I stopped reading comics in 2006, but I keep up with the world and check in occasionally on my favorite characters. Unfortunately, aside from resurrecting Jade, DC and Marvel have done virtually nothing to entice me back. The two companies have seemed locked in an endless event spiral for half a decade now and with DC’s recent “reboot” of all their titles, I have never felt less inclined to start collecting again.
Well, until two weeks ago, when The New DC unveiled The New Power Girl.
If you’re not at all familiar with Power Girl, here’s a brief history. Power Girl was created in 1976 as an alternate universe version of Supergirl, and thus kinda-sorta Superman’s cousin. So she can fly, stop bullets, kick bad-guy ass just like her famous Kryptonian relative. Her origin story gets mucked up after that, but this is pretty much what most fans see her as. She has served in the Justice League of America, Justice League International, and the Justice Society of America. And yes, for most of her 36-year history, she has worn a skimpy white outfit with a “cleavage window.”
As feminine and societal mores changed, this “window” became something of a target for people who claimed that female superheroes were overly-sexual or objectified. Never mind that nearly every hyper-muscled male superhero is out fighting crime in spandex, that even the incredibly-practical Batman wears his underwear outside his pants, or that the de facto symbol of feminine power in comics, Wonder Woman, wears little more than Power Girl and started her existence as barely more than a bondage and fetish doll for her creator, William Moulton Marston.
But with DC’s newest revision, the “window” has closed. I can only assume this is a move to appeal to the growing number of female comic fans or in the hopes of attracting new female fans. It could also be a move to have the character be taken “more seriously” and not dismissed as cheesecake fantasy fodder.
I realize I’m incredibly biased here. I like breasts. I like big breasts. So me taking a stand against changing Power Girl’s costume is going to seem like any other boob-obsessed male pouting that he doesn’t get to see as much skin. But I saw Power Girl’s showy costume as a function of her character. In 1976, Power Girl basically says, “Yeah, I’m Superman’s cousin, but don’t you dare mistake me for him.” She is brassy, she is a wrecking ball, and she’s not gonna take crap from anyone, least of all over how she dresses. She is proud of herself and her appearance, a feeling gloriously captured in the Adam Hughes-designed bust from 2007. This is my Power Girl, overjoyed at life, confident, and powerful.
Is that not the feminine ideal? Is that not the human ideal?
Now that DC – and certain fans – have told Power Girl to “go put some clothes on,” they have robbed her of the very brashness that makes her compelling. They have told her that she should be ashamed of herself, that she is somehow less of a person for wanting to wear less. My Power Girl would tell these people to go fuck themselves, especially after seeing that ugly-ass “new” costume that is little more than a knock-off of a Rob Liefeld design. (Which in itself is a knock-off of Superman.) But this “new” Power Girl swallows her pride, bows to public sentiment, and puts on the hideous new uniform like a good little girl.
There’s a feminist message for you.
The upside is that comics are like mercury, they are constantly shifting and changing shape to suit the whims of whatever editor or writer is hot or the sentiments of society in general. Odds are that Power Girl’s “window” will be back before the decade is out when DC Comics is yet again overturned by Ultra Mega Infinite Final Fantasy Crisis: This Time We Mean It!
But until then, Power Girl – and the rest of us – have to wrestle with the ideas that anyone who is sexy cannot be taken seriously and that being yourself is only okay as long as the majority find that acceptable.