A Comic Book Entry – De-powered

I would like to take you on a journey to a realm of possibility and contemplation.  I have a theory, and instead of presenting my thesis at the beginning, I’d like to take a different approach and present a few scenarios for your consideration first.

1) a) Consider a comic book in which Superman has been felled by a powerful foe.  He’s not dead, but he is so badly hurt he’s being loaded up on a stretcher and carried by Metropolis’s  finest police and paramedics.  The context is serious, not light-hearted.  As he’s being carried, one of the police officers says, “I can’t believe he’s wearing his underwear on the outside.”  And another officer says, “Check out the size of his jockstrap.”
– How do you feel about these officers making those kind of remarks about Superman?
– How do you feel about the writer of this scene and dialogue?
b) Consider a slightly different scenario.  Instead of Superman, Supergirl has been felled by a powerful foe and is loaded on the stretcher for medical treatment.  The context is serious, not light-hearted.  As she’s being carried, one of the officers says, “Hey, I can see right up her skirt.”
– same questions
c) Instead of Superman or Supergirl, Wonder Woman has been felled by a powerful foe and is loaded on a stretcher for medical treatment.  The context is serious, not light-hearted.  As she’s being carried, one of the officers says, “She’s heavier than I thought.  Must be the weight in her bre-” and another officer says, “Hey, cut that out.”
– same questions

I’m going to guess that most people reading this would be pretty appalled by the scene and dialogue I described with any of the characters.  If any of these people were actually hurt that badly, the police and paramedics should be deeply worried, not making snarky comments about costume choices or making sexist comments about Superman’s package or Wonder Woman’s bosoms of doom.  I’m also going to guess most people would be pretty upset at the writers.  Why would a writer treat these characters like this, especially when the context is serious?

2) a) Consider a situation in which the JLA is addressing a powerful supervillain.  The supervillain is very dangerous and clever, and complicating the situation is that she’s only a teenaged girl.  Batman has a plan, of course, and the plan starts with distracting the girl to try to buy time to foil her plan.  He turns to Superman and says, “You go talk to the girl.  Take off your shirt first.”  The implication being, of course, that if Superman strips down he’ll distract the girl with his chiselled chest and good looks.
– How do you feel about Batman telling Superman to strip down and flirt with some kid?
– Do you feel this might be a waste of Superman’s power?
– How do you feel about the writer of this scene and dialogue?
b) Consider a situation in which the JLA is addressing a powerful supervillain.  The supervillain is very dangerous and clever, and complicating the situation is that he’s only a teenaged boy.  Batman has a plan, of course, and the plan starts with distracting the boy to try to buy time to foil his plan.  He turns to Supergirl and says, “You go talk to the boy.  You’ll distract him.”  The implication being, of course, that as Supergirl is cute and will distract him with her short skirt.
– same questions
c) Consider a situation in which the JLA is addressing a powerful supervillain.  The supervillain is very dangerous and clever, and complicating the situation is that he’s only a teenaged boy.  Batman has a plan, of course, and the plan starts with distracting the boy to try to buy time to foil his plan.  He turns to Wonder Woman and says, “You go talk to the boy.  You’ll distract him.”  The implication being, of course, that Wonder Woman will distract the teenaged boy with her bosoms of doom.
– same questions

Again, I’m going to guess you’d be pretty upset.  It is a complete waste of power to get people like Kryptonians or an Amazonian princess to serve as a mere distraction to a teenager.  And frankly it’s insulting.  Any writer who put that on a page would get flamed so bad they would have to change their Facebook status to “char-broiled.”

No writer would put Superman in those situations.  He’s Superman!  He’s the Last Son of Krypton (more or less).  He’s practically a god on Earth and for all that power, still a mostly nice guy.  Sure, he wears his underwear on the outside, and sure, he has an impressive package, but that’s not what Superman is about.  He’s about doing the impossible and not killing Lex Luthor no matter how much he’s got it coming.  Supergirl is basically Superman’s distaff counterpart.  She’s almost as strong and powerful, although to be fair she was introduced to be his cute little cousin.  But since then, she’s fought to become a respected superhero in her own right.  And Wonder Woman, well, despite her clearly BDSM past that had some serious sexist overtones, she’s an icon and no writer would treat her so disrespectfully.  Well, shouldn’t anyway.

And yet there is a character who was subjected to just those situations.  She is another of Superman’s distaff counterparts and the main difference between her and Supergirl is that this character possesses Wonder Woman’s bosoms of doom.  I speak of course of Power Girl.  And here is Power Girl in an injured state and here is Power Girl being asked to flash her bosom at a teenaged boy.  Power Girl is Earth-2’s Supergirl and Power Girl told off Earth-2’s Superman for treating her like some little girl to protect, so she already started off more assertive than Supergirl.  So how come Power Girl is too often treated as no more than eye candy for the readers and no more than a boob-joke within the context of the world?

The answer is not simple (and I’m not sure I have an answer) and not every writer treats Power Girl in this fashion.  But I’m not entirely sure why she’s treated this way at all.  She and Supergirl are essentially the same, but Supergirl doesn’t get treated like nothing more than eye candy by the writers (mostly anyway).  And Supergirl certainly isn’t treated like nothing more than a boob-joke by other people in the world.  If the answer is that Supergirl doesn’t have bosoms of doom, well, that’s why I brought up Wonder Woman.  At least these days, no one would dare treat Wonder Woman like a boob-joke (at least not in a serious context).  Sure, readers might.  Even I laughed during a Cartoon Network promo/crossover when Blossom said to Wonder Woman, “One day I want to be as developed as you!” meaning, of course, she wanted to be as developed a superhero.

I don’t exactly know why Power Girl was created the way she was.  My understanding is that she was not drawn too differently from other heroines, but she did have the boob-window from the beginning.  In the hands of good writers, she’s smart enough to have started her own computer software company and be a core member of the Justice Society.  But in the hands of bad writers, her super-rack actually de-powers her.  I cannot emphasize this enough – she is one of Superman’s distaff counterparts.  She is one of the most powerful beings on the planet.  And yet in the hands of bad writers her entire character has been based around her super-rack.  Oddly, even well-regarded books with well-regarded writers kept that boob-window in her costume.  That’s how iconic her super-rack is – even good creative teams over the years have kept it and I frankly don’t understand why.

I don’t know; maybe Power Girl is some kind of meta-joke I just don’t get, like Lobo (except I get the joke that is Lobo).  Lobo was specifically created to be a cross between Wolverine and Punisher and represent everything ridiculous about the Dark Ages cranked up to 11; most people didn’t seem to realize he was meant to be a parody, not a serious character, and absolutely loved how insane and murderous he was.  Maybe Power Girl was meant to represent everything ridiculous with how powerful women are portrayed in comics, in which case, job well done; perhaps too well done.

But if the character isn’t supposed to be a parody, well, I am sad at how she’s sometimes treated.  It’s hard to take a character seriously when it’s obvious she’s just playing Ms. Fanservice to the readership.  Possibly this is changing with the New 52 because it looks like an artist finally closed the boob-window, but I don’t know how long that will last.  When bad writers don’t take her seriously, even the people in the world don’t take her seriously.  How can you not take a Kryptonian seriously?  Again, these are gods in the light of yellow suns.  Maybe people just don’t realize how de-powering the super-rack really is.  Maybe we comic readers just take it for granted that all superheroines are in super-sexy costumes and forget that kind of outfit isn’t mandatory.  There doesn’t have to be a boob-window.

Some writers have tried their hands at explaining the exposure of the super-rack.  There was an explanation that she was an empowered young woman and if men chose to degrade themselves by staring at her breasts, that was their problem.  I’ve mentioned that explanation just doesn’t hold up, especially in the meta-context of a bunch of (mostly) male writers and artists and editors who are actively choosing for her to keep that boob-window.  Or there’s this little gem where Power Girl explains the boob-window distracts her foes, because when a Kryptonian goes into battle, a distraction is what’s really required to tip the balance in their favor (why yes I find this explanation extra stupid; how did you know).  Sometimes the super-rack renders Power Girl so powerless she doesn’t even take herself seriously, which is a shame.  See this panel in which she tries to explain why she never filled the boob-window, which comes down to, “I have such low self-esteem I couldn’t figure out how to define myself.”  Supergirl may have worried about how to display her emblem but she never worried about not having one at all.

I know, some writers have done better by Power Girl, and I’m glad for that.  But at least in my experience, I haven’t seen another character treated badly in this particular manner.  For some writers, it’s just acceptable to treat her like eye candy and a boob-joke.  And thus, a Kryptonian goddess is de-powered.

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awritershailmarypass

S. J. Drew is an aspiring writer who finally entered the blogosphere to shamelessly promote that writing (as evidenced by the title of the blog). Whether or not this works remains to be seen, but S. J. hopes you are at least entertained. And if you're actually reading this, that's probably a good sign.

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