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#51 [Mar. 4th, 2009|12:21 pm]

100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)

#51 MIDNIGHTER #7 – Brian K. Vaughan, Darick Robertson

“Well, guess I saw that coming.”

Midnighter is an analogue of Batman created for Wildstorm comics. There are so many of those now they should have their own name. Batmanalogues? They’re the dark heroes, usually grim, who have a thing for black leather, maybe some vaguely pointy things on their masks and never lose or are ever caught unawares. Batman’s never caught by surprise because he’s Batman, no explanation needed, but with Midnighter it’s his gimmick, his superpower. He’s such an expert at reading body language and taking people apart with his fists that he knows how every fight will end before the first punch or witty insult is thrown. That’s part of what sets him apart from his inspiration, making him an analogue rather than a rip-off. The other main thing that separates him is that he’s gay and married to a Supermanalogue named Apollo. The two are members of The Authority, a team of superheroes who watch humanity from their carrier in orbit, the Justice League Of America re-imagined as vengeful gods waiting to teleport down and beat people to death for their sins whenever they deem it necessary.

Just like Superman and Batman, we know that Apollo and Midnighter aren’t going to die at the end of each issue or if they are they aren’t going to stay dead for long. While reading, we fool a part of ourselves into thinking that maybe this one time there could be consequences because that’s part of the fun. Usually. But not this time. For one glorious issue, Midnighter threw that conceit out of the window (possibly while in orbit) and showed us its happy ending right from the start. Midnighter’s ability to see the endings of fights before they start gives Brian K. Vaughan an excuse to tell the story backwards.

Each page flows sequentially in the typical manner from top to bottom, but the pages are laid out in reverse. If you wanted to you could start at the back and work your way to the front, experiencing the story in the more traditional manner. To the credit of Vaughan and Robertson, it works perfectly well that way too. But to get the fullest out of the conceit – and to get the jokes – you need to read it forwards, which is to say backwards. The terrified villains say, “Did you see what he just did?” and “That’s the most disgusting friggin’ thing I ever heard.” Midnighter cryptically utters a “Remember what I said before.” When the payoffs come they’re always worth it.

It all works because, as any comedian will tell you, it’s all about the timing. It doesn’t matter if the punchline comes before the setup, we’ll still laugh if the joke is told right. A fight scene that begins with the hero standing on top of the bodies of his enemies like a paperback-cover barbarian king and then proceeds through the bloody dismemberment before ending with the expository dialogue turns out to work just as well as the reverse. It still has the right rhythm, the right fill-in-the-blanks ba-dum-ba-dum-ba-BOOM. A lot of credit for that should go to Darick Robertson, who draws Midnighter’s fights like broken-bottle back-alley brawls where every punch looks painful and ends (or begins) with the hero bleeding and punch-drunk rather than shaking it off and squaring his jaw.

Other stories have been told backwards, like Gaspar Noé’s 2002 film Irreversible or that one episode of Seinfeld. Neither of them worked nearly as well as this fill-in issue of a typical, often frankly mediocre, superhero comic. Possibly because they didn’t have explosions. Midnighter #7 has very good explosions indeed.