Art & Design / Comics / Entertainment / Women

The Cover-Up

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.

World's Finest #1

Power Girl by Warren LouwIf 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.

Power Girl BustI 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.



5 thoughts on “The Cover-Up

  1. Heh. Should have known you’d stumble your way onto that eventually. Ugly, isn’t it? It’d probably be better without that half-assed attempt at a “P” emblem there, but still… I don’t picture this lasting 5 years. Heck, Wonder Woman’s pants didn’t last more than two.

    I understand the desire to be less sexist in depicting female characters. I really do. But I think it’s important to note that there’s a difference between portraying a person as being proud of their body and being a sexist portrayal of that person. And considering the “cleavage window” costume is one of the more popular cosplay costumes for female fans at conventions, it’s probably not really all that objectionable — except by those just looking for something to gripe at. Hell, you can see more than that on any beach, and can often see just as much just around town on a sunny day. And, not to put too fine a point on it, the entire notion of superhero comics is to show an idealized human form, and that includes being sexually appealing, and that applies to both genders. Breasts are the secondary sexual characteristic for women (primary being genitalia, which thankfully aren’t highlighted on either sex in comics), and it seems to be the secondary characteristics that are most visually attractive. And just because a man’s secondary sexual characteristics are more subtle — a well-muscled chest, strong arms, a strong chin — doesn’t mean they aren’t every bit as emphasized and on-display. Anybody think that WB cast Batmen Keaton, Kilmer, Clooney, or Bale for how women would perceive their minds? Nah….

    Comics characters are, all of them, designed to be peak physical examples in all respects. The women are fit, sexy, and don’t mind showing it — and the men are all Adonises. Even Marvel’s Professor Xavier, a guy who has spent most of the past 40 years in a wheelchair, is depicted as being in ideal physical condition when the artists find a (frequent) excuse to show him without a shirt. Same for Lex Luthor, a guy who’s supposedly so much brains-over-brawn that it’s his entire motif as a villain. And the last non-Adonis male superhero got his brains blown out to kick off a crossover, and apparently never existed in the current reboot. But Power Girl has a cleavage window, so that’s obviously so much worse than everything else in comics… none of which is as “sexist” as its detractors claim (OK, maybe Starfire, but only because of the personality retool she’s apparently gotten.) Fredric Wertham’s influence seems to still be very strongly felt today.

    • Yeah, with Starfire becoming some emotionless sex robot, it’s really hard to believe they’re being “progressive” with Power Girl. It seems more like a shell game. “Look at this! Don’t look at that other thing!”

      • Oh yeah. It really does come across as “Look, we’re not sexist for doing X because we’ve also done Y”.

        Now, when people complain about Starfire’s portrayal being sexist, and a bad message for girls coming to the comics from watching Teen Titans, I can kind of see their point. It is an awful portrayal in the current version — and wasn’t all that great before. Now, before, it was somewhat tolerable because it was more “friendly but amorous” instead of “sex drone”, and it was just one character’s personality among many. Plus that had, after all, always been Starfire’s personality; it wasn’t like they had taken the innocent girl from Teen Titans and made her a slut. They’d taken the promiscuous princess from the comics and made her the innocent naif for the show. Arguably the question there should have been “what were the TV guys thinking?” rather than the comics guys. Fortunately, it seems like they may have learned that lesson, with Young Justice apparently using Miss Martian in the role of the naive alien outsider. So as long as the comics don’t go turning her into the town bicycle, there at least shouldn’t be a repeat on that score.

  2. loved Power Girl, she was hot, funny and yes massive bazingas as well but it was in good fun though and kudos for that. Haven’t seen this new one but probably won’t try either but if they get more girls to read comics, good on them,,,

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