When Supergirl arrived on TV almost a year ago, the response was overwhelming. There she was, a wholesome hero with an “S” on her chest who was offering viewers a vulnerable look into her journey of self-actualization. Some viewers who were won over by the show (both long time fans and those new to the character) asked a question: where’s her comic? Fast forward five months to WonderCon and DC Comics announced that there would be a new Supergirl series written by Steve Orlando—whose exclusive deal with the publisher was announced the previous week—and art by Brian Ching.
Orlando is no stranger to taking on a project with a lot of expectations. As the writer of Midnighter, Orlando had the distinction of writing the first solo DC Comics ongoing starring a gay male superhero. He’ll be following the GLAAD-nominated comic with Midnighter and Apollo, a miniseries debuting in October. And, as if he wasn’t already busy enough, Orlando will also be “show running” the first crossover of DC Rebirth, Batman: Night of the Monster Men.
I caught up with Orlando at the DC Entertainment booth during San Diego Comic-Con to talk with him about how fan response led to Midnighter and Apollo, taking inspiration from TV for Supergirl while leading with comics, and why it’s good to feel intimidated.
Mark Stack for Comics Bulletin: You’ve just been signed exclusive recently. How has that changed how you write at DC? How has that changed your sort of position as a writer there?
Steve Orlando: I do much more of it!
Orlando: The real answer is it has changed my working style. There is a manic energy to the amount of books I am doing that almost I think makes them sort of even more fresh and organic. When I was on Midnighter, I had a month to go back and tweak that. You can always find something to change, almost ad infinitum. Now I’ve got five days to push a book out. It fires me up to be more on point and not second guess myself and just be a little bolder and more confident. I think that is the most exciting thing. It is nerve wracking, but so far they have been coming back in a way that I like. So hopefully they will come out and people will agree.
CB: I do want to ask you about Supergirl.
CB: But first I want to ask when did you know that Apollo and Midnighter was going to happen? How long after the end of Midnighter or before that did you know that that was going to be a thing you were doing?
Orlando: I mean, before the last issue came out.
Orlando: And, you know, as Dan [Didio] pointed out this morning, what we were waiting on was the trade sales, which ended up being very, very nice with a huge amount of support from fans and readers. That made all of the difference. That can make the difference for a book. So we waited to see how that came together. And it came together in a beautiful way. You saw it was announced, I think, within a month of the last issue. So we knew it was part of the plan.
CB: Okay. And now that you are doing Supergirl, when we talked at WonderCon, you mentioned you would have thematic similarities, but no decapitations or anything.
Orlando: Still no decapitations.
CB: Still no decapitations? I will be reading that first issue very rapt to see if you can keep that up.
Orlando: Okay. It is hard for me.
CB: Yeah, so what have you brought over from your experience on Midnighter to that?
Orlando: It is more the scale and it is the “anything goes” types of energy of comics that I think are really important. So much of Midnighter— yes people get killed with t-bones from porterhouse steaks and whatever, but it’s also about the unlimited budget. Don’t be hampered by what I consider rounding it too much because comics are about this wild energy that is only in the comics field. That is I think something huge in Midnighter. And it will continue in Midnighter and Apollo. We open up with him fighting a giant golem made of subway cars.
And that is coming to Supergirl, sort of that reverence towards the truly comics-derived, comics-first strangeness, but in a wonderful way. I mean, we have Kryptonian werewolves. We have all sorts of strange technology. And we have a Supergirl that motions in unique ways. There will be your fisticuffs so to speak, but so much about her is actually using Midnighter as a counterpoint. He is someone who makes a very final judgment on someone. Supergirl is the polar opposite. I think it has become very interesting to me as I write her that there almost is no period on the end of a sentence for her. She is never willing to give up on someone, even her worst enemies. Whereas Midnighter, once you’ve crossed into his world, he will write you off pretty quickly and he is very decisive. He is like the opposite with her. She is all about compassion and understanding. So it is both in the style of the ideas, the bigness of it, which will snowball as the series continues and we bring in the truly fun elements.
We do that from the very beginning with Lar-On [Editor’s note: that would be the aforementioned Kryptonian werewolf]. And then it is also using him as a counterpoint and saying, “Okay. I have written a book about this character who is very black and white. What about someone who has, in many ways, the exact opposite position on things?”
CB: What is it like working with the art teams on that book? It is biweekly, correct?
Orlando: Supergirl is monthtly.
CB: Oh, it is monthly! Okay. Sorry I had that wrong. So you do have that extended period. Well, the normal period to work on the issues and everything.
CB: How far are you into writing that?
Orlando: I am quite a far ahead. I am almost done with the first story arc. And the Rebirth issue hasn’t even come out yet. So we are doing pretty well. Emanuela [Lupacchino], I am really excited about her doing the Rebirth issue, not just because I think she has a wonderful point of view being a female creator, but also being a creator not from America, being Italian. But she also closed out the last arc, so it feels fitting to me that she is now here to kickstart the next story arc. And she will be back again supporting us with some other books. We are sharing her with Phil Jimenez, whose Superwoman book is also going to be very cool. So it is exciting to have her back and allow us to sort of move into the new era with her.
And in the case of Brian [Ching], Brian is an incredible designer. We talk a lot. Beyond that, he is dedicated to the book. He totally reinvented his style for Supergirl. His last gig before this was Conan. He did an amazing job on that. But if you want to talk about two guys who if you looked at their resume, Supergirl would not be the book you would think. Giant barbarians, also decapitations by the way, in Conan. But we have all sort of pivoted and found this core of why we love this character. I think it is very powerful.
CB: I have been curious about the Rebirth issues, if you see them as the start of a story or if you see them as a mission statement, like a thesis statement going forward. How did you approach writing that sort of one-shot that kickstarts it?
Orlando: I think a mission statement is a good way to phrase it. We approach it for people who—I said almost the same thing when Midnighter started—are long time fans of the character as a reminder. For people who have never seen her before maybe at all—because, God help me, I was driving with someone and they said, “Who is Supergirl? Superman has a cousin?” and I almost swerved into traffic—or people coming from the show or from other CW shows, it is like you said: it is a mission statement. It is a clear, distinct piece saying, “This is why she is special. This is why she is great. This is what separates her from every other character in the DC universe.”
CB: You mentioned the TV show. Solicitations have made it clear there are some elements like the DEO that are coming in. How are you approaching those to make them unique to your own take? Obviously you don’t want to be writing the TV show; you are writing the comic.
Orlando: No, we lead with the comics. Some things are very organic. Cat Grant is a sarcastic character and I am a sarcastic man. It is very easy to write her. But it is about, like I said, leading with the comics. Yes, we are establishing the National City for the DCU, but rather than making it a figurative island, we are weaving it into the tapestry of what that place would mean in relation to other DCU locations. And the same goes with the DEO. The DEO has that iconography from the show, but it is an established thing in the DC Universe.
I am never one who likes the sort of shutter things or silo things; I like to build on what is there. So we will have the DEO, but we have Cameron Chase as the local director of the DEO, who is probably the most famous agent of the DEO. And it is about taking the parts that work and infusing them with the energy of the show, the positivity, and the freshness, while at the same time not throwing away the foundation of what exists in the DC Universe.
CB: I guess I want to end on what it means to you to be entrusted with writing Supergirl, carrying that book forward, and also writing the first official crossover of DC Rebirth.
Orlando: Well, the Supergirl thing is a huge responsibility. I [attend] shows. I met someone. Every character is someone’s favorite character certainly. But with Supergirl, it is interesting to me. I was at a show. This older gentleman came up to me and he said, “I am fifty-seven years old. I am the same age as Lara. I’ve followed my whole life. She looks a little better than I do.” I was like, “Alright, okay.”
But it seems like people have spent their whole life with her. She is a huge influence on them. Just like minutes ago, after I did the panel, I had someone tweet to me. They said, without naming who it is, “I am deaf. And Kara showed me when I was younger that it is okay to be different.” It is a huge responsibility that I hope I am ready for and I respect immensely. It is the same thing with Midnighter. The character changed my life. Comics change people’s lives. And any character is an enormous responsibility. Supergirl is truly special the way she approaches things. Hopefully you will see that in the first issue.
I am trying to do something different that it at the same time totally true to who she is. And it is intimidating, but it should be, you know? All we can do, and what I am going to do, is do my damndest to do right by those people because they deserve it.
Supergirl: Rebirth #1 is available today on Comixology and in your local comics shop.