By Elisa Shoenberger
Meet Whistle, the new Jewish superhero! DC Comics will introduce her on September 7th in Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero. Whistle was created by E. Lockhart and illustrated by Manuel Preitano (with color by Gabby Metzler and letters by Troy Peteri).
Whistle is the first DC Superhero who originated as Jewish since 1977. And although this is E. Lockhart’s first foray into the world of DC comics, she’s already written eleven Young Adult books including #1 NY Times best-seller We Were Liars.
I loved Whistle and was super excited to have the chance to talk to Lockhart about her. Note that this interview has been edited for clarity and length.
ES: How did Whistle come into being?
E. Lockhart: DC invited me to invent a superhero for them, which was basically too good an adventure not to go on. First, I went in for a meeting with them. They have an archive and they have an archivist/librarian to give tours. If you’ve never been to the DC offices before, you will be offered a tour of this archive.
It’s an hour-long tour, and I found it very moving. I grew up reading superhero comics (as well as Archie and Richie Rich and stuff like that). Batman was probably my favorite DC hero. This archive is filled with original art, first editions, movie memorabilia, going back to the late 1930s.
I just had this feeling like this world — the DC Universe — and these characters have meant so much to people across the globe for the better part of a century. It would be so amazing to be a part of this universe that has meant so much to me from the time I was a kid, so I just suddenly got excited to work with them. Then they invited me to create a superhero. “Would you like to invent a superhero? And you can put her in Gotham if you like?” I’m like, “Yes, please.”
Then I just thought about who I wanted to see in Gotham City. I live with teenagers who are passionate activists who struggle figuring out how to make a difference in the world. The superhero narrative is the narrative of becoming empowered to make a difference in the world.
I was interested in creating a character who had really conflicted worldviews. So, I also made her a person who has a lot of ties to the Gotham City underworld… and then who becomes a hero at the same time. I was interested in that complexity.
I was interested in writing about a secular Jewish hero. My father is Jewish, and my spouse is Jewish. We celebrate Jewish holidays, and also some very laxly-celebrated Christian holidays. I grew up with my mom in a New Age Religion.
My secular Jewish heritage was always super important to me. I also grew up with a sense of what it was to [be] somebody whose family religious practices were different from other people in my community. I don’t want to make myself sound super marginalized. I was just interested in creating a character with Jewish heritage and with ties to New York City’s Jewish neighborhoods… on my dad’s side…
ES: How do you see Whistle working in the DC Universe?
E. Lockhart: Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero is very much a Gotham City story. I love Gotham City and the Rogues Gallery. So many villains, so little time. I would have loved to get my hands on the Penguin, the Joker, and Harley Quinn, [but] there were just a few I could make room for in this short book.
When Willow Zimmerman and Lebowitz (her loyal canine companion) transform into “Whistle” and her sidekick “The Hound,” they become local superheroes. They’re not out to save the world at this point. They’re operating at a local level. As we’ve learned, local politics are important. The things that change in neighborhoods end up having larger influences and also make a difference in people’s lives.
ES: Why did you want Lebowitz aka “The Hound” to be a Great Dane?
E. Lockhart: “The Hound” is the first ever female superhero dog! I write about dogs all the time. I can’t stay away from them. They have these open hearts and most dogs don’t have inhibitions in the same way that people do. Talking to an animal is a very deeply rooted fantasy that goes all the way back to childhood.
When you become a superhero, you get these superpowers, especially if you have a teenage hero… It’s a clear metaphor for all the changes that come to your body in adolescence. Some people can feel super empowered by these physical changes and some people feel terrible or freaked out or weird. They’re unwanted changes, or they’re not in the body the adolescent wants to be in.
In the superhero narrative, the transformation of the body is basically awesome because it’s so empowering. But in Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero, I also wanted to show how it might be weird. It might be uncomfortable. It might be sometimes embarrassing. I’m not the first person to think of this. But that was really interesting to me. And “The Hound” is like, “This is awesome. Accept yourself. Love yourself.”
DC was like, “Do you have to have a Great Dane because we have Scooby-Doo?” And I was like, “Yeah, I do have to have a Great Dane and I promise you [she] will not be like Scooby-Doo.” Well, I just make sure she’s different from Scooby-Doo.
We used to know this woman — our kids were friends when they were very little — she was a dog trainer. She had these two enormous Harley Quinn Great Danes. You’d meet her [our friend] walking the streets of Brooklyn and she would have these two horses, basically, on the leash. It was like seeing superheroes just walking down the street. These huge black and white muscular Amazonian creatures. I think they’re very magical.
ES: Anything else you want to add?
E. Lockhart: Inventing a female-identified superhero involves making an outfit for her and thinking about the costuming of superheroes. That was a really exceptionally fun part of the process, [working] together with Manuel Preitano. We finally narrowed it down to something that was kind of based on some pictures of speed skaters and a picture of Rhianna in a really good-looking tracksuit and then some other influences mixed in. Something where Whistle would look powerful, but not be fetishizing any part of her — tread that line between the fun of superhero power and physical power, but without an objectified body. So, I hope we did it; I think we did it.
© Elisa Shoenberger (8/31/21) Special for FF2 Media
Check out Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero at your local comic book shop or bookstore on September 7th or click here to order direct from DC Comics.
Click here to learn more about author E. Lockhart.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo & Interior Panel of Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero illustrated by Manuel Preitano, color by Gabby Metzler and letters by Troy Peteri. Used with the permission of E. Lockhart. All Rights Reserved by DC Comics.
Author Photo: © 2020 Heather Weston, used with the permission of E. Lockhart. All Rights Reserved.