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There are several qualities that have hurt the overall portrayal of women in comics and several suggestions from the interwebs and myself that I think could help further equality in comics. That’s what this new series, “Women in Comics: Do the Super Ladies Need Saving?” is all about. Inspired from a Gender Studies inquiry project and a “Gender and Comics” survey I created a couple of weeks back, this series will take an indepth look at women’s portrayal in comics. It was originally going to be one feature, but after hitting almost 4,000 words I thought people were much more likely to stay awake if I made it into multiple parts.
If there’s a particular topic you’d like me to talk about, let me know! I have already written about how women’s beauty in comics is portrayed but I still have a lot planned including the way women in comics pose, the types of angles they’re drawn in, how women of race and other ethnicities are treated in comics, how women in comics are abused and I’ll be listing some empowering women in comics. But today, it’s all about the clothing (or lack there of) of comic book women.
For most of the examples I’m going to be using the two mainstream comic book companies Marvel and DC Comics. Independents and other publishers like Image Comics and Dynamite Entertainment have their problems too, but the “Big Two” are the comics that are most widely read, meaning they have a huge impact when it comes to how women are portrayed in comics.These examples are also not limited to just superpowered heroines but also non-superpowered beings and villains.
But before you begin, have you read part one?
Victoria Secret-esque Styles
There’s an expression that “clothes make the man” but what about a woman? Apparently, what a super heroine wears is more important then who they are sometimes and usually involves a skin tight jumpsuit that looks painted on.
For people who don’t think clothes are an issue, look back to the Wonder Woman controversy a few years back. For those not in the know, DC Comics decided to give Wonder Woman a pair of paints – you would think they had killed off Batman (for reals this time) based off of the heated response asking Diana to don her old outfit. Now, while her new outfit did make Dianna look more like a detective and not a super heroine, the big issue here is what people were not getting upset about. I didn’t even know this until someone pointed it out online since I don’t read Wonder Woman, but apparently at the same exact time Wonder Woman got some pants her entire origin story was changed. Dozens of years of history gone, a betrayal to fans… and everyone chose to freak out about her pants? In this situation, the woman’s story was deemed less important than her clothing by, not the writers of the comic book, but by the fans, a scary distinction when you think about it.
This situation was the trigger point for me in regards to how important super-attire is for women in comics. And I do mean just women. Because a couple of years ago when Superman was rebooted in the New 52 and I dared to utter my distaste for the fact that his costume now includes a pair of jeans in my review of Action Comics #1 there was an outcry of rage against me on Reddit. This outfit is a lot worse than the Wonder Detective’s!
Recently Marvel has begun to cover its ladies up a bit more. Several female characters went from having costumes that looked more like bathing suits to newer, less revealing outfits. For their all-female X-Men team (now there’s a risky and awesome move, but wouldn’t it be X-Women?) Storm was a bit more covered (and had an awesome Mohawk) and Captain Marvel is completely covered up in her book.
However, DC comics isn’t Marvel. Harley Quinn has progressively lost more of her clothes over the years. She went from a full body suit to a nurse’s uniform in Arkham Asylum, a midriff revealing little costume in Arkham City and finally, after the New 52 Harley lost most of her clothes and often looked like a hooker. At least she didn’t lose her charming personality. One way of looking at it is she’s being more sexually liberated now because before all she wanted was her puddin’, but now she’s moved on from the Clown Prince of Crime. But with her new clothes came a lot of dialogue people could mistake for sexual inneuendos (at least most of them weren’t serious… I think).
Harley wasn’t the only one changed by the New 52. Catwoman, despite still wearing her full-body skin-tight catsuit, is seen out of her costume more than she’s in it. Catwoman #1 opens with Selina dodging bullets while she’s half in her skin-tight suit and shows off her Victoria Secret underwear. I said last time that Catwoman’s sexually liberated attitude warrants her portrayal, and I think this includes her wardrobe. But the one decision of the New 52 which I don’t understand is a reversed sexualization.
The New 52 gave Poison Ivy more clothes.
Why? Poison Ivy was known as a seductress of men (mostly thanks to her posionous lips but her killer body didn’t hurt either). She went from wearing skimpy outfits which in some comics was made entirely of leaves, to a full body suit. This is an interesting change for the villainous botanist, but it didn’t really change her story and I didn’t see any major complaints about the wardrobe change which does have a cool seasonal effect. It’s just an interesting note that it can go both ways: women can be given more clothes or (more likely) less clothes. But there is one interesting trope that I’ve seen in many comics: the “Evil Costume Switch.”
The “Evil Costume Switch” is when a person, male or female, goes from being a hero to a villain and they get a completely new costume to emphasize their shift to the dark side. Interstingly enough, when a male hero becomes a villain, his costume is said to become inversely proportional to how cool his costume originally was. But when women go bad, their costumes often become skimpier and the character seems to magically develop bigger breasts. Yes, this is a trope. It happened to Mary Marvel, and my favorite ridiculous example is when Sue Storm of the Fantastic Four took up the evil mantle of Malice. “Malice’s” costume consisted of a revealing white dress and a head piece that looked like it came from an S&M shop.
Please let me know what you think about women’s clothing in comics. I know the most ridiculously revealing outfits often come from super heroines, but I think this effects other women as well. Do you agree that women who turn evil also turn in their cowls for more revealing clothing? Is that a bad thing? I honestly don’t know, so share your opinions (respectfully as always) in the comments below!