SCOTT LOBDELL on RED HOOD, STARFIRE, Sex & Gender Inequality

art from issue #3

To say that Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 made an impression on readers is an understatement.

The issue by Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort was filled with action and energy, and it had its share of fervent supporters. But the issue got most of its attention from the portrayal of one of its lead characters, Starfire.

With the DCU relaunch, a lot of characters have seen drastic changes. But fans of Starfire voiced concern about the unexplained changes that seemed to portray her in a more sexual way than she had been shown in the past. In fact, the character was shown to be offering herself as a sexual partner, and it surprised some readers.

Of course, it didn't help that the issue hit the same week as a couple other sex-charged issues from DC. As a result, everyone from bloggers to podcasters to retailers began discussing everything from how female characters are portrayed to whether superhero comics should have sexy scenes.

As DC is releasing Red Hood and the Outlaws #2 this week, Newsarama talked with Lobdell about all the attention his first issue got, what he thinks of Starfire, and what's coming up in the series.

Newsarama: Scott, the first issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws had a high level of action, energy and sexiness. Was that the tone you were hoping to achieve? And will that be the style of the story and art going forward?

Scott Lobdell: Certainly that was the tone for the first issue... but there is an old saying in writing: "You can't end every sentence on an exclamation point!" That is, if every issue had the same tone it is bound to get boring really quickly.

  I know as of right now, the action shares equal time with the emotional core of the characters in issue #3, issue #4 and #5 is more horror but still maintains a high level of action, and issue #6 is as close as this series will come to a "love story" as we learn how Jason and Kori first met.

The issue is called "Before" — and it is actually planned to be a quasi-ongoing series of stand alone issues throughout the series where we'll be going back and revealing things that happened before the events of issue one. 

Nrama: Can you describe the type of team they are and will become? 

Lobdell: I don't think of them as a "team" in the traditional sense. It is like you and your friends get together and go to the movies or go bowling or go hiking on the weekends. That doesn't make you a team — it makes you and your friends doing things together.

Jason has an agenda and Roy and Kori are often on hand because they enjoy each others company — in the first issue it was actually Roy who was the impetus for the adventure. Issues four and five will have Kori at the center of the action. But the idea that they are a "team" where they'll ever show up and say "This time you've made a mistake! This time you've incurred the wrath of... the Outlaws!" will never happen. 

Nrama: Let's talk about Jason Todd. He was shown with a bat symbol on his chest, yet he obviously wants to distance himself from the Bat family. Now that the nature of his character has been revealed in issue #1, how would you describe his motivation and status in this series?

Lobdell: I think Jason sees Batman — his mentor — as an exceptionally flawed hero obsessed with cleaning up the streets of a city that will, frankly, never ever be cleaned up.

  To that end, as far as Jason is concerned, Batman is on something of a fool's errand trying to accomplish something that will never happen.
To that end, Jason sets much smaller and manageable goals for himself. Break Roy out of prison, check. Investigate slaughter of ancient assassin monks, check. Destroy the Untitled, check.

 When Jason sees a problem, he's going to deal with it — with a degree of finality that a Batman does not, because of his rather rigid moral code.

In issue #6, we'll learn exactly why the bat is on his current costume. 

Nrama: There seems to be almost a "buddy movie" type relationship between Roy and Jason. Were you going for that type of feel? And will we find out more about their dynamic in upcoming issues?

Lobdell: Phew! This is twice now you asked if I was going for the feel that came through in the book — and twice now I can say "Yes!" I must be doing something right!

Like most "buddy movie" relationships, they work because the two guys come from two different places. Jason, as we saw in the first issue, is a planner. He's always ten steps ahead of everyone else — he didn't even step foot into the prison until he made sure he had back-up in place in case things got crazy. (Could he have planted explosives along the road from the prison? Sure. But he didn't have to because he had asked Kori to join him on this adventure and he knew she was infinitely more effective than C-4.)

Roy, on the other hand, is much more impulsive. Give him a target and he'll hit it... he's not real big on the details. Also, there is a very David versus Goliath quality to Roy: In issue #3 we see him go up against a threat that we don't think he can possibly prevail — and yet he throws himself into the fray without a moment's thought. 

That said, they are not Ollie and Hal who used to butt heads over big weighty issues like poverty and war. They like to keep their personal interactions mostly easy breezy. For now.

Nrama: Scott, I'm sure you've heard about the negative reaction some fans had to the portrayal of Starfire in Red Hood and the Outlaws #1. Did it surprise you?

Lobdell: It didn't surprise me that there were some people who didn't like it.


  What surprised me was that it almost caused the Internet to melt.

 Mostly, what has surprised me has been the very vulgar way that people believe they are coming to the defense of Kori: they hurl words like "slut" and "whore" and expressions too disgusting to repeat here that are only used to demean women. 

Lets consider an imaginary woman who has more than one or two lovers. Is it fair to label her with dismissive and derogatory language? Because we disagree with the choices she makes, to do what she wants with her own body? Are we still at a place in society where we're going to call a woman — any woman — names that reinforce gender inequality?

The good thing is that the story has gotten people to talk about issues they are passionate about — and that can only ever lead to a better understanding on everyone's part.

Nrama: The character is obviously very comfortable with nudity and sex, which isn't exactly new to her character, but was really played up in the art here. Was that the intended message behind the way she was visually portrayed?

Lobdell: I'm not really sure one draws a Koriand'r in a bathing suit on a tropical island without making her sexy.

Also, I don't think a beautiful and confident woman needs to apologize to anyone for the way she dresses, on a beach or off.

Nrama: How do you see Kori in the first issue? Was she meant to come across as a little weak as she leaned on Jason for decisions and offered sex to Roy, or was there another meaning behind her actions? What can you tell us about how she acted in the story — and why? 

  Lobdell: I think in a courthouse this would be called "leading the witness. "

In the first issue Kori shows up only when she is needed to rescue the guys. Once that is accomplished — between panels as a way to show how her sudden appearance completely changes the power dynamics present so far in the story — she politely asks her friend if there is anything else she can do to help. Polite is the new weak? Would it have been a better portrayal of the character if she had said "I will fly ahead and kill everyone in your path, Jason?" 

Nrama: How would you describe Starfire going forward? What's her current personality like, and do you plan to show a journey for her?

Lobdell: I wouldn't describe her going forward, any more than I'd stand up in a movie theater and shout out the ending — or lean over the shoulder of someone reading a book in a coffee shop and saying "You'll be really sad when he dies in the end."

I will say that, of course, every character in this and all the books I'm writing are on a journey. For anyone who has ever loved Kori — as I have, from her very first appearance — I would say, stay tuned. 

Nrama: What was the thought behind the story description of Tamaraneans as not seeing humans as much more than sites and smells? Does that mean she doesn't remember things that may or may not have happened in the past? Or was there another meaning behind that statement?

Lobdell: I love the fact that Kori is an alien. She and the rest of her race have been described of being descended from felines and we all know that humans and cats have different ways of perceiving our environment — so it stands to reason that Humans and people from Tamaran see things differently.

Now, as Humans we might fall into the prejudicial and xenophobic trap of applying a judgment onto other races that they are somehow lacking or even "stupid" because they see the world from another perspective. But I'd like to think that as comic book fans we can all accept that not everyone in the galaxy sees each other as we do.

  I'm not sure how you draw your conclusion — she doesn't remember things from her past — from your first question — does she view them as sights and sounds — but rest assured, Kori does possess the ability to remember events in her life. Having "a short attention span about all things human" and having the memory of a goldfish are two completely different things: like comparing apples and pipe wrenches.

Nrama: Issue #3's solicitations indicates we'll hear a lot more about these characters' "memories" and their revamped pasts in this DCU. Is that the issue readers should watch for explanations? Anything you can tell us about what we'll see in #2 and #3?

Lobdell: I think with each issue we'll learn more and more about each character — as is the way with most monthly comic book series since the creation of serialized adventures. Not only would I tell readers they'll learn a lot more about the characters in issue #3, I'd tell them they'll learn more about the characters in every issue.

But to answer your specific question, issue #3 is going to show us why Kori is someone you want on your side, always — both in the present and the past. We also pick up some more clues as to Roy and Ollie's original relationship, and a cameo from a Batman character who helped turn Roy's life around at his lowest ebb. Also, we get to see what's really important to a guy like Jason who tires to make it clear that he finds very little sacred or worthwhile.

Nrama: We've seen solicitations for issues #4 & #5 as well. What can you tell us about those issues, and is there anything you want to tell fans about what future stories bring for your cast of characters?

Lobdell: I'd rather not, for the same reason I wouldn't want my waiter to bring out my ice cream and steak with my appetizer. I'd much rather the fans savor each issue of the series confident that the same care and attention is placed on every page that Kenneth and I put into the first issue. But, since you asked...

Issue #4 again shows us why Kori is a particularly difficult person to kill. Roy starts to get glimpses of just how much Jason pulled it together or his stint as a superhero... and starts to wonder if maybe Roy couldn't have made some better life choices along the way. All this and the introduction of a new team member! 

  Issue #5 shows us Roy at his most bad ass — and his version at most chivalrous. For everyone who has thought Roy is something of a sidekick to Jason... well Roy drives home the point how awesome he is. All this and we get to see exactly how much Jason learned during his time with the All-Caste! Honestly, I would love to write an entire mini-series about Jason and Essence and the All-Caste!

Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell fans about Red Hood & the Outlaws?

Lobdell: To all the Hoodies out there having a blast with the series, I just want to say thank you for your support!

And all the people who have not liked the series for any number of reasons, I'd say I am sorry that it is not your cup of tea — but thank you for picking up the first issue, giving it an open and fair-minded shot, and taking the time to enter an ongoing dialogue. 

This is all very heady stuff we're talking about — let the conversation continue!

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