This Pride Month, amid the celebrations and loving air of inclusion and acceptance, a new pair of queer superheroes was introduced into the pages of DC comics. Out writer Steve Orlando (Virgil, Midnighter) penned the queer leads as part of a team in The Unexpected, a group of heroes threaded together by a drive for redemption.
OUT: Tell us a bit about the characters in The Unexpected - there are multiple mentions of past mistakes and redemption. What happened to these characters that brought them together?
Steve Orlando: THE UNEXPECTED is a team centered on redemption. In real life, our stories never end when we're at our lowest or highest, they just keep going. This is a team of heroes who have all had their lowest points and are looking to see what comes after. It centers on Neon, a former celebrity artist who, in his passion and ego, accidentally caused the death of his entourage. Now, he's forming a new entourage so to speak, one that can match the powers he's gained in the process. And this time, instead of tearing people down...he's going to build them up. He's going to use his power and status to help people achieve their goals, instead of being the vampiric social force he was before, and bending everyone around him to his own tunnel-visioned desires.
And what about the queer characters on the roster - what's their background like?
First, we have Neon the Unknown, the Guardian of Creation. Formerly iconic artist Colin Nomi, when he's struck with block before his highest profile installation, he performs a ritual to find inspiration. He witnesses a cosmic forge from which all things flow and its blinded with its light, but gifted with its heat: The Fires of Creation, which allow him to bend any mortal material to his will like clay or gouache. Nomi is bisexual, having found many beds and even more scandals in his rock star artist days. But since the tragic loss of his entourage and his moral rebirth, he's been building an infatuation with Elligh the Sojourner, an immortal Orck from before the dawn of man. Unfortunately...Elligh is lost, and Neon must now grieve for the first person he ever connected with beyond a physical level, all while trying to save reality.
Then we have Firebrand, Janet Fals. The daughter of a military family, Janet was put off by war. Instead, she took the path of healing, becoming a paramedic. After surviving multiple massive battles that threatened the DC Universe, she is gravely injured during the events of the recent DARK KNIGHTS: METAL. To save her life, a military contractor replaces her heart with the Conflict Engine, which runs on aggression and violence. Now, after spending her life saving people, she must get in a fight every 24 Hours or her heart will stop and she'll die. She's on the run from her creators, and her military family, but she still finds time to volunteer at a New Jersey Veteran's Hospital, itself so underfunded it can't afford to turn down the free help, no matter the source. Janet is just coming around to flirtation with the on-call nurse, Joy, before the world of DC Superheroics blows what little of a life she had to pieces. Now she's hustling with Neon, trying to save the world in time for a coffee date with the nurse she should've made time for sooner.
Colin Nomi's name is a tribute to the queer artist and icon Klaus Nomi, right?
Correct. Nomi was an innovator and icon, lost too soon to HIV/AIDS. Bold, inventive, and performing nearly to the end, he's been a light in my creative life since I got into comics. With the New Age of DC Heroes, we're creating new heroes for a new, more diverse generation. Good art is brave, it's bold. And with Neon the Unknown being the guardian of that art, the protector of the act of creation, it felt right to name him after a lost artist to be celebrated, and an icon of the LGBTQ+ community, in hopes that he can shine a spotlight back on Nomi's life and show a whole new generation the power of his work.
How does the queerness of these two characters manifest itself within the book and its story?
In addition to the relationship dynamics and on-page backstories of its characters, THE UNEXPECTED features queerness in how it depicts heroes coming in from the outskirts of the DC Universe. In some cases, they've been here since before humans even evolved. For a long time, the outskirts were the only place safe for Queerness, from Victorian winks and nods to handkerchiefs in the back pocket, so much of our world was unsaid. In addition to being queer themselves, these heroes follow metaphorically the progress the community has made. Where once we were in the outskirts, off-panel, now we're bold, big, and seen, strong and unflinching...we were heroic then, we're heroic now, and Neon and Firebrand sum that up. These are celebrations of the progress we've made, the progress we've yet to make. And in the vastly different styles of character, one intensely contemplative and the other overtly physical, we again drive home that queerness looks and acts like no one thing, it is no one way. It is multi-faceted, and with each new character like Neon and Firebrand, we draw closer to the Sisyphean goal of complete representation. We can never achieve it, because the faces of our community are infinitely myriad and diverse, but we always push towards the goal, create new, create more, and birth into the world new heroes.