Interview: Steve Orlando Enters the Microverse with JLA

Waaay back in DC Universe: Rebirth, we got a taste of what’s about to hit from Ray Palmer’s adventuring into the unknown that’s called the Microverse. One year later, with Ryan Choi leading his Justice League of America team to rescue his mentor, we finally get to see what this new frontier has in store.

Giving us a little taste is writer Steve Orlando, who sat down with Comicosity to talk not just about the advent of the Microverse storyline in JLA #12 (not to mention the return of artist Ivan Reis to the book), but also about the personal nature of last week’s JLA #10 and how this League is different from all the others we’ve seen before.

Matt Santori: Before we dive into the Microverse, so to speak, I want to backtrack. JLA #10 felt like the most personal issue of the run so far. Tell me a little bit about how this storyline evolved for you.

Steve Orlando: JLA #10, and Justice League of America in general, focuses on this question of “Can people be inherently good?” The reason this comes up in JLA #10 specifically is because of the idea of “What if we could have anything? What if we could have a quick fix to our problems?”

I think that — on a personal level, as a country, and as a world — things seem very chaotic right now. A lot of people, regardless of where they’re coming from, have all had this moment of wishing things could just get better.

Interior art by Andy MacDonald

The question in JLA comes down to whether we can be trusted to use that quick fix. Can we be good or will we be selfish? Are we too insular? Can we be a community so that if someone came to us and said, “We can fix all this. It’s as simple as rubbing a lamp.” could we actually get it done? Or would we poison it? Would we taint it with our own human failures and faults.

That has been a theme since the beginning. As things get worse and worse, and desperation becomes greater, there’s a vulnerability to that. Something like the Might Beyond the Mirror can take advantage of that. We saw how bad that got in the beginning of the book with the Extremists (issues #1-4), and we’ve seen small pockets of that throughout. All the villains — or “antagonists” — in Justice League of America are people who have become so after being failed. That’s why the Might Beyond the Mirror has struck.

Aegeus (issues #5-6) was left alone by his family, abandoned, and had to live homeless. That was the moment when someone said, “Well, what if I could just make it better? What if you could have anything you wanted?”

Terrorsmith (issue #7) felt that everything in his life had betrayed him — his work, his wife, his own body when he had cancer. And that’s when the Might Beyond the Mirror said, “What if I could just make it better? What if you could have whatever you need right now?”

Likewise, in JLA #10, when you see Vanity, the most depressing city in the DC Universe, you have a place that’s tried things to make it better. It’s very similar to where I grew up in Syracuse, New York. They just can’t seem to find a way to make the economy work again. They just keep flushing in new minimum wage jobs that aren’t really going to change anything. The people who are doing it are pretty much just vampiric investors who are looking to take a loss on people’s lives.

The idea is that these are the people who are most vulnerable when the Might comes in and wants to give them anything they want.

Interior art by Andy MacDonald

This is also crucial to the conflict between the Batman and the Ray. Batman is the guy who can basically afford to give people the chance, but he’s too pragmatic. He’s too jaded. He doesn’t see the profit/loss scenario in terms of “what if everything goes great?” He starts on the assumption that everything probably won’t go great. He starts by assessing the damage and trying to get out ahead of it and compensate.

This is versus the Ray, who was born with powers out of his control and the possibility of what he could be affected his reality immensely. The idea that he might be dangerous, rather than being nurtured, led him to being locked away by his parents. He lost 18 years of his life to that idea.

So, with the endless possibility embodied by the Might Beyond the Mirror, this sort of sadness and malaise we have in the world plays out both in Batman and the Ray, and the story as a whole.

MS: I think in a broader sense, the JLA is clearly functioning much differently than your classic Justice League.

SO: We have a team that we started by saying, “this is a Justice League of America that looks like America.” That meant different faces, different people, different lives being embodied in the team. But that’s only step one. You need to think about how these characters think and what problem-solving looks like. How do people react to power when they’ve not always been the ones in the majority or in power?

That’s a lot of what this team does differently. You see it in the first arc where, rather than just dropping themselves into Pravda and fighting Lord Havok, they come to the Pravdian people — the ones affected — and ask, “how can we help?” It’s not “This is what we have to do.” or “Hey. We liberated you. We’re out of here.” They offer their power as a resource and ask them what they need.

The Ray and Xenos, exclusive interior art by Ivan Reis (JLA #12)

Black Canary even says in issue #3 that it’s really simple. “Just tell us what you need.” This comes from characters — Vixen being a woman of color, the Ray being gay, Ryan Choi being Hong Kongese — who haven’t necessarily ever been in seats of power. They react to it different and use it differently because they know how they would want someone in power to come to them. They know how people in power have always come to them in wrong-headed ways before.

This is really the core of the Justice League of America: offering their power as a resource and not just giving people solutions. That respect is something that I don’t think you’ve really seen in a Justice League or an incredibly powerful team like this before.

And because of that, the solutions are not going to look like those from a normal Justice League book either. We are changing what super-heroics mean. We’re changing what power means. And we’re doing it in a way where, yeah, not every solution is going to look the same, but I think they’re more lasting and more respectful.

MS: You’ve been introducing a ton of new concepts in the series, and that looks like it’s only going to expand as we go into the Rebirth-inspired Microverse story in JLA #12. How’s that feel overall for you?

SO: The Justice League books I read when I was younger were all about the new. You read the old Wizard Magazines and they were always talking about Grant Morrison and how he’d introduce a new idea on every page. That’s how I want comics to be, so that’s how try to do Justice League of America.

Art by Ivan Reis

We have new spins on older characters like Lord Havok and the Extremists, or Aegeus, or Terrorsmith. We have new characters like King Butcher, who’s sort of like a magical juggernaut for the DC Universe, or Makson, who’s obviously like Tarzan, but has this feral nature of someone like Sub-Mariner as well. Hopefully, there’s a raw sexuality about him, despite the man-bun that’s been quite divisive. [laughs]

It’s this idea of being new. It may not be the nostalgia that you see in a lot of Rebirth, but it is the excitement and energy behind being the first person to discover a new character. It’s building new bricks in this 78 year-old monolith that is the DC Universe. We’ve always done that and we’re going to keep doing that.

And that’s going to go right into the Microverse. Talking about bricks and structures, the Microverse is incredibly important. We know from DC Universe: Rebirth that Ray Palmer is missing and that a disturbance threw him into the Microverse. We’re going to explore that.

The issues leading up to #12, where Ryan Choi has learned to have a rapport with his teammates and have a guarded trust for this team, have brought him to this place where he can do this. He’s been incapable until now of going after Ray on his own. Now he’s comfortable in showing this little bit of vulnerability and saying he needs help from his peers.

It’s not just him as we find out. The Microverse is the smallest part, the smallest border of the final frontier in many ways in the created DC Universe. There is nothing on the other side. We think of it as really small, given the name, but it’s all about perspective.

When people get there, you see that everything there is to scale and it’s much larger to the inhabitants than our universe is to us. In fact, it’s so large that the people who live there don’t call it “the Microverse.” They call it the Immensity, because it’s so vast that not all of it has been explored. There’s mapped space and unmapped space. It is theoretically the baseline and foundation for the entire Multiverse.

This may seem like a small story, literally and figuratively, about a student finding his teacher. And it is. But at the same time, if what Ray Palmer discovered isn’t stopped, and the foundation crumbles, just like a house, the whole thing is going to fall down. All of reality will fall down.

Interior art by Ivan Reis

So, the search for Ray Palmer in “The Panic in the Microverse” is going to bring more new concepts than ever into the DC Universe. The Sleeping Planet of Moz-Ga. The original Faceless Champions.

But at the same time as the team explores, and we get as close as we can, I think, to Star Wars in the DC Universe, it’s not just that tiny mission that we see on the surface. Literally, everything is on the line. You, me, all the characters of the DC Universe. The Microverse is there on the bottom, and it’s all going to get caught in the slipstream if the decay there isn’t stopped.

This is a story that not only has repercussions for Rebirth and for Doomsday Clock, but really for everything in the DC Universe. As Ray says in DC Universe: Rebirth #1, it’s not just about saving him. It’s saving all reality.

MS: The arrival of the Microverse also heralds Ivan Reis’s return to the series with JLA #12. How has that been working out and what can we expect to see?

SO: Ivan was already doing the work of his career on the first arc, but he’s more inspired than ever on the Microverse. A lot of it is about this idea of creating the new. I’ve been working with Ivan designing whole worlds, alien cultures, and belief systems that has energized him in a way that’s really, really special.

It is monolithic as a goal to create a universe that is many times bigger than our own, and I couldn’t do it without someone like Ivan coming on — and Felipe Watanabe doing our interlude in issues #15-16, which is a little bit more of Ray Palmer as a quantum Indiana Jones.

The opportunity to build a world and flesh it out so it’s ours — giving it all of that nearly impossible nuance of a real nuanced place — has really pushed them all to do the best work I’ve ever seen from them. It also has given me a chance to step back and loosen my script style, to give them room to innovate and bring their best work to the page. I lean out, so they can lean in, so-to-speak.

Cover art by Ivan Reis

MS: Any final thoughts or special teases for the Comicosity audience?

SO: Every page from Ivan and Felipe is amazing. This is Star Wars in the DC Universe with the Justice League. You will see planets you’ve never seen before. You’ll see fast races. You’ll see the Mos Eisley of the Microverse. And when we get all through with that, there’s something even bigger coming.

There’s the Might Beyond the Mirror. The arcs coming up will be bringing back some fan favorite villains, new connections, and new appearances. There are characters coming that you’d never expect in the DC Universe, touching it in a way that’s really unexpected. We’re teeing up some amazing science fiction, and a space opera epic in the Microverse. And we’re not slowing down from there.

“Panic in the Microverse” by Steve Orlando and Ivan Reis begins August 9 in Justice League of America #12.



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