Launched back into the spotlight by the success of Midnighter as part of DC You, Midnighter returned again last fall for a six issue miniseries that followed the Authority mainstay and his longtime romantic and crime-fighting partner Apollo straight to Hell. Midnighter and Apollo paired gripping writing with gorgeous visuals for a fresh new take on the World’s Finest Couple that updated their romance for a brand new audience.
Just in time for Pride Month, Newsarama spoke with Midnighter and Apollo writer Steve Orlando about Midnighter’s history, his evolution since his return, and the importance of exploring established narratives from new perspectives ahead of next month’s release of the collected edition of Midnighter and Apollo.
Newsarama: In terms of character creation, Midnighter is really only coming up on his 20th birthday next year, making him one of the youngest characters to stick around in the modern DC universe, especially compared to characters like Batman. What made you want to bring Midnighter back into the fold in DC You, and what do you think has really made him resonate with readers and stick around despite his kind of relative lack of history?
Steve Orlando: I wanted to bring him back because he’s the character that sort of most affected me in comics when I was younger. And so what seems like so long ago in 2014, when DC reached out to me, when Mark Doyle reached out to me and said what would you do, if you could do a DC book, it was the first thing that popped into my head. Almost, almost as a bullsh-- take right? There’s no way they could possibly let me do this, this would be a dream book. And then who am I, a guy who wrote about centaurs doing drugs and going through puberty as my only other real story at DC Comics - but it was the right time and the right take on the character, and we got a chance to move forward.
Why do I always hope that he can endure and come back? Because of what he did for me, and showing that there’s no specific one way to express who you are.
In the case of Midnighter, that speaks to his sexuality, but that can speak to anything about someone. Your race, religion, your creed, your ability, your gender, your need to aggressively, disruptively and proudly be yourself, and that’s what he does. And that was important to me when I was younger, and wrapping that in an exciting, sort of relatable action movie medium to a greater audience, that’s what reached me, and so I consider it an honor, and a huge responsibility, but a huge honor, to be able to do that for a new generation of readers.
Nrama: I think that was something that always really resonated with me as well, as a fan of the original run of The Authority, and of your run on Midnighter: this idea of a character that I really had never seen before in modern comics - just a regular adult male superhero, an out gay superhero. I love some of the younger characters that are out there, Billy and Teddy from Young Avengers, but I’d never seen a character before like Midnighter as you presented him in that run.
And one of the things I thought was really interesting in that run - you’ve mentioned this in previous interviews, Midnighter performed much better in trade paperback sales than was expected of a book that was doing the sales it did in singles. Do you think that there’s an audience out there that may not be connecting with single comics sales right now that really is hungry to see more characters like that available on the bookshelves? People picking up books like Midnighter, in a Books-A-Million or a Barnes and Nobles, who haven’t quite found a safer space for them in comics yet.
Orlando: Unquestionably. You know, I think that reaching those people is going to take a holistic change from top to bottom in comics. Unfortunately, there is not a simple solution. But it is one that we need, because you know, people want these stories. People want to consume them on their terms, which is fair.
I mean the first books I bought were not from a direct market comic store, I bought my first book at a flea market, but that doesn’t count, I bought that right off the rack, but I bought my first books in a rack at a Waldenbooks. I don’t know if Waldenbooks even exists anymore. I’m sorry about shading you, Waldenbooks. But I wouldn’t be here if comics weren’t for sale outside of the direct market. So yeah, those audiences are out there. Everybody wants to know that they can be great, so that’s like, of course, you know?
But there needs to be a lot of change and a lot of active engagement across the board, in all of the structures of the comics industry to reach them, and to serve them. I don’t think it’s ever as simple as saying “Oh, more people need to buy the books. Oh, the books just need to be given more time.”
The change is multifaceted. We need to rethink how we market, rethink how we publish, rethink how we sell, who we sell to and where we sell it. And we need to be ready to take some risks and make some bold choices. So those audiences are unquestionably out there, and I hope as an entire industry speaking as creators, readers, publishers, retailers, marketers, everything, that we can get there and we can find ways to reach them. It’s going to take us looking at ourselves and realizing we can do better and finding a way to get there.
Nrama: Going back to your remark about bold choices, one of the things I loved about Midnighter, and one of the things I think you’ve talked about previously with Ray Sonne over at Comics Bulletin last year, was how you explored gender roles in the series.
Midnighter as a character is often reduced down to this idea of a Batman parody or a Batman pastiche - he’s the street fighter, and one of the things I really enjoyed about Midnighter and Midnighter and Apollo was how you took him from that reductive archetype to a fully realized, generally emotionally well-adjusted person, relatively speaking. How much of that was a deliberate choice for both series, not just as a story element like “well I want to explore who he was before being Midnighter,” or “I want to explore his relationship with Apollo,” but an active decision in using the books to explore and dismantle those gender stereotypes that existed about both characters?
Orlando: Well I think the goal with something - Midnighter and Apollo is a receipt to Midnighter in many ways, in relation to his character, you know. The journey he goes on is one, in many ways he’s on the journey a reader is, getting to know him. He is, at the beginning of the book, the initial thing that separates him and Apollo is, he is essentially thinking he’s not worthy of the things he gets in Midnighter and Apollo, because he is just everything you said. He is just made for fighting - not even a real person, just cut open and redesigned for killing, and how could anyone want that? And of course the answer is, you’re not just that.
But him getting to that place where he understands that, that’s the journey he takes in Midnighter, that’s the journey that’s completed, that they both complete in Midnighter and Apollo. And I think that both characters are extremely strong in different ways. As we wrote Apollo in Midnighter and Apollo, he, his upbringing relatively speaking, is more traditional. He had parents, and he struggled with needing acceptance, or realizing he does not need the acceptance of his family in relation to who he is and things like that. And he sort of took a reasonably more traditional path than Midnighter, who has not had very common struggles, much like I’m writing Lobo in Justice League of America.
Midnighter really has no question about who he is and what he does on a daily basis, at least in relation to his sexuality. And it’s everything else around that, that we sort of take for granted, that he struggles with. Like “do I like latkes?” But not “do I like men?” because he’s never done these normal things. So his own sort of lack of self-confidence and lack of believe that what he is, even if he knows that it’s something that could be loved, is what kicked off Midnighter and Apollo, and sort of sank him down to the lowest points of his emotional life until he’s ready to finally come back out, and as Apollo says, be pulled back from the dark and not allowed to be destroyed at the end of Midnighter and Apollo.
I think the characters that save each other on a daily basis that are important to me, like in any relationship, is for them to have self-concept. They want to be together, they don’t need to be together. And I don’t mean that in an unromantic way. They need to be together because they’re in love. They’re whole people that are together, instead of just being defined by their relationship to each other. And I think that’s stronger. And having them both take that journey and realize what they do really mean to each other puts them in a place that is stronger than - hopefully, I think, than they were before.
And yeah, in the relationship - gender norms and things like that, it is important across the work, any of my work, to sort of show that there are many definitions of heroism, many definitions of strength, and that’s something that comes up in Supergirl, something that comes up in Justice League of America, and something that comes up in this book, where you have Apollo who’s traditionally a slightly more feminine type character, who is often, I think, stronger than Midnighter, even though I think Midnighter’s the one that’s punching the brains.
Because it doesn’t always mean punching the brains. It means fortitude. It means personal strength. It means self-concept. And so, I think having a book where people expect punching the brains, in the end we explored these other things in addition to that, sort of gives us a great medium to make that comment. Because when you have the expectation of one type of strength and you present a different one, perhaps an even bolder one, in the case of how Apollo lives and what he does, I think it’s an important moment.
Nrama: In opening pages of Midnighter and Apollo - the scene where they’re having a dinner party and Marina’s come over, they’re cooking and there’s pierogi - I think this really domestic scene kind of brought home a lot of the changes that Midnighter had to deal with in the first series. He’s kind of come to this place where he knows who he is, and had this opportunity to explore who he is both outside Apollo and not necessarily outside the identity of Midnighter, but outside of this idea that the only thing that I am is not a fighting machine, I am a person who likes to date, I am a person who likes to go on dates in specific places, here’s what I like to eat, here are my hobbies.
You come into Midnighter and Apollo with Midnighter as this fully realized person who is comfortable with having real meaningful friendships, and one of the ways that I thought was interestingly explored in Midnighter and Apollo was through the addition of Fernando Blanco to the artistic team. His style and his layouts were really similar to ACO but he had kind of a softer touch with the art a lot of times that really brought home this sort of emotional, domestic closeness between the two of them and elevated the emotional element when Apollo is brought to Hell and when they’re separated again. What was it like to go from working with ACO on a very, not necessarily exclusively action packed book because Midnighter and Apollo is certainly action-packed as well, but to start with Fernando Blanco fresh in a way on a book that was more openly emotional and more openly romantic from the outset?
Orlando: I mean it was great, but a lot of the things that Fernando brought to the front I’m happy to say you know come from Fernando, and don’t come from me.
He has an incredible intuition for the characters and for how they move and how they act and what is required from each script, and with Midnighter with ACO, in Midnighter and Apollo with Fernando. ACO and Fernando are friends and ACO personally recommended Fernando for the book when it came to light he couldn’t work on the follow up. I couldn’t be happier with it. But it’s important to say a lot of that comes from what I consider to be the heart of inspiration, which is knowing as a writer when to say something and when to not say something. Knowing when to lean in, and knowing when to lean out.
On these books, I try to show respect for my co-creators and respect for their craft, and a lot of these things that people have loved about Fernando’s work I happily admit I have nothing to do with. He would always - same with ACO - he was always free to do layouts, to rework pages however he wants, to get the most out of it, and I push him to improvise, to innovate, and to not listen to what I say in many cases because it’s risky, but collaboration is risky. Trusting and respecting other people - well, trusting other people. Respecting other people is a given. But trusting other people is risky.
But at the same time, that’s how these moments that you’re talking about in Midnighter and Apollo get made. And I think that’s how any truly collaborative and innovative work in any medium gets made. So, what is it like working with Fernando - working with Fernando is great, but that’s because Fernando is great, and a lot of it comes from knowing that I can trust him to bring it home month in and month out.
Nrama: To clarify - I didn’t want to sound like I was suggesting that a lot of that work had come from you and not from him, no slight to you! But, I knew that that was all Fernando and I think it was - it was a really interesting visual change and one of the things I think I enjoyed the most about Midnighter and Apollo. Softer, but not totally softer? Just different.
Orlando: Yeah, there’s a lot more - Apollo has very defined back muscles, I promise, so it’s not totally soft.
Nrama: He did fantastic work. I think one of the most interesting themes throughout the book artistically was his use of panel layouts, particularly issue two, the Dante’s Inferno motif as Midnighter is going through the layers of Bendix’ hideout to find him, and issue three with the board game, Virtues and Vices -
Orlando: The Mansion of Happiness! My favorite board game.
Nrama: That’s an interesting choice. I’m partial to Clue, but at the same time I don’t know that that’s any happier. I think one of the reasons those are so visually compelling is because they caught on to this idea of Midnighter and Apollo as a journey. Either from first level of Hell to last, or to the Mansion of Happiness, kind of paralleling this mythological journey of Orpheus and Eurydice with a happier ending. From the outset was that something you were looking for, trying to carry through this idea of a journey from start to finish from the opening pages?
Orlando: Not to mention the ultimate sign-off, with an allusion to perhaps the greatest moment of domestic bliss in the history of comics as the original Superman signs off to live happily with Lois Lane, which was a very conscious decision that we - you know, I hope we see them again, but if we never do, they’ve gotten the same fairy tale ending that the character we’re all here for, the Silver Age, the original Superman got.
So the last page is very important to me, the very end, that you mentioned, that’s very important to me. I’m sure they will show up again, but if this was all that anyone ever read, it’s totemic to me that the last time that you see them is the same way that you see for the final time one of the original couples in comics and they get the same white picket fence ending. Of course it’s an antique Opal City ending for them because they’re who they are, but you know what I mean.
And the journey is important to me because that’s - it’s kind of what you’re asking about. Because that’s the journey we all go on in relationships, and it’s something I said in interviews for Midnighter. Real relationships are worth a lot, and they’re hard work. Every day. So we often don’t get the wink at the end that they do, but that’s why it’s in the comic.
So it’s important to me in this journey to Hell, you had mentioned Orpheus and Eurydice and all of these things, a lot of this book is about reclaiming those narratives and queering them, and allowing those moments of heroism, of romanticism, of epic love to be owned by a queer couple. And that’s a lot of what this book is about.
A big inspiration for me in this as well is when Swamp Thing goes into Hell to save Abby, in Swamp Thing, and again, giving that to a gay couple. The big difference being that once Midnighter is down there he could never have gotten out without Apollo. We want to make sure there is agency for the person who’s in Hell as well, and so things have changed, so we’re taking those narratives and we’re also updating them in that once you’re at the lowest point, once Midnighter’s at his lowest point, he kind of says, "Well, you know, you were my plan to get out. This isn’t just me doing this."
The visual motif as I said is something Fernando, or as you might imagine, based on what I said, is something Fernando suggested based on things like Dante and a lot of the classic Gustave Dore illustrations, but the thematic motif, in my opinion, is all about owning these stories and reclaiming these stories for the queer community and for these two characters, and updating them for the current mindset, for the current understanding of what these stories mean, where everyone gets a moment of agency, where everyone gets a moment of heroism, where everyone gets control of their own motion through the story.
Nrama: To kind of wrap up, I think what you said - this idea of reframing these narratives for the queer community, is something that was really important to me in both books. You’ve mentioned in interviews before, and I think this is kind of universally true for queer books, you can’t have a book with queer leads that’s able to be all things to all people at all times.
But with Midnighter and Apollo, to provide an archetypal look at a queer relationship, fully fleshed out with their own social circle, two fully realized characters, is something that’s been hugely meaningful to a lot of people, I know. If you were able to bring them back, do you think that we would be able to see both of them together again, having adventures, do you think we might be able to round out the trilogy with an Apollo solo title, something like that? Or are you 100% satisfied with this sort of, fully closed off world that you’ve provided - this happy ending, this really rare moment of peace for queer characters in comics that we don’t usually get?
Orlando: Well … all of the above?
I would write more - Midnighter and Apollo are the people that got me into comics, as a reader. They’re the people that got me into comics as a professional. I feel like I owe them a huge amount. I would work on Apollo, I would work on Midnighter and Apollo in a second without a second’s hesitation. Taking about six months off between Midnighter and Midnighter and Apollo and coming back to write them again is like meeting two old friends, you know? That enjoy punching in the brains, but old friends.
So yes, I would gladly come back when the opportunity arises. But that said, if somehow it doesn’t, I am very satisfied with what we have in these three volumes.
Again, there’s more I would love to say, but we have something… Midnighter and Apollo is a book, if you read my interviews before it came out, it was right after the Pulse shootings. I wasn’t even sure if we should do the book because we knew that Apollo was ultimately going to not be killed but you know, be shot by the Mawzir, and I really didn’t know if we should do it.
I spoke to Chris Conroy, who’s the editor, and to his credit, he said "No, now we need to do this more than ever. We have to be tasteful, but we need to do this more than ever." And I thought about it more and I realized he was right.
These characters do inspire people, and they do speak to people, and I needed to write the book to deal with last year, and how could I not be satisfied? We have a gay man holding the root of all evil down at the very bottom of the world and saying, “You answer to me.” That’s so important to me that that’s published, that we can see that, that as things continue, things are not always going to be easy. They’re probably gonna be hard again, if they aren't already.
But the fact that we were able to do this, to have this couple that stares totemic evil in the eye and just says “F--- you, my friend,” I couldn’t be more proud of that. I couldn’t be more satisfied with that because I was like viscerally angry in these interviews talking about how important it was now to just give a middle finger to evil, which was something that’s very real last year.
Yeah, I couldn’t be more satisfied and proud of it. I would always come back to talk to them and be with them and work with them again, and I hope I can, but this is out there, and it’s probably the proudest thing I’ve ever done. So I couldn’t be more satisfied.
Both Midnighter Vol. 1: Out and Midnighter Vol 2: Hard are available now from DC Comics. Midnighter and Apollo will be available on July 25, and is currently available for preorder.