Robot 6

Your Mileage May Vary: On Power Girl’s Costume

This week we’ve seen some interesting discussion stemming from a scene in the JSA: 80 Page Giant comic, in which Power Girl and Cyclone address Power Girl’s costume.

Esther Inglis-Arkell starts things off:

Power Girl

Power Girl

And I heard the justification about how Canary’s outfit was in tribute to her mother, even when that means she’s in panties and a jacket in the First Wave books. And I’ve heard the one about Poison Ivy being a plant and therefore unconcerned about human modesty. Oh, and I’ve heard the one about Supergirl being invulnerable and therefore not needing pants. There are a few about how Huntress wanted to show off the fact that she was shot, and she lived, and that’s why she fought in a bikini. And then there’s the one about Batman and Superman . . . oh. Wait. There aren’t that many excuses for how Batman and Superman dress because, golly, for some reason, the male heroes in this mostly male-controlled medium put their fucking clothes on when they’re going to fight someone.

Are you kidding me? I’m getting an ‘I choose my choice’ speech from a fictional character? Feminist fans are getting a slap because they won’t accept one bullshit excuse after another for why male heroes are mostly fully-clothed and female heroes mostly walk around in their underwear?

Ragnell offers a different perspective:

That’s why they keep going back to it, because it’s a good basic costume and as it was originally just a small cut-out on an invulnerable character it’s not inherently lewd/impractical. (Unlike the midriff-baring Huntress, or the monstrosity Carol Ferris is parading around in–though my hat’s off to Mahnke for making it less eyesearing.) All the attempts to change it have had her going to worse costumes. (The one with the normal neckline actually tends to show even MORE boob than the cut-out.) And it doesn’t need a reason any more than she liked the look better than any emblem she tried to put there, and now she’s just used to it. Anything beyond that is downright insulting, like you’re trying to fool us into thinking there’s something inherently empowering about baring your breasts. There isn’t.

(We all know good fashion isn’t dependent on the amount of fabric. Different cuts do different things for different bodies. And that’s not even getting into color. Aesthetics are complicated in this area.)

Now, if DC feels guilty enough that they feel a need to justify this costume, maybe rather than offer us some bullshit they can have the artists draw it tastefully. A cut-out is ideally supposed to offer just a hint of cleavage, not go down to or below one’s nipples. Just a guess, but that and the annoying high-cut bikini bottoms might be where all that guilt and disgust originates.

While Laura Hudson calls Jen Van Meter out:

You know what, Jen Van Meter? Go write an op-ed. I’m not even being sarcastic. You’re entitled to your opinion about Power Girl’s costume, and if you’d like to explain to the female readership about how they’re totally misunderstanding the personal empowerment and meaningful symbolism offered by the cleavage window, then I would be very interested in reading about that.

But quite sincerely: Do not lecture me when I’m in the middle of reading a superhero comic about why you think I’m reading it wrong. Or at the very least, write a scene well enough so I don’t feel like you’re lecturing me, because there are few things more disruptive to a narrative experience than watching the writer peek around the curtain and set up a teleprompter for the characters.

I already suspend my disbelief to ridiculous proportions for superhero comics, so watching someone manipulate Power Girl like a highly articulated action figure specifically to give me the stink eye pretty much destroys any sense of authenticity that exists for the story, the character, or the world. It makes me feel like I’m watching a Very Special Episode about why I should shut up, and for reasons that I think are obvious, that’s not very fun.

So what do you think?

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Comments

37 Comments

I think superhero costumes are inherently silly. Bitching about why Black Canary wears fishnets or Power Girl shows of cleavage is a bit ridiculous when looking at costumes of Batman, The Flash, Superman, Namor,etc.

Dressing as a bat to combat crime is absurd, dressing as Power Girl to fight crime is absurd.

Now, on the other hand… Robin’s costume was updated appropriately to look a little less ridiculous… I think Power Girl could get an update too. Although I love what Amanda Conner’s been doing.

I have nothing against Powergirl’s costume, but if I had read that issue, I’d have probably rolled my eyes and skipped a page or two. Any comic written as, as Laura Hudson put it, “a very special episode” is complete bunk.

I think Laura Hudson hit it right on the head, not only with regard to this specific example but for every case of this increasingly obnoxious trend of writers using a character as a sock puppet mouthpiece telling off their readers for not being the right sort of reader.

I happen to like PG’s costume; I’d rather it have less of a hi-cut bottom and a slightly smaller cut-out, but I understand the titilation factor. Most superhero costumes are little more than a thin layer of cloth that shows anything but the genitalia, so whether it’s pink-flesh color, grey, blue, or green, I’m not too concerned with that.

I still remember the atrocious gold-and-white uniform in JLE and the less-awful red-white-and-blue (which made her look kind of generic, IMO.) I rather like her classic costume with the minor updates they’ve done.

Yeah the boob window is a bit tacky, but I’m actually a fan of Power Girl’s costume. It’s a great color scheme and I love the golden shoulderplate and cape.

Actually let me correct myself, I like Amanda Conner’s take on the costume.

When it gets into the hands of other artists the results are sometimes…less spectacular.

I’ve got no problem with the costume. In real life there are plenty of girls out there that wear a lot less than that. It’s just reflecting current acceptable fashion in society. If tomorrow everyone started fully covering themselves I’m sure before too long all comic heroes would pretty much be fully clothed too

I cannot believe the “oh, girls dress like this in real life” and “the guys dress dumb too” rationale. What do female cops wear in comparison to male cops? Female soldiers in comparison to male soldiers? Doctor, EMTs, Coast Guard…anyone who is basically saving lives and fighting the bad guys in the real world. I’ve got nothing against gaudy and ridiculous, it’s just that women are required to be gaudy, ridiculous and half-naked whereas the men are not.

And hat’s off to nailing this as a “I choose my choice” moment of faux-feminism.

Plastic Man has been I candy for decades. No pants, no pants every, and he could just make pants appear. And don’t start the Superfriends and pants debate.

I haven’t been following this but from this picture I have to ask what is the function of the exterior, gold shoulder pad? Does she have an Achilles shoulder?
Also, at some time in her history it occured to me that the cut-out just serves as Power Girl’s version of a pocket, someplace to keep her keys or wallet, you know.

“What do female cops wear in comparison to male cops? Female soldiers in comparison to male soldiers? Doctor, EMTs, Coast Guard…anyone who is basically saving lives and fighting the bad guys in the real world.”

They wear uniforms as part of a group larger than themselves. Not costumes as independent entities.

The Ugly American

November 29, 2009 at 7:48 am

Here’s the problem I have with PeeGee’s costume.

AERODYNAMICS.

She’s got this hole cut out in her chest and her skin-tight costume is tucked into her va-jay-jay, and she flies FORWARD so all this wind comes down between her globes which are slap-slap-slapppity-slapping each other due to the air-flow, and then her whole lower costume inflates because of the wind, etc.

I’m just surprised she doesn’t arrive with air-blown crotch-paunch much like someone jumping into a swimming pool with a dry suit, and you get that big air bubble that looks like a fart.

That’s PeeGee’s costume, post-flight.

OK lets address the “All superhero costumes are inherently silly” point first. You read comics, you are self trained to suspend disbelief and critique within the parameters given. So you can shove that one up your hoop.

As costume designs go Power Girls is horrific, probably no more horrific than some others like Huntresses… I can’t think of any worse to be honest and at least Huntresses covers more of her. Power Girls costume now has shin guards presumably because she likes football and a shoulder pad as some kind of tribute to Joan Collins because she’s invulnerable and why does she need armour???

The colour scheme is rather like the character herself, bland and nothing about the costume suggests ‘Power’. It’s more the kind of rompa suit a five year old would wear to bed as he dreamed of being Superman.

Oh and the name. This woman can feed every baby in the third world country of your choice and yet we still call her ‘Girl’.

Now the ‘cut out’. Any female character that has a cleavage you could loose an army in as an emblem deserves to be used as all of comic creations whipping post. It’s not sexy it’s blatant, it’s not empowering it’s distracting, it’s the moist fantasy of whichever pillock thought it would be a good idea.

Somebody should have a talk with Lady Gaga about how sexist her costumes are.

re: Ugly American

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!! BRILLIANT!

Honestly, Power Girl’s look is beyond tacky. At the very LEAST, they need to shrink the cleavage hole dramatically.

Several posters have brought up good points about how sexist many of the heroine costumes are. But thankfully, there ARE a few good examples of “no skin” heroine outfits out there… Firestar, Jade, Spider-Girl, Kitty Pryde, Invisible Woman, Batgirl… Just to name a handful. I can understand the occasional heroine going out there with less for functional reasons, but all these skintight outfits with large chunks missing? It’s just pandering, plain and simple.

Frankly, I find it insulting. And this is coming from a guy. I hated it in the 90’s when they gave Sue Richards that ridiculous half missing outfit, complete with a 4 cut out on the chest. Ugly and more than a little uncomfortable, given that she’s somebody’s mom.

The comics world needs to rely more on story and less on sex to sell their wares.

“Ugly and more than a little uncomfortable, given that she’s somebody’s mom.”

So women who have had children shouldn’t wear revealing outfits. Gotcha. So illustrators should pander to you, and avoid showing skin because it makes you uncomfortable. But don’t pander to the other people who think that’s alright. Because that’s wrong.

“I want my male and female superheroes to dress sensibly! Women should be fully clothed, yet iconic, and not too skinny because that’s unrealistic! Men shouldn’t all look like they’re using steroids and wear ridiculous underwear on the outside of their pants! These things aren’t realistic!”

Yes, yes. All of these things and not the other way around. Because that’s wrong.

“Me me me me me.”

I’m hearing you loud and clear, not somebody else. Because that’s wrong.

“The comics world needs to rely more on story and less on sex to sell their wares.”

Go **** off. You want story, go read a Vertigo title.

Not what I meant Jeremy. It was uncomfortable because she was someone’s mom, yes, but moreso because the kid was AROUND for most of that time and it’s SUE FREAKING RICHARDS. One of the LEAST likely heroines in any comic universe to pull something like that. It was so blatantly out of character for her that they actually had to have her possessed by an alien presence to explain it away. Sue’s like… everybody’s mom. She’s one of the most motherly figures in the entire MU. Seeing her parading around in that… that abomination… It was just wrong on every level.

Now some characters, it makes sense to dress in impractical ways. Canary pays homage to her mother. Fine. Just explain to me why her mother wore that thing. It’s meant to be something of a joke with Starfire… I think. Scarlet Witch goes for a gypsy look instead of something that would let her blend into the background to do her work unaccosted because she wants to feel closer to her roots… Stupid, but understandible to a point.

But then again, one of her outfits she wasn’t wearing underwear… SIGH… Oh Wanda, no wonder you went crazy… Again…

Also, real cute to go dismissing arguments by blowing them out of proportion. They’re my own personal tastes, and lord knows no two people have exactly the same views. Me? I’m not big on the pandering. If you are, good for you. Go stare at the gigantic revealed cleavage the size of Alaska. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t have any revealing outfits… I just think they should temper their design choices a bit. Power Girl’s look is ludicrous. It’s like painting a bullseye on her chest… WITH HER CHEST.

… Vertigo tells stories?

Real mature, telling me to asterisk off. Classy. Your mom must be so proud.

I sort of agree with Ragnell’s evaluation. Every attempt to fix or improve PG’s costume has been something of a fashion disaster, and even the “no-window” version just looked off somehow. It’s an aesthetic thing, and an individual artist can tamper with the cut and the size of the window if he or she wants it to look less sexual.

So I thought you were on the same page as me here:

“Also, real cute to go dismissing arguments by blowing them out of proportion. They’re my own personal tastes, and lord knows no two people have exactly the same views. ”

And then you lost me here:

“Me? I’m not big on the pandering. If you are, good for you. Go stare at the gigantic revealed cleavage the size of Alaska. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t have any revealing outfits… I just think they should temper their design choices a bit. Power Girl’s look is ludicrous. It’s like painting a bullseye on her chest… WITH HER CHEST.”

The point I’m trying to make is different people like different things and artists appeal to different audiences. To say things like, “They’re pandering to blah blah blah…” is just ridiculous. Most everything is pandering to some target audience. It’s fine to say, “This costume is bad and does not appeal to me.” but when you start attacking other people for liking things, then it feels a little screwed up. You get what I was trying to say now?

Hate the costume. Hate the character. But let the artist’s intentions and the people who appreciate the work alone. It’s not their fault they aren’t you.

I’m confused as to why agent_torpor is so hostile. He seems to imply that good stories are only found in Vertigo (and probably other non-superhero comic publishing companies), yet seems guarded and angry that people suggest that sexism should be taken out of superhero comics. Is that what was implied? Am I the only one that felt it came across that way?

If you don’t like it, don’t read it, that’s what I think.

Aaron Thall said:

“Honestly, Power Girl’s look is beyond tacky. At the very LEAST, they need to shrink the cleavage hole dramatically.”

On most women, that cutout is about the size of a golf ball. Power Girl has so much bazooms that they spread it open the size it is seen in the comics.

The uproar over Power Girl is still hilarious to me.

If you’re going to say Power Girl is sexist and ridiculous, you have to say that for all superheroes, male and female. They’re all based on sex. Big muscles, big boobs, big deal. Oh, and if anyone thinks there aren’t any males heroes running around showing off skin, you have selective memory. Just look at Namor for starters.

It’s all fantasy, don’t take it so seriously. =)

Namor, Conan, He-man, Robin, Plastic Man, Martian Manhunter, The Thing, Hulk, The Beast, Collosus, and several other males heroes that run around in underwear and not much more.

PG and WW have silly revealing costumes that probably need an update to cover more skin, but where’s the outcry over the men who need to cover up???

“PG and WW have silly revealing costumes that probably need an update to cover more skin, but where’s the outcry over the men who need to cover up???”

You have GOT to be joking to still be using that strawman. “Where’s the beef over the men who need to cover up?” There isn’t any. Superhero comics are mostly regarded as MALE FANTASY rags; which also explains why the ‘big two’ only pay lip service to the idea of covering up the females, too.

DC already had Supergirl put some pants on, so Power Girl doesn’t have to. :)

However, in regards to the original writers’ complaint, I am in total agreement. I have absolutely no use for comic book writers who toss in phony ‘justification’ for the oft-repetitive tropes of superhero fiction, as if this tactic will somehow make their weak fan-fic seem superior by lecturing the audience via the silly-garbed characters.

Honestly, Power Girl’s costume is one of the less ridiculous ones out there. Black Canary, Zatanna, Storm… they’re all more provocative than Power Girl’s costume, for no real purpose. Even Wonder Woman’s costume shows more than Power Girl’s.

While I agree that many more female characters than male are designed to be oversexualized, Power Girl is one of the more tasteful. And Power Girl’s personality has developed in such a way over the years that makes it more acceptable. The fact that, as a woman in at least her late 30s in 2009, she still allows herself to be called Power Girl instead of Power Woman (a la Hawkwoman and The Invisible Woman) shows that she has a sense of humor about super-heroes in general and herself in particular (or that’s how they’re writing her right now). So, in continuity, I think the cut-out has taken on a more ironic meaning than was originally intended by Wally Wood.

I’ve got to agree with Joe way up in comment #2. Van Meter’s ham-fisted justification was just unnecessary moralizing to the audience. I know that you can’t totally remove a writer from his or her work, but Van Meter seemed to be missing the point. If someone can logically explain why Wonder Woman continues to wear what is essentially a one-piece swimsuit instead of her golden armor all the time, I’d appreciate it.

The Ugly American

November 29, 2009 at 7:29 pm

Wait, wait, wait, wait.

Everyone back up a minute here.

Females read comics?

Man, you guys had me going for a minute there.

Power Girl is not a sexist character, she’s just a fucking stupid character I don’t get the confusion?

ITT:

men who know little to nothing about the second sex, andrea dowrkin and riot grrl argue over what makes their fantasy sex symbols sexist. i don’t even think most of you understand what that word “sexist” implies.

Jen van Meter does respond to Esther’s post on 4thLetter, although I can’t seem to get there at the moment.

Is there an option for “Yes, her costume is rather silly, but Power Girl is still an awesome character and not offensive to my feminist sensibilities as a person”?

@bigfaceless

being the only male in a female workforce (nursing home) kinda gives me a unique perspective on sexism.

Sexism is an increasingly moot point these days as equality in the workforce (the place were sexism is, though dyeing out, prevalent) is on the up and up. Mind you I come from a country that had a female Prime Minister for ten years I’d like to think I’m fairly progressive.

Arguing sexism in the superhero genre is ludicrous as all superheroes by default are alpha male/female characters and being an alpha person doesn’t make you sexist it makes you the leader of the pack or the titular character of a comic.

Power ‘Girl’ is simply a character who’s been badly handled, badly designed and tagged on to any comic that comes along to try and sell the concept.

I like my comics to have substance. Substance Power Girl doesn’t seem to have. And if you try selling me something from the “sex”-angle, you better show me what you’re selling.

Like they say on the Internet… “ti ts or GTFO”.

Oh, I love this feature – wish it were weekly!

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