Lori Sambol Brody lives in the mountains of Southern California. Her short fiction has been published in Smokelong Quarterly, Tin House Flash Fridays, New Orleans Review, The Rumpus, Little Fiction, Necessary Fiction, Sundog Lit, and elsewhere. One of her stories will appear in Best Small Fictions 2018. She can be found on Twitter at @LoriSambolBrody and her website is lorisambolbrody.wordpress.com.
Our former fiction editor, Cathy Ulrich, asked Lori a few questions about “The Superhero’s Girlfriend Always Gets Kidnapped“, published by Pidgeonholes on November 21, 2018.
ULRICH: So! This ending! I love this ending: “And he answers, This is my face.” I know you’ve done a lot of research for this superhero series — have you read Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum in the course of your research? If so, is the parallel between your ending here and the moment when the inmates at Arkham choose not to unmask Batman because the mask is his real face intentional?
SAMBOL BRODY: Thank you so much Cathy (and the other Pidgeonholes staff) for accepting “The Superhero’s Girlfriend Always Gets Kidnapped” and interviewing me. I’m so excited to see this story in print.
I did do research for the superhero series, reading graphic novels and watching superhero movies and television shows, but I didn’t read any Batman graphic novels. I admit that I had not even heard of Arkham Asylum until you mentioned it to me this summer and I still haven’t read it! So the parallel is not intentional, but I believe that if the reader sees a parallel then there is a parallel. What I mean – the story is out in the world and anything that a reader sees that can augment the meaning for them in the story is fine by me. So, do you see a parallel?
ULRICH: This story is part of, as I mentioned earlier, your superhero series. It can be a troublesome genre to take on, but your stories from this series are all so powerful and beautiful. What compelled you to write about superheroes?
SAMBOL BRODY: The first one I wrote, “The Girl Who Waits for the Superhero,” published in Atlas and Alice, was conceived when I was recovering from an appendectomy and watching Daredevil and The Flash. I wrote it fairly quickly.
After that, I decided I wanted to write more stories that played with the typical tropes of superhero comics, especially the women around superheroes – the secondary characters and “non-supers” who work with the superhero, write about the superhero (such as the reporter here), or design the superheroes’ costumes. But I wanted to do so in a way that reflects feminism, the Me Too movement, Incels, and other gender issues. What would it be like to work for the superhero, a man who cannot carry his share of the job because of his other job (or perhaps we should say vocation) – he’s busy being a superhero (the ultimate mediocre man who fails up). What happens when the superhero fails you? Who dresses the superhero? What is it like dating a superhero, especially when you realize that his disguise is the only thing that attracts you?
ULRICH: Vapor is such a great villain, the perfect combination of menacing and inept. Spoiler alert for other readers: I know he plays a part in future stories. Is he meant to be the superhero’s nemesis, a sort of Lex Luthor or Joker type, or is he eventually going to be defeated?
SAMBOL BRODY: I’m not going to spoil the end, but all of the characters – especially the women – play essential parts in fighting Vapor. OK, who am I kidding, the ending isn’t written yet.
ULRICH: And speaking of defeating Vapor, it’s the superhero’s (unkissed, out-of-the-secret-identity-loop) girlfriend who saves the day here. It’s pretty telling at the end that her love for him is strongest while she is high on adrenalin. Do you think there’s any chance this relationship will last? Or is there even a relationship here at all?
SAMBOL BRODY: I think there’s a relationship here, but it’s not really a romantic relationship. Yes, the reporter believes that she loves the superhero, but it’s one of those loves where you just covet something that the other person has. In this case, she wants to be a superhero and experience the danger and the adrenalin. I see the superhero as one of those tormented superheroes who has been unwillingly given this gift – this was not a gift he was born with – but feels a heavy responsibility because of it. Like Spiderman – with great power comes great responsibility. A bad person to have a relationship with. But – of course they have a connection. In “Moxie,” in Five2One, he’s almost tender; here he’s protective of her, and she of him. Like, there’s no way she’s going to take off his mask, even if it means giving up her scoop.
ULRICH: Only Vapor and the unfortunate Hunterson are given names in this story. The superhero is always just “the superhero” and the reporter girlfriend is never called by name, though they both have clear traits that keep them from feeling anonymous or cookie-cutter (I love the detail of how she protects her shoes on her way to the interview). Clearly there’s a reason for leaving these characters nameless. Can you reveal it?
SAMBOL BRODY: I wanted the women in the stories to be universal and symbolic – the “girl reporter” who is common in superhero stories. Originally I had planned to have a series of different women who surrounded the superhero – like all the women he’d come into contact with, a waitress, a yoga instructor, a therapist. But I gave that up because I wrote multiple stories about the reporter.
I was also playing with the idea that we all have some superhero power. Maybe nothing showy, maybe just the ability to thread a narrow eye of a needle on the first try. (Whenever I try to explain this, people look at me very oddly. Remind me never to mention this again at work.)
I actually have superhero names for the four women I’m concentrating on in this series. The reporter’s name is Stiletto. And frankly, the reason I don’t have a name for the superhero is because I can’t think of a good enough one.
ULRICH: I love how much world building and detail you fit into such a short piece: you’ve got an origin story, character development … it’s just so full! Readers wouldn’t even need to be familiar with the series to understand each story (though they should absolutely read each story!). What are your plans for this series?
SAMBOL BRODY: My intention for the superhero stories is that they, all together, form a flash novella, with two superheroes – the one in this story and a younger superhero who flies – and four women.
ULRICH: Lastly, where did the reporter girlfriend read there are 100 ways to kill with a pen, and can you send me a link?
SAMBOL BRODY: If I told you, I’d have to kill you.
You can read Lori’s story, “The Superhero’s Girlfriend Always Gets Kidnapped”, here.
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