Announced at the recent Long Beach Comic-Con, artist Ray-Anthony Height and writer Vito Delsante revealed that the two will be teaming up to bring back Height’s superhero creation Midnight Tiger. The character’s comic book series was initially self-published before attracting the attention of Action Lab Entertainment, resulting in the publication of three issues in 2014.
Height and Delsante previously worked together on the Actionverse mini-series, which brought together a number of Action Lab’s creator-owned superhero series into one big collaborative story, including Height’s Midnight Tiger and Delsante’s Stray.
I reached out to both creators to find out more about the upcoming return of Midnight Tiger.
Smash Pages: It’s great to hear about Midnight Tiger’s return. How did the need for a new writer come about and how did Vito end up being the one?
Ray-Anthony Height: Actionverse was to be the last appearance of Midnight Tiger. Despite some really nice critical success, Midnight Tiger‘s initial sales weren’t at a level to sustain production of the book. So, I stopped production on the last two issues of the mini-series to find paying work and the book was cancelled. Action Lab and several of my fellow Action Lab creators loved the character and didn’t want to see it go. So much so that every now and again I would get a call or have a conversation that started or ended with, “Are you going to finish Midnight Tiger?” LOL! [Action Lab Entertainment publisher] Bryan Seaton and Vito Delsante were at the top of that list.
As you know, I plot, co-write, pencil, ink, and market Midnight Tiger. That’s a lot of hats! So, early on I decided I wanted some help to at least script the issues since it was my least favorite part of the creative process. Enter DeWayne Feenstra! DeWayne did a really great job with the plots I gave him and he added his unique voice to it that is 100% DeWayne. He scripted issues 0-2 and after that I decided it was time to take the reins back and do it myself. This was pre-Midnight Tiger hiatus. However, during the hiatus, DeWayne Feenstra had moved on to create his very own series, Aerogirl (pick up the trade!) and soon after the stirrings of Actionverse began.
It was over countless conversations with Vito, Jamal [Igle, creator of Molly Danger and Action Lab marketing director], and the Action Lab group during the creation of Actionverse where I first noticed Vito’s….let’s say knack…for writing Gavin, but Actionverse #0 was the indisputable proof. I told Vito that once I walked away from Midnight Tiger after Actionverse was done…he was the official steward of all Midnight Tiger related stories in Actionverse. Fast forward several months to Actionverse hitting the shelves and the buzz on Midnight Tiger had seriously grown! Especially now that the public knew that him, Stray, and Molly Danger reside in the same universe. It wasn’t long when Bryan Seaton made it abundantly clear how much he liked the character, saw its potential as an ongoing series, and wanted Midnight Tiger to remain on the shelves. We eventually struck a great deal, but now I needed to put together a new creative team to take over the scripting and interior art chores to make this ongoing happen. Scripting was pretty much a no-brainer. Vito gets Gavin and writes his dialogue as if I wrote it. It’s a bit uncanny, if you as me. Thankfully, he accepted.
Smash Pages: For those unfamiliar with Midnight Tiger – give us the elevator pitch. Who is Midnight Tiger and what can we expect when he returns?
Ray-Anthony Height: I’ve been telling people that Midnight Tiger is Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Gotham, but I just read a review about Midnight Tiger with the headline, “Midnight Tiger: If Spider-Man Would Have Been Dreamed Up Now.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. Gavin Shaw is a high school student living in an urban city who sees despair, hardship, struggle, and apathy on the faces of the people in his city everyday and feels absolutely powerless to help. Especially when civil servants, those who are supposed to serve, protect, and uphold the law and aid the suffering and fearful, are often the ones causing it. He often looked toward the superhero community, a place where he found himself regularly using it as escapism from the world outside his window, in hopes that one of them would offer some help or even guidance for change, but none ever came. As things often go in life, it takes a tragedy for change to happen and in Gavin’s case, it was the exact change he needed.
When he returns, Midnight Tiger and Gavin himself will be facing some very hard challenges as a new superhero and young black man in today’s society, respectively. Gavin is a superhero fanboy and the way he uses his knowledge of superheroes will give him a certain edge against both super villains and social injustices that the average hero might not think of or just won’t tackle. All this kid wants to do is give his city hope, inspire them to pull themselves out of the disease of inner city despair, and just do better. Despite the occasional punching out the bad guys, Gavin will be tasked to discover non-violent ways to accomplish his goals. Cameos and team-ups are coming, too. Oh…and did I forget to mention that he’ll be fighting gods? Yeah…He’ll be fighting gods.
Smash Pages: Ray, this is your character. Your affinity for him and his cast of characters really shines on your pages. Will you remain in the role of co-plotting and artist, or will your collaboration be a more traditional writer/artist dynamic?
Ray-Anthony Height: Well, I actually have plotted it all out. At least the major story arcs. With the way things stand now, Vito will be working off my plots with plot collaboration here and there to help better work into the world of Actionverse. I’ll also be doing all the original covers with an occasional variant from my friends and peers in the industry of comics…and I hope animation. I am still on the fence if I’ll be doing interiors or not. I’l like to share art chores with someone else and we would do 3 issue intervals, but we’ll see. Be assured that Midnight Tiger and his story will indeed be going in the direction I had always planned it to go, but with that being said, from issue to issue to issue I’ll always leave room for Vito to enjoy working on the book. Places where he might add a cameo with other characters I may not have thought of that would work better for the story we’re telling or maybe telling the same story from a supporting cast member point of view that would add a cool layer to the narrative. Like Gavin’s friend Ryan Montenegro. She has a great story coming up that I think Vito will have fun telling. After that story is told, I feel like Ryan would be able to carry an entire MT story arc all by herself. Pops Shaw also has an incredible back story that will be told.
Smash Pages: Vito, how are you approaching this series? What do you feel you’re able to bring to the character? How do you see him in comparison to Stray?
Vito Delsante: I don’t feel I have to change much from what I did in Actionverse…except, you know, make sure we see Midnight Tiger more than once in the story (laughs). No, but seriously, I feel like my approach to him is “on model,” so to speak. I’ve written Gavin twice already, and I already have his voice in my head. It’s a different voice, for sure, from Stray/Rodney. Rodney is more jaded. He’s seen more and been at it longer. Gavin has this real refreshingly beautiful view of the world. He loves being a superhero, and that’s not to say that Stray hates it, but Gavin hasn’t been spoiled by the world around him. If I bring anything to the series from here, it will be positivity and if I do this right, you will get two different reading experiences with both books.
Smash Pages: How closely will the two books interact? The two characters already met in Actionverse. Will we see more team-ups between Midnight Tiger and Stray?
Ray-Anthony Height: Absolutely! The ongoing series takes place after Actionverse and Stray’s friendship with Midnight Tiger is a significant part of Gavin’s life, but this isn’t a team-up book, unfortunately. I’m also hoping that we’ll be seeing appearances from Molly Danger and other Actionverse characters. Maybe even non-Actionverse characters, as well.
Vito Delsante: If I had my druthers, and if I could convince Action Lab that it would be financially viable, we would have a Power Man/Iron Fist-like book with Midnight Tiger and Stray. Until that happens, if I were reading both books, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the two interact often, even if it’s in one panel. I can tell you all right now, though…Midnight Tiger will appear in issues 4 and 5 of the new Stray ongoing.
Smash Pages: Representation is a recurring topic of discussion in comics and entertainment in general. Sadly, superhero comics with a minority character in the lead role are too few and far between. Ray, does that factor into the kinds of stories you want to tell with Midnight Tiger or even how you draw him? Vito, does that have any affect on how you now approach the character and his world?
Ray-Anthony Height: So true, unfortunately. However, what I believe is Midnight Tiger‘s greatest asset is that it’s a book about a teenager who so desperately wants to help his city and its citizens feel hope, be proud, stand up for what’s right, stop being victims, and take back their humanity. Something we as human beings can all relate to. The fact that he is Black is, as Barbara Kesel hit right on the nose at a panel we were on together, an adjective when describing a character. To further answer your question, being Black is also an experience and that experience is indeed very important to Gavin’s story. He will deal with things and have experiences and feelings very different from characters like Peter Parker, Bruce Wayne, and even Mark Grayson from Invincible. The thing about Gavin is that he may live in the ‘hood, but the ‘hood doesn’t live in him. He represents the light that shines in the inner city. The people who live in the Comptons, Harlems, Southsides, and other poverty and crime stricken ‘hoods the media loves to show us on TV as a representation of an entire people. For every single drug dealing gang banging murderer they plaster on the news, there are 20 Gavin Shaws. For every deadbeat, good for nothing, nonexistent, absentee Black father….there are more Pops Shaws. Those are the representations that need the light focus on them.
Vito Delsante: Representation is a big deal to the modern comic book reader, but I shouldn’t have to approach the character and say, “Ok, Gavin is black. How would he react to this? What would he say here?” No, he’s a human being. That’s where we start and where we end. “As a human being, what would Gavin do in this situation?” is the only question we should EVER ask as creators. There are elements of his life that, yes, are informed because of his skin color and where he lives, but I feel like…if we want to write a realistic black man, we just need to write a realistic human being.
Smash Pages: When can we expect to see the first new issue? You used Kickstarter in launching the original series. Will you be using that platform again?
Ray-Anthony Height: Hopefully, if things go well, the first issue of the new series will be out early 2017. March, maybe. There have been talks of another Kickstarter that will be run by Action Lab, but nothing concrete, yet.
Smash Pages: Is there anything else you’d like people to know about Midnight Tiger’s return?
Ray-Anthony Height: Don’t miss it and if you like it…PLEASE tell your friends and retailers to get it and mention it on social media.