What’s more violent and out of control than one Midnighter? Try dozens of Midnighters in infinite loops, righting his past wrongs.
The former WildStorm hero is returning with a new back-up serial in DC’s Action Comics, beginning this week with March 23’s Action Comics #1029 (opens in new tab). In this story, subtitled ‘The Passenger,’ Midnighter is put to the ultimate test as he tries to escape a time loop and a new enemy, Trojan.
Wonder Woman writers Becky Cloonan and Michael W. Conrad, fresh off their Future State: Midnighter story, return here for this new back-up series with artists Michael Avon Oeming and Taki Soma.
Newsarama spoke with Cloonan and Conrad about Midnighter, his reliability, this new villain named Trojan, and the deeper connections that come up by writing this WildStorm alum.
Newsarama: Becky, Michael, you’re also writing Wonder Woman this month along with Midnighter backups and that’s such an interesting dichotomy of characters. He was created as this mega Batman analog, but he’s become so much more over 20 years. So who is Midnighter to you?
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Michael Conrad: The main thing we wanted to explore the different modes of storytelling between Wonder Woman and Midnighter. Midnighter came around first and we wanted to honor the creation of the character and we wanted to have a blast. We wanted to have this over-the-top romp.
I’ve described it as something wild, violent, aggressive and I think it evolved beyond that. It became more character-focused, I think people will find that it’s more of an exploration of the psychology of someone who is, in my mind, a good person with a lot of damage that they’re working out.
Becky Cloonan: Yeah, definitely, With our Future State: Midnighter story, we wanted to create a villain that was a perfect match. He’s very similar to Midnighter but different on so many levels. We wanted to have this really dynamic foil for the character. So much of superhero comics are defined by their great villains and it definitely helped us get into his head as were questioning what would make a perfect villain for him that’s going to set him off.
Nrama: That’s Trojan. What can you tell us about him?
Conrad: Trojan is… I don’t want to say the guy’s name who he is loosely based on but there is a young multi-billionaire–
Cloonan: That’s very invested in the future. Very invested in technology and progressing humanity through technology.
Conrad: So you take that and add a dash of spirituality and a cult leader, that’s what Trojan is. He’s the guy who thinks that suffering is based on human frailty and wants to get rid of that.
Cloonan: In his case, he doesn’t believe that suffering should be part of the human experience because humans are constantly wanting things.
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Nrama: You’ve worked together in the past, so what’s the collaboration process like for the two of you for Midnighter? Have you figured out what works best?
Cloonan: I think so.
Conrad: Midnight was challenging and this story was challenging as we’re dealing with time. If you’ve read the ‘Future State’ events, you’ll know it deals with time travel and I know some people get a glee out of picking it apart and finding holes in it.
Cloonan: Oh my god.
Conrad: Becky initially made all these graphs and she was really committed to making sense of everything. I was like, ‘Yeah, time travel is fun in comics,’ but it was a burden for her and for the main antagonist, Trojan, I really wanted to do something that represented something of my interests in this Japanese cult called Aum Shinrikyo that was responsible for the sarin gas bombing in Japan in the ’90s. I really focused on who that character was for me so I showed up with this character and she showed up with how to make it all work. We put that together and we made a stew out of it. We know where we want to go and where we’ve been, but it’s been 100% collaborative.
Cloonan: I want to say that our outline for Midnighter is this beautiful tapestry, but it’s actually this tangled web and it took a lot of work. The backups are eight pages, which is extremely shorter than you’re used to in telling a story and we’re telling this story and we’re packing it with stuff.
Conrad: Yeah it’s so condensed and breakneck. I think ‘Midnighter’ is supposed to be fun with deep nuances that we can explore with a bit of space.
Nrama: You’re working with Michael Oeming on this, in your mind, what makes him perfect for Midnighter?
Cloonan: His art is so kinetic, and I’ve been a fan of Oeming since Powers (opens in new tab), and getting to work with him has been amazing. He’s doing such crazy things and using patterns and such dynamic art for this story. There’s humor in his art, too. His timing is so perfectly made for the violence and comedy.
Conrad: It’s crazy because Midnighter is a violent character, but Oeming is so skilled at showing something that is graphic and over the top and makes you feel kinda okay at what you’re looking at.
Cloonan: At the same time, when we wrote it, it was weird in our heads, but Oeming gets a hold of it and makes it even weirder. It’s so great!
Conrad: There are so certain characters coming up where it’s absolutely absurd–
Cloonan: And uncomfortable!
Conrad: [Laughs] That, too. But it’s also just a dream come true for us to work with such a great artist. It’s been incredible to see the pages coming in.
Cloonan: And Taki Soma is coloring it too. Everything she does brings such a balance to his work because his lineart is so bold. And it’s a couples book! I didn’t think I realized that, but now it’s a thing.
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Nrama: I was just talking to the Samnees about working together on Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters last month. Is there a key, you think, of keeping things all business when being creative with your partner?
Cloonan: Yes, but it’s difficult when you work at home, but we’re lucky enough we have enough space to do our own thing. That really helps when you’re working and when we come together and talk about it.
Conrad: It’s challenging because you’re working with somebody who you care about deeply. So I think it’s a mutual respect/understanding what we’re good at and what we like to focus on and it’s about finding a balance and giving each other room to express ourselves through these characters in how we like to.
In the case of ‘Midnighter,’ we both like the same things about the character and the villain we created. Midnighter is an easy book for us to write. Readers will see elements about relationships in this book and it’s kinda fun to show functional and dysfunctional elements of relationships with superheroes and supervillains.
Nrama: What will your story focus on?
Cloonan: Well if you’ve read ‘Future State,’ Midnighter happens to go back to his past and correct mistakes and guide himself through what he has to do. So you have this group of Midnighters going through time giving other Midnighters directions. He’s looking for a way out of this paradox but also trying to stop Trojan, who he knows will be a threat later on in his life. But, here in the now, Trojan is a young man and not at his full potential yet. So he finds himself with a conundrum.
Conrad: Well, it’s not really a conundrum for Midnighter to kill most people he knows to be a threat but it’s more of him thinking is this the thing that will end the cycle of just going back in time and he wants to free himself from that and now sure how to do that He knows he’s failed a bunch of times before and he’s stretching himself trying to find the solution to the quandary in the fun Midnighter way, which is him beating the hell out of some people.
Nrama: How is it a different mindset from Midnighter than say when you’re writing Wonder Woman? Do you feel like you can get away with a lot more or is it more restrictive?
Conrad: You mean the fact that we’re appearing in Action Comics which is the tentpole title that is picked up by a wide variety of readers? We can’t be over the top with the violence or cursing but that said we try to make it as adult and powerful as we can and I think we’re succeeding in that. But I do think that it’s revolutionary to have a gay man be featured to be in the most important comic on the rack and it’s a responsibility we take seriously.
Nrama: We all know how WildStorm folded into DC years ago, but now he’s in the same universe as Batman, as well as these gritty other characters, do you think DC needs a Midnighter?
Cloonan: Yeah. I definitely do. He’s his own character and his own set of ideals.
Conrad: We’ve got a bunch of cool characters, but there’s room for a character like Midnighter. Fans of Midnighter can see a part of themselves in him and that could be for a number of reasons. I think that’ what gives something value. These readers, maybe their needs aren’t being served by something like Batman. I give a lot of credit to Steve Orlando for putting more meat on the bone and we hope to be part of that, too. We want to continue to build that’s both compelling and representative.
Nrama: Will we see Apollo or possibly other former Stormwatch characters later on?
Cloonan: Oh definitely, and other characters, too. I can’t give anything away, but there’s going to be some fun cameos.
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Conrad: That’s another reason why Midnighter is important because you never know how people are going to react to this guy. He’s a liability to the team because he’s going to just hit some guy in the head with a hammer and I wouldn’t want to be around that. I couldn’t imagine these real do-gooders want to be around that either.
It’s fun in theory and then you see it, it can be challenging and that can be fun to write and have to reconcile that difference of Midnighter to the more typical ethically and morally lined-up characters that he’s going to encounter.
Nrama: DC has this history of taking backups to become main series pretty quickly. Should we expect a Midnighter series of his own soon?
Conrad: I don’t know. [Laughs]
I think there’s so much story to be told and we’re leaving a lot on the table. There are questions that need to be answered and I certainly hope the opportunity presents itself to us, or somebody else can answer them. I love Midnighter and Becky does too and we’ll ride with him as long as they let us. We’ll see what the future holds, though. But if people like what we’re doing, I think DC is the type of publisher that listens.
Midnighter is but one of the greatest WildStorm characters of all time.