Steve Orlando was one of the breakout creators of 2015. Bursting onto the scene with the unapologetic madness and heart of Midnighter while crafting his ‘queersploitation’ OGN, Virgil, for Image, Orlando found himself a passionate following and a place at the table for DC’s Batman and Robin: Eternal project. Now, with his first ongoing series from DC winding down, he’s found work with Boom! Studios and is set to reintroduce fans to one of DC’s rising stars.
I was lucky enough to sit down with Orlando to talk about creative storytelling, representation, Kryptonian culture, and more.
Noah Sharma: So, I guess to get right to it, what’s it been like writing a hero who has access to Door tech? Has that been difficult or easier, given that kind of space and time are no obstacle?
Steve Orlando: Uh, no. The answer is if it’s easy, you’re doing it wrong, because it’s all about finding creative ways to use it. And so it’s about challenging the artists, between ACO and Hugo, but also even like the folks that use the Doors in Batman and Robin: Eternal. It’s a fun challenge from an artistic standpoint for them to sort of tell the story with layouts and things like that. And then, as you said, it’s kind of an easy fix for a lot of problems. So you gotta make the problems harder and you’ve gotta find creative ways to use them. So, in Midnighter #11, Bendix uses them to basically take everyone else out of the room, all the Spiral Guards, and drop them in front of this active volcano. So they’re using them in kind of this passive way where it’s like trapdoors for people.
Or in Batman and Robin: Eternal, Red Robin has to ascend this huge sort of spire. So he doors into the sky. And then he uses all the momentum to fall into a door in the ground that opens up in the opposite direction and he, like, Looney Toons out of it up into the sky again. So, it’s all about finding new ways to use the things.
It’s funny because it’s such an elegant, sort of simple thing that Warren and Bryan created, but it’s persisted because it opens up so many…avenues– You thought I was going to say “opens up so many doors”– to new types of storytelling techniques. I mean, it’s fun and, like I said, if you’re just using to walk across the room or something like that, you’re not really thinking about what the possibilities are.
So, Midnighter is winding down now, sadly. What was the craziest thing or your favorite thing you had him do, or haven’t we seen it yet?
Um, well, you definitely haven’t. There’s some insane stuff in issue #12, without question. But having said that as well, I mean, him killing someone with a T-Bone steak in issue #1 was in the original pitch. It was originally an avocado and not a steak, but, regardless, like, very excited to have that happen.
But also, the final splash of issue #11, like, it was no joke what I said on the panel yesterday. From the beginning I wanted to have the final splash of him showing up at the last minute, and just having the end splash of him being like, “You wanna fight?” It’s so iconic and it’s been something I had to do before I got away from the book, so I’m glad people really enjoyed it. And that’s not like a crazy moment, but it’s one of those things where I was like you can’t not do this with a character who, more than anyone else in the DCU, is about fighting. And it’s so primal and so sort of like schoolyard-ish that, oh man, I could talk about it a long time. I like weird stuff, as you can tell, and focus on weird things, but I was very happy to have that happen.
One thing that I really love about Midnighter, especially as you’ve written him, is he’s got a very particular brand of masculinity. I feel like, especially for queer men there can be a pressure sometimes to either embrace or flee from masculinity. And Midnighter really doesn’t- He’s strong, like he’s a badass guy, but he doesn’t like have to be brooding and mean about it. Was that something that you consciously were working on or is that just kind of a natural part of writing the character?
Well, I think it is a natural part of the character, but, having said that, it’s important to depict in comics – it’s important to depict in media in general – because, it’s just like you said, no one is just one thing. And being queer doesn’t mean one thing, being a hero doesn’t mean one thing, being masculine, being feminine doesn’t mean one thing. And sometimes you’re one thing and sometimes you’re another. It’s fluid. Most of your social…sort of hats you wear, the ways you express yourself are fluid. So it’s important to me, yeah, to have Midnighter be like, y’know- We’re not doing our job–no one’s doing the job, I think–if the character you’re writing, you’re not trying to make him as human, as relatable, as possible.
And, so, yeah, Midnighter can be at times very “masculine” stereotypically, but, at the same time, there’s this softness to him in different instances. And that’s real life. Like for people who are secure in themselves. And I think that’s the real key. Plenty of people do wear that sort of masculine mask all the time, but I don’t think they’re people that are too unified in their self-concept. They haven’t rectified with themselves. And when you are, I mean, Midnighter knows who he is 100%, which is ironic, of course, because he doesn’t know who he is in the past, but in the present he has no qualms about who he is. And so there’s no issue for him. Like, “Oh, will people think I’m not masculine enough?” He doesn’t give a shit. This is who he is in the moment and I think that’s something we all, y’know, we all want to be able to be and he’s an icon for us. He inspires us to do that.
You’re writing the Bulk & Skull back-ups on Power Rangers. What is it about those characters where you’re like, “That needs to be in a Power Rangers book”?
Uh, because I realized that they’re basically punk rock Laurel & Hardy. Y’know, Kyle’s doing something sort of topical and semi-serious in the main book, so I wanted to give a little bit of an amuse-bouche, with something that is very light.
Like Bulk & Skull is not tackling huge social issues, but it is, in my own way, I think I’m trying to make it a throwback to the characters that inspired it, sort of Vaudeville slapstick type of thing. And when I realized that about them it sort of clicked, why I find them fun. And it lets me get my weird puns and sort of doofy comedy in a way that people maybe don’t expect from me, being the ‘headshot’ guy. So I was excited to get that out there. For that reason.
So the big thing for you now is Supergirl. I understand if you can’t say too much about it yet, but one thing I think a lot of people are gonna be wondering is there’s a lot of different versions of Supergirl. I mean, she was kind of rebooted for the New 52. She had a bunch of different incarnations before that. She’s got a TV show now.
What’s the continuity of this book? Is this kind of a fresh start or is this-
Well, that’s actually something I can answer. I mean Rebirth is not a reboot.
So this is the Supergirl from the New 52, there’s no question about that. But in the same way, y’know, it’s actually- people said, “Well, you’re moving from Midnighter to Supergirl.” Well it’s actually kind of the same operation, right? ’Cause Midnighter had appeared other places and sort of like people weren’t sure where he connected in that previous book. And we sort of whittled it down to the core of the character to – like I said in the panel yesterday – to remind people who are longterm fans why he’s back and we get why we love him and then show new readers why everyone else loves him as well. And Supergirl’s obviously on a bigger stage, but he operation is the same.
All of the things in the New 52 happened, but it’s about finding a way to sort of create the sort of primal, iconic presentation of the character that will both refresh it for people who are sort of, maybe didn’t know, thought she was adrift for a little while. And then we’ll bring new people in who’ve seen the show and sort of wonder what makes her unique and show them why we think she’s great, why we love her, why so many people love her. So it’s 100% New 52 Supergirl. But it’s about getting back and showing sort of her journey into the character, that sort of totemic character that transcends all of those different iterations, whether it’s the TV show, whether it’s Helen Slater, whether it’s Matrix. It doesn’t even matter because the core of her, that compassion, that optimism, that understanding, unwavering character, that’s what makes her Supergirl. And we’re bringing her there as soon as possible.
Any chance of seeing Silver Banshee in this one?
Anything’s possible. I like Silver Banshee without question. I think one thing that we want to do definitely is, sort of like we did with Midnighter, focus on his initial core to remind people who she is. And then spread out and sort of revitalize his other concepts. So I certainly have some classic Supergirl villains in mind – and she is definitely one of them – that I want to sort of dig into and sort of do like, y’know what Geoff did with Black Hand for example. Y’know, and sort of give them this extra depth and, again, just amplify the things that make them great and unique.
It’s not about changing characters, it’s about infusing them with a little bit of energy that lets people see them, sort of boosting the signal so to speak. So we’re doing that with Cyborg Superman in the first arc, who I actually think- y’know, Zor-El is not the classic Cyborg Superman. Having said that though, I find him to be extremely endearing to me. Because he’s a tragic figure, right? Like, at least my take on Zor-El, he’s like that guy we’ve all met. He’s a bad dad. It’s not that he doesn’t love Kara. Everything he does is to make his daughter’s life better, just like a father should. But the problem is he’s a cybernetic killing machine. So like you have that sort of filter that that gets through, but I think that’s relatable. Everybody has, everybody knows that type of like screw-up parent. Their heart is in the right place. Usually it’s for other reasons in the real world. In the case of Zor-El it’s because Brainiac turned him into this robot slave. But the fact is he’s just trying to do the right thing. It’s just that his mind is so twisted.
So I find that relationship… People, I know, are worried it’s going to be about sort of Kara having daddy issues. There are no daddy issues. It’s about his failings as a father and his ultimately- Because of who she is, I don’t think any arc with Kara can’t be a redemption arc for a villain, in her eyes. Because she cares about them just as much as the people she’s protecting them from.
The term I like for Kara is the last citizen of Krypton. She’s someone who’s been there, who’s seen the difference. Like Clark is someone who doesn’t know Krypton.
I completely agree. Yeah.
What’s different in your mind between Earth and Krypton and how much worldbuilding are you getting to do with that?
Well, I mean, without getting into specifics, a lot of worldbuilding. I mean, you know, one thing that I found very exciting to me, as someone who’s lived in other countries, about Kara in the New 52 is that when she came here she didn’t speak English.
So I am creating, at least in Supergirl, I’m creating like real grammar rules for Kryptonian so nerds can translate it and read it and try to learn it.
So, the language is different, the culture is different, and we’ll see that sort of play out in the way that she sees different things, whether it’s food, whether it’s family, whether it’s sports.
Y’know, Krypton, for me, I love that sort of Silver Age weirdness and so, I look back and, y’know, we’re leaning into this sort of wild strangeness of comics that I think are wonderful – if you’ve read my other books – and Krypton is a great example of that.
There’s no reason for it to be too similar to Earth. But you’ll see, as we go through the first issue, I love the strange flora and fauna. I love the sort of diversity of cultures, because one thing that always sort of shocked me is that it’s a whole planet, but it always seems like there’s only one type of Kryptonian culture. And, for me, in my world, they can all exist there. Because, y’know, there’s no one Earth culture. And more so, if there is one Kryptonian culture, then that sort of talks about the sacrifices they’ve made to get there as a people. So it is intrinsically different and I think that’s one of the reasons that she is sort of torn between Earth and Krypton now. But the difference is Krypton let Kara go and Earth has welcomed her here.
Last question. Obviously with Midnighter leaving there’s a hole for a lot of people and a lot of people who were feeling very validated by that series. Are you able to say if there’s anything about Supergirl that might soften that blow, particularly for people in the queer community?
Uh, well Supergirl herself has no problem, obviously, with people.I think it is always my goal to have as much inclusivity in a book as possible. And even outside of Supergirl, this is something that’s vital and it’s something I’m always working for. So the answer is, to the best of my own ability, there will always be queer characters in my books. And that’s really the most I can say about that. But I think it’s vitally important, it’s the right thing to do, and I’m going to continue trying to do it.