In upcoming issues of Midnighter, the title character reunites with Dick Grayson for a story set in Russia that will take them "somewhere they've never gone before as a dynamic duo," according to writer Steve Orlando.
Now three issues in, Midnighter — which features interiors by artist Aco — gives equal time to the character's kick-ass, no-holds-barred fighting powers and his personal life as a gay man (including one notable scene where readers learned about Midnighter's recent break-up with long-time partner and superhero colleague Apollo).
At the end of August's Midnighter #3, the cliffhanger showed Midnighter encountering Dick Grayson, kicking off an advertised team-up of the two characters as they try to recover stolen God Garden tech (a concept originally established within Grayson).
Newsarama talked to Orlando about his portrayal of Midnighter, why he wanted to include humor with the book's violence, and what readers can expect from the character's upcoming story with Dick Grayson.
Newsarama: Steve, even though this series has a lot of kick-butt action sequences, and Midnighter is definitely a tough-guy type, there are also touches of humor throughout the story. Was that your intent, to build that into the series as you developed the character?
Steve Orlando: Yeah, Midnighter was inspired by the sort of action movie tropes that I think demand a bit of humor. You have to have the right type of knowing cynicism in the book.
When it started out, a lot of people thought it was just going to be really, really dark. But just because Midnighter himself is a negative guy doesn't mean the world around him has to be.
I think from the start [when the character was first introduced], he was a character who enjoyed his job, and so yeah, he's going to make it a little fun as he's, like, turning your eyes into soup or whatever it is he's doing at the time.
Nrama: In a couple issues now, there's been some fun banter between him and Tony the bartender — he's a recurring character?
Orlando: Yeah, I think it's important that — anytime you play with queer themes, you're also playing with masculinity. I just saw an interview with Christopher Priest about why he put Everett Ross in Black Panther as sort of a point-of-view — actually on Newsarama — and it's similar. We're also showing that there's a time for him to be laid back and be cool and have a platonic friendship — and with a gay man. These things exist in the wild.
And I'm glad people have responded well to it, because it's something we haven't really seen as much in comics. And you know, there's as many types of relationships and friendships in the queer community as there is in any other one. So I'm excited to show it.
So yeah, a guy like Midnighter, who takes himself so seriously, needs someone to kind of bust his balls, even if it's just the guy that's making him fried fish or whatever.
Nrama: That said, you don't shy away from portraying Midnighter's less platonic relationships — even showing the end of his relationship with Apollo. Do you consider Midnighter's sex life an important part of portraying the character in this story?
Orlando: It's important as a statement. The nonchalance of the presentation is important. It's important to have a book that has unabashed gay content that treats it the same way you would straight content in Green Arrow or in Grayson or something like that — to say that this is not unusual, and it's not any more unusual than the heterosexual content in other books.
But at the same time, I think the emotional aspect of Midnighter in this book's important because he's really making a go at trying to carve out a life for himself, even though he's Midnighter all the time.
And so, yeah, sometimes you can have a book where the actions of someone in costume aren't necessarily what affects the actions of that person out of costume, but there's not much of difference for Midnighter. Whether he's ordering a panini or if he's punching someone in the throat, he's still the same guy, and everybody knows he's the guy who did those things.
So I think it does actually play in a little more, perhaps, than in other stories, because it's all the same story for him. It's not an A plot and a B plot. Like, his whole life is an A plot, which I think is sort of key to the character.
Nrama: The stolen God Garden tech and Midnighter's stolen members is central to the plot right now. Is that going to be the driving force behind the series? Or just a temporary situation?
Orlando: The stolen tech from the God Garden symbolizes something which is always going to be part of the story and the character, which is Midnighter's experience when he was younger. And nothing angers him more than the type of thing that was done to him when he was younger.
Once we solve the issue of the God Garden, there's still going to be this idea that… here's a guy who's trying to stop the possibility that another one of him will ever get made. So experimentation and manipulation and taking away people's childhoods — these are the things that get his goat more than any other goat he has.
And so that's what the God Garden symbolizes — all the bad technology that was hidden away, getting decimated out into the world and hurting people, even if they don't know it, taking people's lives in directions that it shouldn't be going, as you saw with Marina, as you saw with Rohmer and Amanda in #3.
That out-of-control, lack of oversight is what he wants to put an end to. So the God Garden tech is a huge affront to him, because it was his house, basically, that it was stolen from. But the idea of being the guys that gets in the way of these dark origin stories and making sure that people's lives are not interrupted — that's always going to be him, because that's the stuff he wants to be fighting.
Nrama: Before we get to what's coming up next in Midnighter, let's talk about the art on the book. I know there was a guest artist in #2, but you've been working with Aco on the first and third issue, and he's listed for upcoming issues. It felt like he might have been following the way Grayson portrayed Midnighter for his debut, but he's really started to make this book's style his own. How would you describe what he brings to the comic?
Orlando: Aco is friends with Mikel [Janín] from Grayson, and maybe they influence each other.
But he brings a unique style to the book that he's developed. He had great work that he was doing on Batman Eternal and some other things — the sort of smaller detail panels, the way he's laying out the page. So from the moment he came on, we knew he was going to be working in this style and it developed from there.
You know, Midnighter sees the world in a different way, and Aco is the guy trying to filter the script in a way that's a Midnighter-specific type of story telling — detail-oriented, sort of like things seen out of the corner of our eye type of storytelling.
It's really, really cool, and it's all sort of his take on the way Midnighter sort of enters the world.
Nrama: OK, let's talk about what's coming up. Before we get to Dick Grayson, who showed up at the end of the last issue, I'm interested in the setting being Russia. You've already shown in the book that you're not afraid to address the societal differences that Midnighter might face in Russia. Will that be part of the upcoming story at all?
Orlando: Well, I think that it will be interesting to see. But I think Midnighter likes going there, because it's a place that's old. There are cities that are built on a lot of bones and a lot of legend, so it's appealing to him.
Also, he likes being challenged. So these places that are so focused on masculinity are attractive for him to go and disrupt that type of thing.
When he gets to #4, it's a different look, and hopefully we'll see some different types of people there to show as well that it's not all bad people, and that's important to show too — there are people fighting the fight there for the queer community, and there are all these people persevering. I don't like to paint with a broad brush, and we're going to be looking at more of the history there — the incredible folkloric and literary culture.
Nrama: And he'll be traveling there along with Dick Grayson. What can we expect from these two meeting each other again?
Orlando: Midnighter and Dick Grayson will definitely go somewhere they've never gone before as a dynamic duo, in the opening pages of #4. So I'm very excited to see those things.
Midnighter and Dick Grayson are the world's greatest frenemies — they're the greatest frenemies in the DC Universe — and probably they like each other more than they're will to admit to each other in time. They both get the job done, but they get it done in different ways. And each thinks they're better than the other one, and better at their job than the other one. Or maybe know that they aren't and is unwilling to admit it.
The interplay with them, I think, is truly unique. We're going to see things that we've never seen before. And even solicitations — yes, we know there are going to be vampires, but hopefully, it's a different type of looking take on that than you guys have ever seen. And it's not what you expect.
But it's been exciting to paint Midnighter and Grayson all the way across Russia in #4 and #5.
Nrama: Is there anything else you want to tell potential readers or current readers of Midnighter?
Orlando: Midnighter is a book, I think, that's connected with people and the support is enormous. Aco and I and colorist Romulo Fajardo Jr. and the entire team really weren't sure what was going to happen, but the response has been astounding. The private messages I've gotten and the notes that I've gotten and the support we've gotten from people is an enormous thing. It's an honor to be able to do this for you guys, and I hope to continue to find ways to entertain you and shock you with new ways to show heads exploding every month.