Writer Steve Orlando has become one of DC Comics’ most exciting talents since making a huge impression with his Midnighter ongoing series, and even though Midnighter only lasted 12 issues, Orlando’s profile hasn’t stopped rising. This fall, Orlando takes the reins of a new Supergirl series and headlines the first crossover of DC’s Rebirth era, “Night Of The Monster Men,” a large-scale action spectacular unfolding across Batman, Detective Comics, and Nightwing. Midnighter fans have reason to celebrate as Orlando launches a new Midnighter And Apollo miniseries this week, and he still has a new Justice League Of America title and his creator-owned miniseries, Namesake, on the horizon. It’s a busy time for Orlando, and he recently spoke with The A.V. Club about all his current projects, delving into Midnighter And Apollo’s importance to the queer community, the qualities that make Supergirl relatable, and why he continues to pursue creator-owned ventures as he takes on more superhero projects.
The A.V. Club: Who do we have to thank for Midnighter and Apollo returning to the spotlight?
Steve Orlando: Midnighter And Apollo is back because, just as Dan [DiDio, DC Entertainment co-publisher] had mentioned at the retailer breakfast in San Diego, we knew the demand was there. It was just about finding the right avenue to reach them. When we looked at the sales of the first collection, which was Midnighter Vol. 1: Out, they were sales corresponding to what would look, on paper, to be a different book than Midnighter. Normally you can predict how a trade will sell based on sales of periodicals, but these were sales corresponding to something that would have been selling twice what Midnighter was. So we knew that the readership was bigger than the periodical was saying. Looking at that and knowing that I had more to say—always more to say, an infinite amount of things to say with Midnighter and Apollo—I spoke with Dan and Geoff [Johns, DC Entertainment president] and Jim [Lee, DC Entertainment co-publisher] and Bob [Harras, DC Comics editor-in-chief], and we figured out a way to bring him back—to find a road to getting him back in print and supporting those readers that I always knew were there, but were presenting themselves finally in a way that we could all see.
AVC: How does having Midnighter and Apollo back together as a couple change the dynamics of your story?
SO: It changes the scale of the story, and it changes what we’re exploring. They were back together at the end of the previous run, but they’re different people. There’s the insecurities that drove Midnighter to make the mistakes that he did. I wouldn’t say they’re gone, but he’s learned to integrate them better, just like we all do in our human lives. So they’re stronger as a couple now, because they know they’re together because they want to be. Not because inertia. Not because of fear of being alone. All the reasons that will keep us from making changes in our life when maybe we should. They’re the wrong reasons, and there’s no question of that now. They know that they’re strong individuals, and they’re stronger together as the world’s finest couple. And having Apollo in the book changes the scale. Having someone that can go toe to toe with Superman means that we’re getting bigger, we’re getting crazier, and as you saw in the preview, he’s punching out a many-stories-high golem made of train cars. We’re certainly getting bigger and stranger as the series goes on.
AVC: How big a part does romance play in the new book? Midnighter explored his love life, which didn’t feel different because it was gay, but because it was romance at all in a superhero comic, which is less and less of a priority in modern comics.
SO: I think the ratio you saw in Midnighter is going to be continued through this book, because it is an action book first just like I would consider Midnighter is. But in order to care about that action, you have to care about the characters, and that means exploring the social and romantic aspects of their lives. You’ll see that continue with Midnighter And Apollo. You’ll see where some characters from Midnighter are. A couple of weeks have passed since Midnighter #12. You’ll see them taking on a villain that is really going to push their relationship to the limits in a way that is impactful and powerful. It’s easily the biggest villain—some would say the only villain in many ways. I’m excited that it’s going to be a gay couple taking him on.
AVC: After the Pulse nightclub shooting over the summer, I found myself really sad that there wasn’t a new issue of Midnighter the next month. I really wanted this escapist fantasy of an unstoppable gay superhero when I was seeing so much about the vulnerability of the community everywhere. Have recent events impacted the story that you’re telling in this book at all?
SO: It definitely has in a way that I think makes it very important for the exact reasons you said. I knew the book was happening before the events of the Pulse shooting, and after that, I sort of said, “Do we need the book?” and “What does the book have to be?” I came to the conclusion that you did. Like, “No, we need it now more than ever.” We need a book where it’s a gay couple that is facing down evil and it’s a gay couple that’s facing down hatred and violence and refuses to back down, refuses to give up in the face of all those things. We need that for everything that you mentioned. I needed that. We need that symbol that, as a community, we’re never going to back down from these things. Even in the face of hatred and death, we’re not going to be afraid. We’re going to keep going. That’s what these characters can represent and should represent and do represent. I went from saying it’s the right time for Midnighter And Apollo to saying this is the crucial time for Midnighter And Apollo. We need that. We need that message to say nothing is going to stop us. Nothing is going to cause us to falter, because we can’t let those things win, and we’re not going to. To me, that’s what the book should mean, and it’s more important than ever.
AVC: What does incoming artist Fernando Blanco bring to the series?
SO: It is really cool having him on the book. He’s a friend of ACO’s. ACO recommended him when we found out that scheduling wasn’t going to allow him to take part in the interiors. I think it’s interesting to see Fernando’s work evolve. He has a lot of the same notes as ACO. At the same time, his layouts, his energy is all his own. It’s an interesting moment for it, because we’re going places in the book that we never went with Midnighter And Apollo. The feel of the book is different, the settings of the book are different. And there’s a little hint of that in the copy release, where you find out that we’re going to be using Mawzir from Hitman.
The worlds that these characters inhabit are different, and Fernando has dug into the world building and the design of these things and broken free of not just doing things that remind—there was never the urge for him to be ACO. They’re friends and they do some things similarly, but at the same time, they do a lot of things differently, and every time [Fernando] pushes it, every time he pushes the layout, it just gets better and better. I think that it’s that he gets the action, and he gets the beat that people want from Midnighter, but his language on the page is totally different than ACO’s in a really fun way, and his art is going places that these characters have never gone before.
AVC: You’re also writing the Supergirl ongoing series, which has been very much in demand since the debut of the TV show. How are you incorporating elements of the show into the comic series while still telling a story that is unique to the comics version of Supergirl?
SO: Now that issue one and the Rebirth issue are out, I think it is a little more apparent. Elements from the show that are in the book are refreshed with the joie de vivre of the DC Universe. National City is there, but Brian’s vision of it is much more stylized and I think unique than the TV show, because we can do that. We have the infinite budget to do that on the comic page. The budget is our imagination. The same goes for Cat Grant, who is appearing, and I picked up some of the things from the show. I picked up her attitude and what she represents as a successful businesswoman and how she presents herself. But again, it’s integrated within the DCU.
People who read issue one have thought that there’s a big shift in her character, but you’ll see as she begins to explain what she’s doing—whatever portmanteau was involved in her gossip blog with Clark Kent in Metropolis, all those things happened. You see that it was her way to game the agency and game the power and the cultural cash and the status to do what she’s doing now. So, it’s more like she’s come out of her shell. She says something in issue two, because she’s sort of writing the TMZ of Metropolis, and she says, “I’ve spent years watching the world at its worst. Now I’m trying to do something to make it its best.” So, it’s all the same character. It’s just about evolving them.
When it comes to the show, it’s about the feel. It’s about the tone. That’s the most important thing that connects with the show to me. We have different characters, we have different storylines, but the core of who Kara is is going to be unified between the show and the book, and the secret of that is it’s easy because the show gets what made her special in the first place. It’s sort of like a round robin of her character. We’re back to the core of Kara that was revolutionary and got a great reaction when the show came out, because a new audience who maybe didn’t even know that Superman had a cousin, didn’t know who Supergirl was, got to see why she was special. They changed what a superhero TV show could be like by just sticking to and understanding exactly what makes Kara stand out in the DC Universe.
AVC: Will flashbacks to Kara’s past on Krypton be a constant throughout the comic? They created a contrast with her Earthling high school experience and how they intensified the alienation Kara is feeling in her new environment.
SO: You’ll see them pop up when it’s necessary. Her acclimation is a process, so I would never say that long-term down the road they’ll always be there, because eventually we want her to make progress and move on. But the key as we kick off the story is for us to remember just how different things were. The fun part for me is that we are a primitive society for [Kryptonians]. So [Kara] trying to drive her car using our advanced technology is like someone trying to use an abacus today. We don’t even know how behind the times our technology is for her. So I think those flashbacks show that, and just the strangeness of her world, in a great way.
An exciting moment for me is that going back to the wild ideas of the Silver Age only heightens how unlike our world Krypton was, and it’s fun. If you had talked to me circa Midnighter and asked if I was ever going to do a book with lizard chariot races in it, I would probably say no, but here we are, and it’s out in print, and we’ve got lizard chariot races. That’s great. It’s the anything-is-possible nature of comic. It’s a great mechanism for Supergirl to show that this is like a new way of dressing and a new language to speak. It’s both of those things, but it’s so much more. That transition for her—having real memories from Krypton, having real people she’s lost—that’s what makes her who she is. I love that people have responded well to those little snippets of what we’re viewing Krypton is for her through her eyes.
AVC: Are you pulling anything from your own high school experience for Kara’s story?
SO: I was really bad at dodgeball, so yeah. People think that the Super characters are unrelatable because of their godlike powers, but Supergirl, with her story of acclimating to a foreign place and being new to Earth and new to our people, it’s actually super relatable. We go through that. You don’t have to be an expatriate living in another country to feel what she feels. Starting a new job. You break up with your partner, and you get a new set of friends when you start dating someone else. We get into those situations all the time, and that goes for high school, too. I was not super athletic in high school, though I did do sports, but they were sports no one cared about, like track and field—not to shade track and field. There’s a lot of that, the leering comments from under the breath and things like that. Whether that’s my high school paranoia or they were actually happening, there’s a lot there that I think Kara is feeling, too.
AVC: It’s not too hard to find a queer metaphor underneath Kara’s situation as a high school student who has to keep her superhero identity a secret. Is that something that you’re actively playing into?
SO: It’s inherent not just in Kara’s experience, but in the concept of secret identities in general. I think the answer is certainly yes, and almost all the time. This idea of your true self being a secret—interestingly, I think Superman is a reverse, because I’m a person that looks at Clark Kent as being his true self, so he’s actually hiding his not-true self. But someone like Batman, for whom the costume and everything, that’s his true self, and Bruce Wayne is the mask. Yeah, that is certainly analogous to the queer experience, but it’s not just Supergirl. It’s why you see such a strong connection between the queer community and superhero comics in general, because they look to those things that relate to what they’re going through when they’re younger, and they find that in a lot of comics. You only had to go to Flame Con, which was last month, to see that these communities are inherently linked, and I think they find solace and catharsis in each other.
AVC: You’re working with both Brian Ching and Emanuela Lupacchino on Supergirl. Are you adjusting your scripts at all depending on who is working on whichever issue?
SO: I absolutely do. Look, you can write a script not knowing who is going to draw it, and a comic can happen, but I think it’s part of the job of a writer to know who you’re working with. You want to write to their strengths, but also find things as you’re looking through their work and their backlists of things that you think that they can grow to and do amazing work with. The book will be better if you know and keep in mind who you’re working with so that you create the situations that stimulate them. You know the things they like as a creator, they find interesting, and that they can knock out of the park. The first person you have to entertain with a script is your editor and your artist. You can write for Artist X, and sometimes that happens because of scheduling and things like that, but if you know who you’re working with, I think it’s part of the job to really write to them, because the final work is going to be better. If they’re having a great time, they’re stimulated, they’re excited. You’re going to feel that on the page. I think that’s key to what goes on with Brian, and it’s certainly key to what goes on with Emanuela as well.
AVC: In addition to both Midnighter And Apollo and Supergirl, you’re also the lead writer on the “Night Of The Monster Men” crossover in Batman, Detective Comics, and Nightwing. Was there any pressure in headlining your first crossover, which also happens to be the first of DC’s Rebirth period?
SO: No. [Laughs.] I mean, there was always pressure, and there’s pressure right now. I’m actually looking at the comps, which just came minutes before you called. It’s surreal to see my name on Batman #7. There’s a ton of pressure, of course, but at the same time, the story is fun—the story is fresh. The story is something you’ve never seen before. If there’s not pressure, I feel like you’re not understanding. You’re taking it too much in stride, or it’s too easy. Creating should be a challenge. If it’s not a challenge, the final product will still happen, but if you’re not pushing yourself, then you’re not doing stuff that’s powerful and has energy.
Batman, Nightwing, and Batwoman to me are the three pillars of the Bat family. Those are the trinity of Gotham City, and what they represent is intimidating. This is something to me that just became more and more fun. The story takes place over one night, and is just an insane sort of monster romp. I’ve said it’s Batman meets Pacific Rim, but I just watched The Warriors over the weekend, which is them fighting their way all through New York City over one night. There’s no tie to The Warriors, but that structure to me is a lot like “Monster Men,” because it starts with the sun going down. It ends with sun going up, and you feel like it’s so tangible. The first page of Batman #7 is a direct Warriors allusion, which I was super, super happy got in. I just think it’s something unlike anything I’ve done before. Definitely pressure, but Riley [Rossmo] is doing the work of his career. Roge Antonio is doing the work of his career. Andy MacDonald is doing the work of his career. Everybody loves drawing fun, insane bat-gadgets and giant monsters, so they’ve got my back really well, and I think it’s going to turn out very, very exciting.
AVC: What are the challenges and benefits of working with other writers and stepping onto those specific, different titles?
SO: We each have our stories that we’re telling, and we have to keep it exciting. We have to keep it uniform, but we also have to maintain our voices, and we have to push through the macro-narrative of Batman, Detective, and Nightwing. That’s the challenge. We’re basically doing double duty. We have an exciting story that gets wild and gets crazy, but also pushes the ball along for what’s going on in these books. That’s the challenge, but that leads to the benefit of working with those guys. At the end of the day, they know those voices, and they know what they need from each issue. They can read them and say, “Oh, Steve, can you push this up a little more? Could you revisit these lines?” I need a little more and less in certain places to make sure that we’re getting extra satisfaction from each issue, both in the micro—I shouldn’t say micro, because they’re giant monsters—story of “Monster Men,” that’s less than a 24-hour period, and the ongoing stories that are evolving in their individual series.
AVC: Your biggest project is still on the horizon: a new Justice League Of America ongoing series. How did you score the JLA gig?
SO: JLA came about because I’m DC-exclusive, and I have a reputation around the offices for an intense and very detailed love of DC Comics characters. Pitching characters that editors haven’t heard of in years and years that haven’t appeared in decades and decades. That sort of rich love of the DC Universe is why they thought of me for JLA. It’s a book that pulls together a diverse array of characters and interests and settings and explores the wonder and awe of the DCU. That’s the way I feel about the characters and the company. In my mind, that’s why they thought of me to take this book on.
AVC: How does the Justice League Of America differ from the Justice League on a conceptual level? How does the “Of America” change the team?
SO: The first thing is the thematic push behind the team is different, as you’ll see when the book begins, than Justice League. The second practical answer is the cast is different than Justice League. There is immediately a noticeable difference between the books, and it’s about what they stand for. I don’t want to talk too much about the heart and philosophical idea behind the JLA, which will become apparent when it starts, but Justice League Of America is only phase one. It’s phase one of a project that becomes apparent throughout the ongoing run of the series.
For the people putting it together, it’s about defying expectations. It’s about redefining what heroism is, and it’s about bringing heroism to places, especially in these sort of modern times, that never thought they’d see it before. It’s about bringing it to the other side of the map. It’s about characters that are looking to defy what people think of them and show people heroism with a new face. When you see what the cast is, I think it will become even more apparent that these are characters that maybe have always known they’re heroes or had potential, but they really need a way to show the world. They need a way to pay it forward, how the world has embraced them and helped them, and the Justice League Of America is their way to do that.
AVC: In the midst of all these DC releases, you’re also putting out a creator-owned title at Boom! Studios: Namesake, a sci-fi family drama. What inspired the idea behind Namesake?
SO: Namesake was inspired by my relationship with my family and the greater concept of family. It is a punching and kicking in two different fantasy worlds version of this idea that we do crazy things for our family. So often we say to our partners, “You wouldn’t understand. It’s complicated.” It’s actually not complicated at all. It’s family. That phrase, “It’s family,” is a rationalization for any number of insane compromises and acts that we take. That’s fascinating to me. Namesake is about that writ large on a “Final Fantasy meets Mad Max”-type scale with the added bonus that, this time, family means a queer family with two fathers. Just like we did in Virgil and Midnighter, the book is celebrating that. The book is treating that with the same normalcy and acceptance that we want to be treated in our daily lives. To me, it’s about what we do for family, and it’s about that family doesn’t have to look like it’s always looked in comics before.
AVC: What makes Jakub Rebelka the right fit to draw Namesake?
SO: Jakub feels extremely European. The work he’s doing feels like a 2000 A.D. book, it feels like a Moebius book in its texture and style and the way he labels and designs things. I’ve never done a book like that before, so I find it very exciting.
AVC: How important is it for you to keep doing original work while you’re getting more DC projects?
SO: It’s very important. They’re two different things. Working at DC is an honor for me, and it’s about the idea that you are putting a brick in a wall, or whatever metaphor you want, that is over 75 years old. You’re adding to a tapestry that is soon going to be 100 years old. It’s bigger than you, it’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than anything that any one of us are going to do, and that’s a huge honor, to get to touch those characters and push those stories forward, and redefine what they mean, and show why they’re wonderful to a new generation. Creator-owned is you building the foundation. You’re building the whole house. You’re not just adding a room to it or hanging something new on the wall. You’re building it from the ground up. I think that it’s extremely important to do both, because they’re totally different creative experiences, and one nurtures the other. One makes you hungry for the other. That hunger makes them both better when you get a chance to do them.