Inside Scott Lobdell’s Revolutionary Attack On Comic Book Sexism
Scott Lobdell is a better comic book writer than Alan Moore. In fact, he easily outdoes Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, and Mark Millar. Whereas they took on the concept of superheroes and subjected it to parody, satire, and deconstruction, Lobdell hit where it really hurts. DC Comics gave this funnybook firebrand a comic and he slammed them right in the feminism.
Mark Millar generally confirms the audience’s sexism, as a sort of frat-boy empowerment. Garth Ennis shies away from women, both because you can’t tell stories about brotherhood with sisters, and because jokes about forced sodomy apparently aren’t funny when they happen to women. And Alan Moore, as Grant Morrison pointed out, hasn’t written a comic book without rape in twenty years.
The comic book industry thought it knew mockery. After all, comic book fanboy is synonymous with it. But they weren’t ready for Scott f’n Lobdell.
The DCnU was designed with a pretty lofty goal: saving the comic book industry, at least for DC Comics. Characters would be reimagined, simplified, and streamlined. The most iconic version of any given character would be presented, unless of course a character was radically departing from their core characterization. Fan-favorite character Roy “Arsenal” Harper, having gone through a humiliation congo usually reserved for the heroine’s non-Matthew- McConaughey fiancé in a romantic comedy (his daughter was killed, he got hooked on drugs, he lost his arm, he couldn’t get it up in a sexual encounter, and he may have killed someone with a dead cat), would be restored to a place of prestige. And Jason “Red Hood” Todd, another fan-… well, actually the fans voted to kill him off, so DC waited until there had been two more Robins and then brought him back… would quit his position as douchey, possibly-molested villain to become a douchey, possibly-brunet hero. The title would be called Red Hood And The Outlaws.
Of course, you need two outlaws to have a plural, and the other one might as well be a chick—otherwise, people would look at two men who were once in erstwhile erastes-eromenos partnerships with Batman and Green Arrow, and think “So, is someone putting their red hood up someone else’s arsenal?” Which brings us to Starfire, aka Kory.
Unlike Roy, who’s an obscure sidekick to an obscure character (Green Arrow is that wealthy playboy who moonlights as a medieval-armed vigilante that isn’t Batman), or Jason Todd, who has only showed his face outside comics in an animated movie preaching squarely to the geek choir, Starfire was the female lead of the Teen Titans cartoon, which ran for five seasons. So I take it the show was fairly popular, unless Cartoon Network just randomly cancels and renews series. (Which would explain Sym-Bionic Titan.)
You’d think people who had grown up with the ‘Toon Titans’ could’ve been a target audience there. The comic book Starfire isn’t that far off from the cartoon Starfire, except for the obvious difference in customer base between a cartoon for young children and a comic book that costs four bucks a pop. So why is murderous part-time psychopath Red Hood in charge instead of minor icon Starfire? In short, why isn’t it Starfire And The Outlaws?
Because that wouldn’t hurt. Unbeknownst to many, Scott Lobdell’s parents were killed in a tragic newsprint accident, their bodies buried in a closed-casket funeral lest friends and family see panels from Fantastic Four 53 imprinted on their lifeless bodies. Superheroes had taken Scott Lobdell’s family, and Scott Lobdell was going to take back.
You see, Scott Lobdell has seen things. Things man was never meant to see. If you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back into you. And Scott Lobdell had seen into the very heart of the abyss.
You don’t fuck with someone who’s written the Tommy Lee Jones/Cedric the Entertainer laffer Man Of The House.
The DC reboot made female characters more palatable by taking away their power, their history, their relationships. Barbara Gordon and Dinah Lance were no longer BFFs. Lois Lane was no longer Clark Kent’s wife and trusted friend. Voodoo was a stripper, and apparently despite the name, she wasn’t one before. Dan Didio had already made his biggest mistake; he’d made Scott Lobdell mad. But now he’d made his last one—he gave Lobdell an in.
And when you’re Scott Lobdell, writer of 2005′s Texas Ranger laugh-riot Man Of The House, co-starring Anne Archer and Paget Brewster, one chance is all you need.
To put it simply, and to break up this wall of text with a some pictures, Lobdell took this and turned it into this.
The ‘new’ Starfire was the kind of parody you would usually only see after Glenn Beck had sex with a penguin in front of Stephen Colbert, if Stephen Colbert were possessed by the ghost of Bill Hicks and told he would only get into heaven if he made a grown Libertarian cry with sheer mockery.
If it were just an ugly costume, then Lobdell’s attack would be toothless. Harley Quinn, a character most fanboys already wouldn’t kick out of bed for eating crackers, was given a “sexy” new costume that would have men kicking her out of bed for fear of painful crotch itching.
More than that, Lobdell rewrote the character. While Roy and Jason had been redeemed as edgy anti-heroes with hearts of gold, Starfire devolved into… well, she has the memory of Guy Pearce in Memento (minus the bit about his wife being murdered), can’t tell humans apart, and propositions strangers for sex, not that she appears to relish the prospect any. And even though her character had a close, borderline-subtextual relationship with best friend Donna Troy before her revamp, she’s strictly dickly here.
So Starfire is not actually a character. She’s what some Hentai Foundry artist with a perverse sexual lust for Dory in Finding Nemo might draw to justify his fetish. She can’t form a relationship with any character, nor can she even remember who someone is. She exists simply to take orders and, well…
She puts the object in sex object. She’s such a token female character that if you give her to a bus driver, he’ll take you as far as Hoboken. An original character with her looks and “personality” would get the side-eye from most, so changing an established, well-rounded character into Tucker Max’s dream woman? Why? Why did her character have to be changed so much to be ‘sexy’? I mean, you saw the picture I posted of her. Her costume isn’t exactly a hijab. She’s already well-established as sexually promiscuous, in a positive, woman-friendly way. She sleeps with people she likes. What would be wrong with her sleeping with Red Hood because she likes him, and wanting to sleep with Roy because she likes him as well?
Because that would be letting comics off easy, and Scott Lobdell has no mercy. You wouldn’t either, if your screenplay Man Of The House had been directed by Stephen Herek, the madman behind Into The Blue 2: The Reef and Young MacGuyver. Look at Kory’s love interests in the comics. Aside from some bland one-hit wonders, including two husbands who both died (not that you can feel too sorry for them when they were married to all that), you’ve got Dick Grayson. Donna Troy. Captain Comet. Raven. These are, to a man (and woman), lovely people. They’re interesting. They’re friendly. And, yes, they’re attractive.
The sexual fantasy of Starfire, the idea that a beautiful woman can indulge in casual sex, in polygamous sex, in lesbian sex, isn’t enough. After all, that fantasy still requires some sort of intrigue on your part. She has to find something interesting in you. You have to have some tiny vestige of a personality, some miniscule potential to please her.
Scott Lobdell gives his audience, his industry, possibly his entire gender the finger and says “Oh no, you motherfuckers. That’s not your fantasy. Your fantasy is a woman that will literally have sex with you just for existing. No woman with any standards, no matter how low, no matter how forgiving, could possibly be attracted to you, so here’s your new sex object—a brain-damaged goldfish with a rack. And you’re such a scared little boy, so afraid of commitment in even your own pathetic fantasies, that you’ll run away from a ‘clinger’ even if she’s as gorgeous, charming, and supportive as the woman Starfire used to be. You can’t bear even that slight chance that she’ll make you move out of your parents’ basement, get a real job, and make something of yourself. So I’ll cater to that too! Not only doesn’t she want a relationship, she won’t even remember you! That’s what you want in the end, isn’t it? A vagina-shaped goldfish! Look upon your lust, ye nerdy, and despair.”
Say what you will about the James Bond fantasy, but it at least imagines the male as someone so suave, so competent, so handsome and charismatic and goddamn awesome, that any woman would understandably fall for him. It enriches the dreamer. This degrades the fantasy object.
Let’s be serious. Scott Lobdell wasn’t parodying sexism in the comic book industry. And he’s a poor writer indeed if, as some have suggested, he wrote a brain-washed character in the “pilot episode” of his comic, meaning for this out-of-character aberration to entice readers into buying more.
Let me describe for you a scenario. Batwing, “the Batman of Africa” (yes, he’s named after Batman’s plane, just to make the phrase “Batman hurriedly jumps into the Batwing’s cockpit” needlessly dirty), is portrayed in his book as a strong minority character. He’s flawed, but still heroic. The artwork depicts him as handsome and powerful. The good guys unfailingly treat him with dignity and respect, and those who do not quickly realize the error of their ways.
Then, in another Batman comic, the Dark Knight comes across a black police officer guarding a suspect he needs access to. Being hip to the black condition, Batman figures any African-American would be not only corrupt, but stupidly corrupt, so he offers the man twenty bucks to get a snack.
“Sheeeeeit,” the black man replies, “I sho could go fo’ some fried chicken rights about now! Feet don’t fail me, lawdy!”
The fandom goes into an uproar. They want to know how a black man could be portrayed in such a racist manner. DC replies “Oh, this comic is for white people. We’re depicting the black characters to make the whites look good. Batwing is the comic for African-Americans. If you want to see minority characters treated well, you’ll have to buy that.”
That’s how DC Comics treats women. It’s commendable that they aim comics like Supergirl at women (even if it’d be nicer to take comics women were already invested in, like Batgirl or Birds of Prey, and leave them the hell alone, just like they do for men). But if some comics are for women and the rest say that women are nothing more than the ink that can be splattered on their tits, that’s not feminism.
It’s appeasement. And it won’t work.