When you think about the future in the DC universe, a few iconic stories and franchises will pop into your head. Kingdom Come. The Legion of Super-Heroes. DC One Million. Electric Warriors wants to do something different: show people what happens to Earth after its superheroic legacies fade away hundreds of years from now.
There’s a canonical space in the DCU timeline when Earth’s superpowered protectors faded from view and humanity fell to a low ebb. That time period is the subject of the recently announced Electric Warriors, written by Steve Orlando and drawn by Travel Foreman. Taking inspiration from the post-apocalyptic existence shown in Jack Kirby’s classic Kamandi comics and a title from an obscure piece of experimentalism, the upcoming monthly miniseries will show how Earth earns its place amongst the cosmic empires. I talked to Orlando at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con and he explained how he’s using deep cuts from DCU continuity to build a story of sci-fi bloodsport and political intrigue.
io9: I only have the faintest of memories about the Electric Warriors book from the ‘80s. Why did you guys want to reimagine it?
Steve Orlando: The original Electric Warriors was a Doug Moench and Jim Baikie production, if I remember correctly. The cover of their ninth issue says, “The Real First Issue!” and it was a little goofy. But it was a deconstruction of post-apocalypse-type stories and we’re taking the heart of that. The reveal in the book was that the world was essentially a terrarium, an experimental society, and that the real humans were on a different planet.
This series is very different. The social experiment aspect was something we’re bringing into the new book. In the world of Electric Warriors 2018, it’s our take on the future of Jack Kirby’s DC universe. We’re using the Great Disaster as a jumping-off point but this is a whole new world and whole new set of characters.
It takes place in our Earth’s Dark Age. We essentially want to say, “so much has changed while we were in recession.” And when Earth rejoins the galaxy—or, at least, intends to do so—they find that instead of whole planets going to war, now they each have one representative, an Electric Warrior, that will do trial by combat to solve these galactic conflicts, so that only one person has the potential to die instead of billions. Earth wants to rejoin the galaxy at this point. The Wild Human Reserve from Kamandi has been abolished, we’ve had the Human Personhood Accords, so humans are back and taking territory back from the animal tribes.
But, as with any type of world that’s going through a system of repression, tensions are still high. So we’re the first world in history that isn’t able to choose one Electric Warrior. Earth splits their seed between human and animal species. Our human lead, War Cry, comes from a Latinx family; he’s second-generation from a family that lived in the Wild Human Reserve. He’s grown up on the Feathered Coast, which is essentially California up to the Pacific Northwest. The other main character is Deep Dweller, who’s from the octopus tribes. Together, they sort of form a single Electric Warrior seed, but the fact that there’s two separate beings drives a lot of drama.
When they leave Earth, they go to planet Covenant, which is where these battles are fought. And the question becomes what happens if one of the Electric Warriors loses? Are both sides responsible? When one wins, everything is fine but, if one loses, are the animals responsible for human losses or vice-versa? Are we really willing to take responsibility for ourselves? And then of course, the question becomes “Can Earth challenge itself?” when those tensions come to ahead.
io9: What are the themes that are at play in this series? What are you trying to talk about?
Orlando: With Earth’s story, moral compromise is obviously a huge theme for the book. Because we’ve decided that we simply can’t be better and we can only solve things through violence. But, hey, at least we can only kill two people instead of two billion! That’s the world where we start, with heroes that have to get over their differences against each other. Earth is always the leader in these kinds of stories and we live on Earth, so we’re going to identify with the heroes of the Earth.
But here’s a time we could actually learn from them. We could watch these characters, who, by the way, neither are perfect. They both have biases but, their journey is about finding the humanity in each other and then uprooting a corrupt system to bring real honor back to the galaxy.
I didn’t think about this until right now but, because I’m a huge Yaphet Kotto fan, I just re-watched Across 110th Street. There’s a lot of the dynamics of that movie in this book. You wouldn’t think that because [Electric Warriors] seems more like, Last Starfighter, and everything’s blowing up and very futurized.
However, the themes of that movie, the themes of In the Heat of the Night, a lot of that plays into Electric Warriors. So, in our world in this book, the morally superior group, to start, is our non-human tribe, because as humans we often have problems. But then we’ll come together and find a way to upend this story. When they get to this planet Covenant, [War Cry and Deep Dweller] learn that sometimes the people fighting are the only ones who still believe in what they’re fighting for, long after the people in charge have abandoned those beliefs. I think overcoming our differences to return to what we think we already stand for is a very powerful idea for today. And cutting through the bullshit and finding a way to actually stand for what we say we are. This is what the book is really about.
io9: What other cultures and planets will be part of the intergalactic landscape in the series?
Orlando: So, every planet in the DC Universe has an Electric Warrior. Our core team, as you’ll see in the first two issues, is pulled together from planets like Earth with cultures that were based on empire, colonization and conquest. They’re all in decline, and have seen the backside of having power and lost it. They’re all people who have reacted to that loss in different ways and can gain perspective, hopefully.
We have Earth, who was once a conquering race, we have the Khunds from Khundia— who are still a conquering race— and we have the Dominators, who are self-explanatory. And then we also have the Vrangs. The Vrangs are a little-known race from a 1960s Superman comic. Way back in Krypton’s mythic past, they almost conquered Krypton but were driven off by Kryptonians. Each of these cultures are in different spots as far as dealing with the loss of their power and their station in the intergalactic structure.
We’ll see the different reactions to trauma and cultural trauma. The Dominators are resistant to the fact that they aren’t what they once were. Khundia is just starting to grow with their representative. And when you look at the Vrangs, they were driven off by Kryptonians and actually took the chance to learn and change. They change from being a conquering, hunting-gathering race to being a travelling fleet of farmers. Now, they practice passivity in all things. They’ve learned what they did was wrong and try to be self-sufficient and not impact anyone else; they don’t even have a planet. They just roam the galaxy in their solar-powered fleet.
So, each character represents a world that once had dominance. The loss of what once gave them self-respect and identity is what brings this group together. And that might seem very real in America right now. We feel it’s the end of the world that we’re not the global superpower anymore. But there can be only one! Sometimes you have to face facts, you know? Years after it wasn’t number one, the UK still exists. And people still find happiness there. And it’s probably a more self-reflective happiness when you realize that you’re not the driving force. So, this is what the characters are having to go through, and they’ll see the corruption at the top once they get to the planet Covenant.
io9: This is premised on the decline of empire, then?
Orlando: Yes, exactly.
io9: Is it divergent from the mainline continuity?
Orlando: My opinion of how this fits in, along with all the other futures DC has, is that it’s all happened until it’s happened.
io9: That’s a very Hypertime way of looking at it.
Orlando: But it’s true! Until decisions in the present are made, Electric Warriors is happening, Kingdom Come is happening, and so is the future of Professor Zoom—which is also the 25 Century. Until we reach that time, everything is fluid.
You’ll see things that reflect not just Kirby and his idea of The Great Disaster, too. Covenant is in Sector 666 which is an Alan Moore concept that Geoff Johns went back to. It’s overseen by the Gil’Dishpan race, who, by the time the Legion of Superheroes happen, will have mastered diplomacy. But right now, it’s kind of like a rough draft. This is the best solution they have, even if it’s not a good solution. So we’re pulling from all these things we love, it’s a love letter to all DC Continuity. And, you know, until we reach the year 2700, it’s happened.
io9: Some of what you’re saying is reminding me of Tom King did in Omega Men: showing the cultures of the DC Universe in conflict, in ways that mirror the political conflicts that we experience in the real world. Are the Green Lanterns still the intergalactic peacekeeping force in this future?
Orlando: A great compromise leads to the United Planets becoming the force in power and running these trials by combat. But, as you’re talking about what we’re paying homage to—what we know from reading a variety of things that Geoff has written and Brad Meltzer’s written—the Green Lanterns are dormant right now. For example, right now, Sodam Yat is crying on the planet Oa, and he’ll be doing that until the 31st century. So, all these things are on the board, especially if we get more than six issues.
But it’s an interesting time, because so much of this universe lore lies fallow basically from now until the future, which is the 31st Century. If we have the canvas to explore, you might see some people you don’t expect showing up in the future. There’s a lot of people who’ve been hanging out in the sun. A lot of people who probably don’t die as easy as others. I mean, War Cry, one of the leads, has Superman’s cape. You might remember Kamandi finding Superman’s cape. By this time, it’s a cultural artifact, and since he’s the Electric Warrior, they give that to him. The thing about him and Superman is—of the two of Electric Warriors from Earth—the one who believes in the Age of Heroes is Deep Dweller.
Octopuses were some of the first to free their human servants, inspired by the role of Superman. Inspired by this person who was not of humanity, but chose to live among them as equals. So before any of the legal accords, octopuses had already freed their human— well, in their case, Atlantean—captives. So they consider themselves ahead of the curve. War Cry looks back as a human and says, “Superman is the reason this ever happened to us. He taught us we can’t take care of ourselves. He taught us to rely on someone else.” He’s a person who believes in the actual existence of Superman. He’d be a fool not to, because he’s wearing his indestructible cape. But he’s not down with what he sees as the message of Superman. He’s like someone who believed that Jesus lived but is not Christian. They’re two separate things. And he thinks one idea is dangerous and one idea is realistic. And so they’ll have to meet in the middle of that, too, because he’s heir to a legacy that feels toxic. But it’s also because he’s so broken down he doesn’t believe in altruism. You know?
io9: Looking back on your Justice League of America tenure, what were you most proud of?
Orlando: A couple things, I can’t choose one. I’m very proud of what we said about Killer Frost. A character who had a superhero arc, but it was really an arc about accepting addiction and knowing that sometimes there isn’t a cure, there’s just managing. And often that feels superheroic. I wrote her from my aunt, who has fibromyalgia, a disease doctors often tell you isn’t real. So, imagine people telling you you’re mad for even feeling it. Frost’s arc is superheroic and inspiring her turn from villain to hero…but beyond that, I think it’s something we haven’t talked about in comics yet. And so I’m very proud of that. And that’s why when Prometheus tells her it’s the end of the world, it isn’t the end of the world. Because she’s been looking for a way for this to stop. But it’s not about that. It’s about getting through every day.
And on a personal level, I’m very excited we could bring back Aztek, as someone with actual Aztec heritage. I hope someone picks up the baton and works with her.
Electric Warriors debuts this November.