Chilling Adventures Presents…Strange Science, the latest title in the “Archie Horror” line from Archie Comics, hit store shelves this past month. The sci-fi horror book reboots the classic Archie spin-off and tells the story of Danni Malloy and her best friend Jinx as they’re transported from the Riverdale that they know to a twisted version of their reality. Motivated by a search for their friend Dilton, the girls soon realize that something sinister is at play.
Featuring unique artwork by Butch Mapa, the one-shot story stands out from the rest of the Archie Horror line by telling a deeply personal story that focuses on the lead character of Danni Malloy. Revealed to be Transgender earlier this year in the one-shot comic Archie Horror Presents: The Cursed Library, Archie Horror has now made her the lead in her own comic book written by Magdalene Visaggio, who is no stranger to telling stories with queer characters front and center.
What stands out about Strange Science is how authentic the writing feels. In only 32-pages, Visaggio is able to craft a story with not only horrific imagery that Archie Horror fans crave, but also a thoughtful meditation on personal grief and fears that left me thinking long after I put the comic down. In this special opportunity, I was able to sit down with Visaggio and go in depth about some of her creative choices and the process behind giving Danni the story that she deserves.
This Interview has been edited for clarity.
BD: What’s your history with Archie and the world of Riverdale? Did you read the comics growing up?
MV: Not Really! I was an X-Men and Spider-Man kid. I didn’t start getting interested in Archie until I was in college. There was this Archie digital national comic that someone made called Archie’s Weird Mysteries that was just this weird gender-bendy, transforming, magical adventure with genie and other strange things made with old real Archie art that had been digitally retouched. So Archie has sort of always had this weird gender thing going on underneath it all to me.
BD: What were your main horror or science fiction influences for Strange Science?
MV: There’s so many! I feel like the most obvious is The Langoliers. I love Stephen King and the terrible made for TV miniseries was one of my earliest experiences with horror. So Strange Science definitely has this element inspired by that where time traveling doesn’t take you to the past. It takes you to like this dead alternate past where the present has already moved through there. Films like Annihilation, The Mist, and Hereditary, have influences in there too.
BD: What led to the choice of having Danni be the lead as opposed to your previous books for Archie Horror that had Jinx as the lead?
MV: Strange Science was always meant to be Danni’s book. I started talking with Archie Comics about reimagining Danni Malloy as Transgender back in 2017. For a variety of reasons it didn’t happen, most of which were kind of my inability to get my own schedule together. I was very on the fence initially asking myself ‘Do I wanna do this? Do I not wanna do this?’ I had a long period of time where I was kind of stepping back from doing trans narratives because of personal reasons. I ended up choosing to reimagine Danni because she’s awesome. I stumbled across her when I first got into Archie while in college. What’s great about Danni is that in her first appearances people are constantly like assuming “Danny Malloy” must be a boy (laughs). Once I found out who she was as a character, she’s been stuck in my head ever since.
When I first reimagined her for Archie Comics I said to myself ‘I don’t want this to ever feel like a gimmick. I don’t want to ever feel like the entire reason for this character to exist is to be Transgender’. We didn’t want to disclose her identity right away, we wanted to introduce her in other titles and have readers get to know her. Then when we did the spotlight issue and that’s when it came out. In a story that’s not about her being trans, but is informed by her being trans. I love writing Jinx and it’s been a blast getting to write these two but it’s fun to swap who’s in the driver’s seat and see all the dynamic changes.
BD: There’s often little to no trans representation in the horror genre, especially leads. Did you have any goals with Danni leading Strange Science?
MV: Danni’s not a supporting character this time so I’m taking her seriously as my protagonist. Just to compare to her first appearances where Jinx was the lead, Danni does have to kind of be a little bit one note because Jinx is carrying all the dramatic tension and all the emotional weight. With Strange Science it was just ‘remember that Danni is now the one who’s carrying the tension in emotional weight’ and it’s tension and emotional weight that I know well personally.
BD: Strange Science doesn’t shy away from the fact that Danni is trans and has had a life previously before transition. What were the inspirations behind telling that side of her story?
MV: Her first appearances when she was Dilton’s sidekick in the original Strange Science comics. The whole reason for using Danni is that I wanted to use a character who has these existing relationships. Danni’s not just being plucked down, but she has context. She has this history with Dilton and a past that’s entirely her own. In Strange Science she’s not his sidekick. She’s constantly presented that she’s just as he is and that she is underestimated. She’s not a different character with the same name, she’s a different version of the same girl.
BD: A lot of horror today tackles heavy subject matter such as grief or loss. How did you go about tackling that in a more authentic way with Strange Science and the story of Danni’s past?
MV: The problem with the single issue format for these one-offs is that you need to accomplish a lot in an extremely condensed space. There’s not gonna be an opportunity for an immediate follow up, so your emotional beats have to hit all at once. That’s something I struggled a great deal with and I’m not sure how successful it was. I wanted the story to be about Danni having to make an accounting to herself of her own past and to ownership over her past. That is something I think a lot of us in the trans community struggle with. I know it’s true for me that I tend to look at my pre-transition self as a functionally completely different person who I don’t seem to understand very well. So the thing for Danni is she wants the continuity, but she also wants the disruption. It was critical for me to put her in confrontation with the pain of her past while simplifying it so that it could be a big moment.
I know how to write stories and moments that are emotionally resonant to other trans women but I really hope that Cisgender people who read Strange Science are also able to make connections. To their own lives, and their own pasts, and their own gains, and to see that it’s just one pain. It’s all just human suffering and the desire to heal.
BD: Time often feels at a standstill when we as humans are unable to process past trauma and grief. We see Danni go through this in Strange Science. I’m curious what your thoughts are on the scene where Danni encounters her younger self?
MV: One of the hardest parts of being trans is the feeling like you don’t have a past anymore. That your history was never your history. That in transitioning you are repudiating your past, you are repudiating the person you were and saying that there is continuity, but this is that this is a moment of significant disruption from which there is no going back. One of the things I’ve been personally working on for a long time is this idea that maybe that’s not true. Maybe we were always there. So at the end of Strange Science when Danni meets her younger self, her younger self is a little girl. It’s not her pre-transition, it’s the person that she transitioned into who was always there. We have so much grief for all the time we lost post-transition, but there’s peace in knowing that it was always you there.
BD: Are there any future plans for Danni, Jinx, or Dilton in the world of Archie Horror?
MV: I definitely have ideas. There’s nothing specific in the works, but Archie Comics is very supportive and there’s always discussion about where the characters go from here.