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Interview conducted by James Ferguson

DC Comics has been digging deeper and deeper into the horror genre, showing how all kinds of terrors can rise up in this universe. Two such titles, Martian Manhunter and Gotham City Monsters, are helmed by writer Steve Orlando. I had a chance to pick his brain about them.

James Ferguson: Let's start with Martian Manhunter. What drew you to that character?

Steve Orlando: Martian Manhunter has been my favorite character probably since I got into modern comics. It wasn't since I got into comics because that was 1987 and I was all about West Coast Avengers. We don't talk about that on a DC interview. When I got in and stayed in, which was in the mid-90s, Martian Manhunter was on the Justice League and I just loved the position he had. We look up to the Justice League as these icons. Amongst this pantheon of god-like creatures, he was the one they looked to as their rock. I found that fascinating. How do you become that person that has seen and lived so much with a breadth of experience that the near gods of the DC Universe look to you when they need a shoulder to lean on?

That's what led to this book as well. I wanted to explore just how arduous, personal, and intense his journey to being a hero was.

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JF: I'd say fragile as well. It seems like it could all go wrong with a flip of a coin and it kind of has.

SO: Yes, and he's digging back out now. If he's going to become that person, then he needs to have gone through some shit. He has to have had some very personal failures and victories to give him experience on that scale to have someone like Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman go to him when they need to talk. That's what this book has been about. When he finally declares himself the Martian Manhunter at the end of this book – which I don't consider a spoiler because we all know where he's going – it's going to feel so earned and it will mean so much. You'll understand why everyone respects his journey.

JF: That's saying something that arguably one of the most human members of the Justice League is not human.

SO: He is living our human journey writ large. We are not responsible for the death of our entire planet...yet, give us ten years, but show me a person that hasn't had failures in their life. Show me someone that hasn't had things that they wish could have gone differently. The reality is that they could have gone differently. J'onn's journey is this macro blockbuster scale version of what we go through as humans. To pay truth to the fact that he is the most human character of the Justice League, we had to make his journey the most human. The reality of our lives is J'onn's reality. There's no fucking Delorian. When we make mistakes or endure tragedies, we must integrate them into ourselves. We must find pride again and make ourselves the heroes of our lives again.

While I loved J'onn before, he was a model policeman on Mars and a model policeman on Earth. The reality is none of us are perfect. It's all the more powerful when he finds a way to take pride in being the Martian Manhunter. Like us, he has to synthesize and process all these mistakes he's made and still find a way to be proud of who he is.

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JF: That's what makes the horror elements of the series so scary because you have that personal touch. You can understand where he's coming from. I've found horror works better when you're invested in the characters.

SO: A jump scare will get you every time. To me, one of the most frightening movies ever is Wake & Fright. There's very little gore in that movie. It's just dread. The main character is basically trapped by aggressive hospitality in the Australian backwoods and he can't get out. In Martian Manhunter, there are body horror aspects to it because Riley [Rossmo] and I love that stuff, but it's also about being trapped with his past. For us, that's often twice as frightening.

JF: Shifting over to Gotham City Monsters, I almost don't know where to start because of how interesting this group dynamic can be.

SO: It's a nice transition because Martian Manhunter is my most internal monster book and Gotham City Monsters is as external as possible. Frankenstein is a self-narrating Miltonian tragic hero. He could not be more different than J'onn.

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JF: The personalities we've seen clash in the first issue alone have been interesting to say the least. The rules for super hero team ups require a fight at first. It's clearly setting the stage for a darker, more serious bend with the horror element in the DC Universe.

SO: It's a little bit of both. That's the thing. This has to be our big blockbuster monster book. When you have Frankenstein, Bennett, and Killer Croc, you want to see huge monster moments, like Frakenstein cutting Bennett in half and all the things I know are coming. When you have Melmoth, you want strange moments. He is a weird twisted character. At the same time, it still needs to be about something. Us is still about something. Get Out is still about something.

The heart of the book is Killer Croc. I was inspired by the documentary Free Meek. It's about the musician Meek Mills and his struggles. Even though he's relatively famous and wealthy, he can still barely find his way off being on parole. When people pay their debt to society, we really don't let them start again. If this wealthy, famous musician can barely get his feet on the ground because of how the world works, how can Killer Croc possibly get a fresh start after getting paroled from the Suicide Squad? He really wants to start anew. That is very real. Even though it's a monster book where people are getting bisected, you need that anchor. Just as he thinks he can do that, the first person that gives him a fair shot goes to that theater and it ends poorly. All the characters have reasons for going after Melmoth, but I do feel that Croc's is the most real. He's unexpectedly become the heart of the book.

JF: Is Gotham City Monsters planned as an ongoing or a mini-series?

SO: We're a six-issue mini-series, but don't think I don't have a season two in my mind if there's a chance.

Horror DNA would like to thank Steve Orlando for taking the time to speak with us. Martian Manhunter and Gotham City Monsters are on sale right now from DC Comics.


About The Author
James Ferguson
Lord of the Funny Books
James has a 2nd grade reading level and, as a result, only reads books with pictures. Horror is his 5th favorite genre right after romantic comedy and just before silent films. No one knows why he's here, but he won't leave.
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