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Does she have enough on?

Female superheroes are treated like second class citizens in their attire and characterization. Is this what the industry thinks readers want?

Written by IsoRod, Originally Published on JUN 07, 2012

In comics female characters seem to be treated as little more than an object to ogle at. Is this what comic book readers are looking for? It’s surprising to find out that it is not. When I first thought about writing this post, it was going to be a more a critique slash rant about how female characters are treated as objects and how silly and ill-suited their costumes are for crime-fighting and what not. Being a writer, an artist and a father of a young daughter this was an issue that I took personally. I'm not a big comic blog reader by any means so it was refreshing to see there were many people who have written about this subject. In some cases, the posts are extremely humorous and shows how ridiculous these outfits are if they were worn by male characters. Other posts talk about how female characters are reduced to plot devices to help a male hero to have greater animosity towards a villain. There is even a site which coined the phrase 'Women in Refrigerators' to describe the treatment of female characters in comics.

When it comes to costumes for female characters they really get cheated on the material. Most female superheroes’ uniforms are reduced to swimsuits or lingerie. From Wonder Women to Storm the female heroes are dressed in revealing outfits while their male counterparts are fully covered. Wonder Woman for example had gotten a new look in 2010. I thought the design was pretty cool except for the choker around her neck. Most people didn't like it. What is confusing is the fact the Wonder Women is an Amazon warrior an her outfit is suppose to be armor, and it barely covers her. The swimsuit maybe magically, but her bare skin isn't. The equivalent Kryptonian armor for Superman would be a Speedo(1). In The New 52, (a relaunch of all of DC's major titles) Superman's latest costume is an armor(2). Supergirl is also wearing Kryptonian armor (3), but notice differences in the design. The Supergirl costume could have been designed without showing any skin and would of looked extraordinary as shown in this fan art image(4).

1) Superman Amazon's equivalent costume. The look is a cross between '300' and 'He-Man'. 2) Superman's new suit, full armor. 3) Supergirl's new suit, armor, not really. 4) Fan art that shows what Supergirl's costume could of looked like.

There is a great article written by a gentleman named Ryan, who is an armorer, as he puts it "I make actual armor that people wear when they hit each other with swords." He provide examples of proper fantasy armor and what he describes as "a rather strong trend to dress women in metallic lingerie". Wonder Woman's armor is a more barbarian sex kitten than Amazon warrior. Poor Wonder Woman can't catch a break, she wasn't even allowed to keep her pants in the DC reboot.

The first image was the original plan costume with pants. The second is Wonder Woman's new costume final look, without pants.

Storm's new/old look.

Storm of the X-Men costumes seems to change as much as the weather. She is currently in a swimsuit with thigh-high boots, not completely practical for a superhero who spins most of her time in the troposphere. She was wearing a bodysuit that left her shoulders and arms free during the Civil War saga which I thought was classy but that only lasted for a short time. Even Thor's latest look has him fully armored no longer exposing his arms to the elements. Maybe Storm is tougher than a Norse god or just has to be sexier. Another example of strange X-Men female costume choices in the name of sexiness is Rogue. Her powers drain anyone who comes in contact with her skin, so why would she wear a tunic that is short-sleeved and unzipped in the front to expose her chest. If one of her scantily clad female teammates gets thrown into her they will be put out of commission. It's a bizarre change to make to a character's wardrobe when she has always been fully covered in the past.

Captain America Vol 1 618 X-Men Evolutions variant cover. Five of the many looks that Rouge has sported in the past. Each costume has her fully covered.

There are so many more examples I could bring up because there is so much low hanging fruit. From DC comics, Starfire, whose outfit was already small, somehow is now even tinier. Star Sapphire, whose costume has so little material that it can't even form a proper mask to conceal her identity, at least that's what I'm guessing. Powergirl the poster girl for cleavage windows. On the Marvel comics side, Psylocke, the only woman on the Uncanny X-Force, and only one not in full costume. Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four, wearing what one post dubbed the '4-kini', really awful and I thought that when I was a kid and first saw that thing. Emma Frost, X-Men resident psychic, she an extrovert so I guess wearing lingerie as a uniform is ok then.

Here few links to funny posts I found on the topic illustrating how different male and female characters are treated. First a look at superhero films and how reversing the way the genders are presented can really lead to comic gold. What would it be like for male superheroes to wear their female counterparts outfits? Hint it's not comfortable. A commentary on comics and why objectification is not ok. Finally the website, Women in Refrigerators, created by Gail Simone, a comic-book writer and her take on expandability of female characters in comics.

The opinions I share here are not about if the female character's power allows her to dress in specific fashions. It is that male characters with similar powers are in suits that are more in line with the character's identity or their protection. These costumes are not designed to emphasize particular parts of male anatomy, nor are the characters posed in such a way designed to sexualize them. For male character, it's about showing power or stature and for the female character, it’s about portraying them as pinups which don’t have to be the case.

Below are the comments from the original post which made it much better. 

1. DC
Good post nice start. While I agree with this post about the lack of clothing for women in comics, I have to nitpick (cause that's my way). Rouge is a bad example in this case. Her powers (when active and dysfunctional, as when she first started out) DEMAND that she stay covered neck to toe. In the instances when her powers have been taken away....well she runs around half naked, but once again for her character and the problems her powers force on her, being de-powered and running around in a bikini (and doing the bang-tango with Magneto?!?!) make some sense. In a comic book way. Kind of. Sigh. Lets face it comic books, back in the early days, where marketed and sold to young boys, prepubescent to teenagers ( I'm not saying that even in the beginning of rise of comics that they were the only ones who bought them just that they were the ones targeted) keeping that in sells. It does. It always has. It always will. So if you want the attention of young boys and men you do the scantily clad superheroine or bad girl thing. Cliche but it works with the least bit of work. At first.....(STORY, STORY, STORY!!! AND GOOD SOLID CHARACTERIZATION!!!! ahem sorry caps-lock me just had a fit) Now that more women are reading comic books (or more to the point more are SEEN and heard of as fans and readers) it's time to give the ladies, both in the comic book world and out a little respect IMHO. Supergirl's new costume is a great example. That character has gone through some really awful designs with the new one posted in that pic, for my money at least, as one more for the "bad" bin. The fan one though is spot on! It looks right and it works as a perfect counter point to her male opposite number. AND it's flattering, understated sexy instead of beat you over the head sex-a-fied. Understated, that's probably why the design never occurred to the artist who drew the one that went to press (or maybe it did)...just my two cents.

2. DC
OH! In my last rant I forgot to mention , save for the color scheme (gold blue and red forever dammit!), the Wonder Woman costume works well with the short shorts (though I would have gone with the armored leather studded skirt). Don't agree? well look up the term hoplite. It was the type of armor the ancient Greeks(as well as the name of the citizen soldiers of that era). Go ahead do the search. Done, OK see what I mean. She's from a culture derived from that people and time. Her old look and new one work. Yes she could wear pants but she like Sup's are nigh-invulnerable (love that term 'Nigh' The Tick anyone?) She can show some leg, why not it's not vulgar unlike Starfires......

3. IsoRod
Yeah I looked up the hoplite. This is a design that I saw while writing the post. I kind of like this myself has a hoplite feel. The design.

4. IsoRod
What I was talking about is the costume that unzipped in the front. There are times the zipper comes down to her navel. Her powers are still touch based and they have the tunic unzipped at some really weird times. The picture here is much more conservative than some drawings of Rouge. I know Wonder Woman is as invulnerable as Superman so he gets armor and she get to show her legs. Then Superman should be dressing like Namor. Link to Rouge's costume. Here another funny sketch about female armor.

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