Writer Steve Orlando has written some stellar comics in his meteoric rise to stardom over the last few years, but perhaps none more A-list than WONDER WOMAN! The acclaimed writer took some time to answer a few questions for Comic Watch’s own Matt Meyer.
Comic Watch: You’ve had a pretty meteoric rise over the last few years, tackling “outsider” characters with a keen eye to dialogue and an instinct for stories about their inner lives just as much (if not more) than the bam-pow-biff of their day jobs. Wonder Woman, though, is a totally different animal – as A-list as it comes. How does it feel to be guiding her adventures, and how does it contrast from past assignments?
Steve Orlando: It’s a huge honor! I think especially in the present moment, someone like Diana who is dedicated to defending Truth and Love is even more of a responsibility and opportunity than when I’ve worked on a Batman or a Supergirl since coming to DC. There is a weight to Wonder Woman that’s very real, the obligation to give her, and her fans, your all, and to tell stories that stay true to the innovative spirit of Marston, and the legion of incredible creators that have come since. The moment I was offered the chance to return to Diana (after working issues 51-55 and 73) to be ongoing, Wonder Woman became my top priority. At the same time, when a character is as powerful as her, the inner life becomes more important than ever. In some ways, those are the threats that can truly bring her harm, more than any gun or energy blast.
CW: Wonder Woman #750 is right around the corner. What an honor! Congratulations. Without getting into spoiler territory, just how big of a celebration of Diana will this issue be? What can fans expect?
SO: As the credits say, my story in 750, the lead story, is a FINALE to the long-running story between Cheetah and Wonder Woman, which in some ways has been running since Wonder Woman Rebirth. But it’s also a NEW BEGINNING as Wonder Woman redefines her mission, rededicates herself, and sets off for the course that’ll carry her through 2020 which we hinted at in Wonder Woman Annual #3, my first issue.
CW: As a writer, what unique perspective do you bring to Wonder Woman as a character? What of Diana’s personality traits do you find most compelling?
SO: I’m a queer cynic from Central New York. When I write Wonder Woman, I write her as an aspirational character for myself, in almost every way. Diana is someone who is strong enough to make the choices I wish I could make, but I’m no demigod. That come across in her personality, especially in her radical compassion. Diana actively works against having enemies, even if people want to be her enemies. She cares for people who don’t believe they can be cared for, and does it without asking for anything in return. As people we often take the emotional route – anger, spite, escalation. But for Diana, when violence or hate breaks out, she feels it’s her own failing for not finding a way to defuse the situation. I think all our lives would be less toxic if we had her strength, the strength to care when caring is harder than hate.
CW: Between your arc, Scott Snyder’s use of the character in Justice League for the Year of the Villain, and her upcoming screen debut in Wonder Woman 1984, Cheetah is having quite a moment. What is it about Barbara Ann that makes her such a great foil for Wonder Woman?
SO: Cheetah, I think, symbolizes what we’ve talked about for Diana above. For Wonder Woman, Cheetah will always be her friend, the first Earthly mortal that spoke her language when she left Themyscira. And for all the tragedy and mistakes in Cheetah’s life since those days, Diana refuses to give up on her due to that friendship. That makes Cheetah heartbreaking as a villain, and also dangerous, since like many toxic friends she is willing to manipulate how Diana feels about her. She always has her claws around Wonder Woman’s heart, and she always has.
CW: Who are your favorite previous Wonder Woman writers, and will you be pulling any story elements or themes from those runs?
SO: I love the original run from the 30s and into the early 40s for its strangeness, as well as the ideas of Messner-Loebs and Perez. The Jimenez writer/artist run of the 00s is also years ahead of its time, and a lot of how we approach the Golden Lasso is inspired by what Gail Simone did with Dodson and Lopresti, and contemporary critical lens that G. Willow Wilson employed right before me. The story elements in our run will be nearly new and all our own, but we WILL follow up on the legacy of subversion and innovation that these creators put forth. Wonder Woman must go where others won’t, do what others would not think to, and say what must be said. She has the privilege of invulnerability, and she MUST use it to help the world.
CW: Steve Trevor and Diana… these two crazy kids seem to always be circling around one another without quite admitting how they feel and becoming an elite DCU power couple (so to speak). Any plans for ol’ Steve down the pipeline?
SO: There are definitely plans for Steve in the DCU, but after being a couple in Wonder Woman during Rebirth, they split after the death of love in Willow’s run, and after that, ARGUS was destroyed in Event Leviathan. Not being there for Steve CRUSHED Diana, and she’ll be unpacking that as Steve finds his new place in the DCU, looking for his own brand of revenge. But as 2020 progresses, their worlds just might collide again. Steve has long represented the status quo in many ways, so as Diana becomes bolder, their next meeting might be a more complicated one than they’d expect.
CW: What is it about Wonder Woman that has made her so iconic and enduring for all these years?
SO: Wonder Woman is indelible. We, as a people, are prone to tension. And so, Diana, a champion of peace, has been subversive and critical to the world since she was created. She is our friend, even if we don’t think we deserve her. She’s our defender when we think no one could possible hear us, and she’s our shoulder, even when we think there’s no one there.
CW: Switching gears to Martian Manhunter, I must say Riley Rossmo, Ivan Plascencia, and you have created something incredibly unique and special – and deeply personal. I was particularly struck by Meade’s backstory. It was just as powerful as storytelling can come, graphic or otherwise. With so many themes of identity and acceptance of self in play throughout J’onn’s story, how much of your own experiences are reflected here?
SO: Having been bisexual and Jewish my entire life, Meade’s story AND J’onn’s story are both emboldened by my own experiences. I know what it’s like to have something hidden inside you, either by choice or not, that would instantly change the way everyone around you saw you if they knew. And that goes for both being bisexual and Jewish. Meade’s story, one of the challenges bisexual folks face both outside the LGBTQ+ community and within, is drawn from the own judgments I’ve faced in my life. And J’onn, who has his own alien secret, experiences what many of us do before we find pride in our life. At the same time though, these feelings are universal. We all have things we hide about ourselves, and Martian Manhunter is about turning that shame into fuel for a heroic story, overcoming our failures and finding pride in who we are, the only way to truly live heroically and authentically.
CW: Strong characterization in Martian Manhunter is balanced by some of the most incredible world-building I’ve ever seen in comics. How much of that is you, and how much is Riley? What is your collaborative process like?
SO: It’s both of us! Riley and I talk daily on Martian Manhunter, and the collaboration is not just between he and I, but also Deron and Ivan on colors and letters. The worldbuilding is there in the words and visuals, but the colors as well, and even things like the telepathic balloons coming from the heads instead of the mouths, which came from Deron. All this comes from us having complete trust and respect for each other, we know when to give each other the room to innovate and do what we do best. We know the goals of the book, and once we’re all on the same page for the goal of something like creating a truly alien Mars, we get out of each others way so we can all shine.
CW: What is it that differentiates J’onn from other characters with tragic, similar “last of their kind” backstories like Superman?
SO: Unlike all those others, J’onn was an adult, and on top of that, a protector. Superman was an infant, with no responsibility to protect Kryptonians. Supergirl was a teenager. Superman never knew Krypton with his own eyes, his loss was something he read about. Supergirl had real friends and did have material loss, but to an event she never would have been expected to influence. But J’onn both had a material loss AND as a Manhunter, a cop, his base obligation was to protect his people. And thus, even if it’s irrational he could’ve saved the entire planet, his loss is the most systemic. Likewise, taking the loss as hard as he does, even though of course he couldn’t have saved his whole world, is something we can all relate to. We all act irrationally in emotional distress, we all take things harder than we should. In that way, J’onn owns the common phrase that he’s the “most human” of the heroes in the Justice League, because even as an alien, his journey from defeat to triumph is the most like what we go through as people.
CW: Lastly, with Martian Manhunter wrapping up soon, do you have any upcoming projects you can talk about just yet? Whatever the case, the future looks bright!
SO: Wonder Woman is my top priority! She has to be, she’s that important! 2020 is on track to be one of her most challenging and, hopefully, triumphant years. And she’s going to show people more than ever why she is one of the most indelible heroes in the DC Universe, and the comics worlds! Amazons vs. Valkyries is coming to DC in 2020! And outside of that, for Midnighter and Apollo readers, Kill a Man is coming in the spring from AFTERSHOCK, a LGBTQ+ Mixed Martial Arts epic from me, Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Alec McLane Morgan. This is the next great boxing epic, evolved for the MMA world, and I can’t wait for you all to see it!
A huge THANK YOU to Steve Orlando for taking time to talk from all of us at comic-watch.com! You can read Steve’s Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter comics, along with Gotham City Monsters, monthly from DC Comics!
“Radical Compassion:” A Conversation with Wonder Woman Writer Steve Orlando (EXCLUSIVE)
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