This is another common criticism of comics that’s plastered everywhere, but I’m commenting now based on some recent DC comics. It is taken for granted in every comic that every woman and every man is super-fit, super-sexy, super-attractive (even if they are not superheroes [I.e. Mary Jane Watson]), and looks no older than 25 (despite their real age) unless otherwise explicitly stated. Some of the fun of being an artist is casting the women in skimpy costumes, but honestly, that just makes the genre seem like it’s not only aimed at straight adolescent boys, but produced by adolescent boys. This is the only explanation for the amount of creatively non-naked women in comics. Almost every single costume for a heroine/villainess is an example of this. However, some are worse than others (I.e. anything Emma Frost has ever worn ever). Now, I understand this and usually can overlook a lot of this, but when it starts to detract from the writing, or worse, when the writing is nothing but flimsy context to provide an opportunity to draw adolescant fantasies, that really annoys me and makes me wish the people involved in comics (writers, artists, editors) would realize their audience is not just adolescent boys and people who used to be adolescent boys.
Now I know neither men nor women are drawn realistically, as noted above. Not only are they always young and gorgeous and fit, men tend to have 15-pack abs (as opposed to 6-pack abs) and women tend to have breasts as big as their head. However, unrealistic drawing does not dictate the costuming choices of the creative team. Many heroine costumes follow the common theme of “how to make the women as naked as possible” without violating some sort of censorship issues. It doesn’t matter how good the writing is if the reader is distracted by a pair of barely covered bosoms of doom. Contrast this with men in comics are are almost universally drawn wearing full bodysuits that cover every inch except their faces. Why can’t they show a little skin? They don’t even usually show arms, for crying out loud. The only man I’ve ever seen who wears next to nothing is Namor in his teeny-weeny green-scaled bikini, and in the past few years the artists started putting pants on him, so even he doesn’t count anymore (okay, so Beast doesn’t wear much either but he’s covered in blue fur; it’s just not the same). For the heroines who do get full body costumes, the artists seem to take great energy in detailing every curve, every line, every thing that could possibly show through (and some curves that wouldn’t) so nothing is left to the imagination. Still, that’s better than the skimpier alternatives, usually.
But in general, the modern era costumes (aside from Wonder Woman’s classic corset and a few other exceptions I’ll get to) seem to get skimpier and skimpier. Well, generally the leg and arm areas are quite well covered, as there seems to be some fetish with thigh high boots and thongs. But the torso area tends to be on the bare side. I honestly think the initial (and constant) appeal of “Witchblade” is seeing how creatively non-naked the artists can make the main character. Men just don’t seem to suffer from this problem. Does a man ever wear anything like, oh, say, Starfire? Starfire’s updated 80s outfit (which was very skimpy to begin with; no wonder Robin fell in *ahem* “love” with her after she kissed him wearing that), now features even less of a bottom and bigger breasts to highlight the skimpy “top” that covers them. In the early 00s X-men, Storm was wearing an actual thong, and god help me, Psylocke was wearing garters. Yes, folks, that’s right, the ninja was wearing garters. I’ve also read more than a few Avengers costumes featuring panels with Ms. Marvel from behind just to give the readers a view of her rear end. Is that really necessary? I’ve never seen a man subjected to the indignity of actually wearing a thong or garters as part of a costume. I did see a JLA where the Flash makes a comment to the Black Canary about wearing impractical shoes (she was wearing high-heeled boots), but her overall costume hasn’t changed. I think the overall skimpiness has gotten worse (Storm’s initial X-men outfit aside), but I also think the the more stylized and less realistic drawing just highlights the skimpiness. For instance, Storm’s original outfit wasn’t much, but her breasts have grown at least two sizes since the 70s, so the very similar outfit she sometimes wears looks much, much worse. Wonder Woman is a great case study in this phenomenon. Her costume has been essentially unchanged for many years (reboots aside), yet because of her bosoms of doom, it looks smaller and smaller.
Villainesses usually end up wearing even less. I yelled at an X-title from a year ago or so in which Rachel Grey is fighting against Viper. The reason I wanted to yell was because Viper was wearing one of the most ridiculous costumes I have ever seen. She’s supposed to be a fighter and high-ranking member of HYDRA. Her outfit looked like teenaged boy’s wet dream, in leather. Her outfit was skin-tight but the front was almost completely open. It was cut almost to the pubic bone and the only part of it holding her very large breasts in place was what must have been a very strong metal clip. What the hell kind of melee fighter wears something stupid like that? I really wanted someone to drop her with one punch to her entirely unprotected gut. And don’t even get me started on Emma Frost of any of the women of the Hellfire Club. Actually, no, I’m not letting that slide. Once upon a time, I read an X title from the 80s, I think, in which the writer, through Emma Frost, was trying to validate the skimpy outfits. A young woman happened to sit down next to Emma, unaware of who she actually was. The young woman was lamenting about how even though the work at the Club was easy and the money ridiculously high, it was degrading having to walk around in lingerie all the time. Emma took umbrage at this. Her response was, and I paraphrase, “We are not degraded. It is the men who look at us and think of us as no more than playthings for their amusement that are degraded. In this way they show the world how low they really are, and we are empowered by exposing their weakness.” To which I say, “[Expletive!]” Men who think of women that way will think of them that way even if they wear a tent for a dress. However, everyone else, men and women included, will think of a woman who walks around in lingerie as desperate (whether for sex, or just for attention). Emma, or the writer’s, weak justification for how it’s actually empowering to wear skimpy outfits just doesn’t work. It is degrading to force women (or men) walk around in next to nothing and be treated as sex objects instead of real people (there is a reason “I Was a Playboy Bunny” caused the stir it did). So comics are supposed to be escapist, but who does it serve to so lopsidedly represent women in such an objectified fashion?
I suppose this rant wouldn’t be complete without some mention of DC’s recent re-launch and how women in comics are often presented in general (not just in DC). The costumes are the icing on the cake on how badly women are too often presented in comic books. The behavior is even worse. There is, of course, a double-standard regarding men, women, and sex. A man who has lots of sex is a stud. A woman who has lots of sex is a slut. This is an unfortunate judgment either way, and illustrated in recent comics with a newly rebooted Starfire. Starfire, as mentioned above, has always worn a very skimpy costume. Now she’s apparently propositioning any male she gets near with emotionless sex. This is not empowering. This is not a woman who is owning her sexuality. Compared with pre-reboot Starfire, who was cheerful despite her terrible, terrible past, this is just depressing. And it doesn’t say much about the quality of Roy Harper’s character that he accepted Starfire’s emotionless proposition. But, you say, the comics are full of playboys who do the same. Perhaps so, but herein lies the difference – we, the readers, don’t see that. I do not recall being subjected to multiple pages of Tony Stark hanging out in a tiny banana-hammock thong bikini propositioning a colleague (or anyone) in such a dead-eyed, soulless fashion. Starfire is so obviously being drawn and written as someone’s (okay, probably several someones’) wish fulfillment it makes me resolve not to read any further comics with her until her character is restored to something resembling a real person instead of some soulless sexaholic.
Also, the Catwoman reboot is even sadder. The very first comic features two pages of Catwoman getting dressed. But here’s the problem – those pages do not show her face. Her breasts are very well illustrated, and her ass, but not her face. This comic is telling me (and there is no reading subtext into this): Catwoman’s breasts are important; Catwoman’s ass is important; Catwoman’s face is not important. Why do I want to read a comic that starts by telling me the part of a human that most humans immediately connect with (I.e. the face) is just not important? I’m not going to expect much out of the writing except as an excuse to provide context to show Catwoman’s breasts. The end of that comic made me throw up in my mouth a bit. It’s a full page splash of Catwoman banging Batman on a rooftop. It is possibly the most unsexy and unerotic picture of sex I have ever seen. You can’t even see Batman’s face (that’s right, even Batman’s face isn’t important in this context). There’s no connection between the two people who are engaged in this activity. And frankly I can’t think of too many places less sexy to have sex than the cold, damp rooftop of some random building (don’t tell me it’s not cold and damp; it’s in Gotham City; it’s always cold and damp). Is this is supposed to be empowering to Catwoman because she’s on top? Some critics have said it looks like someone’s creepy fanfic drawing. I agree completely. And again, this is so obviously someone’s (okay, probably several someones’) wish fulfillment I want nothing to do with this reboot. Catwoman is supposed to be sexy and strong and a foil/complement to Batman. Thus far she’s nothing more than a pair of breasts in a latex suit – in short, an adolescent fantasy, not a character worth reading about.
To the artists, I leave you with this quote from a recent X-factor comic in which Pip the Troll was giving M a well-deserved piece of his mind – “And zip up your damn uniform! Even I’m tired of looking at your rack!”
To the writers, please, please, please learn the difference between immature adolescent fantasy and actually empowering sexual behavior for both sexes.
To my fellow fans, remember, we can change this trend. Remember in the 90s (I think) when the Invisible Woman changed her costume from the bodysuit to that bikini thing with the “4” cut-out over her breasts? Fans hated that and they told the people at Marvel this. And lo and behold, Sue was soon back to her bodysuit. We don’t have to put up with reading and viewing someone else’s adolescent wish fulfillment. Comics can be and are better than this, and we shouldn’t accept anything else.