Steve Orlando Believes the Justice League Hasn’t Done Enough for You

Comics Features Steve Orlando
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Steve Orlando Believes the Justice League Hasn’t Done Enough for You

Never in a million years would you think to compare Batman with Mother Teresa, but that’s precisely what Steve Orlando did when we spoke over the phone to discuss his current run on Justice League of America.

“For readers and for people within the DC Universe, he’s a pillar,” Orlando says. “But we do bring a team with such different backgrounds and experiences that cast a different light on characters you might have thought opinion was unified on.”

Hence, Mother Teresa.

“It’s not a perfect example,” he acknowledges, “but large portions of the community tend to deify Mother Teresa. But if you’re a queer person you probably don’t do that, because she had strong opinions about you. The reason I bring this up is because you have characters, when they look at Batman, they do see a lot of good things, but they also see a lot of privilege and they also see a lot of things that could be better and things that could be questioned.”

For Justice League of America, Orlando, alongside artists Ivan Reis and Felipe Watanabe among others, has thought long and hard about what his idea of DC’s flagship team should represent, and this is a big part of it. Superheroes represent things to people. The power wielded by those we entrust to lead us should serve those who don’t have it. But power inherently respects some more than others.

“When you have a team that is being proactive and recognizing some of the faults in society and [...] in the social contract,” says Orlando, “the people who it resonates with are going to be revealed by the people who are being served by most of the social contracts that exist in our lives, and the people that aren’t being served by [them].”

Justice League of America #1 Interior Art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado & Marcelo Maiolo

Sometimes it’s hard to remember whether Steve Orlando is talking about the DC Universe or the real one. He slips back and forth between the two at will, talking about problems that can’t be punched, and what it takes to solve them. Orlando started with a series of one-shots that re-introduced four of the Justice League of America’s core members: The Ray, The Atom, Vixen and a reformed Killer Frost who now goes by Frost. He continued with a Rebirth special in which Batman brings them all together, along with Black Canary and Lobo, to build a more “human” team, one that was flawed and could stand alongside the people it helped instead of just fighting things bigger than them.

This is immediately complicated by the team’s first threat: a superpowered group known as the Extremists who violently seize control of a nation. Then an armed militia springs up in an American city. And this week, the team finds a long-lost man raised by monsters and embarks on a humanitarian mission to bring him home, only to discover his home might not want him. Complicated shit, all of it, and all of it by design.

“There are these teams that have a huge amount of power in the DC Universe—I find a lot of them act as a solution rather than a resource,” says Orlando. “People who are affected by either our supervillainous threats or by very real-world threats—the people who are living those things are the ones that know what they need. The tendency I think, is for anyone in power—we’re using superhero teams to talk about that—to feel that they have the solution. The people who are affected have the solution. And only by going in and offering your resources can you actually maintain that agency and actually create something that is sustainable going forward.”

Justice League of America #2 Interior Art by Felipe Watanabe, Scott Hanna & Hi-Fi

Justice League of America shows Orlando—a writer who’s established himself as one of the Big Two’s biggest advocates for queer representation in books like Midnighter and Apollo— reaching even further for marginalized people. Because when it comes to power—in both superheroes and life—not everyone will have a seat at the table.

“It’s the team that is going into underserved communities, or trying to be a voice for people who haven’t had a voice before. You’re going to have people in power who are going to have to walk the tightrope of actually listening to those people. It’s the difference in any of the power structures in our country, in the world [balance]—going in somewhere and giving what they estimate is the solution to someone else’s problem, or listening to those people who have the problem, and using their resources to help them.“

One of Orlando’s pithier lines for summing up the team is that the JLA is about “saving tomorrow,” not today. A Justice League that’s more interested in the next day, and the one that comes after that, and how to enact a plan that empowers everyday people to take part in saving that future. And he’s not just talking about the fictional everyday people that populate his stories; he’s talking about you and me. Justice League of America is a fast-paced action comic with fights draped against relevant and difficult themes, but it’s also comics as activism, something created with the express intention of inspiring those who feel disenfranchised.

Justice League of America #8 Interior Art by Felipe Watanabe, Scott Hanna & Hi-Fi

“These icons we have in our lives, these almost superhuman personages we have in the real world, are really almost just like us. They really are just people. Success to the team is a world where instead of putting these amazing qualities on superheroes or celebrities and politicians, [people] search for them in their own lives, because that’s a world that’s ready for tomorrow,” argues Orlando. “That’s what success for the Justice League of America looks like, when the membership is seven billion strong; we’ve all accepted that we can find greatness and fortitude within ourselves, instead of from exterior means. I would say that’s the day that they’ve won.”

Justice League of America #8 Interior Art by Felipe Watanabe, Scott Hanna & Hi-Fi

It’s a message that seems especially resonant in this current political moment, but Orlando believes that this approach was needed long before November crystallized the state of our culture and the discourse around it. Because, again: power, and those who benefit from it, isn’t always cognizant of those it leaves behind. There’s always work to be done, and a lot of it is frighteningly dependent on one of Justice League of America’s core questions: are people inherently good? Can anyone really be trusted with power?

“For a lot of our social contracts to function on a day-to-day basis, and on a global basis—they’re ripe with opportunities for abuse—and we need to cut to the core of can we be good? That’s the only way this whole thing works,” Orlando says. “And the Justice League is trying to cut to the core of this. I hope they’re right.”