Robert Rodi’s comic series just a few years ago, “Code Name: Knockout,” was one of the most enjoyable — smart, funny, and entirely gay positive with a gay male sidekick for the voluptuous heroine.
But the most significant gay characters have to be Apollo and the Midnighter, ongoing major characters in the ensemble cast of the science fiction comic series “The Authority.”
Like the other main characters, Apollo and the Midnighter are genetically enhanced super-humans who live on a sort of spaceship and spend their time fighting super-villains on earth as well as from the future, other dimensions, and parallel universes.
Blond Apollo can fly and is nourished by solar radiation. The Midnighter, clad entirely in black, is the ultimate fighting machine who can anticipate his opponents’ moves. The origin of their relationship is obscure, but they are deeply in love and their relationship is comfortably accepted by the other members of the Authority.
Their relationship is not always in the forefront of the action, but it is constantly there as part of the background. In one episode where they were separated and their survival was in doubt, when they were reunited they hugged and kissed passionately, leading another character to yell playfully, “Hey, you two, get a room.”
Midnighter is apparently a popular character. He now has his own series as well. In one recent issue (No. 5) when Midnighter encounters some friendly people from the 96th century, one of the women asks if he wants to have sex, and Midnighter explains that he is gay. The concept makes no sense to her and she eventually explains that in her time there is no gender-based sexual preference at all. At that Midnighter bursts out laughing and exclaims “That’s great. That really is outstanding,” and then louder, “Hey, can you hear me in the Bible Belt? You’re all wasting your time.”
In the following issue (No. 6) the Apollo-Midnighter relationship is re-imagined as taking place in Shogunate Japan. Midnighter is a wandering samurai who is hired by the Shogun after he kills the Shogun’s guards who challenge him.
Eventually Apollo, also a wandering samurai, passes by and after a standoff in the briefest of sparing, they agree not to fight. Instead they become lovers. Apollo joins the Shogun’s household and tells the fascinated Shogun of the many things he has seen in his wide travels. “It was a joyful time,” says the Midnighter. “By day I did my duty. The nights were ours.” Fearing to lose his power and influence, the Shogun’s prime minister hires men to kill the pair in their bed. The two fight back killing all the attackers, but Apollo too is killed. His last words to Midnighter: “I love you.”
Midnighter buries him in a wooded area. “We were happy in these woods,” he explains. “We walked together and the shining sun seemed not one-tenth as bright as he. It seemed a fitting place.” Bereft, Midnighter leaves the Shogun’s service, but returns a year later to kill the prime minister.
This story is told as a series of flashbacks to a group of samurai swordsmen Midnighter has lured to Apollo’s gravesite by sending each an invitation addressed to “the greatest swordsman in all the land.” Throughout Midnighter’s story, the assembled samurai express disgust and revulsion at the idea of two men as lovers and seek to challenge and kill him. At the end Midnighter springs upon them and kills them all, leaving their bodies as a sacrifice to his dead lover.
The narrative that continues inside Midnighter’s head explains, “Every year I come here and bring my lover (sacrifices). And every year I weep, for it is all I know.” He walks off alone under a cloudy, wintry sky.
It is a depressing ending, but in a way satisfying as a gay revenge fantasy. Still, I cannot imagine what the young straight men who typically buy comic books make of this. Maybe they are lured by the vividly depicted violence and gore itself. Or maybe they adjust the revenge motif to their own particular targets. Or maybe, just maybe, they do absorb the notion that homophobia springs from irrational hatred and deserves to be condemned.