High Heels and Cleavage Windows: Why Can’t Female Superhero Costumes Be Sexy AND Functional?

In a recent interview over on CBR, cover artist Adam Hughes was asked:

What's the specific challenge of working on female characters? There are some artists who draw women who are anatomically impossible, who overemphasize sexuality or go to absurd lengths to tone it down. What's the key for you as far as balancing these elements and do you think that's more complex than balancing elements with male superheroes?

Mr. Hughes' answer was a bit… let's say controversial when it came to things like female psychology and body image. I'm not going speculate on what he meant or pull things out of context (you can read the full interview here). But it did get me thinking about female comic characters, particularly superheroes, and how, visually speaking, they're objectified.

Look, I know it's comics. I know, when it comes to superheroics, there's a high amount of spandex and over-exaggerated body parts. I'm also aware that this is not exclusive to female characters. For every slim waisted, breasts-larger-than-your-head-type woman, there's also a muscle bound, biceps-larger-than-your-head-type man. The impossible body type transcends gender in the four-colored world. However, male characters are visually designed as, primarily, strong and powerful, while female characters are made to look, above all, sexy and desirable.

Just look at their costumes. On the whole, male superheroes have costumes that are practical for their environments. Yes, there's a lot of tight-fitting unitards, but if you're flying through space, running faster than the speed of sound, or web-slinging through New York City, a form-fitting compression suit is probably the best thing for you. Aside from Namor and Plastic Man, how many scantily clad super dudes are there? (When you think about it, Namor's in a Speedo because he lives in the ocean and it's not like Plastic Man isn't exaclty Reed Richards – I don't see him designing a suit that stretches with him. The dude needs a good taylor. But I digress).

Bottom line is, you don't see Batman tearing through Gotham with thigh-high boots and a cleavage window.

But you do see Power Girl dressed like that. Thank god her skin is bulletproof. Same goes for Emma Frost. The truth is, they're running around in lingerie (Seriously, I have no clue how Black Canary's and Huntress' legs and arms aren't covered in scars from all the cuts and bruises they must get. And don't get me started on Starfire). These costumes are not built to be practical in any way, shape or form. They're designed to show off a lot of skin and curves.

When it comes to female superhero costumes I'm willing, probably more than I should be, to cut creators some slack. Sex sells. I get it, I work in marketing. I don't think there's anything wrong with a character, male or female, being attractive. But there is a distinct difference between making a woman look sexy and making her look like–how do I say this politely–she has a job that involves a pole. For example, you could give Wonder Woman bottoms that look like this…

or you can put her in a thong…

This is usually where a buzz word like cheesecake comes in. I'm sure you're all familiar with the term, but cheesecake refers to a particularly salacious pin-up or panel of a female. This is where the line between sexually attractive and objectification lives. As you can tell from the word, when one objectifies someone, one treats them as they would an object. The dehumanize them and, in terms of this conversation, view them as nothing more that the sum of their gorgeously exaggerated body parts.

I'd like to point out that I'm not forgetting these are fictional characters who do not actually exist. I am also aware that strong, intelligent women of substance, in fiction and reality, are not going to let a few over-exaggerated pin-ups destroy their self worth or body image. But it doesn't make it right.

I'm getting negative. It's not like I sit there reading my comics scouring the pages for in appropriate panels and branding them with a large red "A". There are "positive" examples out there. Lots of them in fact. Take, for example, Batwoman. I adore J.H. Williams III's Batwoman design. She has the same formfitting yet practical costume her male coutnerparts have, and her long red hair adds a bold a beautiful feature. She not falling out of the costume but she still looks gorgeous. And have you seen the women Jamie McKelvie draws?! I don't think the man is capable of drawing a female who isn't stunning, but his women never come close to looking like a Barbie doll.

There are ways to portray woman as more than objects of desire is what I'm saying. And sometimes it the simplest way to do this is to put more clothes on. For example, let's say you're a teenage Kryptonian powerhouse. It may not be the most practical idea to be flying around in a belly shirt and a skirt. I'm sure it gets pretty drafty, not to mention the fact that all Metropolis can see your underwear. So you do the sensible thing and put on a pair of bike shorts. Catwoman's last costume upgrade had another great move towards functionality; but it's still a seriously sexy. Instead of stalking the streets of Gotham in a high-slit dress, she's in a sleak catsuit. I like to pretend this makes up for Carol Ferris' Star Saffire costume continutally shrinking over the years.

Superheroes are strong and courageous and iconic. They represent the best of humanity, regardless of gender. And as a girl who reads comics, I'd to see these empowered woman drawn that way.


Ali Colluccio is a girl in a short skirt and a long jacket. You can find her touring the facilities and picking up slack on Twitter.


  1. This has always been a big deal for me. In my opinion, it is possible to find a female superhero incredibly sexy without objectifying her. It’s all in the eye of the beholder, I’d say. I reserve the right to be wrong.

    Great article!

  2. Good article. I couldn’t agree more.

  3. I often find comicbooks with lead female characters in skimpy, ridiculous outfits off putting, resulting in me not picking up the book. Its not that i’m necessarily offended by there outfits but I view it as a cheap way to grab peoples interest. I just keep coming to the conclusion that if the creators are exploiting my sexual instincts to get me to read a book then it must not have much else going for it.

    Overall a great article and an important issue within the comicbook world. And I totally agree that pratical costumes can be sexy. I always find myself falling for the Black Widow (with the zipper up) and as you said Batwoman is stunning, but maybe i’m just a sucker for reheads 🙂

  4. Good article.

    It’s tough to decide one way or the other one some of these things, but I’m not sure the costume of JH Williams’ Batwoman is entirely positive. I seem to remember that costume as having bullet-nipples, and I know there were quite a few ass and crotch shots. On the other hand, Kate Kane makes a point of wearing functional boots, not high-heels. And I guess you could sort of argue for the built-in sexual elements of the costume to be functional to her advantage, much like the fake wig that distracts villains when they pull it off. On most other heroines, apologizing for sexualization because "it distracts the men they’re fighting" might be a stupid tact, but with a tactician like Kate, I’m not sure. Then again, I’m not sure JH Williams (whose art I do love) was thinking "Yeah, Kate would mold the costume with hard bullet-nipples on purpose to distract her foes".

  5. From this well written article, it’s obvious that you have a mind like a diamond.

    This debate got pretty heated, actually, over a Power Girl review a few months back, and maybe it has something to do with my closed-minded ways, but I have a lot of trouble taking a character seriously (male or female) if their outfit makes no sense. Supergirl and Power Girl are the prime examples, most frustrating due to the hoops that creators jump through to justify their fashion choices rather than just changing them to something that makes more sense (all hail the new Wonder Woman!). I mean, Kara’s flying around in pleats, for god’s sake!

    It’s absolutely (in my humble, of course) much more tantilizing if the characters are dressed well than if they’re barely dressed at all. Barbara Gordon/Batgirl is the best example I can think of that speaks to this. It’s a striking visual, a very attractive outfit without any partial nudity or wedgie issues. 


  6. Thank you for giving the non-knuckledragging, non-slob perspective on this subject. Comic fans, and the companies, need to grow up. Not surprising a female wrote this article. Well done.

  7. "he impossible body type transcends gender in the four-colored world. However, male characters are visually designed as, primarily, strong and powerful, while female characters are made to look, above all, sexy and desirable."

     THANK YOU! This is something that people (including Adam Hughes, judging from that interview) don’t seem to get: The problem isn’t that female characters have unrealistic bodies. That’s fine. The problem is when those bodies are drawn and framed primarily as being sexy rather than heroic.

     As for skimpy costumes, though, I think it depends on the character. Power Girl costumes without the cleavage window have never looked quite right to me. Same with Emma Frost’s general skanky clothing (for the record:  I do not think Frost is a skank. I think she dresses skankily, which is not the same thing): I buy that, in a world where she could get away dressing like that, she would absolutely dress like that.

     But you were right in pointing out that having Supergirl constantly showing Metropolis her undies is a bad choice for a pretty modest character (same with Mary Marvel’s tiny tiny skirt). And Star Sapphire has got to be my least favorite costume of any current superhero. Yes, I know she’s fueled by the power of love. But, at least to me, "love" doesn’t equal "stripper paint."

    Also, I think that, often, the problem isn’t from the costume itself (though I will reiterate that some costumes are inherently problematic) but from the way focus is put on, erm, specific areas. In, for instance, Justice League: Generation Lost, Fire and Ice BOTH wear full-body costumes which aren’t (or shouldn’t be) any tighter than, say, Superman’s, but in the last issue, there were ass shots of each woman that made it clear that their costumes ride all the way up their respective butts to perfectly encase each cheek. Yikes.

    Also, none of this rant applies to T&A comics. They are what they are and, even though they’re not my thing, I respect that titilation is part of their point. That’s fine. But titilation is not what mainstream superhero comics are about.

  8. I just don’t want to feel like a pervert when i’m reading my comic books.  You’re reading Powergirl, enjoying the book, then you look over and you’re getting THAT look from your girlfriend.  Then you try and defend it by talking about how much of a good book it is.  Nope, you still just look like a perv reading pervy comic books.  Thanks Powergirl.

  9. How well do mainstream superhero comics sell that have a female as the main character?

    Would they sell more or less by using more practical costumes?

    I don’t have the facts, but it is kind of disturbing that comic buyers seem to have little interest in female protagonists regardless of visuals.

  10. Supergirl is a teenager about 16-17…I actually think she’s wearing what a lot of girls her age actually wear. Short skirt and a halter top. It’s a cheerleaders outfit with a cape and boots. I think it fits the character and when you’re invincible, you just wear what you want, there is no practical, she’s as practical wearing nothing as she is wearing a snowsuit. 

    It’s the same thing with Emma Frost, she’s a perv she loves her sexuality it’s built into her character, what else does someone wear if there aim is to be seen as such, go downtown Toronto on a bar night and you’ll see some of the same. It fits her character and I love her for it.  

    I do agree with the overall jist of the argument though for how some people draw certain characters like Wonder Woman, she’s sexy enough without increasing her breasts and decreasing her outfit. Also Huntresses outfit always seemed very unsuitable for being shot at frequently and clearly a sexual thing despite her conservative/religious opinions and beliefs.

    I still think people over react and think too much about it. So what if men and women are sexualized, we’re sexual beings, the entire goal of the human species is to eat and breath long enough so we can procreate. The over musclification of characters like Superman is not just a power thing but about a sexual ideal, a pure sexual vigor and the idea that this is an ideal man and therefore sexually attractive. 

    It’s just carried overboard for men and women in comics and in a world of  leaping tall buildings, it’s just fun.

  11. @Crucio – True, but I might argue that most teenaged girls aren’t flying around over our heads and rocketing down to eath feet first.

    It’s not even an over-sexualization thing with SG, it’s just a logic thing. I don’t buy that her character would want to fly around giving every dude in Metropolis a super upskirt. 

  12. The outfits are one of the reasons I really like the current take on the TopCow Universe.  Sejic draws the Witchblade to by very functional.

  13. There is not a single female helmed comic in the top 25 for August.

    There are three titles in the top 50: Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman, Buffy The Vampire Slayer (however this is a one shot about Riley and I don’t know the gender of that character).

    Power Girl’s comic isn’t even in the top 100.

    Comic buyers seem to dislike women no matter how they look.

  14. One thing that stuck with me in this article is when the huntress is mentioned. because I’ve often thought her current costume is a tad ridiculous when her old costume was so practical

  15. Psylocke is the worst offender. She literally crawls around sewers in her underwear.

  16. Yeah the Powergirl outfit has always seemed outrageous. Batwoman’s costume is very practical while still being attractive. My favorite’s have always been Spiderwoman and Barbara Gordons Batgirl.


  17. I like Power Girls outfit since I really think it matches her character. She knows she looks good and what not and she’s proud of that.


    I think Mockingbird currents costume is a really good design. Not overly objectifying and totally functional.

  18. I’ve always liked Big Barda’s costume more than Wonder Woman’s. Always seemed more anout her power than her sex appeal.

  19. You failed to mention other male heroes in skimpy outfits like Killraven, Conan, Dr. Manhattan, Magnus:Robot Fighter, Hulk, The 300–oh, wait a minute. That is an example of actual males fighting in a war wearing less than a skirt.

    You want to make an issue of the impractical outfits of female heroes but there are real world scenarios of men fighting battles in the nude. 

    The Olympics used to have men competing in the nude. It was a thing to be celebrated. The human body in peak form.

    You are writing an article about skimpy costumes on females as a deragatory thing.

    Perhaps you need to champion the cause of women finally being shown in total control of their sexuality in a time of puritan dominion and Islamic control of women.

    Men and women have always been portrayed in art as nude or well endowed. Perhaps these crazy comic artists are a throw back to those artists who have come before.

    You do not need to be afraid or ashamed of women in comics or skimpy attire.

    Let go of your American/Christian shame of sexuality and be free.


     On a side note–

    I recently was asking a woman to pose for pics in a action hero costume. She told me it wasn’t sexy enough. I told her that it was practical. She laughed and told me that it’s not sexy. What gives?


    I didn’t draw this, but it came to my attention after reading your article. 




  20. @BrianDenham: None of those male characters are sexualized. That’s the important distinction.

  21. Adam Hughes comments are a tad surprising in this day and age.  Your point, Ali, on the distinction between the way men and women are visually presented in comics (men = power; women = sex) isn’t necessarily new or all that revolutionary, and Adam’s lack of this simple knowledge I find very surprising. He sounds like he’s being interviewed in the 70s, having never been presented with the obvious rebuttal to his comments.

    I love the article, Ali!  It’s very well thought-out, well written.

  22. @conor:

    She asked, "how many scantily clad super dudes are there?"

    I was attempting to answer that. My list included full-on Front Monty male heroes. That may not be sexualized to red-blooded American straight-as-nails-males but it may be for women.

    And really, let’s face it, a sexy dude can be nude in front of a woman and sex would be the second-to-last last thing on her mind.


    Also, this is a time when people are gripping about Katy Perry on Sesame Street havingcleavage. People are going to get upset about women in control of their sexuality. That’s the problem. 

    Why would Wonder Woman care if she is in a thong, bikini, shorts or skirt? She’s an amazon, greek, goddess and as tough as superman. She’s not worried about getting a scratch or two.

    Same goes for Power Girl.


     Some women like dressing sexy. Fit women are likely to wear revealing clothing. Female superheroes would be extroverted and dress sexy too. They don’t want to hide anything, they are proud of being in shape and fit.

    These are characters who are not just people like you or I, they are not even superstar athletes, they are more than all of that, they are demi-god type Super-Heroes with a capital letter and a hyphen.

      They may have some Greek god problems the same as humanity but they are above being self-conscious about whether thy spandex doeth maketh their asseth look too bigeth.

  23. One only has to look at Cosmic Boys ill concieved 70’s era bustierre costume to see a revealing male costume gone horribly wrong.

  24. Awesome article!

    One of my favorites is Jean Grey’s classic Phoenix costume, which is sleek and sexy without showing a ton of skin.  It’s sexy and formfitting the same way a lot of male costumes are.  (Of course, when you consider that once she gets brainwashed into being evil she runs around in a corset, it gets more complicated.  Especially because I kind of like the corset.  What?)

  25. @BrianDenham – Excellent points, all. Personally, however, some of that argument loses ground when the sources and intents behind many of these fashion choices are taken into account.

    I mean, let’s break it down for reals here. It’s not like Wonder Woman is CHOOSING to dress like that. She can’t, because she is not a person. Instead the (predominantly male) creators behind her are responsible for her wardrobe, a wardrobe which strikes me as a startlingly poor choice. This opinion comes not out of some puritanical perspective on indecency. Rather, it come from a character perspective. I don’t buy that Supergirl wouldn’t even THINK about the people looking up her skirt when she gets knocked upside down by Darkseid. I don’t buy that Diana wouldn’t wear something with a bit more protection (remember, these folks fight people stronger than them, with the ability to wound them, all the time) and a lower likelyhood of gravity affecting her combat effectiveness. It pulls me out of the story by overtly pointing to the choices made by the creators rather than the choices made (in story, of course) by the character. And if I can see the strings, right there on every single page, I’m not getting pulled into the story.

    But again, that’s just me, and boy is that a run-on paragraph.

  26. Great article, Ali. This issue comes up all the time when my wife asks me about what I’m reading. I think this problem has almost nothing to do with sexual ethics/morality and more to do with power. The industry is run by men making a product that is mostly consumed by men. I’m not saying that is wrong, but it creates an environment where women don’t have little ability to control how women are represented. Sadly, I don’t think most male readers want to confront the problem when it might force them to make some tough choices about what they read and buy.

  27. *"have little" not "don’t have little"

  28. Great article Ali.  I don’t think you will be the last person to make commentary on the subject.  I often wonder if we as readers would be less embaressed to read comics if our characters were drawn more realistically, then I say would I enjoy that?  It’s very confusing to say the least.

  29. Reading what Adam Hughes said in the interview, I think he responded well.  It’s similar to an argument I have found myself in at times with people bitching about Joss Whedon, claiming that he "can’t be a real feminist" because he casts pretty, skinny, girls rather than "more realistic" types…it’s idiotic to blame him for the standards of our society; if you want people to watch your shows, you cast actors who fit the general mold of what is considered attractive.  And if you want people to look at your book, you aim for beauty in the art.

    I was personally on the verge of dropping one of my all-time favorite books for a few months there just because I couldn’t stand Ultimate Peter Parker’s hairstyle…not much different, no less shallow.

  30. Kelly (@annaluna) says:

    i dunno.

    if i was going to design a male superhero ripe for sexual objectification, he would pretty much look like most superheros look.  not the scrawny guys like spider man or mr fantastic (ironic?), but even someone as "normal" shaped as tony stark is doing his best to be a ruggedly-handsome rake of a man. i think one doesn’t consider them sexually objectified because one is usually a straight man reading a book written and illustrated by straight men for a largely straight male audience.

    i wonder what a "heroic looking" female superhero would look like. 

    power is sexy and sexy is powerful.

    being seen reading comics with namor makes me as uncomfortable as emma frost.

    i didn’t grow up reading comics, but I did "grow up" with video games with the same issue.  female protagonists are still few and far between and power is conversely proportionate to clothing (unless you’re samus). i think if i was going to be a comic book superhero, or a video game protagonist, i would chose the same type of look.  maybe that’s because i’ve been conditioned to expect it, but i don’t think so.  A fantasy version of myself is going to look both toned *and* curvy, with great abs and a great a$$, and i’ll dress to show it off, thank you very much.  that might be skin-tight vinyl, that might be something showing absurd amounts of skin. one thing is for sure, she’ll have a spectacular and super-impractical mane of wavy red hair.

  31. A few years ago I remember some pictures on the web of male superhero characters who were drawn in poses you often find female characters.  The images were striking, because the "role reversal" really showed you how different the male and females poses are, and how so many standard poses for women are about showing off one’s body for a sexualized gaze.

    I’m at work right now, and don’t feel like searching for those images (not good for ones career), but I listening to the "I Read Comics" podcast at the time when these were mentioned, so if you want to look for them you might want to start there.

  32. Black Goliath 1976

    He had a whole in his costume too. Too sexy for his shirt?



  33. @BrianDenham,

    Poor old Black Goliath. Even back then he wasn’t ready for Clone-Thor’s attack.


  34. Good article.  I want to see functional, attractive costumes for females.  What respectable super hero would fight dangerous villains with maximum cleavage showing?  Unrealistic!

  35. A an artist, I completely disagree with this article.

  36. Artist interpritaiton through poses/ass shots aside, I think that some of the biggest offenders out there are women wearing costumes that are impractical for them. For someone like Power Girl, who is mostly invunerable, it doesn’t really matter what she wears from a functionality point of view. Someone like Huntress or Black Canary, gritty street fighters, really should be covered more than they are. I mean, PG’s clevage window is one thing, but Huntress’s middrift window is just about the stupidist idea for her character ever. Get some kevlar before you slowly die of a gut wound.

  37. @FarSide0013,
    Agreed. Huntress should learn something from the Black Golith and Clone-Thor conflict. Your mid-section is the easiest place to hit. In fact, that’s usually where people are aiming.


  38. can’t wait to read this.

    but for now I’ll just say, The current Huntress cistune isn’t her real costume.

    See cry for Blood and year One.

    DC, yer doin’ it wrong!

  39. How do you sexualize a male, big muscles and no clothes. Conan is the perfect example of a hypersexualized male character. He’s a sexual slave object in many stories as well. All those muscles lead to a conclusion in the mind about sexual prowess. Same thing with the 300, it fulfills a female fantasy, they’re chippendales with swords rather then bow ties.

    I counter argue that all males in skin tight suits, like Superman, Flash, Green Lantern are essentially naked men with skin paint and a speedo, it all feeds a psycho-sexual tick in the mind if you’re of an age that thinks about sexuality. 

    I think some groups are hyper-sensitive about sexuality and that’s fine but I don’t actually have a problem with it until it takes away from the character or story. 

    @CaseyJ: I’m sure she’s wearing something under the skirt that covers everything. She’s a teenage girl without parents, commonsense may not reign either. I still think it fits her character.

  40. strong and powerful is sexy and desirable. 

  41. @Kelly, you were mentioning what a "heroic looking" female superhero might look like.

    Here’s an Alex Ross picture of Power Girl which I think is a good example of a strong, powerful looking female superhero, but is someone who isn’t deriving her "power" from sexuality. I’m not saying she’s isn’t necessarily attractive, but I am saying she isn’t having to show off her butt in this picture to command our attention.

    Power Girl is dressed as usual (and still has the Boobie-Hole), but she’s clearly Superman’s equal.

    Anyway, I liked this example.


  42. We know that male and female costumes are not practical for the most part.

    Capes and primary colors are a problem.

    Good article, good discussion.

  43. @Kelly  I see what you’re saying — I don’t personally have an issue with most of the character DESIGNS — but in terms of execution it’s very rare that you’re going to see a male character sitting around shirtless and greased up or with his butt sticking out in a routine panel (sitting around a science lab or at dinner or giving a political speech or something) whereas it’s a completely typical thing with females to have them in impossible poses or with the top button on their shirt undone. I mean, Namor is Namor but he’s kind of a joke.   I do think you have a good point that some of it is an issue of what counts as ‘sexualized’ in our society, and honestly A LOT of the double standard complaints could be leveled at the way actors and actresses dress on TV and in movies, too — and in a lot of ways that bothers me *more* because it’s real people’s bodies that we’re looking at.   

  44. What would a sexualized male look like? Are there drawn examples *anywhere*?


  45. I’d be curious to see what the user above was talking about: replacing males in the poses of females.

    I also agree with a couple users who said that most of the male superheroes are sexualized males.

  46. Kelly (@annaluna) says:

    @caroline  but would you *want* to see a man sitting around with his butt sticking out? 😉

    i think one of the things that makes this complicated is that what attracks a female is more complicated than what attracts a male. (pls don’t flame me. "they" have done studies on this) it’s very easy for to point to the ways females are objectified, because it’s a basic, visual thing. it’s less easy to pull the opposite off, so it’s harder to spot. …unless you’re a picture of shirtless cyclops 😉

    Namor is kind of a joke.  Isn’t PG’s keyhole a bit of joke, too?  i haven’t read it, but y’all have given me the impression that it’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to this very issue. (which doesn’t negate the issue, but doesn’t diminish her as an example of the issue)

  47. @BrianDenham

    I can say with all the honesty in my heart that I have never oggled any of the men you’ve mentioned.  300 the *movie* had attractive, scantily clad men, but that’s a big budget film.  The original art was not titillating.  

    I’ve had the hobby long enough that I mostly don’t think about it anymore (And maybe that’s a bad thing, I don’t know), but every once in awhile a truly disgraceful cover or panel just makes me sigh and remember where I am.  No, it doesn’t make me throw up my last meal, but it IS effectively putting a big glowing red sign that says to me "You don’t belong here" and that makes me sad.

  48. Women are also socialized to respond/express their desire in different ways.

    Men are socialized to respond/express their desire in often inappropriate ways.

  49. Also, I’d just like to say it made me cringe a little bit that it seemed like the article was very apologetic in it’s rhetoric.  It’s a valid opinion that was backed up and I feel like it shouldn’t be necessary to write in such a way… but I have seen myself do it too.  In a classically male group there’s that feeling of having to qualify all your statements to make sure people don’t write you off as some irrational comic/male hating female.  Bleh.

  50. The article was one of the more balanced and deftly executed series of points/counterarguments/rebuttals I’ve ever seen on here.

    Most comic fans are irrational.

  51. @Kelly  Power Girl is kind of a joke now but the number of female costumes that are redesigned, basically, by removing the midriff aren’t a joke.

    And yeah, I definitely think you’re right that what we see as sexy is different, but, well, I was at ‘Eclipse’ yesterday and couldn’t help noticing Bella was wearing jeans and flannel the whole time (which is a notably different look that Megan Fox has in ‘Transformers,’ just for instance), whereas whatzisname hardly ever put a shirt on. So it’s got something to do with who they think the audience is, too.


  52. And because it just came up while I was posting — what @itsbecca said, exactly.

    This is straying a little bit from the subject of costume design, but there’s an example that comes to mind when I think about objectification in superhero comics, which is from the Uncanny X-Men storyline a few years ago where there were sentinels standing guard outside the mansion.  There was a bit in the comic where Rachel Grey was worried about them watching her while she changed her clothes, and an ad was run using a bit of the scene that basically said, "Rachel can’t take a shower without worrying that these men are watching her — lucky guys!"  And that’s a little of a paraphrase, but I remember my jaw dropping  because there was obviously some confusion about whether we were supposed to be feeling bad for her or ogling along with the guards.  There wasn’t any confusion for ME (and, umm, I like looking at pretty girls, mmkay?) but there apparently was for somebody in the audience.   

  53. I don’t get why some female superheroes still run around in what are essentially bikinis. I think it mainly leads in the iconic look of these women, and I would not care at all if all the superheroines we currently have wore something a little more battle-worthy.


    No, not everyone has to wear pants or a freaking long dress, but I always wondered why nobody would  just giggle at a female superhero who came flying in with a skimpy outfit on. I know Miss Marvel could punch your head off, but I can see her camel toe!


    I love the female form, even in illustrated form,  but it doesn’t sell the book for me. Give me a smart woman, a kick-ass woman, both, or something therabouts. 

  54. They tried to redesign Powergirl several times in the 90’s but none of the costumes stuck. I think sometimes a superhero becomes so associated with their particular look that it becomes nearly impossible to make any perminate or major changes to it. Their costume becomes part of their iconography. This is why I doubt that the new Wonder Woman costume is going to last very long.

    I remember reading in Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, how many Superheroes can be recognized just by their color scheme (page 188 if I’m not mistaken). I think that  a simular thing happen’s with a superhero costume. The Superheroes costume is designed to make a particular character stand out on a comic stand filled with brightly colored heroes.

    I feel that a character’s costume should reflect the character. I was against Ed Benes redesign of the Huntress in Bird’s of Prey because it didn’t really seem to match the character. On the other hand I feel that the over the top nature of Powergirl’s costume kind of fits  her  abrassive in your face and  slighty tongue-in cheek  personality.    

  55. @newway12 – agreed on PG

    I think we should get the range of characters in real life, there are some that are hyper sexual like Emma Frost and some that aren’t like The Question. I do agree it slants one way, rather then a bell curve that probably exists.

  56. I remember from somewhere that PG’s window is where her Supermanesque S would go if she counted as an El? Which I kinda love. Not that that excuses it, but I like the symbolism.


    Anyway, good article. I’ve thought and written about this a lot. I like your perspective and I especially like the two images of Wonder Woman. I say the difference is clear. 

  57. I don’t know if there’s really anything to this or if it’s just my wife’s personal insecurities, but she always points out to me that a girl (especially younger women) are more likely to compare themselves to the example set by female characters than a guy would. I guess the same way that a Victoria’s Secret model might make a normal woman feel inadequate. That might make female costuming more important than most people think.

    Either way, I think comics get a bad rap for this, when it’s something that pervades all media. 

  58. Manhunter got it right

  59. If you take a look at the female characters who don’t rear revealing outfits, it doesn’t make them any less hot.There are so many other designs in between long pants and crotch-hugging bikini bottoms characters can try.

    I’ve always liked to see characters wear different outfits anyway. I get a real world ooginess when I think about heroes wearing the same suits day after day.

  60. @VichusSmith, I agree about a costume change once in a while. 

    Especially when you think about how the costume they wear at the hottest time of a New York Summer, is the same as the one woren in the dead of Winter. I mean, I at least put a coat on when its cold. 

  61. I looooove Manhunter’s costume.  So awesome.

  62. Read “halo jones”. Now

  63. I just wanna see more diversity. It leans too much one way. I want more of what I want. And what I want are female characters with costume designs that aren’t pornographiv=c.

    pornography  (p%4-0,8n%2&1r%9f&A) 
    1. writings, pictures, films, etc, designed to stimulate sexual excitement


     And yes, Manhunter got it right. And I read all of the issues of that book. Kate is hot in that costume, aw yeah! Hotter than any other character in any costume that I know. Kate Spencer is a huge geek fantasy for me.


    *double drool*

    P.S: I kind of started the fight in the PG review a while back. I’m sorry it turned the way it did but I stand by all my statements.

  64. @CaseyJustice  So comic book characters have to be practical and make sense for you to read them? What about superman’s cape then? Not the most practical thing for fighting and all the other stuff he does. The whole idea of super powers doesn’t make sense. It’s comics! Half the things you listed aren’t impractical anyway. Power Girl’s cleavage window doesn’t get in the way of her doing anything. Nor does something necessarily have to “make sense” – not everything has a functional pr purposeful reason behind it, especially in entertainment.

  65. @CaseyJustice  So comic book characters have to be practical and make sense for you to read them? What about superman’s cape then? Not the most practical thing for fighting and all the other stuff he does. The whole idea of super powers doesn’t make sense. It’s comics! Half the things you listed aren’t impractical anyway. Power Girl’s cleavage window doesn’t get in the way of her doing anything. Nor does something necessarily have to “make sense” – not everything has a functional pr purposeful reason behind it, especially in entertainment.

  66. @powerdad  Of courrse females pose differently to males. Females have innately different bodies to males. Women walk, run, talk, dance, and throw differently to males, What’s your point?

  67. @CaseyJustice  Many superheroines with costumes which expose their legs don’t even have skirts. They are effectively wearing only panties. Supergirl once didn’t have a skirt, Superman doesn’t have a skirt. Female rapeze artists, gymnasts, acrobats, skaters, athletes, dancers and swimmers don’t have skirts. What’s your point?

  68. @Kirkerson  “…women don’t have little ability to control how women are represented”

    Women have more control than anybody else over how they are represented – they dress themselves. The industry isn’t as “male-dominated” as you think. “Male dominated” is just the feminist word for amywhere from 49.9 % down.

  69. @Justifier  Having fun?

  70. @JumpingJupiter  Yes

    “…what I want are female characters with costume designs that aren’t pornographiv=c.”

    “Kate is hot in that costume, aw yeah! Hotter than any other character in any costume that I know. Kate Spencer is a huge geek fantasy for me.”

    “pornography n. !. things, pictures, films etc. designed to stimulate sexual excitement”

    The above is an example of the same kind of vague, self-contradictory logic the article is full of.

    The double post is not my fault and I can’t delete it.

  71. @Justifier  There’s no contradiction there. Something can be stimulting without being exploitative.

  72. @Justifier  Well played. Aiming straight for the artery. You’re alomost reeling me in even.

  73. @conor  The contradiction is that he says he doesn’t want pornographic costumes, which he defines as those which stimulate sexual excitement, then he says the reason he likes one of his favorite characters is that she is sexually exciting.

    The error in his logic is that not everything which is sexually exciting is pornography. A sexy woman walking fully clothed down the street is not pornography.

    Therefore I agree with you that something being sexually exciting does not make it exploitative. That was my criticism of the article. She allows for female characters to be sexually desirable but she does not want them to be mainly or only sexually desirable, or too overtly sexually desirable. But Power Girl, Supergirl and Wonder Woman are not only sexually desirable nor are they too evertly so. I mean, just because PG has big boobs and shows cleavage, or SG has a short skirt as part of her costume? Come off it. It doesn’t make them bimbos. The costumes are will within current standards of decency – as costumes.

  74. @JumpingJupiter Admit it – Power Girl turns you on. You love tits.

  75. @Justifier  Dude, I’m done with this, you are on your own.

  76. @JumpingJupiter  Thanks for letting me know. I’d have been wondering otherwise.