Let’s talk about Power Girl’s boobs.
Yes, fine, that was a statement that was designed specifically for a search hit (from those who have yet to realize that in the same information superhighway they are using to search for comic breasts, there are far more pictures of actual breasts), but our topic today does regard Power Girl and her ample bosom.
Co-writer J.R. pointed out to me a short while ago that in his mysterious and confusing corner of comicdom known as the “DC Universe” Power Girl has recently gotten a wardrobe change and received the fanboy huff that goes with it.
Perhaps the casual comic fan might not know that much about Power Girl, like that she’s the Supergirl of an alternate Earth (it was Earth-2 before the relaunch, I don’t know what it is now) and sort of a cousin to Superman…I think. That may because Power Girl always sat in the middle of the sort-of famous DC heroes like Green Arrow, the Kyle Rayner GL, and Red Tornado. More than likely, the most people should know about her is that she was the heroine with the giant rack…even in the comic book world of gravity-defying breast enormities.
So what’s the big deal about a wardrobe change for Power Girl? It’s not that they’ve changed anything about her. It’s not really even that it seems to look strangely similar to best-left-forgotten Image hero Supreme. No, it’s that they’ve gone and taken away the questionable cleavage flap that was the signature feature of the character.
You might tell by this point that I’m not really minding the wardrobe change. It’s not like Power Girl was that big of a character. Sure, the costume has replaced cheesecake with generic, but it’s not even the worst thing she’s ever worn.
So what’s the hubub all about? Let’s talk about it.
Let’s be honest with ourselves here – Power Girl is really not that popular of a character. She might be the poster child of what comic companies want their women to be – smart, sexy, and powerful…wait, no, that’s the WWE – but there’s nothing more to her than huge breasts. The power set? Superman. The iconic comic woman? Wonder Woman. In the 80’s JLI era, Power Girl was the “I am woman, here me roar and punch you through a wall” caricature. Since that period, she’s had trouble not only shaking off the identity, but establishing a new one in its place. And thus you are left with the heroine with the huge breasts.
But DC wanted to get away from that, and thus gave her a new costume. And I get what they’re going for with it. She’s got the mock-up of the S shield to demonstrate her ties to the Super family. But mainly, it’s to get people talking about that they dared to cover up the girls. DC is not a stupid company. When they change something even as minor as that (or, say, removing Superman’s underoos) (WARNING: DO NOT GOOGLE THAT) they are well aware of the buzz they are creating. DC seems to know its audience. It’s how they manage to stay in business despite continuously relaunching their universe. How do you get people to notice a B-lister like Power Girl? Change the only notable aspect of the character, and watch the fans go crazy.
And the complaints fell into two columns. One was the anger over the change to such an “iconic look” and the other was lauding/deriding DC for using a wardrobe change to try to make her a more serious female character.
The first argument I would disagree with because you can’t really have a “iconic look” on a character as subpar as Power Girl has been for most of her existence (though in all fairness, DC has done well with her in the past decade or so). But beyond that, in terms of how long PG’s been around, the cleavage oval is a rather recent development.
For her early appearances, the deal was a plunging neckline. Personally, I met her just post-Crisis with the awful yellow thing, and then knew her with the diamond cut of under-boob showing The oval number came about when DC began putting effort into getting the character noticed, and they did so by taking notice that the breasts were the really notable feature of her and just putting them in more books.
But costume changes happen all the time. I wonder what the Internet fanbase would have said when John Byrne changed Wolverine’s yellow costume to the brown and tan one. How about Spider-Man from the red and blue to black during Secret Wars? We look back now and nod in approval because we got used to them. And they don’t panic and switch PG back to letting her breasts breathe this deal might to. Of course, I still call DC a bunch of pussies for pulling the plug on the Wonder Woman pants experiment.
And then there’s the deal of just what people seem to think DC is trying to accomplish by not showing PG’s cleavage in every shot of the character. The real answer is that they are trying to get people talking about her, and hopefully that talk leads to people checking out the character’s title and thus generating more sales. As if this was a business or something. But that’s crazy. Instead, we’ll just assume that DC is making a firm statement on women in comics by saying that they are not defined by their double-D’s, and by covering up the cleavage in their skintight costumes, they are showing that heroines are defined by their words and actions rather than their remarkably flawless frames.
And to that I say nerts. One of the more interesting mysteries of comicdom is just what you’re supposed to think about women within the funnybook pages. And I say interesting because no one can agree on anything. There are some people that are cool with the Stan Lee-era traits of having the women be more serving of the male characters. The Women in Refrigerator people would say that no negative thing can happen to any female character ever (but in fairness, that’s not how it started, just how people ended up making it).
I think the struggle is simply because people over-analyze the matter far too much. Let’s say Ice of the JLI is dating Guy Gardner. After numerous fights and some bad dates, Ice decides she’s had enough of Guy and breaks up with him. This isn’t a matter of the creator trying to force the strength of femininity down the throats of men. It’s a matter of the story creating this bad relationship, then going to the next logical step of having Ice do the human thing of getting herself away from it. It makes sense. A big problem about women in comic books is that people don’t allow them to be human (or Kryptonian or whatever). Not everything is a statement.
But sometimes creators actually do go out to make statements, and it turns out making things worse. Chances are if you see a solicitation advertising “a strong female”, or someone saying that they’re writing a book for “a female audience”, they’re doing something wrong. Catwoman was marketed this way by having on-panel, in-costume sex with Batman on a roof. Because all the women I’ve met are just waiting for that one character who has cosplay roof sex that they can truly identify with.
Okay, so if I’m so smart, what is my example of a strong female character? Chris Claremont’s Storm, all the name yelling aside.
From her debut in Giant-Size X-Men #1 to let’s say The Fall of the Mutants in the mid-80’s, Storm was one of the best developed characters I’ve ever seen in comics. Starting as the rather naive woman who was worshiped as a goddess, Storm had to learn the ways and cultures of her teammates, gain confidence in herself and her abilities, and eventually become the successor to Cyclops as leader of the X-Men (and at the time, better in the role). Of course there were things shoehorned in to fit plot needs (former thief in Cairo takes away from the established naivete, and by god EVERY male villain had the hots for her), but by the time you made it to Fall of the Mutants you knew Storm as this powerful character because you made the journey with her.
Storm became a powerful character in her own right, not just because she was female. Sure, it brought up some interesting plot points – like feeling abandoned by Kitty Pryde when the young girl decided she needed a boyfriend rather than a motherly figure – but that added to the strength of the character, rather than being the defining feature. And that’s what a lot of people don’t understand. These should be strong characters who are women, rather than strong characters because they are women.
But let’s finish up by going back to Power Girl. There are three reasons that a comic character would change their costume. The first is that the artist wants to change what they have to draw every panel (like Byrne did with Wolverine). The second is that the story calls for it to ultimately go somewhere (like Spider-Man’s black costume). The third is that the publisher wants to get people talking and hopefully buying. DC has done this many times – underoo-free Superman, Wonder Woman with pants, Power Girl – but Marvel does it too – does anyone remember the Iron-Spider-Man? These may have storyline reasons to go with them, but it’s more of a simple change that is brushed by quickly to little consequence, and certainly not to the level that the fandom reaction would suggest.
So what’s the deal with Power Girl? I don’t know – I don’t read the book. But I do know I just wrote over 1650 words about a title I don’t read and a character I’m not particularly interested in. So mission accomplished. But I will say this – when DC eventually switches it back (and I have no doubt they will) it won’t be a statement against women. It’s comic book cheesecake. And comic books are a medium in which you can get away with cheesecake. Just don’t take it so damn seriously.