Fighting Crime With Your Clothes On

This is pretty awesome. If you didn’t check the link, it’s an article about an artist who redesigned several popular super heroines with costumes that, get this, actually cover their skin. The best part about this is not only are the characters recognizable, in my humble opinion, many of them look far better with costumes that speak to practicality instead of blatant sexuality. Wonder Woman, in particular, comes across as far more powerful with this new look.

It makes sense, you know? If your career choice involves copious amounts of violence, I think you’d want to put some pants on.

True, comic books have always been an equal opportunity offender and male characters are just as sexualized with their skintight outfits and rippling muscles.  I think that’s more a comment on the nature of superhero comics as a whole, however.

The other observation I’d like to make is that, rather than making these characters seem frumpy or staid, I think these designs are more attractive. I don’t know if it’s a case of “less is more” or because these designs lend a certain sense of power that’s sexy all on its own, but whatever it is, I think it works. This is a trend I’ve love to see continue across entertainment; I think covering up a little is one of the many reasons the new Lara Croft design from the reboot is superior to the original.

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6 thoughts on “Fighting Crime With Your Clothes On”

  1. Arguably, the idea of skin-tight superhero outfits has always been about making the art easily duplicable by a revolving door of artists. Because it’s relatively simplistic male/female figure drawing with a painted-on costume, you can have someone less expensive than Jack Kirby and jigga John Romita Sr. take over when the originating artist wants to move onto something else but the editors feel like they’ve got a profitable property and want to keep it going. You can see this shift over time, though — look at the original design for the original Lee/Kirby X-men (http://www.coverbrowser.com/image/uncanny-x-men/1-3.jpg) and then look at the design for Claremont/Cockrum class (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/42/Giantsize1.jpg) and you go from skin-tight uniforms to more geometric shapes: triangles on Nightcrawler and Colossus, ovals for Storm. Predominately it’s still figure-drawing but there’s at least a degree of additional complexity.

    The point is that the art evolved over time, but the culture created a circumstance where the skin-tight outfit was the norm, even though artists became more sophisticated. When you start getting into the Jim Lee era of Escher girls and more-skin-than-fabric, that’s when it starts turning into a problem.

    Overall, I agree that Wonder Woman with pants is more dangerous-looking than Wonder Woman with hotpants. Some of the other outfits, though, (Black Canary in particular) just look like they might be cumbersome given the acrobatics of super-heroing. More comfortable than fishnet stockings? I’m sure.

  2. True, there is an argument to be made that a skintight outfit would lend itself well to the acrobatics inherent in super-heroics. A good comparison would be the fact that professional gymnasts and such wear skintight clothing.

    Your idea about art evolution is very interesting and one that I hadn’t considered. I think you’re right about the transition from simplistic to more geometric shapes.

    I wonder what the perception of comics would be if it had just been limited to these skintight outfits. I feel that it was the combination of skin-to-fabric ratios and overly sexual physiques that created the perception of comic books as the exclusive domain of the teenage male.

  3. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy, to a certain extent. Guys grow up reading comics, are inspired to become artists, draw what they want to see, and because the comics don’t really appeal to girls, it’s only guys who end up offering feedback. And this feedback loop continues on until you get to the point where women are saying “no, wait, the comics industry is dying because they don’t have enough readers, but they’re turning off half their potential audience because no one in the industry creates for women, and none of the readers seem interested in trying to get more readers.”

  4. Do you think the work of people like Terry Moore and Neil Gaiman, who both create work that is well received by female readers, can overcome this feedback loop? Or is it more likely that these creators represent a fragmentation of the comic book audience and superhero comics are more or less stuck on this “boys only club” perception?

  5. Superhero comics are stuck unless they figure out how to stop actively driving off women.in particular and readers in general.When DC created the Vertigo line, it seemed targeted to try new things, but then it ended up just becoming this niche that the mainstream ignored. And that was a mistake. I don’t know if the superhero genre is salvageable at this point.

  6. The thing that’s frustrating is that it’s such a wasted opportunity. You have these female characters who are powerful and independent and should be able to be inspirational to young female readers, thus serving as a strong cultural counter to Disney Princess Syndrome.

    Instead it all gets lost in the scrabble to appeal to the male demographic. The fact that things like this (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/11/sexist-avengers-t-shirts-_n_3063942.html) keep happening doesn’t help, either.

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