(Content Warning: This article contains discussion of rape)
The warning-free preview of Lobo #9, written by Frank J. Barbiere and Cullen Bunn, art by Szymon Kudranski and Cliff Richards, and colors by Blond, opens with villain Countess Fabria Odessa taking control of Lobo via mechanical spiders. She has him spread eagled on a bed, unable to fight back, and she straddles him. Then she rapes him.
Countess Fabria Odessa is a new character, introduced in this current run of Lobo, and perhaps this scene was meant to be used as shorthand to prove to us how villainous she was. Instead of underlining the horror, though, the rape begins with with an air of titillation — she’s green, and beautiful, and naked. New Lobo’s handsome physique is also on display. The rape itself seems perfunctory. She’s evil, so evil she will casually rape an unwilling man. It doesn’t do much to further any part of the story arc; he was already ready to kill her and under her control. It feels like a boring addition, meant to spice up what turns out to be a lackluster issue.
It seems like such a non-event that after she rapes him, Lobo quips, “It’s gonna be hard to top our first date.” (In the pages leading to the scene he was in excruciating pain due to her spiders). Perhaps it’s my own fatigue in seeing sexual assault used gratuitously in narratives that aren’t equipped to handle the subject matter that made the act seems flat and almost consequence-free, but it didn’t evoke gut-wrenching sympathy, just dull anger that I’m reading it again. But the whole scene feels weirdly blasé and lazy, and the effect it’s supposed to have on the audience is unclear. The only thing that is clear, despite some questioning headlines, is that is was rape.
It’s bad, basically. The murky art and busy page layout doesn’t help — it hustles the reader along as though to tell us not to linger too long, don’t think about it too hard. Rape can be effectively written in fiction, but it needs to be treated better than as a throwaway torture + tits scene for the audience to get off to. It also shouldn’t be underplayed by the narrative just because the Countess is a sexy alien straight from Star Trek: The Original Series. The only other reason I can think of for including it here is to define the villain as “really bad” (looking at you, Mark Millar), and that’s incredibly lazy storytelling; without spending a storybeat on trauma, it’s just an over-used shortcut. It’s disheartening to see rape in this storyline following the loud fandom discussions about rape in Game of Thrones and other shows, where many thoughtful points were made about the difference in using rape effectively or exploitatively in narratives. The rapist being a woman, and the victim being a man, doesn’t mitigate the fact that this rape does little to show the audience anything other than the Countess’ naked back.
The mechanical spiders and spider motif also reminded me of another much-discussed rape in the DC universe — when Tarantula raped Nightwing after they killed Blockbuster. He, too, was not in control of himself, and a woman took advantage. But even that scene was used for an emotional impact for the reader, and Dick’s emotional distress was clear-cut, unlike Lobo making sarcastic remarks as his body is used without his input.
As The Fanboy SEO points out, it’s not the first time sexual assault has happened to Lobo, though it’s probably the first rape that has occurred to him post New 52. In his old incarnation, his unconscious body was violated by Bueno Excellente, a member of Section 8, in order to blackmail him into not taking action against the team. (Incidentally, Bueno Excellente also assaulted and possibly raped Green Lantern Kyle Rayner). While that whole storyline sounds, excuse my French, gross and problematic as hell, at least it appeared to do something story-wise, and propelled the narrative forward.
In Lobo #9, though, there’s not much it adds. The issue would have been exactly the same had the rape not occurred, and instead the Countess merely taunted Lobo about her control over him–that’s how little emotional depth or impact the scene had. It was simultaneously dull and horrific, and left me asking “but why??” Right now we’re waiting to hear back from Cullen Bunn, who has been receptive to our request to an interview on the subject, so hopefully that question can be answered.