DC Comics has emphasized the importance of diversity to its refreshed publishing line, and “Midnighter” represents something generally unexpected from the company: A monthly comic book series starring an openly gay, single, “hyper-confident” male superhero.
Midnighter was originally part of the WildStorm universe, created by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch and first seen in 1998’s “Stormwatch” #4, before becoming a part of the DC Universe along with the rest of the WildStorm characters in 2011 with the advent of the New 52. Though the character has been around for years and starred in a prior solo book, the upcoming “Midnighter” series from writer Steve Orlando (best known for his work on “Undertow” at Image Comics) and artist ACO — one of 24 new titles launching at DC starting in June — is something new: Midnighter is operating in the DC Universe, on his own, not as a part of Stormwatch, nor in a relationship with fellow superhero Apollo.
And it sounds like Orlando is taking this opportunity to explore previously unearthed aspects of Midnighter’s personality. “Midnighter is only good at fighting,” Orlando told CBR News during a recent press event at DC’s Burbank headquarters. “He’s approached his entire life as a fight. And there’s no way to have a real life.” Yet that’s not necessarily how things have to remain, Orlando explained to CBR in an interview also discussing the aspirational element of the character’s “100 percent lack of fear, 100 percent lack of shame in who he is,” the “profound effect” Midnighter had on a young Steve Orlando and the writer’s thoughts on what constitutes the right amount of interaction with the broader DC Universe.
CBR News: Steve, “Midnighter” was appeared to be one of the 24 new DC Comics series that got among the warmest responses following the initial announcement — it seems like people are stoked to see this character in a solo book. How excited were you to see that type of reaction?
Steve Orlando: It was very exciting, and the reasons for which they were excited I think is heartening. A lot of people like Midnighter because he’s well known for doing a cartwheel and putting his head through your gullet, and things like that. And that is great — there will certainly be plenty of creative kill shots in “Midnighter.” But the idea that people are excited because he is this hyper-confident queer character — [it’s] very heartening to see people on board with that. I think that is what’s special about the character, and what makes him stand out. So the idea that people just grasped onto that — that’s what I’m all about, so I was very excited to see people also on board with it.
Midnighter has been in the pages of “Grayson” as of late, but what’s your starting point here?
Midnighter is only good at fighting. That sounds like a joke, but that is the emotional heart of the book. Midnighter is not a detective; Midnighter’s a fighter. That’s what he does. If he sees someone in trouble, he fights for you. He is a person who is very purely one thing — or he has been. He’s been very good at fights. But what we realize, as it goes on, is that he’s approached his entire life as a fight. And there’s no way to have a real life, real relationships, when you look at every single thing you do — whether it’s buying a coffee, or fighting the earthworm — as combat.
When we start, he is realizing, he is out of the closet as a gay man, he is out of the closet as a superhero. He has no secret identity. And he needs to find a way to really be a person. I joke about it — I’ve been saying it a lot in the pitch meetings — Midnighter doesn’t know if he likes bagels, because all he does is fight. We are going to keep with that, that’s what he’s known for, but he wants to find out how to be more than a fighter. He wants to find out what being Midnighter means. He is not like a Wolverine-type character that is going to be hunting for his past. He doesn’t care. He’s Midnighter all the time. But he has to know how to do that. He wants to find out how to be that, now that he’s committed to it.
You’ve done some Vertigo work at DC, and of course “Undertow” at Image, but this is your first monthly superhero book — not that Midnighter’s a superhero in the classic sense. How are you enjoying the opportunity?
It couldn’t be better, to be honest. I’ve been saying on the Internet, and in other interviews, Midnighter had a profound effect on young Steve. The fact that now I can maybe do that for people, and add to that myth, is very exciting for me. Being bisexual in the 1990s, you think that it’s only really one thing. The media only gives you so many ways to do things. So when you see this character that is totally different, and everyone fears and respects him, and he’s so good at what he does, even if what he does is horrifying — it’s a game-changer. I always joke, “What if John McClane was trying to save his husband instead of his wife at the end of ‘Die Hard’?” He wouldn’t be any more badass, but it would be shockingly impressive to see him pull it off. And that could be. There’s nothing inherently straight about action movie heroes, other than that we put it on them. Being able to present that type of character I think is very powerful, because people need to know that you just have to be yourself, and you can be anything, and you can still be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. There’s no one way to do things.
I think that confidence of the character, that understanding of himself, is a huge message that’s really important. Them letting me be able to propagate that is very exciting. And at the same time, have ridiculous action scenes, and plenty of exploding heads. That will be there, too.
It’s something that’s still relatively rare — the character’s been around for a while, but to position him in a solo series, in the DC Universe, that’s still a statement, even if it shouldn’t necessarily be one at this point. It feels significant — as the writer, it has to be a privilege, but is there a responsibility there, too?
I think there is a responsibility, but at the same time, in any case, the only real responsibility is telling a true portrait of this gay man. Any time you’re doing a book that has any type of minority presence, regardless of what it is, certainly there’s this expectation it is going to be some sort of microphone for the entire community, but that’s also impossible. The lives of the queer community in San Francisco are not the lives of the queer community in Birmingham, Alabama; or Portland, Maine; or the middle of Russia; Jamaica, the most homophobic place on planet, according to the Human Rights Watch. There’s such a diversity within the community, and how it cross-references with other races and other minorities — it’s not something I think you should aspire to, because all you’ll get is vanilla. If you make something that appeals to everyone, it’s going to have a profound effect on no one.
I think the only responsibility, really, is to be true to his own life, and the characters in his own story, that are each their own people, their own face of the queer community. But having said that, I think that his outlook, his confidence and 100 percent lack of fear, 100 percent lack of shame in who he is, is something that’s universal. And I do feel a responsibility to push that idea to the forefront, because that is something that regardless of where you’re from, and even regardless if you’re gay, straight or anything, is extremely powerful, and something that we would all aspire to. I think his iconic mode, his way of life, can be universal, and is very important, and is an expectation I have with myself to make sure that comes across. That is something that can be effective for the entire readership. But I think that it’s folly to try to give this holistic depiction of the gay community, because of course there is no such thing.
Within the series itself, how significant is it that he is on his own? We’ve seen him in team books, where he’s with Stormwatch, the Authority, and it’s Apollo and Midnighter as a duo — how important is it to the story you’re telling that it’s Midnighter by himself?
I think it is very important, because he is trying to find out, basically, what Midnighter means. To do that, he is breaking free of his established precepts and established lifestyles. He will be meeting a new social circle, he’ll be meeting new villains, new types of challenges, that are still very pop culture and weird science and sort of gritty, but also street-based. When he first showed up in the ’90s, he was homeless, sleeping in trash cans, and helping people where he could. I think getting back to that idea, that he really is a hero of the people — inspired by the Shadow. Too often people mention that he’s an anti-Batman, and I think there’s a lot of differences between him and Batman. I’d like to get back to the roots of the character that way — him finding ways to help people, change that he can see, instead of this macro-scale type of thing that he got into with the Authority and the Stormwatch, which even he says is not really his style. Especially in the New 52 “Stormwatch,” where he openly says that he’s for the little guy.
He has to be on his own to create that myth. I think that goes back to his roots as being related to Batman, as being related to the Shadow. When he’s connected to these other movements — he needs to be a movement himself. Midnighter has to be that signal. In a world where you’ve established superheroes, where you’ve established that if you’re a criminal in the DCU there’s every chance that Batman is going to show up and break your jaw, there’s every chance that Green Lantern is going to put you in a giant, green basketball hoop or something — he needs to establish his myth, so that when he shows up, and you see that coat and you see that helmet, you know that you stepped off the world. It is something totally different, and you’ve crossed the line, even within the DCU, that there’s really no going back from. He has to break free of the rules of these other teams in order to really establish that.
One of the directives of a lot of these new DC titles appears to be that they’re in the DC Universe, but they’re still doing their own thing. New series that aren’t necessarily heavily reliant on a lot of other stuff. Midnighter is an interesting case in that he’s only been in the DC Universe for four-ish years at this point — how much are you planning on having ties to the larger DCU as a whole?
I am super into world-building. My philosophy is very organic. If things come up, I don’t see any reason to ignore them. I will say that as we start off in the first six or seven issues, it’s all about establishing him as his own entity. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist in the DCU. It may largely be in tertiary details; the names of authors that are mentioned, the name of places that are mentioned. But I think it’s very important, at the same time, to really root him in a world where these things exist. You’ll see it maybe not with guest stars, but with the way people react to him. I mean, he hooks up with a guy, and is shocked to find out that he’s not frightened by the fact that he’s Midnighter. The fact that these things in his Grindr profile are not jokes. He is a crazed vigilante with a heart of gold, and he’s shocked that’s OK, but this person says to him, “Dude, there’s a Superman and there’s a Justice League. It’s not that weird. It’s actually kind of hot.” I think that’s where you see it. It’s more, the person that’s sitting in K-Mart in the DCU has a whole different viewpoint of what is and isn’t strange, as it goes with these characters in the book, than we would in the real world.
“Midnighter” #1 is scheduled for release on June 3.