I wrote last week about one of the reasons that I love superheroes. It was a little silly. Some might point out that superhero comics tend to be a bit of a boys’ land, what with all the super muscular men performing extraordinary feats and the unrealistically drawn super women who somehow manage to show off all their assets at the same time while in the middle of a fight to the death.
And they’d be right about that.
For all my love of superheroes, I know that there’s a big problem with the way women are portrayed. It’s really frustrating to read an otherwise fun story but be constantly distracted by how the female characters are drawn with their anatomies twisted like broken action figures. This tumblr has some excellent examples of the problem that I’m talking about in regards to character poses. Sometimes the costumes are poorly designed too. I understand that superheroes are supposed to be iconic, and typically it’s easier to draw figures without a lot of extra baggage on top of the basic form, but there’s a difference between a female character wearing something functional for combat based on her power set and her wearing something skimpy because eye candy.
Occasionally I come across an artist who’s done some designs that I think are quite good. Here’s a gallery where the guy decided that he wanted to experiment with changing up some iconic superheroines’ designs to incorporate less revealing clothing and see if they still looked like the heroines in question. I think he did a fantastic job, and I wish more designs like these would filter into mainstream superhero comics. I’m particularly impressed with his design for Psylocke, a character whose entire schtick is psychic ninja, since she’s typically drawn in more absurd costumes. Check out this blog post for a visual comparison between her most famous costume and a recent official redesign that’s still attractive, but not, well, a thong bathing suit.
Of course a discussion of female characters and their appearance usually raises objections of, “Just because a character is drawn sexy doesn’t mean that she isn’t a strong character!” Well, yeah, that’s a good point. But costuming in superhero comics is a tricky thing. An individual character’s look is supposed to be instantly recognizable and tell you about the character’s personality. Superman wears a shield emblem on his chest because he’s a protector. Cyclops‘s minimalist body suit with a full cowl and visor tell you that he’s reserved and needs to feel in control of a situation. She-Hulk‘s leotard emphasizes her physique and telegraphs that she is comfortable in her body. Rogue‘s various costumes always cover her body completely to emphasize that she can’t control her powers, which activate through skin-to-skin contact, though in recent years she’s gained control, and consequently begun experimenting with revealing more skin as a way of embracing her new-found confidence.
The point is that the design of a character needs to actually make sense according to that character. I’ll be happy to go along with a heroine who wears sexy outfits because her characterization dictates that it makes sense for her to wear sexy outfits, but I’m going to roll my eyes every time I see a drawing of a character who doesn’t make her sexuality an overt part of her personality twisted in a pose that shows off her boobs and butt simultaneously while wearing a bikini and heels in the middle of a firefight.