Out comic book writer Steve Orlando, on the return of DC Comics’ supergay superhero

Gay fanboys rejoice! Midnighter is here. Launched in June, DC Comics’ Midnighter series, from out writer Steve Orlando, is about the “first gay male superhero to headline a mainstream comic.” If Midnighter’s name is familiar, he’s been around (and gay) since the 1990s. However, in the hands of Orlando, Midnighter is going to be doing things he’s never done before and going places he’s never been, something that should delight comic book readers, gay and straight.

— Gregg Shapiro


Dallas Voice: Do you remember what the first comic book you ever read was?  Steve Orlando:  Yes, I do, actually. It was West Coast Avengers #16. It features Hellcat and Tigra having a fight over who gets to be Tigra. It was called “A Tale of Two Kitties.”

Sounds like it had a profound effect on you.  Yes, but comics in general have. That was a book I bought at a flea market in New York. It’s not like it was a new run book, like on new comic book day. But the excitement and what I now know as the modern day takes on myth — at the time I thought it was cool, people punching each other — appealed to me and it always has. It drove me to buying more modern books. When you’re young you don’t know a lot of things and I didn’t realize they were making new versions of these things. I was always buying them at tag sales. Once I walked into a Waldenbooks, and started buying comics off the spinner rack, I got into the serialized aspect and discovered a kind of storytelling that I really enjoy.

You mentioned “new comic book day” and used the term “spinner rack.” Would it be safe to describe you as a comic book geek? Maybe more of an evangelist, about why new people should try comics. I’m certainly often the nerdiest guy in the room. I’ve sometimes brought up characters in editorial that are deep in the book. When it comes to my personal life, I’m probably one of the nerdiest guys around. Those are the characters I love. There are no really bad characters, they just haven’t found the right take yet. Revitalizing that, along with my thoughts on comics, an interpretation of mythology and pop culture, and where they meet. I do love digging deep in the book and finding something that can have new life breathed into it.

Midnighter was previously in a long term relationship that has since ended. He is now single and playing the field. Is it necessary for Midnighter to take any precautions when being intimate with others or is he, and by extension, his partner immune from STDs?  Definitely not. There is a shot of him using condoms and being safe. I think it’s important to know that he is being safe, but at the same time I think it’s important to have a sex-positive book because it’s a problem that’s coming up in the community. There’s nothing wrong with confident gay male sexuality. There’s nothing wrong with a sexually confident woman or a sexually confident gay man, as long as he’s being safe.

In the context of the story, when you met Apollo and Midnighter in 1998 they were already together off-page for five years. As a reader, you’ve never seen them, or their interactions, at this point in the relationship, because of only knowing each other for a few months. The fact is, real relationships are work and sometimes people move too fast. From my point of view, since Apollo was Midnighter’s first boyfriend ever, I love the way they bounce off of each other once you see them where they were when they were in Stormwatch, but that was five years into their relationship. You get to see the pitfalls and how they learned to become the people they are. With only an issue and a half out, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with him having an active sex life, as long as we’re portraying it safely.

What is the target audience for the Midnighter series?  We are looking to give a sort of icon to the queer community. It’s vitally important that he’s a gay man in the book. I can’t discount that. The messages I’ve been getting from people since issue one came out have been wonderful. I have received messages from people saying they didn’t have the strength to come out and after they read the book they felt like they were able to do it. That was after the book had been out for only five or six days. People have said that they’ve been waiting 30 years to see someone like them lead a book. To me, that’s what comics should do.

Comics are based on this idea — in the ’30s it was Superman and he was an immigrant and we had a strong immigrant population, and they were saying, “This guy’s fighting for us!” In the ’60s you had Peter Parker/Spider-Man who had all of these super powers, but he had trouble with his girlfriend [so a reader could think[, “Oh, he has problems just like me.” The idea that you pick up this pop culture myth and, wow, you can see yourself in it. That “wow” moment is something that everyone deserves. The initial answer is that it’s something for the queer community. I want to give that to them because that’s comics doing the job of comics, and wild pop culture doing the job of wild pop culture. At the same time, I don’t want people to read the book simply because it has a gay male lead because that implies that there’s simply not anything else interesting about him. I would say it’s for fans of The Authority and action comics. I’ve had so many people come up to me and say they’ve never encountered the character before and that they love his point of view on life. It’s for people who love a crazy action book that will always have an insane action set piece, special effects budget and unrepentantly wild and crazy.

Does music inform your sense of Midnighter in any way?  It’s funny you bring up music. If you’ve read interviews with Henry Rollins, he talks about how people always ask him if he’s gay. I read one with him, long ago, where he finally said, “If I was gay, it wouldn’t be a problem. If I was gay, there wouldn’t be a closet. I would have exploded the closet and kicked down the door and used the shard to stab someone in the face.” That broke me and how I understand Midnighter today. There’s no closet for him. He’s out as a gay man, he’s out as a superhero. I think they go together because he’s not lying about himself, ever, he never does. I got that from music and a guy who’s heavily into the punk scene.

But on a day-to-day basis, I have to say I have really weird habits as to what I’m listening to. A lot of people need silence. A lot people need no words. For whatever reason, I tend to a fair
amount of white noise. I’ll usually put on extremely long dramas that I don’t have to worry about or find necessarily interesting, where there’s a lot of talking going on so I can calm my mind and focus it. Having said that, Lou Reed was someone who was influencing the pitch. I may have run out of albums to listen to, but he was a strong influence when I was trying to find a point of view for the character as well. Lou Reed is a good role model for Midnighter — he was experimented on as a youth and his past is robbed and that’s what turned him into Midnighter and other things. Lou Reed was given electroshock therapy when he was young. I didn’t even realize it until I thought about it a little more right here, but there is actually a through line between he characters.

If there was a Midnighter movie, who would you want to play the lead?  That’s challenging. I’ve seen a fair amount of people online saying that they would like to see it be Tom Hardy, probably because he’s reportedly had same-sex experience and likes to take seminude selfies and definitely commits himself to roles and is definitely a great actor. That would be a great idea. When I first started thinking about it, I took the easy answer and thought it might be fun for Matt Bomer to play him because he’s like a Greek god. I think I like Hardy more, because there is an edginess and danger to Midnighter that I think he could get across better than someone like Bomer. Matt Bomer is gorgeous, but he looks like he should be piloting a yacht, instead of blowing one up.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 3, 2015.