Garth Ennis’ Midnighter: Killing Machine

I have to confess to some ambivalence toward Midnighter: Killing Machine, the first collection of the eponymous series on the character introduced in Stormwatch and who continued as part of the Authority in the Wildstorm universe. I think that ambivalence will be apparent as you read through this commentary.

As the story opens, Midnighter is captured by men working for a man named Paulus while passing through the Carrier’s teleportation portal. Paulus has a job for him: Midnighter is to go back through time and kill Adolf Hitler at some point in World War I. It seems Paulus was the sole member of his family to survive one of the Nazi death camps, and he’s now rich enough, and has bought technology enough, that he can change that — he thinks. Paulus has had a bomb placed in Midnighter’s chest — his insurance that his directive will be carried out and that he himself will survive it. All is going according to plan until the time police show up — they don’t really like it when people monkey around with history.

In general terms, the script is tight and engaging, with all the things that make action/adventure comics what they are, and there are touches as Midnighter finds himself wandering through Berlin in April, 1945, that are both poignant and chilling. The graphic work is fluent and dynamic, with the kind of comic realism that I find appealing. Layouts are a little adventurous, but not remarkably so, and visual characterizations are apt, although there’s some softness to the figures, notably in the case of Apollo, Midnighter’s lover, who looks a little pudgy.

My reservations start with the character of Midnighter: there is no happiness in this man at all, no joy, no contentment. He’s about the darkest of the comic anti-heroes I’ve run across so far, and it’s not very appealing. I just felt very little engagement with him, in spite of the fact that part of the reason I started this series was that it features a gay couple, Midnighter and Apollo, although their relationship, while given as a fait accompli, is downplayed. One gets the distinct feeling (at least this one did) that the love has become habit.

And it’s violent. I’m not fond of violence in film or other visual media, but I can deal with it if it’s justified by the story. This is over and above what was really necessary, I think. Midnighter and Paulus between them manage to come up with numerous and increasingly gory means of eliminating people (and let me point out that Paulus himself is a real piece of work and thoroughly deserves what he gets). It’s not terribly appealing.

This volume includes an independent story, #6 in the original series, that takes place in medieval Japan. Our hero is a footloose warrior who has no memory of his origins, but who is undefeatable. He takes service with a local noble, and then one day meets another warrior who would rather not fight, although he’s perfectly capable of wreaking havoc on his opponents. The attraction is deep and immediate, but of course, the relationship is doomed.

This one doesn’t really have much going for it. The graphics by Glenn Fabry are appealing enough, although character designs don’t show much variation, but the story is thin and a little trite. I’m not sure that Ennis did his homework on this one: he portrays the relationship between the two men as illicit and the focus of overt contempt, and from all my reading, the attitude toward same-sex relationships in this period, particularly among the samurai class, was quite different. The common practice, however, was more in line with similar relationships among the ancient Greeks: a warrior would take a younger page as his lover, teaching him the warrior’s code.

I’m not all that enthusiastic about this one because of the violence and the one-dimensional characterization of Midnighter. The remainder of the series may add something that, but I’m not in any hurry to continue. It’s not actually bad, just sort of OK, if you can stand the gore.

(Wildstorm, 2007)

About Robert Tilendis

Robert M. Tilendis lives a deceptively quiet life. He has made money as a dishwasher, errand boy, legal librarian, arts administrator, shipping expert, free-lance writer and editor, and probably a few other things he’s tried very hard to forget about. He has also been a student of history, art, theater, psychology, ceramics, and dance. Through it all, he has been an artist and poet, just to provide a little stability in his life. Along about January of every year, he wonders why he still lives someplace as mundane as Chicago; it must be that he likes it there.

You may e-mail him, but include a reference to Green Man Review so you don’t get deleted with the spam.