Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Women Superheroes

DC's reboot has caused an uproar over their treatment of women. Characters are portrayed as strippers and sexually promiscuous. Starfire has been singled out in particular. The character was always ready to have sex with friends and showed some skin. She was also strong-willed. The new version is vacuous and treats sex like a handshake ("Hi, I'm Starfire. Want to have sex?"). He costume must be glued on.

Marvel has come in for some criticism, also for the amount of skin showing and for putting women in stripper poses.

It wasn't always like that.

In the Silver Age, under Stan Lee, Marvel's women tended to dress conservatively. Marvel Girl and the Invisible Woman wore the same uniforms as the rest of the team. The Wasp wore something similar to Giant-Man's uniform. The Scarlet Witch and the Black Widow had an opaque body suits as the base of their costumes. Medusa and Crystal of the Inhumans wore full-body outfits.

DC wasn't quite so demure. Wonder Woman's outfit was always skimpy. The Black Canary and Zatana's outfits were a little embarrassing. Hawkwoman wore the same outfit as Hawkman except with a bodice. Supergirl had a minidress version of Superman's costume. The new Batgirl was a little sexier than the Golden Age Batwoman and Batgirl in her form-fitting body suit.

Things started to change when Dave Cockrum began redesigning costumes for the Legion of Superheroes. Previously most of the women wore full body outfits. The few exceptions, like Shrinking Violet, wore short dresses. Their new outfits were based on swimming suits and halter tops. When Cockrum created the New X-Men, he gave Storm the same treatment.

Other costumes got a little skimpier. The Scarlet Witch started showing some cleavage. So did Moondragon who also sported a swim-suit style outfit. Starfire was introduced with a two-piece outfit. She-Hulk's arms and legs were bare. Mz Marvel started out with a skimpy version of Captain Marvel's costume complete with cut-outs showing her stomach. The cut-outs were too hard to draw and dropped. Later she got a Dave Cockrum swimsuit which she continues to wear.

Solo women's comics have never been a big seller so most women were in teams. As their numbers increased, they became more important. It was not unusual for a woman to be the strongest member of a team - She-Hulk in the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, Valkyrie in the Defenders, Wonder Girl in the New Titans, Rogue in the X-Men. Women also led most of the groups at some point.
That included the Avengers (Wasp), X-Men (Storm), Champions (Black Widow), Legion of Superheroes (Saturn Girl and Dream Girl), and the Fantastic Four in the 1990s (Invisible Woman).

Women didn't do as well in non-superhero comics. The women in Conan never wore much and Red Sonja started out with a full mail shirt but switched to a scale mail bikini. Women in the horror comics wore very little. Few wore as little as Vampirella but most had cleavage to the waist. These comics were mainly limited to the 1970s.

Yet a newer generation of artists has taken over and new styles are common. A lot of the art is very good but it exaggerates physiques. The men are all buff. The women have tiny waists and big breasts which are straining at their costumes. Many women's costumes now sport thong-backs.

Some of this reflects a loosening of the Comic Codes. Some of it reflects changes in society in general. But the idea of a superheroine as pin-up is pretty pervasive.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For contrast, please read the favorably reviewed "Phantom Girl 5" novel, where in the main character has insisted on a different costume than her mini-skirted predecessor. Her argument: You get more than a draft when you're flying above head height in a mini-skirt.
VERY SENSIBLE, concludes her interviewer. (Need I add that this book was written by a woman?)