Earlier this week, we spoke with writer Steve Orlando about building the roster of the new Justice League of America, starting off with Atom and Vixen. Today we’re back to finish up discussion on the new Fab Four with insight from Orlando on The Ray and Killer Frost, both scheduled to debut Rebirth specials in the next two weeks.
Matt Santori: We left off talking about the importance of creators who live the experience of the characters they write. In relaunching The Ray with this Rebirth special, you have two queer creators — yourself and Stephen Byrne — on DC’s newest queer character.
Steve Orlando: It’s an exciting and historic moment. To my knowledge, we’ve never before had all queer creators working on a queer character lead at DC or Marvel. So, that’s a great moment that I couldn’t be prouder to be part of.
As I’ve said multiple times, I do not think that only people within a community can work on characters from a given community — as long as you understand the weight of what you’re doing and the responsibility of what you’re doing. This is a great moment and it does bring a lot of nuance to the character in a really organic way that I think could be achieved otherwise, but through a different route. Through years of research and all of that.
At the same time, it’s a bit easier, because we have an understanding — especially with an origin story like this that is about coming out as a super-hero. It’s about visibility as a gay man and as a super-hero. This is something Stephen and I have gone through. And I think I’m lucky to be the one putting this together, especially for the Ray.
The Ray is literally in the dark for years and years, told that who he was is wrong and dangerous. Of course, this is in relation to his abilities, but it’s something we’ve all felt.
His journey as a hero is really one of visibility and power taken from that. That’s something very close to the heart of the queer community and something very close to my heart.
At the same time, as Ray is someone who has doubts about himself, that’s not exclusive to the queer community. That’s something we can all relate to. But on a very specific note, it’s something especially felt by those who grow up thinking they should hide who they are. And the Ray is here to say that it shouldn’t be that way. He’s here to provide hope to everyone else. I’ve very happy to be the one to put this together. His look and his powers — being bright and hopeful — is something we all need.
MS: There is this pretty interesting aspect of his powers that you’ve focused on that really speaks to the idea of visibility in a dual way.
SO: It worked out. As people read the book, you’ll see the way Ray uses his powers. I really like when characters can figure out interesting ways to use their powers. And I think this one has always been there. As a kid, I grew up reading DC Secret Files and Origins, reading how Martian Manhunter actually does what he does. So, I sat down and thought about how The Ray’s powers work and the more subtle applications of his abilities.
I’ll always remember in Grant Morrison’s JLA book where Doctor Light blinds someone just by stopping light from going into their eyes. It was maybe the first time I realized that super-powers didn’t just have to be about blasting someone in the face. They can be much more subtle.
MS: Lastly, I want to talk a little about Killer Frost. What can you say about her accepting the mantle of a hero in the Justice League after working as a villain for so long?
SO: A lot of her character came from our artist Mirka Andolfo’s work, as my co-writer Jody Houser and I saw it develop on the page. Frost to me is an interesting character. A lot of of it is about owning what you’ve done and finding a way to move forward as an adult and as a person in the world.
She was a promising scientist until an accident that she had no control over forced her to become something else. She can’t control her need for organic heat or human heat, because she’ll die if she doesn’t have it.
I think we’ve all been in situations where circumstances forced us to make decisions we regret later or wouldn’t make otherwise. Hers are, of course, widespread and large on account of the damage. But I look at her as someone who needs understanding.
There’s steps to be taken on both sides regarding Killer Frost. It’s her decision if she wants to be better. And it’s the decision of the heroes around her to understand and not just lock her away in prison. If those two things meet in the middle, you’re left with someone willing to grow and change and put in the work to make herself better.
And it is work. You backslide. You rise back up. But this is someone who’s finally ready to realize that it’s time to start fighting back against her urges. And this is true for anyone with a sickness or addiction. It can be a powerful moment, because she’s not ignoring what she’s done or the thing that she’s become. She’s engaging them and planning a way to come out on top.
The next two Rebirth specials — The Ray and Killer Frost — hit comic book shops next week and the week after, followed by a Justice League of America: Rebirth, all scribed in part or in full by writer Steve Orlando. Don’t miss a single one!