“All she is is sex.”The women of comic books all have something in comic: they’re ingreat shape, and their skin-tight, low cut, short costumes show it off.Many characters in comic books wear outfits of this sort, but there’s abig difference. When Batman does it, he’s cool, but when Supergirldoes it, she’s a slut. The condemnation of female characters in comicbooks is not only inaccurate, but destroys positive role models who aresexually empowered.In a man’s world, the women of comic books punch themselves a placeas ass-kicking, high-powered feminists, and in this project I hope tohelp reveal them as such.By analyzing two commonly critiqued characters—Catwoman andStarfire— and their treatment by various artists and writers, I hope toargue that female characters in comic books are about much, muchmore than just sex. But they aren’t afraid of that, either. And that’s nota bad thing.
Catwoman “Yes, I draw overly sexy women. But they are all powerful women in control of their own lives.” ~Adam Hughes, comic book artist who did a 40 covers for Catwoman comicsAka “Selina Kyle.” Sometimes called the “Feline Fatale,” Selina had a rough childhoodwhich motivated her to become a thief and train as a boxer. She became the femaleRobin Hood of the East End of Gotham, sharing what she stole and taking care of theyoung people who couldn’t care for themselves. Catwoman, with the encouragementof Batman, eventually became a vigilante hero. She retired briefly, after she had ababy, but returned to being Catwoman once she realized her life was too dangerous toraise a child and gave the baby up for adoption.
Catwoman has had a number ofcostume iterations, both in comicsand film. Her costume has becomemore and more akin to the blackleather of Batman. Her costume becomes less feminine and more intimidating.
“Catwoman is afabulous old-school anti Empoweredheroine, and one of herbest aspects is her‘doomed relationship’ sexualitywith the Dark Knight.No matter how muchthey are attracted toeach other, they cannever be happytogether: she’ll neverchange her criminalways for him, and he’llnever loosen up hisvirtuous moral necktiefor her.” ~Adam Hughes “She’s got that ‘I’m in charge’ quality because I drew her in the dominant position, and he’s kind of anonymously handsome, thanks that film noir lighting.” ~Adam Hughes
"I actually have a peculiar feminism that does not involvethe idea that women shouldnt be sexy. Female characterswritten in comics have always been pretty damnedsexy, and used their sexuality.” ~Ann Nocenti In September 2012, writer Ann Nocenti took over writing the Catwoman series. The zero issue was drawn by Adriana Melo, in a rare combination of a female writer AND artist in a male-dominated genre. Ann Nocenti discussed that she believes Catwoman to be an “accidental feminist” who is “sexy and complicated.” Nocenti sees this as a postive and undeniable trait of a woman who is, for all purposes, operating in a man’s world. She should not be seen as worthless because “its empowering to have control of your sexuality.”
The world of film…Catwoman has been depicted by multiple actressesin many formats, and the least successful of thosewas the one who was little more than a sex icon:Halle Barry in Catwoman, released in 2004. Theother interpretations-Julie Newmar(1966), Michelle Pfeiffer (1992) and Anne Hathaway(2012)-have been much more like the comicCatwoman: strong, sexy and independent. Theyalso got to wear fully-functional pants.
Starfire"Shes like me. Shes an alien new to the planet and maybe she doesnt always saythe right thing, or know the right thing to do. But shes a good friend, and she helpspeople. Shes strong enough to fight the bad guys, even when they hurt her… Shessmart too. And sometimes she gets mad, but thats okay because its okay to getmad when people are being mean. And shes pretty.“ ~7 year old readerStarfire, upon her introduction, is an alien princess from another planet who comesto Earth to escape her family (they sold her into slavery) and befriends a younggeneration of heroes, most notably the original Robin: Dick Grayson. Starfire isdocumented as one of the most powerful characters in the DCU: she can fly, hassuperstrength, and uses solar power to shoot power blasts and turn herself into theequivalent of a supernova. Many male characters in the DCU-including Superman-have said they would not want to take her in a fight.
UNFORTUNATELY, Starfire is a character who suffers greatly from being written for a male-oriented genre. There are a few iterations of Starfire:The cute, naïve teenager The powerful, but And, thanks to the feminine, hero reboot: the mindless Playboy sexbot
Here are the stats: Starfire is6’4” (taller than Superman)and weighs 158 pounds. She’sa trained warrior.So this makes a little moresense, right?
In 2011, Starfire was cast as a leadingcharacter in a new title: Red Hood and theOutlaws. This title was part of DC Comic’sre-launch (also called the reboot), wherethey restarted all their major titles fromissue #1. This is Starfire from RHatO:
The series was met with outragefrom fans and critics alike, mostspecifically the writer/artist’streatment of Starfire. Instead of astrong female, we’re given this: Acharacter who is part bitch, partperfect sex doll.Critics discussed the treatment ofStarfire as turning “PrincessKoriandr... [Starfire] intoessentially a highly advanced RealDoll...complete with installing alack of memory of anythingrelated to humanity“ and that theauthors had “taken great pains tostrip all the emotional motivationbehind Koris gregarious outlookand reduce her to nothing morethan a sex vessel. Its prettyinsulting not only to women, butto male intelligence to boot.”
Fans hated the redesign just as much. The series is ongoing,but since its introduction in 2011 has only had 13 issuesprinted, when it was originally pitched as a weekly series."Do you think the Starfire from the TeenTitans cartoon is a good role model?"*immediately* "Oh yes. Shes a great rolemodel. She tells people they can be goodfriends and super powerful and fight forgood.""Do you think the Starfire in the Teen Titanscomic book is a good role model?""Yes, too. Shes still a good guy. Pretty, butshes helping others all the time and savingpeople.""What about this new Starfire?""No, I dont think so.""Why not?""Because shes not doing anything.“~7 year old fan in a discussion with hermother, writer Michelle Lee
Comics are for BoysThe comic book genreis, unfortunately, very dominated by men.This logically informs the characterizationof many characters—such as Silk Spectrein Watchmen, who Alan Moore put in “tohave a love interest”—and makes it adifficult environment for female writersand artists to break in. However, comicshave come far from the “boys club” theybegan as, including the introduction offemale writers and artists, as well as malewriter/artists who produce strong femalecharacters in a world of pinups. Someexamples include Adam Hughes and BrianK. Vaughn. (Y the Last Man)
Alternative Sexuality in ComicsIn the New 52 comic arc, which began in 2011, DC Comics began a newrun of Batwoman comics. This new version of an old character wasgiven a new identity: a gay woman. The new Batwoman identified as alesbian, one of the first “out” characters in DC Comics—femalecharacters; Marvel has a handful of gay male characters and DCrecently announced that in the reboot Green Lantern Alan Scott willalso be gay—and she has been hailed as one of the “best new titles ofthe year.”She has been associated with another character: the Question II.Orginally a male character, the Question identity was inherited by ReneMontoya when the original Question died. As one of the other “out”characters in DC Comics—she has been out for the entirety of herexistence, whereas Batwoman was originally heterosexual—she hasforged new ground in the comic world. The Question costume has notchanged since the character became female, challenging thestereotype of female sexuality on multiple levels.
Sexuality as Power“I mean, grown ups can wear what they want,” the girl said, “but… she’s not doing anything but wearing a tiny bikini to getattention. [...] I want her to be a hero, fighting things and bestrong and helping people. [...] Because she’s what inspires meto be good.” The complicated nature of sexuality in comic books in an ongoing, mostly uphill battle. There are many powerful female characters in comic books—Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Supergirl, Black Canary, Emma Frost, Storm, Rogue, Mystique and Black Widow to name a few—but you would be hard pressed to find one that is not sexualized. However, upon closer inspection, many of these characters also use their sexuality as a part of their strength. They wear tight spandex because everyone in the world of superheroes wears tight spandex, and should not be dismissed because of the nature of their genre. The line is thin, but clearly represented. When characters become more focused on their sexuality than their goodness, they lose potency with the readers. They do not inspire. They are no longer heroes. So instead, they take it upon themselves to be icons not only of sex, but of strength.
Works Cited• DC Comics. The DC Comics Encyclopedia: The Definitive Guide to the Characters of the DC Universe. New York, NY. DC Comics, 2008.• DC Comics. DC Comics: Year By Year: A Visual Chronicle. New York, NY. DC Comics, 2010.• Hughes, Adam. Cover Run. New York, NY. DC Comics, 2010.• Hughes, Joseph. “Parting Shot: New ‘Catwoman’ Writer Ann Nocenti Calls Selina Kyle an ‘Accidental Feminist.’” Comics Alliance. 2012. November 10, 2012. <http://www.comicsalliance.com/2012/09/18/parting-shot-new- catwoman-writer-ann-nocenti-calls-selina-kyl/>• Lee, Michelle. “Dear DC Comics.” Michelle Lee: Breathe Words. 2011. November 17th, 2012. <http://michelelee.net/2011/09/24/dear-dc- comics/>• “Red Hood and the Outlaws.” Wikipedia. 2012. November 10, 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Hood_and_the_Outlaws>• Rogers, Vaneta. “Ann Nocenti Takes Over a Still-Sexy Catwoman.” Newsrama. 2012. November 10, 2012. <http://www.newsarama.com/comics/ann-nocenti-takes-over- catwoman.html>