The last of a dying breed.
“What’s the first thing you notice on that cover, above? The turkey? The Atom on the table welcoming everyone to his fa-bulous show? Or maybe Power Girl’s breasts? Don’t worry, you’re not alone; it looks like Superman is taking a look as well. Such is the power of the Magical Cleavage Window.” — Dave Campbell
Female Super-Hero Characters and Sex: Creators Explain How Comics Can Do Better
Kurt Busiek (Kirby: Genesis, Astro City): My argument, over and over, is that “sexy” isn’t the problem. Sameness is the problem. Don’t make all women look the same. Don’t make them act the same. Give us a range of portrayals, like the men. I think Power Girl’s a terrific character — she’s brash, she’s loud, she’s aggressive, she flaunts her sexuality and she doesn’t take any shit about it. As a result, she’s visually distinctive, she’s got a strong personality that goes with the visuals — she stands out. She’s a vivid and memorable character, which is pretty good for someone who’s core concept is that she’s a variant version of a derivative character.
I don’t have a problem with Voodoo being a stripper. Could be an interesting world, an interesting background to build on. I don’t have a problem with Starfire wearing a skimpy purple metal outfit. It fits the character as Marv and George designed and presented her. I have a problem, though, when the debate is posed in a way that says that either Power Girl should be toned down, or else it’s okay for any female character to be like that. Really? If Batman is all grim and dark and obsessive, is it okay for Superman to be the same way? For Spider-Man? Booster Gold? I don’t think so.
One of the things that made the original Starfire work so well was that she was on a team with Wonder Girl and Raven. Starfire was the sexy bombshell without any body issues, and that helped her stand out and be distinctive, standing next to the more conventional Donna Troy and the reserved and repressed Raven. There was variety, there was a range, and it made the characters memorable. What was important to Marv and George was making these characters distinctive and memorable, the women as well as the men.
And that was a nice step forward from the ’60s, when most female characters seemed to be cut from the same cloth, with rare exceptions. But in recent times, it seems female characters are being cut from the same cloth again, just a different pattern than we used to get. Now, they’re all Victoria’s Secret models, cocking their hips, arching their backs, pursing their lips and teasing their hair. I saw a team shot recently that looked like a varied bunch of male heroes and three clones of the same woman, just in different costumes. Women should be varied. They should look different, think different, act different, talk different… Just as surely as the men, because they’re all individuals and we want the characters we read about to be distinctive and memorable.
Ms. Marvel/Warbird/Carol Danvers: She’s ex-military, a tough, no-nonsense fighter who’s endured sexism all her life, starting with her own father. Should she pose like a model? Or should she straighten her spine, square her shoulders and her jaw and act like an officer? One’s the generic choice, and the other says more about who she is as an individual, so I go with the one that’s distinctive.
There’s nothing wrong with sexy. I don’t want to change Power Girl. She works really well as a character. What’s wrong is when everyone’s sexy, and in the same way, too. Playing it that way even hurts the characters who are meant to be sexy. If Storm and Kitty Pryde look and stand and act like Victoria’s Secret models, then how do you make the White Queen, who is supposed to be strikingly sexy and vamp-ish, stand out? Make her look like a Hustler model? That doesn’t come off as sexy; it comes of as ludicrous. But if everyone gets presented the same way, it’s harder and harder for the characters to be distinctive, even the ones who _should_ be presented that way, because it’s no longer possible to tell that that’s a choice, not a default. No range, no distinctiveness. Would Catwoman need to hump Batman on a rooftop to establish how hot and sexy she is if everyone else wasn’t crowding into the “sexy” end of the scale?
Mine is more a craft argument than a political argument, but the political statement hiding underneath it is: Women are individuals. The trick to treating them well is to acknowledge that, and seek to bring that individuality forth, rather than going with the generic. It doesn’t matter if the generic is “Sports Illustrated swimsuit model,” like today, or “fainting overwrought female” like much of Sixties Marvel — if it’s generic, it’s lazy and undistinctive and dumb. Let’s go for distinctive. Let’s go for variety.
Let’s see Power Girl and Voodoo and Catwoman, fine, but let’s see nerdy women, too — and funny women and repressed women and confident women and everything in-between and beyond. Give us the strippers, but give us the librarians (and not just the “sexy librarian,” either) and the Congresswoman and the cop and the junkie and the single mom and on and on. And even within those roles, not all Congresswomen are the same. Not all single moms, not all biker chicks, not all grad students.
[And if your female cop looks indistinguishable from a cop in a porn movie who’s about to handcuff the lucky burglar and have her way with him, maybe you’re doing something wrong.]
One size shouldn’t fit all, because that’s boring. So my answer to the question of how comics can do better with female characters is, stop looking for ways to fit the mold and start looking for ways to stand out. Look for what makes them individuals, not what makes them generic. If nothing else, it’s a whole lot easier for an orange-skinned babe in a purple metal bikini to stand out as sexy with just a line or two if everyone else isn’t wearing as little as possible and looking as breathy and bosomy as possible too.
I don’t want to tone down Power Girl, because she’s fine as she is. We just need female characters as distinctive as she is in other ways. Let’s not limit the portrayals, because that gives us less. Let’s have more, instead. More variety, more distinctiveness, more individuals.
Read more at ComicsAlliance.