I just read a very civil, reasonable argument against some of the skimpier costumes on female characters in comics.
It’s a huge topic, I’ve talked about it endlessly, and I think I have expressed that a costume that is revealing is not alone upsetting to me. If it makes sense for the character, I am fine with it, particularly if it’s a great design.
Some of the characters that come up in this discussion a lot are Power Girl, Red Sonja, and Wonder Woman, but there are obviously lots of others.
I think it’s perfectly fair to point out that most of these costumes were designed by men (fun fact, Vampirella’s costume was designed by the great feminist cartoonist Trina Robbins), for the male gaze. I also think it’s perfectly fair to say that these characters and those outfits do still manage to speak to many women, as evidenced by the love they get here on Tumblr, in cosplay, in comics stores and elsewhere, and the outrage that happens when someone tries to change one of these iconic outfits.
My question is, does the outfit make sense for the character. My other question is, can it be repurposed, in story, or subverted somehow, to become about, yes, empowerment in some manner?
When I look at Power Girl’s classic outfit, it just doesn’t bother me. It fits her, to my mind. She doesn’t care what you think and she likes how she looks, that seems to be her character.
When I wrote Wonder Woman, I went to some length to justify her costume…but not that her arms and legs are bare, she’s an amazon with invulnerability, she doesn’t really NEED pants.
And Sonja I’ve talked about at length.
So, just asking everyone, and if you identify as female or other than male, it might be nice to add that info if you feel comfortable.
Skimpy costumes on female characters. Is it a one-size-fits-all thing, where revealing costumes are bad, or in some cases, can it fit the character and NOT be cringe-inducing?
I admit, my tolerance for this is may be higher than some. I have seen first-hand for years how much these characters are embraced by women, skimpy outfits and all.
But I don’t claim to be an authority and maybe I’m dead wrong.
What do you think?
This is a really interesting discussion going on, and I encourage everyone to read the notes from other Tumblrs to get a full perspective (as well as adding notes of your own).
As many have commented before me, I can come to accept skimpy costumes when they fit the role of the character. However considering that skimpy costumes appear to be the default starter for female characters, it gets frustrating to sift through quality empowered skimpily dressed characters and sexually objectified characters that are put into a sexy costume purely so that when the artist draws them twisted in a certain way that they get the best boob and/or ass shot possible.
I am still relatively new to comics, so as yet I haven’t read any Power Girl or Red Sonja (though both are now on my list of things to pick up by Miss Simone) but from a visual assessment both characters do tend to turn me off.
Power Girls outfit, regardless of whether she likes it or not, isn’t a big draw for me. It’s an interesting costume, but it gets exploited for cleavage shots where I didn’t need any (re: Ame Comi #1; In one panel, Power Girls boobs are bigger than her head). Even as a bisexual female reader, it’s distracting and leaves me cringing and distracted from the story rather than engaged in Power Girls well… power!
Red Sonja had the same effect visually when I first encountered her. It’s only through Tumblr that I’ve learnt her metal bikini isn’t supposed to be an RPG version of “Armour”. With this context in mind, it makes complete and total sense, and I’m now very interested to pick some Sonja up. Yet, again, without this background knowledge from a visual analysis it was just another striped down babe on a comic book cover that is being used as the poster girl for “Confident in her femininity and power”, the token excuse for lack of clothing in female characters (but I’m yet to see Bruce Wayne strut around in a thong because he’s comfortable with his masculinity).
Wonder Woman I have no problem with. The outfit mostly makes logical sense, or perhaps it’s the Xena fangirl in me talking… However it’s the breast size in that outfit is what usually makes me side-eye it (which is an artist flaw, not an outfit flaw).
In my opinion, while I can accept skimpy costumes, I do prefer them to be more realistic. Not head-to toe covered catsuit realistic, I mean large gravity defying breasts in a boob tube top with no obvious bra or support? Hmmmmmmm.
Running over rooftops in 6 inch heels? Hmmmmmm.
Cut outs in a costume specifically to serve no purpose but cleavage? Hmmmmmmm.
Strips of a bodice hiding nothing but the nipples being worn in a fight scene? Hmmmmmmmmmm.
Warrior wearing a bikini because she’s impervious and athletic? Okay, I get that.
So I guess… to me it lessens the credibility of the empowered skimpily clad woman when her empowerment is still exploited for the male gaze.
I am thinking about the generational shift in characters.
For a long, long time, when you mentioned Batman, I am told, the average person’s mind went directly to the campy (but fun) 60’s tv show. That was Batman to the non-comics-reading public.
At this point, I think a huge percentage of the world doesn’t even know there WAS a 60’s tv series. They know Batman from Dark Knight, or Nolan’s movies, or the animated series.
And that’s a different guy altogether.
Keep with me for a moment here.
I am wondering…is that happening with Wonder Woman as well?
I have noticed something very interesting. There are still a lot of people hung up on Wonder Woman. They don’t think you can make a movie with her. They say her origin is ‘tricky.’ They don’t think dudes will go see her in a film.
And almost every one of those people is a baby boomer.
Meaning, when they first encountered Wonder Woman, it was likely in a very small handful of sources;
1) The comics themselves, in that weird period where she wasn’t particularly well-written or even very interestingly portrayed.
2) The very violence-free SuperFriends animated series.
3) Or the Lynda Carter live action series. Beloved by many, but a bit dated, to be kind.
That’s Wonder Woman to them, that’s the impression that is indelibly in their minds. Baby-boomers know one of these Wonder Woman versions.
But is that the end of the story?
What does a younger person know Wonder Woman from today?
I don’t see younger people saying Wonder Woman can’t make a great movie. They grew up on Ripley and Tomb Raider and Buffy and Xena, or even later kickass female characters.
More tellingly…where did they get their Wonder Woman from? Not those old comics, they have rarely been available in reprint form. Not SuperFriends or Linda Carter, those things are still fairly scarce.
No. When they first encounter Wonder Woman, it is likely to be from;
1) The recent comics, which in the last decade or more have portrayed her as an asskicker. Varying degrees of quality, but that hasn’t changed. She kicks ass in the comics now, at least in her own comic, and has for years. If someone’s first experience with Wonder Woman is Greg Rucka’s writing, how different is their perception than someone who first saw her on SuperFriends?
2) Video Games. DC has produced some massive tie-in hits in the past several years, particularly in the fighting game arena, where that’s all Wonder Woman DOES, is kick ass. She’s not hugely sexualized in INJUSTICE or DC VS. MORTAL KOMBAT, not in the way Catwoman might have been. And she is presented how? As a WARRIOR. Millions of people have played these games, and the DCU multiplayer game. Far, far more than have read her comic in decades. If THAT is where they first learned about Wonder Woman…are they thinking, “Ooh, she’s tricky, her origin is complicated…” or are they thinking, “Wonder Woman is AMAZING.”
3) The DC Animated Universe. Okay, again, millions of people all over the world watched these cartoons, and they are still being viewed. Bruce Timm, Dwayne McDuffie and others, they LIKED Wonder Woman. They RESPECTED her. And they drew her as the team’s badass. There was a successful animated film (that I worked on, full disclosure) and again, she was portrayed as nobody’s pushover. She fought gods and won. If THIS is where a kid first learns of Wonder Woman…are they thinking, “Ohh, I don’t think female action heroes can work?” No. They are thinking, “Damn, that Amazon kicked everyone’s ASS.”
I am wondering if we have reached a generational shift and we aren’t really aware of it because the people doing all the talking are baby boomers with a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT FRAME OF REFERENCE for Wonder Woman.
They rethink Superman every few years. They allow for a dozen different interpretations of Batman at the same time. But I keep hearing about a Wonder Woman who is problematic for film, who hasn’t actually EXISTED for a long time. She has evolved, just like the other icons.
There will be a time very shortly when the average person will have no baby-boomer reference for Wonder Woman at all. It will all be from the Timm-verse or from video games or from some really well-done recent comics that allow Diana the opportunity to be dangerous and funny and smart all at once. It will be a Diana distilled from visions of Diana that are presented by creators who actually love the character.
I have heard a thousand times that she wouldn’t make a good film, for excuses that could have been used on the recent Marvel characters (Captain America? Too corny. Thor? Too goofy. Hulk? Too silly). But I also see hundreds of comments that follow from younger people saying, “I don’t get this at all…why CAN’T there be a Wonder Woman movie?”
I am questioning if it’s a generational shift that’s already happening.
But don’t mind me. I’m just wonderin’.