Female Superheroes in Weather-Inappropriate Attire

Sonny Bunch takes issue with io9’s costume redesigns for the sake of making female superheroes… fully dressed:

In a post titled “Fully clothed female superheroes finally look like they can fight crime in the winter,” we are treated to the illustrated stylings of one Michael Lee Lunsford. Check them out, I’ll wait here. Get an eyeful? Which was your favorite? Personally, I liked Wonder Woman. Because nothing screams “Amazon Warrior!” more than creased khaki slacks stuffed into boots worn underneath a blue-and-red skirt with stars on them. Makes a lot of sense.

He then points to several examples of muscular male superheroes, often in tight clothing.

I get where Sonny is coming from on this, but I think he’s off-base. To me, it’s not just that there are scantily-clad female superheroes out there. Nor that there are some who wear tight clothing. I mean, I have a shirtless Hawkman poster in the computer room. And, as he points out, Hulk. Others wear tights – which itself is sufficiently common that it’s considered a part of the deal (“Men running around in tights”).

Where it does get somewhat problematic to me, though, is primarily the difficulty in finding female superheroes that aren’t showing off a lot of skin, and that to be honest they very much come across in a way to titillate boys and men in a way that Hawkman’s bear chest isn’t for the reverse (though, I should disclose, I never liked the bare-chested Carter Hall costume nearly as much as the Katar Hol one).

Ahhh, but is it a problem if the female costumes as well as the male costumes are designed for boys? That is, after all, who mostly reads comic books! Well, yes, to an extent. We can assign the rationale to grubby capitalism. We can assign it to the fact that an overwhelming number of writers and artists in the comic book world are male (or at least have historically been so). And we can assign the rationale of objection to living the political life.

Really, though? I want to be able to introduce comic books to my daughter. And I’d kind of rather she be able to find role models without dressing like a trollop in the process. I have (or had) this thing that I enjoy(ed) that I can share more freely without being self-conscious. Now, I suppose I could blame the self-consciousness on the uptight feminists or whatever, but given the way that guys respond to other men produced to meet female preferences (Justin Bieber!), I’m not sure I can.

The fan-service in female superhero costumes is not too much unlike, in my mind, the infusion of sex into entertainment. Gratuitous sex (or gratuitous nudity). I don’t mind sex in entertainment when it belongs, but I see it too frequently where it doesn’t.

And it’s sort of like that with superhero costumes. Just as too much entertainment inserts sex just for the sake of inserting sex, the costumes show flesh for just that purpose and often no other. Huntress’s costume went through an evolution through costumes that made sense in various contexts (Bertinelli’s first and second in a more acrobatic sense, her third offered protection) to one that was just about being fleshy (to be fair, the newest is more modest again, but it isn’t Bertinelli). Power Girl, also featured above, has some rather interesting aspects to her character overshadowed by her big chest and the window thereto. This just isn’t as frequent with the male characters and it’s not really that hard to avoid it with female characters.

Now, as for the costumes themselves, I do kind of agree with Sonny about Wonder Woman’s. I sort of agree that the khakis on Wonder Woman are strange. And I should say, I would object to attempts to make every (or most) characters in this fashion, just as I am objecting to the commonality. But I’d like to see more costumes like this, and fewer like the open-window Power Girl costume.

Photo by warriorwoman531

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. There is another level of practicality at play.

    Look at how folks dress for athletics… many of them, male and female alike, wear tight, form fitting clothing because, practically, this aids them in exploiting the intense athleticism of their bodies even more than they already do. So, it is not ridiculous for super heroes, also in the business of exploiting the superhuman athleticism of their bodies, to do the same. But look closely at the woman and you’ll rarely, if ever, seen cleavage on a female athlete. Part of this has to do with anatomy… athletic women tend to have smaller busts because of how that part of the body responds to the types and intensity of exercise that makes the women as athletic as they are. But even those who are of more ample breastage generally restrain them because, again, practically it makes the most sense to. I mean, sports bras were invented for a reason. You do have some sports, such as beach volleyball that deviate from the norm, but that is as much a marketing decision as anything else, something the female athletes have started to push back against (with success). Gymnastics outfits are skimpy, but that has to do with the aesthetic nature of the sport and, besides, that is a sport where breasts are seen as a handicap so the girls don’t exactly look like those in the photo above.

    I realize this is introducing a degree of realism that is often absent in the comic book world, but should provide sufficient feedback to anyone who says, “Well, you’re not going to fight crime in an ankle length skirt.” Which is true. But you’re also not going to do it in a bikini top which will send even moderately buxom breasts flying with the first punch thrown.

    • Kazzy, honestly, if an outfit feels like it has utility, even if it’s form-fitting, that’s cool by me. Huntress’s original outfit had bare arms and legs and I don’t think much of it. She was a gymnast. It made sense. It’s more the bare midriffs and push-up breasts that serve no purpose other than tittilation.

      Of course, even there you can arguably say “Hey, look, Power Girl wears it because it distracts her opponents and she doesn’t need the armor because she’s bulletproof.”

      Which, okay, but it gets tedious after a while. And, I mean, if Power Girl looks anything like the woman above, the breast window still isn’t necessary to distract…

      • Oh, yea… when I initially thought through my comment, I was going to include something about how basketball players wear tank tops because it allows for more freedom of movement, something some players incorporate into new football uniform designs. So, that stuff I don’t object to. As you say, it is push up bras and bared mid-riffs and thongs* that are ridiculous.

        * As a kid, one of the Mortal Kombat incarnations had a female bad guy with four arms who fought in some absurd thong attire. If you paused it just right while executing a leg sweep, you could get a perfect shot of her thonged rear. This was very exciting to a 10-year-old me.

    • Yes. Yes, and holy hell yes.

      I’d be amused by a costume that would only “armor” the chest during fighting scenes. (Kinda like the suits in Evangelion). That’d be cool (bonus points if it gets the “bound bosom” right).

  2. I love the io9 costumes (setting aside the impracticality of capes, because capes are awesome) and I’d like to see more like them, and more female superheroes who look anatomically possible.

    • Katherine, if you didn’t follow the last link from the second to last paragraph, I recommend it. (I should have put it more prominently, I think.)

  3. I approve of the photo accompanying this post.

    In general, though, I’m still unconvinced that we should be worried that fantasies (which comics, at their root, are) look like fantasies.

    • On the picture… well, I just couldn’t resist. 🙂

      On the fantasy… I think part of the issue, for me at least, is… “whose fantasies?”

        • We seem to have moved beyond heroic nudity for the male characters, at least to a larger extent than the female characters. If we still had nude or scantily clad male heroes, or male characters as scantily clad as their female counterparts typically are, I’d be offput… but for different reasons!

          • Wanna talk Heroic nudity? i was re-slumming on netflix and ran across kevin sorbo hercules. now that man is not afraid to let the pecs hang out.

            some of the lady costumes i can see working. but WW? Zatanna? Vamparella?

            now you’ve just lost me sir.

        • Not unless you view “Western society” as being composed solely of men. The costumes aren’t designed that way to cater to what women want to see.

          The men are designed to look powerful. The women are designed to look desirable.

      • That picture needs a “BOOP!” sound effect, as Power Girl is clearly pushing some sort of secret weapon button that is artfully concealed in that other woman’s decolletage.

      • That probably came off as slightly more dismissive than I intended, apologies. So, to flesh this out a bit: There is a tradition in the arts to treat our heroes as idealized versions of mankind, hence the bulked out, nude Greeks we are left with today (and tales of Hercules doing deeds in the buff, etc.). Comic book characters, both male and female, are a continuation of that tradition. You could try to argue that the effect of those Greek statues was not to titillate, I suppose, but then I’d be forced to suggest you’re being naive.

        • Are you titillated by smaller than normal genitalia? If so, I suggest that you’re probably out of the norm…

          The Greeks deliberately deemphasized genitalia in their works depicting humans.

          • My understanding is that the Greeks deemphasized genitalia because they considered large genitalia to be a sign of barbarism (and thus unattractive). But I could be misremembering; it’s been a while since I took Greek history.

          • They considered large genitalia to be a symbol of lust. Fauns and Centaurs were routinely depicted with larger than normal genitalia (oddly reminiscent of the Tanuki).

            I’m uncertain as to which they considered more attractive.

      • Because nothing says “serious analyst of world affairs” like being naked from the waist down.

        • I know, kids who read comic books should be more mature than Fox viewers.

          • Or maybe that it’s hard to take Power Girl seriously as a superhero when she dresses like someone who cares whether Obama used the word “terror” or not..

      • Theres surprising insight in the “fox news reporter” comment. Because in my experience, there’s an inverse correlation between superheroines dressed to titillate and actual interesting content. Which makes sense, economically. If your audience is buying the comics to look at the boobs, effort spent on plot and characterization is just wasted. As a gay dude who appreciates good writing, I feel kinda abandoned by some of those books.

        On the designs: Most are great, but Wonder Woman in Khakis is ridiculous. I think WW works best with a skirt. This is an interesting concept that might work well with a different set of pants. Personally, I prefer the armored skirt look, bare legs be damned. If there’s one character that should maintain some semblance of heroic Nudity, WW is it.

        I’m also not a huge fan of the Zatanna design. The point of Zatanna’s top hat and suit was that it was what a stage magician would wear. But that’s a pretty sloppy look for a classic stage magician. A tighter, tailored look makes “nothing up my sleeve” a lot more believable. As it is, this suit awkwardly splits the difference between “Stage Magician” and “Trenchcoat brigade”. (not that the latter wouldn’t work. But an awkward inbetween doesn’t.)

        That should be the new Black Canary design, hands down. With those boots, it looks like she could kick some serious ass. I’m also a huge fan of the Electra and Power girl designs.

    • I’m still not sure what to make of the photograph. It looks to me like Power Girl is seducing Huntress, not subduing her. And in a way, that underlines the point of the OP that maybe it isn’t a good thing on balance to have the superheroines play in to male fantasies.

  4. “It’s time someone tackled the scourge of comic book characters looking like they were something dreamed up to fulfill fantasies that take place in an utterly unrealistic world. After all, who wants to see anyone wear costumes like these?”

    Yes, who?

    I’m sure there ARE comics out there that don’t have all the female skin. Might want to check in the “christian” section, if there is one. 🙂

  5. Vampirella looks like the hostess at a kitchy, themed restaurant.

  6. Some superheroines are obviously set up in ridiculous costumes. They (or rather, their artists) need not give up attractiveness and atheleticism to do this. The new Wonder Woman gets to wear pants or tights like a male superhero; although in some iterations the strapless bustier remains (which looks like a good way to have a wardrobe malfunction while fighting supervillians, if you ask me). I point again to the new Lara Croft as compared to the prior version as a significant improvement. Batwoman’s costume makes about as much sense at Batman’s does and the black leather uniforms worn by the movie X-Men frame the heroine’s face attractively and suggest sexy athleticism without being revealing at all. So it can be done.

  7. I have two thoughts on this topic.

    1) What would a superhero (male or female) look like if designed for girls rather than boys? Would it be *that* different?

    2) Jubilee. She wears an anorak (and denim shorts, but that aside…) and she is proportioned ‘normally’.

    • Would it be *that* different?

      You’re as likely to end up with the Winx or Sailor Moon or Jem as something more “appropriate”.

    • 1) I think you’d be a LOT more likely to see less muscular guys (read: anime bishies!). And women would actually look like real women. Big Boobs come with big bottoms (and are kinda painful to run with, so put ’em on the people with anti-gravity gear). There’d be a significant proportion of “lean and lanky” athlete builds too.

      I’d cite some stuff from Japan, but since a majority of their character designs use freelance pornography as “word of mouth”…

      Actually, ta hell wif it: http://megamitensei.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_Persona_4_Characters

      That’ll do. Considering that the male characters were designed to show off different aspects of gayness (note: apparently that was low priority for actual game experience and got cut), I’d say its fair to say that this was composed with more of an emphasis on female enjoyment.

  8. I do kind of agree with Sonny about Wonder Woman’s. I sort of agree that the khakis on Wonder Woman are strange.

    Wonder Woman is one that makes sense with a skirt, after all that’s basically what ancient Greek soldiers wore. Give her a solid breastplate covering her torso, make her bracers more substantial and give her some greaves and she’s pretty much dressed like a hoplite.

  9. Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you penning this write-up
    plus the rest of the site is very good.

  10. Will, where did the picture of the super heros come from at the top of this article?

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