An Icon for Pride: Steve Orlando on Embracing the Charms of Midnighter [Interview]
When Midnighter made his debut in the Wildstorm comic Stormwatch by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch, he was a black ops Batman pastiche that played directly on the idea of the Caped Crusader as a humorless and violent bondage fetishist. Midnighter's romantic relationship with Superman analog Apollo was both the next step in the joke, and a step towards making the character more three-dimensional. Today, he's very much his own man, sharing less and less in common with Batman beyond an affection for the color black and an enduring interest in the activities of Dick Grayson. Oh, and the violence.
With today's launch of a new ongoing Midnighter series from writer Steve Orlando and artist ACO, the leather-clad action man will hope to further distinguish himself. In the process he'll hope to prove that a gay superhero can find a place in the changing mainstream comics market. We spoke to Orlando about his plans for the series, the romantic future of the newly single Midnighter, and what Midnighter represents as a gay man.
Comics Alliance: What makes this the right time for a Midnighter ongoing series?
Steve Orlando: People are ready! Midnighter has always been a character people had strong opinions about, and I think his appearances in The Authority still come up to this day. I know I as a fan was incredibly excited to see him pop up in Grayson! But beyond that and beyond stoking the kindling laid out by the past eighteen years, it’s the right time for a gay male lead book, and with his power and confidence, Midnighter is the person to deliver.
We are finally at a time in comics when more and more people are being given a face in comics. And there’s a long way to go, there’s work to do. But the audience is ready to be represented, to be given their own icon, their own myth. And as a character that broke the mold when he debuted in the 90s, Midnighter has always been there to push boundaries. And he’s excited to do it again!
CA: One of the notable aspects of your Midnighter is that he's single. I think it's great to see more single gay heroes in superhero comics, but why was this important to you?
SO: I think it’s about representation and confidence. Often gay males are shown in mainstream media, but they’re coupled, they’re safe and chastened. And for a while, that alone was bold because gay men could be shown in mainstream media at all. But now that’s primetime family television.
Now we need to push ahead. We need to embrace gay male sexuality instead of ignoring or sweeping it under the rug. We need to say there’s nothing wrong with gay male sexuality, and show a confident, sex-positive take on the life of an active gay male. We can see gay characters being gay, embrace, and say this isn’t taboo, this isn’t lesser or dirty. It’s beautiful and wonderful. It’s the next step in representation, and with his boldness and bombast Midnighter is the man to forge ahead.
CA: Midnighter has tended only to have a romantic, vulnerable side when he's with Apollo. Are we going to see Midnighter establish himself as a romantic leading man?
SO: I think we will definitely see that, and it’s a natural progression because he’s the coolest guy in the room. Of course he’s suave as hell. But vulnerability is a risk, so we will see him opening up slowly. He is also a cynic, he is also sarcastic. And it’s a journey.
There’s a reason Midnighter and Apollo are on a break, and this is earlier in his career than we’ve ever seen him. So we’re on a path to the Midnighter we met in Stormwatch ‘98, when they’d been together five years. He has a romanitc side, a witty side, and he doesn’t give a damn what he says to anyone. And that confidence is magnetic, and sexy on its own.
CA: Are there characters we wouldn't normally expect to see romantically involved with Midnighter who might fall for his rough charms?
SO: When it comes to building Midnighter’s world, we will be building an all new cast. I think he is interested in a certain type of person, you’ll see as we continue. He certainly is going to be working with a new cast of people, and they are built to give him perspective – and he them as well. So I guess I don’t know who we’d expect to see with Midnighter, maybe he doesn’t either. But certainly people are attracted to his charm, his bold personality, and he’s attracted to people who have what he doesn’t – which often means two feet on the ground for a man who wrestles with aliens and mule-kicks cyborgs.
CA: How much of a role did you play in deciding how Midnighter would look in the new series? The costume feels retro; the hair feels modern. What was the visual approach?
SO: I think the costume is a nice variation of his original theme, which was more latex styled. Now we have something that’s wearable, a combination of military and superhero elements that cuts the right horrifying profile when someone sees him in an alley.
ACO has done a lot to create the visuals of the book, and a lot of my role is in hunting for details and encouraging his wild creativity. From the start we knew we wanted nothing generic in the book – and ACO brings that. Each setting is fully designed. Each outfit is not off the cuff, it’s planned, it’s talked about. And the architecture of our settings is real. And I think that lends to the modern feel. We don’t have generic restaurants, we have real layouts and real architecture, and that’s all ACO and his mad genius in setting the book in a world that feels tangible instead of off the cuff. It’s the details that give our world weight, that make it real. And building that makes the crazy action feel like even more because it’s coming from a real place.
CA: Are there aspects of ACO's artwork that you're really excited to explore further through your writing?
SO: It’s his energy! More and more as we work, I am excited to create setups that really let ACO show you the crazy crackling energy he brings to the table. It shows in his layouts, it shows in his design when it comes to powers and blasts dancing across the page. It comes to the debris spiraling through the periphery. As the book goes on, I hope we can build bigger and bigger set pieces that really show you ACO is a headliner in the making, doing career-defining work in every issue!
CA: As an author, where do you see Midnighter fitting in to gay identity and gay culture?
SO: I hope that he becomes an icon for pride. For confidence. Beyond the story elements of the character, his witty character and his violence, I think he stands for belief in yourself. He knows who he is. 100%. And he doesn’t care who disagrees and who knows it.
And as someone who was victimized and experimented on as a child, with bad things happening to him in his youth, I hope his inability to let it bring him down in the present is also impactful. He does not brood, he does not hold onto the dark things in his past. He loves who he is in the moment, and he’s turned [the] negative in his past into positives. He is the ultimate lemons-to-lemonade character, and despite any wrongs done to him, he has fought to be exactly who he wants to be, and to believe in himself.
And for me, that’s hugely important for the community.
Midnighter isn’t a secret identity. Top to bottom, it’s who he is and it’s who he is all the time. And so often we see superheroes defining themselves by the past, by their origin story, and that’s not what Midnighter is about. He is about loving who he is in the present, committing to himself, and being that icon for people needing someone to fight for them.
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