Review by Karl Verhoven
Out is a very conflicted graphic novel. On one level it’s extremely progressive, for superhero comics at least, by not only featuring a gay character, but showing him enjoying life to the full. No apologies, no concealment. It’s also very stylish in places, most frequently when Aco is illustrating. Midnighter’s ability, stated rather too often, is a computer brain enabling him to run all possible conflict permutations instantaneously, and Aco’s layouts highlight options on a page in the midst of Midnighter caving someone’s skull in. Don’t worry, they deserve it.
Steve Orlando’s script first requires separating Midnighter from former partner Apollo, which is a logical choice. Where’s the tension for our pseudo-Batman if the pseudo-Superman can fly in to save the day whenever necessary? This leaves Midnighter at rather a loose end, but as he’s hunk of finely toned muscle, that’s not the case for long.
His abilities stem from genetic tinkering, and the thrust of the plot is that something has been stolen from his genetic tinkerer. This specifically targets Midnighter, and ensures he’ll attempt to hunt them down. For a fair portion of the book this is in the company of Dick Grayson, formerly Nightwing and Robin.
Orlando presents an extremely fast-paced story, with several surprising and entertaining moments, but stop to think about them for a second, and the logic rather collapses. At one point Midnighter handcuffs Grayson to him just before they’re about to take on some extremely dangerous monsters. “They were functional, admit it”, Midnighter says of the cuffs, having beaten the foes, via a joint gymnastic display. It strains the credibility and there are other moments that prioritise style over logic. The most egregious is the unmasking of the villain. Their identity is a good choice for matching Midnighter, yet their procedure is risible. It’s utterly, utterly preposterous, and given Midnighter was only the first of a planned campaign against other superheroes the villain of the piece would need several dozen lifetimes at his rate of planning.
Artistic inconsistency is also a problem. Aco is the most visually stimulating illustrator with the caveat that his storytelling sometimes fails, but he only turns in every other chapter. Stephen Mooney progresses as an artist, but he doesn’t have Aco’s facility for breaking down a page in exciting fashion, while Alec Morgan would be okay if not compared with the others.
Midnighter has rarely been presented as a man of so many words, and to some the line between professional confidence and smugness may be breached. He’s not the only one, though. Almost every notable character is presented with preposterous dialogue such as “I won the moment you spoke out of your sphincter of a mouth”, or “Tomorrow by design is ripped from the caul of yesterday”. That last one is from the secondary villain of the piece, a man whose dialogue Dr Evil would consider pompous and overblown. It’s a puzzling failing, as when we’re not in superhero combat mode Orlando’s dialogue is naturalistic and credible, even when flirting with Grayson, and his building of Midnighter’s social interaction is convincingly developed, down to an aversion to dancing.
One aspect not touched on, in Out at least, concerns the core of Midnighter being gay. It’s noted far too often that he was genetically rebuilt from the ground up, so why did the person responsible create a gay superhero rather than a straight one? It’d be interesting to know.
There are plenty of decent moments in Out, but it’s not as good as you’ve possibly heard. The next volume is Hard (fnarr, fnarr).