Over the last few months, Steve Orlando has become one of the more recognizable names in the comic book business.
After winning critical acclaim for his 2015 OGN Virgil, DC brought the writer on board to launch a new Midnighter title. The success of that series led to Orlando orchestrating September's month-long "Night of the Monster Men" event in DC's Bat-titles and his task of bringing Supergirl into the "Rebirth" universe with her own solo title.
Now the writer helms a new Justice League of America title.
In the first installment of our two-part interview, Newsarama talked with Orlando about how his overnight success wasn't actually overnight - and came about only after 17 years of hard work trying to break into the comic book business.
Now we talk to the writer about his approach to writing, what he tries to bring to every issue he writes, what his biggest challenges have been, and what he'd love to do next.
Newsarama: Steve, how would you describe the stuff you enjoy writing? You outlined some really diverse titles. Right now, you're writing in the DCU, and the new Justice League of America title is kicking off, so you have to collaborate with other writers, but what sensibility do you think you bring to things?
Steve Orlando: I like things that have a big world around them, so working with DC is a great opportunity for that, because there's a world that's 75-years-plus old right there. You can't really manufacture something with that type of history.
So it's a huge privilege to be working in that.
But even in my creator-owned work, I mean, Undertow has a ton of mythology behind it.
I love heavy mythology, and I love building on details and what's come before. I think that's part of the tradition in pop culture and folklore. That's how folklore used to pass from person to person, hundreds and hundreds of years ago, is updating and putting a slight spin on the story - sort of a generations-long game of telephone. I love that. I did that with the Atlantis stories in Undertow.
And I think most people would say my books are heavy on action and heavy on emotion. That's what people say about Midnighter anyway. There's plenty of room for punching and plenty of time for feelings as well. I think one sort of expresses the other, so I try to get that into all the books that I do.
Supergirl is a little different than that, because she's a punch last type of person, but at the same time, it's still about wild, big ideas that can only be found in comics.
I guess that is what I hope people find in the stuff I do, is big, creative ideas that you've never seen before and that can only be found in comics.
Nrama: Like Batman characters fighting giant monsters in Gotham City?
Nrama: Just about anything's possible in comic books.
Orlando: We're bound only by what we can put on the page, not by budgets or anything else. And we don't even have just the limitations of words, like you have in prose.
So hopefully that's what comes through in my work. I try to deliver something, with every issue I do, that people have never seen before, or at least have never seen the way I'm presenting it.
Nrama: Looking back at the things you've been challenged to do by DC - and there have been quite a few in the past few months, and are obviously more going forward with Justice League of America debuting - was there anything there that took you out of your comfort zone?
Orlando: Supergirl, at first, definitely took my out of my comfort zone, because every other book that I've written is about exploding brains and things like that, and a number of things that you can't have in a book - and shouldn't have in a book - with a character that has an "S" on their chest and that's not what they stand for.
So yeah, I was a little surprised, but at the same time, I stepped back and I looked at what inspires me in my life, which often, and for the most part, are strong and independent and surprisingly compassionate women. And I realized that there was an in-road for this.
And after writing about physical strength for so long in books like Midnighter, I could talk about a different kind of strength. And I realized that it wasn't that different. It was still about characters who have an incredible sense of themselves.
And it was still about those "only in comics" ideas, but it was going to express itself in a way that was kind of different and pretty challenging for me at first, compared to my other stories.
Nrama: I expected you to say that Justice League of America is your biggest challenge, because you're mixing so many different characters together.
Orlando: Yeah, it's been challenge too. The choreography of it is one aspect, and the demands of it are much higher. That said, it's a welcome challenge, because one of the first modern books I bought was an issue of Grant Morrison and Howard Porter's JLA.
So having a book that says "JLA" on it, with my name on it, is pretty surreal. It's an incredible honor.
So there's that, and like you said, all the characters. Writing a solo book, you're obligated to find cool things for a certain amount of characters to do in every issue - at least the lead character, the person with their name on the book. And now I have to do that for seven people at minimum, every issue. And I think we're doing it.
But yeah, it is a huge challenge, but at the same time, it's a dream - specially with this book because it was the first book I bought that wasn't a back issue.
Nrama: I remember talking to Geoff Johns more than a decade ago, and he said his ultimate dream was to write The Flash comic book, because that was his favorite as a kid. Do you feel like writing Justice League of America is the same sort of accomplishment?
Orlando: It's huge. JLA is one of the reasons I'm in comics, thanks to Howard and Grant – on a story level, not on a personal help level.
And it's also just fascinating to me, as well, seeing how comics can change. I'm a guy that always likes interesting changes. And when I picked up JLA, at that time, Superman was electric and blue and all these other things.
Honestly, the differences from canon are part of the reason I began to love to hunt down back issues and loved to read the issues about these characters and see how they got there. I didn't even really know why Superman didn't look like Superman until I hunted down the back issues.
People will see little nods in my stuff that, if you are new to DC comics, won't hurt the story for you, but if you have been a long-time reader as well, they add a level of seasoning to the books.
And that's because of how I felt when I was stepping into this whole rich world when I first bought a modern comic. Hopefully I get people interested in reading it once and then maybe reading it again to see all these different hidden meanings about these characters.
Nrama: Do you still live in upstate New York?
Orlando: I do, yeah.
Nrama: Do you feel like that informs what you write at all?
Orlando: Where we live and who we interact with informs what anyone writes - that's not just about me. And that's a good thing and a bad thing. You know? I think as creators… I build relationships with a lot of people because, no matter how well I think I'm prepared for a character, we all, i think, have our blind spots and we can all benefit from other people's opinions.
So yeah, it affects the type of things I put on the page, but you have to develop relationships and talk to people about their points of view and ask questions and make sure everything reads well and feels right once I'm done with it, because at the end of the day, the world looks like one place where I live, in upstate New York, and it looks totally different in a myriad of other places.
We have to respect all those things. I think it's a reminder of our obligation as creators to realized that this is fun and this is a privilege and this is exciting, but at the same time, it's a huge responsibility, making comics with these iconic characters. It's a huge responsibility that we have to respect.
Nrama: You said the JLA was a dream team, and I know you loved the Shadow, which you're writing with Scott Snyder in April. But do you have other teams or characters you'd like to write?
Orlando: I've never worked on one of my favorite characters in comics, which is Martian Manhunter. So… I'm not totally there yet. But maybe someday.
Nrama: Maybe Martian Manhunter can be part of the JLA.
Orlando: If the opportunity arose, that would be very exciting for me. He's always been my favorite character in comics.