Tagged: Scott Lobdell

Box Office Democracy: Happy Death Day

It would be overly cynical to say that I’m never surprised, or pleasantly surprised by movies anymore.  It happens fairly often that a movie I think is going to be mediocre or bad ends up being good.  It’s much more rare that a movie that I’m actively rolling my eyes at while the trailer is rolling becomes a complete delight.  Happy Death Day looked like a poorly conceived attempt at rehashing old ideas.  Instead it’s a fun, playful, horror movie that hits all the right notes and does a mostly good job exploring their concept.

Happy Death Day is exactly the movie you think it is.  It’s Groundhog Day but a slasher movie instead of a Bill Murray comedy.  A college student (Jessica Routhe) is murdered on her birthday and keeps reliving the day until she can get through it without dying.  There’s a bit of mystery, a bit of comedy, a bunch of becoming a better person and we’re all back in the lobby before the 100 minute mark.  The mystery isn’t particularly difficult (I had identified the culprit in less than 15 minutes) and nothing in the movie is particularly unique or groundbreaking, but everything chugs along nicely.  There are plenty of scares (jump and non) and there’s a persistent sense of tension once the general aura of menace is established.

It’s strange to have a slasher movie where only one person ever gets killed.  On one hand you can always be on the edge of your seat because you always know who is going to be attacked next and that character is always on screen.  On the other hand, you know that if the killer succeeds the movie resets and there are no lasting consequences.  They try to introduce some lasting stakes about an hour in with Theresa getting weaker each time she resets but that never feels like a real threat or a particularly persistent one as in one reset she is confined to a bed and a few resets later she’s enacting an action movie plan for revenge.

The problems with the movie are ones of over-plotting and low budget.  The movie feels the need to chase down so many red herrings that not only go nowhere but aren’t that amusing.  There’s a fun montage of failed suspects but anything that takes longer than a couple minutes ends up feeling a touch long.  The supporting cast is perilously thin and all of the suspected motives are kind of ridiculous so it drags a bunch.  There’s a particular theory of the crime that takes up a huge chunk of the second act that, had it been the true solution, would have been so far out of left field it’s impossible for it to be right just on the basis of not passing dozens of angry patrons on my way in to the building.  This is a Blumhouse film so it was made on a shoestring budget, and it’s only obvious with the fight choreography when nothing looks like it actually hurts.  It’s a little thing but what if, when they knew one of their movies was going to get a big weekend theatrical release, they juiced the budget a little bit so the climax didn’t look like a student film?

There are a lot of bad things to be said about the Blumhouse model of movie making.  That it creates a race to the bottom, that a successful formula can be driven in to the ground at an amazing pace, that things can feel more like a product than a work of art.  This year has shown the way that model can work very well.  Happy Death Day is a movie that wouldn’t get made without this scattershot model.  It’s not that strong of a concept, it isn’t a good pitch or a poster but it turned out to be a good movie.  The lower bar let them jump that much higher.  It’s honestly the same way Get Out wouldn’t have gotten made because a more traditional studio wouldn’t have trusted a new director nor would they have wanted to make a movie like that about race.  Happy Death Day is a half-clever idea executed all the way perfectly and it makes for a great movie, the early favorite for best horror movie of the fall season.  Don’t make a sequel though, the sequel will be a horrible train wreck; this is the money you get from this idea.

Joe Corallo: No World – The Scott Lobdell Interview

A few weeks ago, it was announced that Aspen Comics would be launching a new crossover series titled No World by Scott Lobdell and drawn by Jordan Gunderson. Shortly after that, we learned that a new trans character was being created for the series. I had a lot of questions and wrote about that here last week. Scott read it and offered me the opportunity to interview him about No World and this new trans character. Here’s that interview.

Joe Corallo: You’ve written at Aspen Comics for a number of years now. How did No World come to be? Was this something you thought should be happening, or did Aspen approach you with an idea and you ran with it?

Scott Lobdell: It was 100% Aspen! They have been making overtures over the last few years towards stitching their different sub-genres together – so they could paint a more vivid landscape on a broader canvas – and so a team book seems like a natural extension of that endeavor.

I think there was some concern that crossing streams might dilute some of the uniqueness of each of the characters/worlds – but you just have to look at a Justice League to marvel at, say, the dynamic of a street vigilante teaming with an alien powerhouse from a dead world to see that mixing characters and genres can benefit everyone.

JC: In your over 25 years writing comics you’ve tackled LGBT characters including Northstar and even creating characters like Bunker, a gay hispanic superhero, at DC Comics. What made you decide on creating a black trans woman for this comic, and how much of a say in it did Aspen have?

SL: I felt if Aspen was giving me the marching orders to explore their world, that their world (and ours) had a lot of different people in it – and that like most comic book or sci-fi worlds (Star Trek, Star Wars, etc) black trans women were woefully under represented.

The same way that DC allowed me to use the relaunch of Teen Titans to create a brand-new character in Bunker, Aspen was very supportive of the idea of using No World to do the same.

They didn’t blink at the idea of introducing a trans woman. Even when I said I didn’t want it to be what I feel is often the “typical” scenario where we meet a trans character and are “shocked” to discover they are trans!

It feels, to me, that the most acceptable way to have a trans character introduced in a comic or television show is with the “This girl is just like me – wait! What? She’s trans?! That really upends my expectations about human sexuality and what I’ve always considered normative behavior!” trope. While I am sure that happens a lot in real life, I think it only scratches the surface of the trans experience. I wanted to go deeper.

I wanted to introduce a character that wasn’t there to “shock” us with the revelation she is trans, but rather someone who is very clearly trans and isn’t concerned at all with your feelings on the matter.

The only caveat they had was “Don’t use her as a punchline.” Which was great because it had never occurred to me to do that so it meant we were all on the same page.

JC: Since you brought up punchlines I wanted to address that on your Twitter page you used the hashtag #passingisforfootballs. While some people seemed to appreciate it while others voiced concern about a cis man using a hashtag like that saying things that included, “That’s a gross joke at the expense of marginalized people.” Readers can view that thread here. How do you respond to that?

SL: Well for starters, that was the character’s perspective on passing or not passing. She has no interest in being defined by what other people think of as “beautiful” or “feminine” or “sexy”… she is 100% comfortable in her own skin.

Second, there is a difference between humor and mocking. She uses her sense of humor to indicate how interested she is in other people’s notion of “passing” – which is zero interest. She’s not mocking people for whom passing might be a goal or a desire, she is simply bluntly expressing her own feelings on the matter as they relate to her.

And third, that line was given to me by a trans friend who was elated as I explained the character to her – it was her off the cuff reaction to the character and I loved it so I went with it.

While it might make some people feel better to draw a line in the sand and set themselves up as the judge for expressions or all things trans, I am comfortable depending on my close friends for their personal feelings on the matter.

JC: On Twitter you had used the hashtags for non-binary and gender non-conforming in reference to this new character. Is this how the new character identifies, is the character’s preferred pronouns they/them/themselves rather than she/her/herself and how did you come about to making that decision?

SL: Currently she uses female pronouns but identifies as gender non-conforming because she doesn’t care about living up to gendered expectations of womanhood or transwomanhood. That’s not to say she couldn’t start using gender neutral pronouns in the future. She doesn’t care to be defined by or conform to other people’s version of beauty or of being a woman.

JC: Many readers within the LGBT community are cautious about people outside the community doing stories that specifically involve transitioning with trans characters. It’s been mentioned that this new character is a former NFL player. Does that mean we’ll be seeing a transition story, flashbacks to before the character was out while they were playing football, and use of this character’s deadname? If so, can you go into detail about why that’s an important aspect of the story and needs to be told.

SL: This isn’t a transition story. When we meet her she has transitioned – and because the public has always known her as a world famous athlete before she transitioned (not unlike Caitlyn Jenner) – her past is as much of her story as her present.

She doesn’t have a dead name. Three of my closest trans friends have the same names before and after their transition, and that is part of the experience that I’m drawing from.

I don’t perceive flashbacks as being part of the series at all – but that’s because it is an action adventure story with a lot of forward momentum. But if I write the character again in the future, I can’t imagine I would shy away from stories about her past.

Like two of my close friends, I have lots of memories of our lives before their transitions. Hanging out at the county fair, having lunch after a meeting at Disney – those things happened before they changed their pronouns and their gender presentation. I think it would be odd if, in my head, I tried to have different memories because of who they are now. Or if I tried to erase those memories altogether.

JC: Who are some of the trans characters in comics and other media that have inspired you? Who are some of the trans people in your own life who have made you want to tell stories about trans characters in your comics?

SL: No other trans characters inspired me. I can’t think of any non-trans characters in comics or media that have inspired me. Real life is inspirational – comics, movies? Not so much.

As far as trans people I know in my own life…

There is Shakina Nayfack, a brilliant and beautiful actress/director who is currently lighting up the small screen on Hulu’s Difficult People. (Shakina is actually a consultant on No World.) Christian Beranek, a comic book writer and publisher who does the wildly popular web-series Validation.

Then there is trading card artist without peer, Rhiannon Owens. Emmanuelle, Aryn, Gia … many more. Some people I’ve known for years and IM with every day, others I only knew in passing but they left an impression.

The reason I want to tell a story involving a trans woman is the exact same reason I want to tell a story involving a cisgender male who dresses up like a bat to avenge his murdered parents, or a gay Mexican teenager who can create psionic bricks and direct them with his mind. Simply put, I want to write and read comics where everyone can be included.

Now, realistically, not every gradation of person can be in every issue of every story – but if I have the opportunity to introduce a trans woman of color into the comic book industry, you can sure as hell bet I’m going to! #includeeveryone.

JC: I understand this is a team book. Can you tell us a bit about how that will play out and how big of a role this new character have in it?

SL: While she doesn’t appear until the second issue, she immediately establishes herself as an important ass-kicking member of the group. What’s more, she has a lot of resources afforded her by her former NFL career and lots of connections that the other members of the team just don’t possess.

When you consider Dellec is essentially a ghost, Miya is an ancient warrior hiding in plain sight and Executive Assistant Iris is an assassin, it leaves it up to our character to be the public face of the team’s efforts to save the world.

While I haven’t written her introduction yet (on this week’s schedule) I don’t see any of her teammates being much interested in her gender.

JC: Some sources, including myself at ComicMix, have cited Suzie Su (a villain) as a previous example of you creating a trans character. I understand that she was never meant to encompass the entire trans community, but with there being limited positive portrayals of trans characters in all media let alone comics, some members of the LGBT may be cautious after seeing Suzie Su. I’d like to give you the opportunity to talk about that character and address people’s caution.

SL: I welcome people being as cautious as they want to be. Who doesn’t like a little caution in their lives? Heck, it is why we wear seat belts!

When I say #includeeveryone, I mean that all kinds of people should be represented in all kinds of roles in comics. Heroes, villains, sidekicks, roommates.

My friend and colleague Gail Simone introduced a trans roommate for Barbara Gordon in Batgirl – and it took several issues for the character to reveal she was trans and even one of the World’s Greatest Detectives was surprised. Suzie Su was introduced, was only ever referenced as a woman, and if I hadn’t identified her as trans in interviews no one would ever have known she was trans.

(Someone at a convention once argued that Suzie can’t possibly be trans because Jason would have called her a “he” and not a “she”! I felt that was a misunderstanding of the character: Red Hood respects pronouns.)

For trans people that get excited about seeing trans roommates represented there is Alysia Yeoh.

For trans people who get excited about seeing trans international crime lord who can go toe to toe with Red Hood and don’t. ever. stop. there is Suzie Su.

JC: Who would you say are some of the trans creators in comics whom you admire? What are some of your favorite comics by trans creators you’d recommend to people?

SL: Christian Baronek and I go way back – to her days when she was an executive at Disney and doing such creator owned books like Dracula vs. King Arthur and Silent Devils. She currently writes a really fun, really sweet, really poignant and often insightful web series called Validation. I wrote about it here.

Also, the lovely and talented and (I’ll say it!) vivacious Rhiannon from RhiannnonDrewIt always amazes me… both with her art (she draws all those trading cards in those exact dimensions! The details!) and how funny and sweet she is whenever I see her at conventions across the country.

There are probably lots of other trans creators I follow, but I don’t genuinely inquire about people’s gender… so unless someone made it a point to inform me of their status I would have no way of knowing.

JC: Anything else you feel people should know about this new character and your new comic No World?

SL: I would say that if you come into the series with a particular agenda that you should probably be prepared to be woefully disappointed and often offended.

No two trans women I know are very much alike in terms of their experiences, their sense of humor, the people they date, the decisions they’ve made about their transitions, their relationships with their families, their decisions to self-identity or let their sexuality speak for itself and on and on.

Anyone who expects Aloysius Thicke to conform to your specific version of a trans woman or to represent your personal feelings about how a trans woman should act or feel should probably not read this series.

Anyone who wants to get to know Thicke, root for her, follow her adventures – hop on!

JC: Thank you for your time, Scott! No World #1 hits the stores April 27th.

Joe Corallo: Brave No World

This past week was quite busy. President Trump pushed back against a “so-called” judge, Melissa McCarthy nailed Sean Spicer on SNL, the Patriots pulled off a record-breaking upset that would have never happened if they were playing the Giants, and it was announced that Aspen Comics would be creating new comic with Scott Lobdell writing a black trans woman titled No World. As much as I’d like to hit on all of these topics, I’m going to focus on No World.

So let’s get into it. Aspen’s new comic is a team book. It will have characters from Soulfire, Executive Assistant, Dellec, as well as some new characters. Lobdell described one of the new characters as “Former NFL. 6’5. 250lbs. She’s here. She’s trans. She’s gonna kick evil’s ass!” You can see that Tweet here. We still don’t have a name or much of a background to this character outside of her being a former NFL player, but we have some information we can start examining.

Let’s start with former NFL player bit. When we’re dealing with a trans character and one of the only bits of information we get on them is about something from before they came out, that raises a few red flags. There’s a concern that when cis writers tackle trans characters, that there is an unnecessary focus on transitioning. Take a look at Alters where the character of Chalice is in the process of transitioning and we see her as her Charlie persona about as much as we see her as Chalice. If you look at trans writers like Rachel Pollack and Mags Visaggio, we see kick ass trans women without ever having to see them prior to their transition, hearing them go by their dead name or even knowing about it, and so forth. Unfortunately with her being a former NFL player we are likely here this character’s dead name multiple times. Sometimes cis writers do a good job with this like when Gail Simone had Alysia Yeoh come out as trans, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t approach this with some caution.

Moving on to her being 6’5 and 250 lbs, Scott follows that up using the hashtags #gnc, short for gender nonconforming, and #nonbinary. There is also an image of her that Scott shared with the line “passing is for footballs.” These elements are a bit more interesting. Trans characters in comics are mostly white and mostly attempt to pass. Trans characters of color, particularly black trans women, have been very rarely seen in comics and are also easily of the most victimized members of the queer community. This type of representation is sorely needed.

It’s also important to note that some people who consider themselves gender nonconforming or nonbinary may be okay with she/her/herself as well as they/them/theirself, so that could end up being just fine.

Scott Lobdell is no stranger to creating a trans character. He created Suzie Su for Red Hood and the Outlaws. This particular trans character was a very unflattering portrayal, a villain, and someone who was more than willing to murder children to get what she wants. It’s worth noting this was his only other portrayal of a trans character in comics that has made it into print and should at very least cause many to wait and see how No World plays out before praising or condemning this representation.

Unlike comics like Alters, No World has no trans representation in its creative team, which seems to be mostly straight cis white men. That’s not inherently a bad thing, but when tackling a character like this one it’s not necessarily comforting either.

Scott has at least stated on February 3rd that he’s consulting with some members of the trans community. You can see that Tweet here. He talks of a few trans friends that helped him as well, including Shakina who plays Lola on Difficult People. One thing you may notice following that link, at least at the time I wrote this, is that Scott Lobdell has yet to responded to Mags Visaggio’s questions and offering to consult with Scott on this character.

For the most part, I’m concerned about how this comic will play out. While there is evidence of talking with some trans women, there isn’t any evidence of Scott Lobdell consulting with people who are gender nonconforming or nonbinary. It seems this will also be a story that involves dealing with the characters life pre-transition. It’s also very possible that this character will not even be featured heavily in this series; it’s a team book.

I do hope that Scott will use his position in comics to help trans creators here on out. For example, Neil Gaiman wrote a trans character in The Sandman which helped get Rachel Pollack and Caitlin R. Kiernan noticed by DC Comics, which in turn lead to them working for thay company for years. While the character has been reexamined and there is valid criticism, by helping trans creators get noticed it shows that Neil genuinely cares about the trans community. Paul Jenkins on Alters got Tamra Bonvillain work on that title.

No matter how this particular title develops, I hope Scott Lobdell’s interest in the trans community goes beyond No World and that we’ll see him help lift up this group of comics creators that are too often overlooked.