We sat down with Steve Orlando, current writer of “Justice League of America” and “Supergirl,” and soon-to-be-writer of “Milk Wars” (with Gerard Way), the Doom Patrol/JLA crossover and the freshly announced “The Unexpected” for The New Age of DC Heroes initiative. We talked about all of the excitement ahead in his forthcoming work for DC.
Now, you’re working pretty much across all kinds of aspects of the DC universe. Are Apollo and Midnighter going to be showing up anywhere there?
Steve Orlando: I would love for them show up. I’m trying all the time. I think the next place you’ll see them is gonna be in Warren [Ellis]’s book, “The Wild Storm.” I’ve read he’s got some good plans for them. We talked a little bit, but then got out of each other’s way ’cause I was still working on “Midnighter and Apollo” at the time and we didn’t want to cross-pollinate that. I’m guessing that’s the next place you’ll see them.
Cool. Moving on to “The Unexpected,” with Ryan Sook. When they first announced the Dark Matter/New Age of Heroes initiative, the language focused a lot on showcasing the artist. How did you get involved? Did you initially start working directly with Ryan on the book?
SO: We’ve been working on this as long as the other books. But much of it was myself and Ryan writing for a time until we kicked it into gear. ‘Cause you’ve seen Ryan doing beautiful, beautiful work. I mean, “The Oz Effect” just came out, so wanna make sure that he can deliver on that. Then we started talking a little more seriously about “The Unexpected.” The process is very much like what you maybe have talked about with “The Immortal Men” or things like that. It is both, from a conception standpoint, talking more about not the look of the characters but also who they are, from an emotional character standpoint and getting out of the way of the designs.
From the story and script structure standpoint, I’m working in an open format to give Ryan a little more room and responsibility. The secret is I’ve already been making books that way, across the DC Universe because, to me, that’s what collaboration is. It is a little risky, and if you are someone who is not comfortable giving up a little bit of control, then that can be hard for you as a writer. But the fact is is that you are on a team, so I consider that part of the job. And I think the product is so much more alive and so much better when you work in an open format, because, yes you are ceding a little bit of control, but in it’s place is an artistic collaboration where each person instead of just one person, feels vital, feels respected, feels trusted. This is how Riley [Rossmo] and I did “Batman/The Shadow,” it’s how Ivan [Reis] and I, and Diego [Bernard] and I did “Justice League of America.” It’s how “Supergirl,” how we did that with Robson [Rocha], so I’ve already been doing this and I think the books are some of the best I’ve done, from a visual energy standpoint.
Absolutely. One thing you mentioned in “The Unexpected” reveal was an inspiration from The Dark Tower. DC obviously has a pretty broad multiverse, is that where you were thinking of in terms of the different kinds of places they’ll end up?
SO: The connection is their villain is sort of like the Randall Flagg of the DC universe. There are a couple other connections to the Dark Multiverse, but the villain Aldon Quench is someone who, he’s the opposite of Neon The Unknown. So, I mentioned that our new Neon, his powers can be used to manipulate the mortal world’s materials and recreate them and transform them. But because he gets his powers from the fires of creation and the fires of inspiration, he can only create. His powers won’t allow him to destroy things. He can transform things, but he can’t destroy things. Quench is the exact opposite. They’re both driven by very similar things. Neon, as you saw in the reveal, desperate to find inspiration again, caused an accident that killed his entire entourage.Continued below
Quench is the opposite, he wanted to destroy painful memories of something that happened in his past, and in doing so, that ritual let him witness the Fires of Destruction, so he can only destroy. He wants to get back there, so his whole goal is that he pushes realities, like different worlds in the Dark Multiverse, to the point where they break down in hopes that he can ride that slipstream back to the very core of the fires of destruction, to witness it again, much like you see Flagg’s obsessed with The Dark Tower.
Now what the Fires of Destruction and Creation are is actually another connection that you’ll see in “Dark Nights Metal,” but I can’t reveal that yet. I’m not going to step on Scott’s toes there. These are characters that live in the mythology of “Metal” but with separate stories and separate worlds. I love the aspects of Flagg where he has different faces and he can be different people and it seems innocuous in many cases and that’s the threat of Quench as well. In a world with Lex Luthor and Darkseid, and The Anti-Monitor, he’s quietly been committing genocides on the side and no one has known because he hasn’t reached us yet. The big question of course is does everyone in this group of the Unexpected, do they all actually believe in what Neon wants, or because they’re all wrestling with mistakes they’ve made, is Quench’s pitch just as attractive to some of them?
Well, that sounds awesome. Switching gears to “Milk Wars” for Young Animal. How has it been working in that universe with Gerard Way?
SO: It’s been amazing. Gerard and I get along, it’s probably one of the best creative partnerships I’ve had in comics. We are very much in the same vein of late 80’s video games and body horror and bizarre art and we could talk a long time about a lot of things, so bringing the two teams together (Justice League of America and Doom Patrol), there’s a lot of things that are evocative.
I think of creators in this universe right now, like when you see Scott [Snyder] and Greg [Capullo] talk about “Metal,” it is so them, you can just feel this is … When you see Geoff [Johns] and Gary [Frank] talk about “Doomsday Clock,” you just know that this is their story, and putting this together with Gerard and the other creators which I’ll talk about soon, this is the only way that I could ever do an event. It is stranger and it is more psychedelic, I mean it’s called “Milk Wars,” it is The Justice League and The Doom Patrol versus the Monoculture, the threat of the Monoculture, and it’s just so exciting and it is so different, as different as “Metal” is from “Doomsday Clock.”
This is us, this is what a Young Animal event would have to be, as you see more and more as the art comes out and things like that.
I can’t express enough how energizing it is, with the creators of Young Animal, it was one of the best creative summits I’ve ever been to, just people who are looking to make the story stronger, make each other better and support each other, you guys are going to see stuff that is just so fucking cool, and by the way, bringing ACO back from “Midnighter and Apollo,” [the Young Animal panel] is the first time anyone has seen a page from the book.
For me, writing Flex Mentallo, it’s my favorite book ever, so it’s pretty crazy.
What’s that like, along with working with Gerard, working with the Doom Patrol, which has seen so many iterations?
SO: I love them, I mean I think what Nick and Gerard did with Casey Brinke, who is one of my favorite new characters in comics, but it’s great to see them. The Justice League of America is the perfect team to meet them, even more than the big seven Justice League, because of what we’re doing in the book and the community aspect and the fact that many of them are imperfect. The things you find out when you sit down and talk; we realized that there’s so much that Killer Frost can learn from Crazy Jane for example, because Jane has already completed the journey that Killer Frost is trying to make. Jane has mastered, not mastered, that’s not the right word, but she’s learned to self-moderate, she’s learned how to live a life and be happy with her elements and that’s what Frost is trying to do.Continued below
It’s fun and we’re going to have explosive imagery and the fights that you guys want but also the character stuff that you get out of these people. The Doom Patrol in many ways has overcome what a lot of the characters in the Justice League are still trying to do and I think that’s really fascinating. It’s just been outstanding, and suffice to say, you’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Milkman Man…I’m going to talk about what the other characters end up like: I will say the homogenized JLA that appear in “JLA/Doom Patrol,” we have started calling Lobo “Dad Lobo” or “Don Draper Lobo” and it’s going to be really really cool when you see him.
I could not be more excited about it, it’s been a pleasure and everyone is just doing the best work of their careers I think, on this stuff.
That sounds amazing. One thing you said that sounded really interesting was the way that “Metal” feels like Greg and Scott, and “Doomsday Clock” feels like Geoff and Gary. What do you feel like your perspective is in those terms?
SO: I think that … I don’t know, I hesitate to say something like counterculture because it feels very self-effusive and also the minute you say that, you’re not. So suffice to say, Gerard and I both come from a more experimental background when it comes to our film and book influences, and so I guess when I say “stranger” I mean that yeah, we’re doing a whole crossover largely about how weird dairy is, and the dairy industry, and the greater implications of it, but it’s also about the fear of monoculture, and it’s also about what art is. There are those little moments that I think only we find.
I don’t know, when you get the palate to do these things, you explore nuances that only you would find. That’s true of any of these things, that’s why I love what Scott and Greg are doing on “Metal,” because I would say that they’ve combined the blockbuster aesthetic with an amazing humanizing element, because that’s Scott’s touch and Greg’s touch. They know Bruce so well, they know his relationships so well and then you have the comparison if you’re asking me, like “Milk Wars” is more like the Jackson Pollock painting of events, it is definitely more abstract and because other people are doing the [tie-in] events, I mean Gerard and I are overseeing it, there is purposefully a little more ambiguity there because we want to give them room, and we’ll talk about that in the panel, but there are things we need for the event, and otherwise it’s like go do it and be as strange as you want. We’ve said that, and trust me, it got very strange. We definitely learned new rules about what can appear on page with The Trinity and what cannot.
I can imagine.
SO: I know very well now what we can and cannot do with Superman on the same page, it’s been very helpful.
In terms of balancing the different kind of work that you do, you’ve got Milk Wars, you’ve got “Supergirl,” “Justice League of America,” what’s that been like, over the course of your career, evolving as a writer and balancing different types of tones in projects?
SO: Well, the tone I think is just part of the job and understanding what the character calls for, but I would say that there is … You see how far you push it, like there is probably an early Vertigo, sort of alt-rock aesthetic to “Milk Wars,” but at the same time, I think there are tons of idea kernels in “Supergirl” that I put in all the time, in “Justice League of America.” The one thing I try to do in all these books, and it was a lot of what Dan [DiDio] brought up yesterday. In every book I do, I try to put more in… “Justice League of America” is not always going to have fan favorite villains coming back, and there’s nothing wrong with that but what it is going to have every issue is a brand new thing to the DC Universe.Continued below
The microverse, we’ve seen things like that before, but I tried to create this very harsh aesthetic and this push and pull between science and religion. I try to always make things, if we have elements, at least refresh them and put them back in. Something like Moz-Ga, the Microverse, obviously we’ve seen planets that are alive before, but this idea that he’s a banished sorcerer from our world and his essence has coalesced in the Microverse and it’s changed him, it’s given him perspective he didn’t have as a human, like there’s not usually a lot of character development with Ego [The Living Planet], but for Moz-Ga, he’s actually gone from being a villain during the Hyperborean Era, gaining planetary celestial senses and changing his body has changed his mind. So I try to always put new things in, and the same with “Supergirl.” We always try to be additive, and fresh, and that’s what I hope from these things, because there is so much to build on, but I think people come to DC especially, for wild ideas, for intense creativity, that’s non-stop.
Talk about the Grant Morrison aesthetic of a new idea on every page, that’s what I try to do as well, because that’s what I think people deserve. They’re new characters to meet and you’re there on the ground floor, which is of course different than “Oh, Magneto is back.” They’re both very exciting, but I want to give people that moment where they’re like “Yeah, I had the first appearance of the King Butcher. I had the first appearance of this.” Then they come back in years past, you will have been there and you will have met the character the first time, I think it’s a really special moment.
Yeah. Thanks so much Steve.
SO: Thank you, absolutely.