Home Culture Sociology What’s sauce for the goose…

What’s sauce for the goose…


At Fourth Letter, Esther Inglis-Arkell becomes enraged by female comics characters who stand around and explain why they wear skimpy costumes.

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.

UPDATE: J. Caleb Mozzocco also covers this:

I can’t disagree with anything she said in her post; she’s dead-on right. If I had anything to add, it would be that the writer’s doing the justification of the costumes almost never have any real control over those costumes, and probably think they’re doing something valuable by finding a reason for explaining a costuming choice that sounds better than “Some guy 20-65 years ago though this was totally hot, and wondered if his editors would let him get away with it.” (That doesn’t make it any less irritating though, especially for a character like Power Girl, who is given explanation after explanation for her cleavage window. The first one of these speeches you read is never as annoying as the second, third or fifth).

We wouldn’t be brining this up so soon after our Brokeback posting series except that, as jaded as we were, even The Beat was dazed by the speed with which the “But men are sexualized too!’ and the other bingo card justifications came out.

Jesus, people, can’t you imagine for one minute that your own viewpoint is not the only one on Earth? AND what is wrong with calling cheesecake cheesecake? Plus, do you really know what sexualized men look like? If you think THIS is sexual, just go and google “French Rugby Team.” (Link NSFW.) Heck, Gay porn even has its own version of the Brokeback pose, although showing a surprising lack of flexibility. (Also NSFW)

To be fair, we suppose that there are times when a state of unclothedness is not merely used as titillation. Take, for example, the Greek water polo team.

Nothing sexy there! Or suggestive.

Just people doing their job! We salute the Greek water polo team!

The Greek water polo team!

The Greek–say, why are they wearing helmets, anyway?


  1. You enjoy spanking these men for their impure thoughts a little too much, maybe?:). I guess it’s *cough*a woman-controlled blog.

  2. I was showing my missus the new Queen Sonja comic yesterday – she wondered why Sonja wasn’t simply naked for all the protection that costume provided.

    More generally, I simply don’t understand the need for those sorts of costumes in the modern age, if you are that desperate for something to knock one off to – why not just hit the internet?

  3. To add my redundancy, I also agree with Esther at Fourth Letter. I never understood the functionality beyond mere titillation for the female superheroic role models. Even the beloved classic Wonder Woman gives pause. She comes from an island where everyone is pretty much clothed… until she leaves the island and then puts on underwear and a corset.

    However, I give a little slack to the villains (disclaimer: I do a villain book). Villains are often extremist / extroverts — it helps with the ego. It also sets them apart from the *heroes* on moral and ethical grounds with the reader / audience. Of course this is all rather *iconic* clothing for this genre in comics, but it’s still fun to complain. Hah!

  4. It’s up there with the rule of thumb for RPGs, ‘the higher the skill, the better the armor, the skimpier it is’ it’s a favourite joke of mine and my friends that high leveled women wear just enough to be past censors.

    I have my own female characters, super villains, actually, and only one of them is in anything kind of considered ‘skimpy’. Another comic I’m working on takes place in a school setting, and everyone dresses logically.

    Long and the short, I concur. Women’s costumes seem to be insulting to the characters. For all their intelligence and what not, they generally look like street walkers

  5. ” I simply don’t understand the need for those sorts of costumes in the modern age”

    There’s this thing called the Comics Code, see…

    For the purposes of concealment and stealthy combat, everyone should wear form-fitting black ninja suits (or burqas, but they’re a bit flowy for combat), but a bunch of eyes and their immediate surrioundings bobbing around in a panel to convey fighting followed by what passes for witty banter coming from a word balloon positioned directly below one of these menacing ocular cut-outs wouldn’t be much fun to look at.

    Design is a major element of comics, and most designs in comics look really cool. If you want to start applying practicality, then you’re looking at a line-wide project with a few exceptions.

    “calling cheesecake cheesecake” isn’t the problem. Calling cheesecake “a bunch of creators decided to dress them that way for fun and profit” while simultaneously whining about being given exlanations for why they are designed that way–explanations undoubtedly resulting from the repeated complaints about the designs themselves in the first place–strikes me as being as reasonable as arguing about how combing back a spit-curl and putting on some glasses works amazingly well when you’re trying to hide from a bald super-genius or another one of those “who would win in a superhero fight” debates.

    If all you’re doing is “calling cheesecake cheesecake”, then you don’t need to call some of the writing “one bullshit excuse after another” (see above for their raison d’etre in this cycle of dissatisfaction) or point out a writer’s “failure” when you preface that judgement with “I don’t know what you were trying to do here.” That’s some Fox News logic.

    Based on the last line of that blog post, I am stunned that anyone would support this blogger’s opinion in any way. The points she’s trying to make have been made by smarter, better, and more reasonable people already and in ways that aren’t so mean-spirited. When you get into the business of demanding or deriding justification for comic book costumes, you end up sounding like those people who won’t let their kids read Harry Potter because it promotes witchcraft.

    It seems like The Beat is in favor of the “calling cheesecake cheesecake” method, and I think that’s the best approach. There should be less spewing of bile and more pointing and laughing. The message is the same but the approach is the key difference.

    and if this has all failed to convince you, my last bit of advice is this: you don’t like it? Draw a better one or commission an artist to draw one from your description. Then post it online and say look at this awesome (insert awesome artist that you commissioned at a convention or your own name)-redesign of (insert female character here). Isn’t it far superior to the current design? Let’s petition (comic book company) to change it to this or something similar because they’d probably use their own people to redesign a character but at least our voices can be heard and used to foster change. yay, us!….

    or just keep bitchin’ about stuff on the internet… because, you know… that totally works, right?

  6. The intractable problem that the depictions of Power Girl, et al., create is that the visualizations of them become confused with the characterizations. They’re supposed to be heroines, not sex toys or subjects for rape fantasies. The visualizations control how the stories about them are told. If Power Girl was a heroine in a prose story, the costume would have practically no effect on the reader’s perception of her, unless the writer went out of his way to have people react to the costume — but then, what would the writer do with her? What is she, if you subtract the visual aspect, but a much-retconned female version of Superman? The character concept lacks depth.

    There are Marvel characters with the same problem, such as She-Hulk and Ms. Marvel. Their visual aspects are the only ones that make them appealing. The current Ms. MARVEL series could be a case study of a writer failing to do anything with a character because the character is too hollow.

    The policy of treating cheesecake as cheesecake sets up an actual “slippery slope” problem because there will always be pressure to push the artistic boundaries in the hope of attracting more readers, even with controversy. The logical endpoint is doing R- or X-rated stories so that there can be nudity, but then the characters are no longer heroines. They are merely sex fantasy objects.


  7. POWERGIRL is an interesting character in and out of her suit.

    Would you argue that the visual aspect of her isn’t the dominant one, though? Subtracting the visual aspect of a character and then seeing what’s left refutes the “The heroes are drawn in a sexist way too!” argument. Powers, stamina, etc., are necessary for what the heroes do, and they’re drawn accordingly. Over-muscled characters are visually repulsive. Subtract the visual aspect of most heroes from the characters and what you’re left with, at worst, are simple archetypes.


  8. we write her as if she is a real person with feelings… and honestly, we try our best to not make the book about sex and sexuality…but when we do, we have fun with it and keep it on a silly fun level. There is a reason the series is appealing to a lot of female readers right now…and I think because we are making the book about more than a fight book. she has friendships, business friendships and a career while dealing with the super powered antics that make for a lot of interesting character pieces.

    that said, visually she is exactly what her creators wanted her to look like, but if the book was just a pin up book, i think it and the character would have died a long time ago. I have a lot of trust with AMANDA CONNER on the job to tell us what is right and wrong and what is over the top. Having her on the book and her point of view really helps us keep the character about more than a ” body”

  9. I can’t speak for Esther (he says, before kinda doing that anyway), but I’ve had several conversations and a couple podcasts with her about Palmiotti/Gray/Conner’s Power Girl, and we both like it a lot. I didn’t care for the character before their run, but now it’s definitely my favorite DC comic right now. That’s due mostly (completely) to the reasons that Palmiotti put forth above- they’ve built a supporting cast, gave her a business, so on, so forth. They’ve made her into a character, rather than a superhero. And Amanda Conner’s art– English has adjectives, but not the right ones to describe how much I like that book’s art, from the redesigned belt buckle (a stunning and stunningly obvious connection to make) to her boots.

    What I think Esther is talking about here are the swat-on-the-nose justifications, the “no, buddy, the problem is with YOU!” talk being used to justify something that’s endemic in comics. It’s like if a marching band goes by your house twice a week, and you mention that it’s annoying and kinda dumb, maybe they should ease back a little, and get “Yeah, yeah, well, why do you hate how confident we are in our early-morning band abilities?”

    Just– be honest. It’s like that because someone thought it looked cool. The problem isn’t the costume, it’s the claim that there’s nothing wrong with so many women sporting the same type of costume, the problem is with you, true believer.

  10. Yeah, I’m normally right on board with these sorts of outrages, but I can never pluck up the proper umbrage when it comes to PG. I love the way Geoff Johns wrote her, I love the way Palmiotti and Gray write her, and the way Amanda draws her.

    In many ways, I feel that PG’s massive rack and provocative costume has served her better than her smaller-cupped colleagues. Because every writer worth his/her salt who writes her doesn’t want to fall back on the “obvious” and make it a T&A book, so she becomes, as Jimmy said up there, a real person with feelings and a job and friendships.

    That said, I wish creators would cut it out already. There are some characters who I know will likely never get a costume change (WW, Zatanna, PG), but there are plenty who could get even a slight makeover (see: Supergirl’s bike shorts) to make their costumes a little more SANE. And anywhere that’s the case, I think they should do it. Does Huntress’s midriff need to be showing? Hell no, change her costume back to one of the many versions where it wasn’t.

  11. A blogger reviews POWER GIRL #1-#6:

    I’m always a big fan of strong female characters, especially those with some wit and humor. While I’m not sure that this is how Power Girl has always been written, I do believe this has been the recent trend with the JSA books and I like that the writers continue to write her this way. The fact that she has large breasts is not ignored in these books, but instead, the writers manage to poke a little fun at it while at the same time expressing Power Girl’s frustration at having them gawked at, especially when she is Karen Starr. I like this aspect a lot, as it is obviously a part of her character but instead of her coming off as a product of sexist comic book artists/writers, she comes off as a character who embraces what she looks like while refusing to let it define who she is. [. . .]

    While she does not shy away from drawing all of power girls curves or her ridiculously revealing costume, she does not put her in unnecessary posses or suggestive scenes like many other superhero woman have been drawn over the years. I really like this aspect of the art as it shows that Conner respects who Power Girl is and her history but does not play her off as simply something to look at.

    If this reaction is typical, Power Girl is defined by her appearance. The fact that the stories have her react to having her breasts “gawked” at, in or out of costume, forces that conclusion.

    A hero or heroine’s costume should be character-neutral. Dr. Strange is a model; subtracting the visual aspect of the character has practically no effect on him. He’s still a masterful sorcerer. The Vision I is a synthetic man, regardless of how he appears. The Wasp was a flighty socialite, fashion designer, and heroine. Mockingbird is a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Conversely, there are Emma Frost, Psylocke, and other “X-babes.” What they do in stories isn’t nearly as important as how they look in them.

    What would happen to Power Girl if she became tired of having her breasts gawked at and had breast reduction surgery?

    I understand that visual design is important to a successful character, but the appearance shouldn’t be the primary element.


  12. “Power Girl is defined by her appearance”

    In the visual arena that is comics, aren’t MOST characters pretty much defined by their appearance? Batman, for example.

    I feel I should give my reaction to Power Girl. I’m not just messing with you here, but here’s why I find Power Girl interesting: Stranger in a Strange Land. Yeah, I like the costume–why shouldn’t I. However, what would make me WANT to read about this character is to find out what it’s like to be from an alternate universe and have other people like you floating around but know that they’re not quite like you because you don’t belong here and you can never go back to where you belong. You have all these powers except for the power to truly belong, and that’s gotta be heartbreaking… so you overcompensate by wearing an attention-getting outfit which you then make the gawkers pay for, but the attention is what you crave because for a moment it makes you forget that the cleavage hole in your suit lies above the hole in your heart that you don’t want ANYONE to see and you can’t form lasting relationships with those most like you (superman, et al) because their presence–no matter how welcoming and reassuring–is just a flying punching reminder of what you lost.

    or not… maybe I’ve got it all wrong. The costume is the costume. It’s the story that determines whether the character is worthwhile. and SRS is somewhat correct in that some characters are hollow at the core, but that doesn’t mean an adept writer can’t fill that void at some point and make them a worthwhile character. Isn’t She-Hulk more than just a lady-hulk? She’s a lawyer. That doesn’t sound very hollow to me. Unless he’s talking about that new She Hulk, in which case I have no comment because I know nothing about new She Hulk.

    “A hero or heroine’s costume should be character-neutral.”

    I disgree. shouldn’t the costume reflect that specific character’s personality? provided they have a personality to reflect. One problem may be that they create the design before they create the personality and thus have to explain it, but that’s just the way it happens sometimes. If you spend more than a few seconds thinking about superhero comics, you will probably notice that they’re all in some way silly. When you start demanding explanations and justifications for the silly that you don’t like, then you begin to overlook the inherent sillyness of it all and appear to be a loon. This is why I’m all for the pointing and laughing method. If you keep using a particular character design as being sillier than the rest of the silly, then maybe someone will agree and try to fix it, but if you try to bring gender politcs into it and turn it into a blogpocalypse, then people get defensive and reactionary which only ends up causing fights instead of progress.

    but hey, that’s a choice we all have to make before we hit “post”, isn’t it.

  13. considering all the women that dress up at the cons like zatanna, power girl, supergirl, poison ivy,black carnary, she-hulk, ms.marvel, emma frost, and tons of half naked anima characters whose names i have no idea (not to mention slave girl princess leia), etc. , i would say that there are more than a few women out there do not have a problem with sexy super hero outfits. as for the comics, does a sexy outfit help or hurt sales of a female character. probably neither. it really depends on the writer and artist to make that character interesting regardless of their outfit. if sexy outfits were the only thing to guarantee a book’s success, phantom lady should be up to issue five hundred by now. as for the reasons these characters dress as they do. why ANY of them , male or female dress the way they do, no matter the explaination, is going to make very little sense in the real world, but in the comic world it makes perfect sense, that’s part of the fun of comics, the fact that some of the women characters (and male characters) can dress in outfits in comics that would get them arrested in the real world. not all female characters dress half naked and not all male characters are fully clothed, funny the grief the female characters get for their outfits, while provocatively dressed male characters get none at all.

  14. In the visual arena that is comics, aren’t MOST characters pretty much defined by their appearance? Batman, for example.

    No, good characters aren’t defined by their appearance, whether their stories are told via comics or via prose. When a story is told well, the depiction of the heroine and the visualization of scenes generally are just substitutes for descriptive text. Her actions, dialogue, and thoughts define her.

    Batman is visually impressive, but he could function as a crimefighter, in or out of costume.

    The classic Hulk would be a brute, regardless of his skin color or physical extremes, and could be written as such easily. The problem would be making him interesting in a prose story. He succeeded in comics because his actions were visually interesting.

    The Thing, at his core, is no different from a person with a disfiguring condition. The visualization makes him interesting, but that’s insufficient to make him entertaining. His actions do that.

    The Scarlet Witch’s costume wasn’t normal street wear, but it wasn’t sexy, either. She was defined by her power, self-doubts, aspirations (children, life as a housewife) and, of course, by her relationship with her thematic opposite, the Vision.

    Perhaps there are male heroes who are defined by their appearances — mutants, perhaps — but I can’t think of any now. That’s not the case with heroines.


  15. um… all I can say is, why haven’t I been following Mens Greek water polo?!? haha…

    I think its only the gay creators that take advantage of the male form.

    Andreyko has had a few half naked men in his books and Sadowski draws men like men, in that they actually have a crotch. ;)

    But I’m all for it!

  16. Also, Powergirl’s book is not just about T&A. I mean, yeah, she has big tits, but god, millions of women in real life do! and she is wearing spandex, so again, its gonna be revealing. Anyway, what I was getting at is, its extremely funny too! I would have to say its the funniest book that I read. And I love it. For anyone who hasn’t read her series? Start with issue 4. I was cracking up reading that issue. Its hilarious (issue 6 is another real funny one). They need to keep the new Terra as part of the supporting cast!


  17. Colleen Doran draws some … delicious males in “A Distant Soil”. Alan Davis is another master, as is Kevin Maguire. Of course, all three are experts at drawing every type of face and form, not just ‘cake. Doran and Davis also write interesting and engaging characters. Justice League International (Giffen/Maguire) seemed to best handle this issue, with strong female characters and some bufoonish male stereotypes, using superhero conventions for comedy.

    Any form fitting suit will be considered eye candy (consider the TV Batgirl from the 60s, who was almost completely covered). The characterization determines if the reader ignores or minimizes that aspect.

    I would love to read a “Metropolis Mailbag” story of Superman where he must deal with marriage proposals, lurid photos, troubling fan fiction, and other objectification. (Or maybe Astro City is a better venue?)

  18. If they were real it seems like the superhero women who wear revealing costumes would probably do so for the same reasons that women in real life wear revealing clothes. A variety of factors… personal desires, societal pressures, fashion trends, etc.

  19. I have a sketch of a few JSA characters drawn by a colleague (he was pushing me to try out way back when) and next to the drawing of Black Canary was a note saying “Black Canary wears fishnets. When she does not wear fishnets, the book gets cancelled from lack of sales. Period.”

    Personally I get fishnets. They’re fun to wear and lend an air of daring and mischief to any outfit and I can see why Dinah would dig them too. I have no problem with it.

    Fighting in heels however, just seems reckless and silly.

  20. “No, good characters aren’t defined by their appearance”
    “Batman is visually impressive, but he could function as a crimefighter, in or out of costume.”

    1. Since I said “most”, that could mean there are very few good characters which are not defined by their appearance. Dr. Strange was a good example, but I disagree with it in that if you take away the costume and the amulets he’d still be a great sorcerer but he wouldn’t be DR. STRANGE anymore (except that technically he could be as he was a doctor before he was a sorcerer and his last name is Strange, but that’s all in there to justify calling him Doctor Strange because it just sounds cool).

    2.Then he wouldn’t be BATman. Being defined by appearance may mean something different to me than it does to you. Power Girl, Black Canary, Huntress and the like aren’t defined by their appearance to me. It’s not their fault that some people can’t see past what’s on the surface, and apparently even when some do look that far they STILL aren’t happy. Can’t please everyone all of the time.

    I think you’re just using this as an excuse to attack the characters you don’t like even if you don’t specifically name them all and list their detriments. I don’t blame you. It’s fun. For example…

    “Fighting in heels however, just seems reckless and silly.”

    yeah…. but I bet it hurts being kicked in the face with one, yet a steel-toed boot might be a better choice. On that same track, I don’t like Green Arrow’s silly ass hat or the hood that he wears on Smallville. Turn your head quickly to see behind you and you’re staring into the back of your hood… great tactical advantage there, eh? I also don’t like those masks that cover just the eyes and appear glued to the face….never have. I think they need to do a redesign for the Green Lantern film or Ryan Reynolds is going to look silly. However, I realize this is just my opinion and there’s no point in making a big thing about it. Pointing and laughing is all in good fun.

  21. From a writerly perspective, I totally agreed with Esther’s original post — it’s never good to let your seams show in your creative work and that’s exactly what happens in those ridiculous back-tracking costume justifications. Totally aside from the always interesting gender/objectification discussion, that overreaching is just bad writing.

    Kelly Puckett’s “Batgirl” series always intrigued me by its casting of a female superhero in realistic and relateable storytelling. Batgirl’s costume wasn’t fetishistic, but it was a functional battle suit that still drew on the visual symbolism of the “night creature” that has always been a huge part of Batman (Fun Gnome is right about all of that, by the way — 100%). Cassie was so covered up and frightening that people would mistake her for Batman in the heat of battle or at a glance as she rushed by. The female character wasn’t commenting on sex, or reacting to it, or owning it, or displaying it while disregarding it — she was just a fighter searching for purpose and acceptance. She didn’t have to acknowledge her cleavage just because she had some — that’s writing Truth, not just handing in pages for a paycheck.

    Any writer who has to scrape the bottom of the soup pot for a sane reason why his or her character looks ridiculous should simply tell the editor that the costume will change. If the editor disagrees, there are plenty of other assignments out there that won’t make you look like a moron.

  22. There seems to be a tremendous gap between the way prose readers/writers view characters and the way that comics-oriented readers view characters. Perhaps it’s a combination of the artwork and serialization — characters don’t exist independently of the stories they’re in. Heroines aren’t harassing a writer by phone calls or e-mails, insisting that he come up with stories for them so they can get some page space. Yet, that’s the impression that some comments about Power Girl have left — that it’s not her fault that she has big breasts, and if she is proud of them, wants to show them off, and has to deal with comments from people regarding them — well, that’s just incidental stuff.

    Hardly. Every panel in a story that’s about Power Girl’s breasts could be about something else. She doesn’t have to have large breasts any more than fictional people have to comment on them. The character concept is apparently warped.

    The comment about the necessity for Black Canary’s fishnet stockings is a telling one. How many heroines and other female characters, such as Thundra, are primarily visual concepts and remain in use only because editors and some writers think they look hot?

    Mantis is an example of a character who was created for a particular storyline and remains famous as a character, not as a visual concept. She could wear anything, or nothing, be shifted to a completely different body, and still be the same character. Perhaps it’s because she was created by a writer.


  23. Batman isn’t unique as a night-time crimefighter. There were the Shroud, Night Man, the Shadow, et al. That’s why I believe the visualization isn’t an essential part of the character concept. If it is, then only what he does as Batman on the comics pages matters, and attempts to write him as a prose character would fail.


  24. I have no idea what Synsidar is talking about, but I’ve long wanted to point out that The Shroud is basically outsourced Batman.

    Also, it’s been 30 years since I’ve read the comics, but I think Mantis might have dressed that way because she was actually a hooker. Yet another reason why Pat Harrington-mustached Swordsman is one of the greatest superheroes ever.

  25. “There seems to be a tremendous gap between the way prose readers/writers view characters and the way that comics-oriented readers view characters. Perhaps it’s a combination of the artwork and serialization”

    Serialization is a key component, I think. Also in comics, MANY writers can write the same character in a very short amount of time, but in prose there’s usually one vision or one voice. However, I don’t see much difference between a vampire that glitters in the sunlight and a super-lady with distracting cleavage. What makes characters like Power Girl and Huntress good is all there, but the writers have to use it and use them for more than just pretty pictures and subsequent sales boosts.

    “Every panel in a story that’s about Power Girl’s breasts could be about something else. ”

    true, but ignoring them would also be a disservice. However, I don’t see that becoming a problem.

    “She doesn’t have to have large breasts any more than fictional people have to comment on them.”

    Right, but ret-conning her measurements or actually writing a “reduction” storyline would be equally pointless. The design is already made so use it responsibly…and that may be the real issue.

    The fictional person commentary is a result of blog posts and rantings which signal to a publisher of serial content that information needs to be conveyed or a change needs to be made. I think in this case the publisher made the right choice of the lesser evil, but they deserve ridicule for listening to internet morons to begin with. This is what happens when you try to cater to a shrinking audience but occasionally try to appease and lure the vocal opposition.

    You can’t please everyone all of the time. You just need to do good work. Best way to do that is to have a diverse staff with hopefully diverse and intelligent opinions and then maybe they can put a stop to most of the pointed crazy that’s on the internet leaving only the crazy that’s easy to ignore. And yes, I do define internet crazy as complaining about hollow character concepts, and then receiving explanations within stories involving that character, and then complaining about all of these explanations for their design. (internet crazy is not a person but a fictional character which reflects a collective because God forbid an individual on the internet be grouped in with another individual…generalizations make internet crazy…well…CRAZY!!!)

    alright, I’m done. Glad I don’t read superhero comics anymore…I might feel the need to defend them or something.

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