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Talking With Midnighter’s Steve Orlando

This week’s Convergence: Nightwing and Oracle #2 includes a preview of the new Midnighter series written by Steve Orlando and illustrated by ACO. The words fun, smart, sexy, and irreverent came to mind as I read it, and that was an eight page story! The first issue will be out on June 3rd. Let’s pique your interest in the meantime!

 

GL: Congratulations on your new job as the writer of the upcoming Midnighter series! What’s the reception been like and how are you feeling?

SO: It has been great! It’s exciting to see the genuine people have for the character, something that’s been with me for a while but that I am glad to see in the fan base as well. Midnighter was a hugely influential character for me. He debuted when I was young, and was a stark example that there was no one way, no “correct” way to be LGBT. “Gay” can look like anything, it doesn’t need to subscribe to the expectations or notions of others. Midnighter was incredibly hard but incredibly caring, and the story treated his being gay as just another aspect of his character, not something to fetishize. Now when I speak to fans of the character, it is wonderful to see he has been important to them as he was to me. He’s not simply another vigilante hero, he’s a symbol for what comics as popular myth can mean to people. Look at Midnighter, look at Batman, two characters both strongly influenced by the Shadow, and yet that idea can mutate and change into different characters that connect with different readers, all doing the great work of comics- showing the outsiders that they are not alone.

To be part of that? To add to the legacy of a character that helped shape who I am today? Honored is how I’m feeling.

GL: The news of a Midnighter ongoing series came as a surprise. Have you been interested in the character before and how did you become involved in the project? What tone are you and artist ACO creating for the series?

SO: Definitely! Like I said I have been a fan of Midnighter since his original 1998 debut in the later issues of Stormwatch. From his initial appearance, his confidence, the joy he takes in his job, albeit a job that is horrifying, was wonderful. Much like that Shadow before him, he was a man that made the frighteners frightened, makes those who hurt others feel like the ones they hurt.

I became involved with the project through my friend and editor Mark Doyle. Mark actually edited my first work for DCE, Mystery in Space, which featured centaurs taking hallucinogens and experiencing puberty as gladiatorial combat between their human and horse selves. So Mark knew I was usually to be relied upon for a strange story that challenges sexuality. We spoke about the impact Midnighter had on me personally, what he meant to me, and it was from that conversation that the first seed for Midnighter was planted.

With the current series, ACO and I will bring Midnighter into the modern day as an adult gay male, and we’ll get back to his roots as the one stop shop for insane action. Even in the DCU, Midnighter is the kick-ass fighter that does things where even other heroes have to step back and say “damn, that was insane.” He’s a super action hero among super heroes. And that is one of the things that drew readers to Midnighter – his dark humor, the hyperbole of his action scenes. He is the toughest guy in any room, but he doesn’t brood about it. He loves being Midnighter. And he doesn’t care what anyone thinks about it.

In Midnighter we will be applying that bombastic personality to his entire life. Midnighter has no secret identity – he’s out of the closet in every way, as a superhero, as a gay man. And since Midnighter was made by bad science to be a fighter, he is going to now finally take a step into the queer community to explore life when he’s not fighting. It’s not about uncovering his past, it’s about defining his present. So often queer youth may act a certain way to fit in, dress a certain way, and so I think there is a natural connection and relation to superhero culture, to putting on a costume to enter the world. But Midnighter shows us we don’t need to. In or out of uniform, he is who he is, damn the rest.

It is the only way a Midnighter book can be – unabashed queer themes, unapologetic action, uncompromising confidence.

GL: My gay card might be in serious jeopardy if I don’t mention that you’re the first gay (or bisexual which will be clarified unless you prefer to veto this question) man to write Midnighter. How is your writing influenced by being gay/ bisexual?

SO: find this question interesting. I would never veto this question, I wouldn’t be much of a Midnighter writer if I did. However, since the announcement people have assumed I am gay, when I am bisexual. I am proud to be working on an LGBT book and be part of the LGBT community, but I also find the concept that “you must be ____ to write a ____ character” to be flawed. Yes, I am bisexual, but Midnighter was created and written beautifully by a straight creative team. I think the assumptions that come with the book have been interesting, and not unwelcome, though my sexuality was not publicized by TPTB.

And being bisexual certainly influences Midnighter, especially in the pressure I am putting on myself to continue the characters legacy and show him engaging in queer culture in a rich, detailed, realistic way. I can draw on events from my own life and build them into the book, and hopefully create themes and moments that resonate across the readership. The day to day life in the queer community features tiny moments that either don’t need to be considered in the straight community, or come into play in completely different ways. Hopefully I can bring those little notes, the offhand comments and glances that round out the world in a more tangible, relatable way.

midnighterpreviewpage2001Art by Aco. Coloring by Romulo Fajardo Jr

GL: Midnighter as a recurring character in the Grayson series after Stormwatch’s cancellation was a big, pleasant surprise. Do you have any plans to use Grayson in guest appearances? A team up as a different kind of Dynamic Duo?

SO: The concepts introduced in Grayson certainly influence the series. I can’t say whether or not Dick Grayon himself will appear, but the series background is embellished if you’d read Grayson. If you haven’t? No problem. We set it all up for you in issue one. But if you have? You’ve watched it build in real time. Guest stars in general may happen eventually, but for a while at least, the idea is to build Midnighter’s new world he exists in as an independent hero. From the guys he meets, to his late night sounding boards, to his network of people whose lives he has saved, we want to show the community Midnighter is building around himself as he fights to make change he can see in real, everyday people’s lives.

DC’s announcement for its new series mentioned a greater emphasis on storytelling and less emphasis on continuity. Midnighter’s appearances in Grayson seemed unconcerned with any events in or characters from the recent Stormwatch book. Are you building on aspects of Midnighter from Tim Seeley and Tom King set up in Grayson, elements like the Gardener and the Garden, her mysterious, space bound pyramid shaped ship?

As you saw in Grayson, Midnighter’s relationship with the God Garden was left a tense one. But that said, as the woman that created Midnighter, the Gardener will always be linked to his life, even if he never wants to see her again. As we approach Issue One, a major action at the God Garden sets into motion Midnighter’s journey through his solo book, as he deals with fallout that forces him to hit the streets on the hunt for any number of technological or personal mysteries.

Floating in orbit, the God Garden holds so many wonders, each more dangerous than the next, and one with a very specific personal resonance to Midnighter. But even in space, in an armored space pyramid, the Gardener is not untouchable.

GL: I can recall disappointment for some readers that Apollo didn’t have a significant role in Midnighter’s first solo series. Can readers expect to see Apollo play some role in your stories?

Even in Grayson, Midnighter and Apollo had tension. As we open Midnighter, Apollo and Midnighter have been together for a few months, but they have not been together for years as they were before the reboot. The honeymoon period is over, and like many young people in love, they may have moved too fast. Though they have strong feelings for each other, just like in real life, sometimes that is not enough. Sometimes something doesn’t work at one time, and works at another. Relationships are work in real life, and they should be in fiction as well. Midnighter and Apollo do come from different backgrounds, and they see life in different ways. Apollo may not be with him as the series begins, but who he is, and what he symbolizes for Midnighter, influence the journey Midnighter is on from Page One. Midnighter has never been single as an adult gay male, Apollo is his first real relationship, and he needs to be able to define himself as an out gay male individually. In reality, if a person is defined completely by their relationship with their partner, if their sexuality is defined by one person, that relationship is not emotionally healthy. Only be being happy with oneself can we truly function as a unit in a relationship. With no past, Midnighter already has less to define himself than the average human being, and he has to set out to find who he is in between fights if he is going to be emotionally healthy.

And as they are apart, we get a wonderful chance to show Midnighter explore life as an adult gay male, and get a chance to actively participate in that life. So often we see gay male couples introduced in media and immediately married off, chastened and sanitized. As Midnighter makes his personal journey to define himself as an individual, he’s stepping on a road we all have to walk.

But he’s doing it his way, with a sarcastic smile and a love of the punching arts.

GL: Some anti-heroic characters like Punisher and Wolverine have always been violent. Midnighter seems to have that distinction as well. The violent aspect was played up by Mark Millar during his run, though to be fair he applied it across the board to the entire Authority team during his run on the Wildstorm series. At the time I remember some fan reaction against the tone, particularly with Midnighter and Apollo because the idea of LGBT characters being violent was distasteful to them. Can or should a gay character be grim and gritty and violent and what, if anything, are we telling ourselves with such characters?

SO: I personally don’t think a gay character “should” be one thing or another. That is like saying a straight character “should” be something or another. This whole question actually fetishizes gay characters in some ways, as if they are held to a different, separate set of rules. A gay character has every right to be “grim and gritty” just as any other character. So I guess my answer is we aren’t telling ourselves anything, other than that the reality is gay characters can be put into any role a straight character can. Wolverine is one of the most popular characters in comics, and it’s obvious though he is violent that he does not represent the whole of the straight, cisgender, Canadian community. People rarely question what his violent nature signify’s for that community. He is one man who is violent, and Midnighter is one man who is violent.

And to be honest, I think it is all about presentation. Yes, violence was more exploitative in certain runs, but Midnighter has been violent since day one under Ellis and Hitch’s Stormwatch, where he mentions “I’m going to enjoy crippling you all.” And the character was created as “the Shadow by John Woo.” The fact is, he is an over the top action movie hero. He is John McLane, and instead of taking on an entire building to save Holly, he is taking on the universe to save the world. Putting a gay male in that role, knowing he is doing these things to safe his boyfriend, and having him be every bit the hero as his straight counterparts, that’s the message.

With Midnighter, he is a man who has rectified the dark and light in his personality. And that I think is an important message for anyone, queer or otherwise. He has an incredible capacity for violence, but it is focused by his incredible capacity for caring. Midnighter cares so much about innocent people, and people have the life that was taken from him. But he reacts just as strongly when someone steps in and abuses that. When you victimize someone, you face his rage. And when you are hurt, you face his compassion.

And yes, he could likely curb his tendencies a bit more, not dress as he does, not say the horrifying things he does, do the terrifying things he does to save people, but Midnighter is not worried about people who don’t understand him, or what others think. He is going to save you, and doesn’t care if he makes the crowd standing by and doing nothing uncomfortable while he does it.

GL: What kinds of villains or threats do you have planned? Will you have any LGBT villains?

SO: Look to the God Garden! Midnighter was created through abusive, bad science and technology. And as the series goes on he will be fighting to help others like him, and stem the spread of dangerous science fiction concepts that have been disseminated into the world. The villains will be outrageous, some new and some from the deep bowels of the DCU where I love to spend my Friday nights.

As for LGBT villains, again I feel it is pandering to include an LGBT character in every facet of the book. We do not live in a world with only queer people. We live in a world where straight people go to their transgender lawyer and go to dinner with their bisexual friend from college, everyone is amidst everyone. That said, there will be a significant amount of LGBT characters due to the circle Midnighter will be running in, along with a strong push for diversity of race. But these characters come about organically, driven by the story, as opposed to a need in my head to include more queer characters in certain places.

midnighterpreviewpage4002Art by Aco. Coloring by Romulo Fajardo Jr

GL: A lot more readers know your name after DC’s announcement though many of them may not be familiar with your self published stories and work at Image. How long have you been writing? What sorts of characters and ideas fascinate and inspire you that you’ve explored in your writing to date or hope to with future stories?

SO: have been writing comics for fifteen years, which at this point is more than half my life. I am drawn to characters with a strong sense of self, with personalities that are perhaps at odds with the world around them. I love exploring the meeting point of identity and social expectations. How do you rectify your everyday social aspect when those things are in conflict? And the nice thing is there is no one answer, it’s a question that will always need to be asked. I’ve written about Russian pop culture sex gods, immortals trapped by their own ego, anarchist icons secretly in love with their home. It is the constant tug of war between the personal and private face that fascinates me, and the hypothetical moment, that perfect world we are all working for when they can be the same thing.

GL: You must have insights from making comics essentially on a small press and or self publishing scale before Undertow was published by Image and your upcoming work for DC. Any thoughts to share with aspiring writers or readers who may not always be aware of comics outside of their comfort zone?

SO: The most important answer to this question is what my mentor Steven T Seagle told me when I was fourteen. “Write every day. If you treat writing like a hobby, it will always be one.” It is a tough thing to hear, or it was, but it was also completely true. The way to get into comics is to make comics, and accept no excuses. Writing, or art in general, is a wonderful, creative thing, but is also work. And I am not joking when I say it took fifteen years to get to this point, and it took eight years until I had a small story published (in Outlaw Territory from Image), and four MORE years until I had the next thing published (Mystery in Space). In between I self published multiple books, including my main work, the newsprint graphic novel Octobriana. You are always one decision away form giving up, and you just have to keep creating because you love making comics. And the rest comes when it comes.

From Indyplanet to Comixology submit, to Driverthrucomics, and Kickstarter, there are more opportunities than ever to make comics and get them into the world. Work, collaborate, create, and it is easier than ever to get eyes on what you do.

GL: I read in another interview you did with the Times Union that Flex Mentallo is your favorite book. I just want to say that’s a damn fine choice. In the same interview you mention your love for obscure characters. I think if I test you I’d probably lose. Instead I’ll agree with you that ridiculous characters can be lots of fun. If you could revive an obscure Golden Age DC character to use in a Midnighter story, who would it be and why?

SO: Oh man! I have always loved the Red Bee (his power is that he has trained bees in his belt buckle)! There are so many old characters I love – Neon the Unknown, Magno, Bulletman, Prince Ra-Man, Mr. Scarlet.

GL: You’ve definitely stumped me with Magno there! Let’s hope you have the opportunity to write these characters! Here’s to a long, successful run with Midnighter! Thank you for a great interview!

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