Feminist (and storytelling) lessons for comic book artists via costume redesign

// 1 October 2011

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If you could redesign the costumes of the major superheroines, what would you change?

Complaints about how female superheros are represented in comics are hackneyed. But the issue has been resuscitated after a particularly ludicrous, ‘sexy’, reinvention of the characters Cat Woman and Starfire by DC. To encapsulate the problem, fantasy writer Michele Lee showed the re-bootyed version to her seven-year-old daughter, who is a major fan of Starfire as she appears in the Teen Titans series. Go read that if you’re in need of a refresher course on what is wrong with much superheroine design.

Meanwhile, comics author Aaron Diaz decided to have a bit of fun redesigning the costumes of some classic superheros, reworking them so the costumes and design better reflects the characters. He does male characters too, like Superman. But I’m mentioning this here because of the redesigns of Starfire, Wonder Woman and Ms Marvel.

I’m sharing here because it to me shows how unimaginative the cliches of comics can make artists; especially with the female superheros, the all importance of designing them to certain specifications of supposed superhuman sexiness, really does make things boring.

I love Diaz’s reworking of Wonder Woman most of all, as literally a statue:

One part Thor, three parts Xena. I’d push the mythological angle further. Just as nobody thinks of Thor as “Superman with a hammer” I don’t want Wonder Woman to be “girl Superman,” as she’s sometimes seen. I’ve also tweaked her origin slightly, making her a more literal “statue come to life.” This isn’t as extreme as it seems: in regular canon, Wonder Woman’s origin was that she was formed out of clay by the queen of the Amazons, and imbued with the powers of the Greek Gods.

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Anyway, all five redesigns are interesting, as is Diaz’s commentary on the problem with the current designs and why he made the decisions he made. Go, read, enjoy.

See also: The evolution of Lois Lane and Are comics less sexist than they were in 1983?.

Comments From You

Rob Buckley // Posted 2 October 2011 at 12:36 am

I do like his suggested redesign, although WW is a little less well-developed in his mock-up than she has been of late (well, pre the JMS/Odyssey reboot): http://cdn.healthhabits.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/wonder-woman.jpg

WW has had alternative, more armoured looks for years, too, even in the ‘swimsuit’ look days – although that’s been retconned as armour, even if some writers tended to forget that – as well as a sword made for her by Hephaestus: http://suvudu.com/files/suvudumedia/BattleArmor_002.jpg

Problematically, arguing “what Amazons are noted for” as a reason for excluding a lasso and bathing suit isn’t good – Amazons would have been Bronze Age rather than classically dressed, if anything, and were noted primarily (apart from getting beaten up a lot by passing demi-gods) for archery and cutting off one of their breasts to make them better archers (Amazon’s an imported word into Greek, that the Greeks tried to explain by fitting the word Amazon to other Greek words, namely breast and cutting off).

If you instead go for what fit, classical Greek women would have worn for exercise, you’d have to go Spartan and either have the Amazons naked and glistening in olive oil or in a peplos that exposed one breast and was loosely fastened down the side to expose the thigh (the nickname in Greece for Spartan women was ‘thigh flashers’): http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/greeks/images/gal_grk_oly_women.jpg

Plus if you get rid of the lasso, although obviously it came from WW’s creator William Molson’s love of the lie detector (which he co-invented) and bondage so there is a case to be made for excising it, you actually lose one of WW’s most distinctive weapons – a lasso capable of infinite length, that’s the universal embodiment of truth, that’s unbreakable even by the likes of Superman and indestructible enough to withstand nuclear blasts, can look inside a person’s soul and even destroy souls if needs be. Xena had her chakram – why relegate WW to just an unremarkable sword, particularly when she’s supposed to be in ‘patriarch’s world’ at the gods’ instigation, teaching us all (particularly men) the value of peace over war and sisterly co-operation? Even if she does fight a lot to preserve peace: http://macguffinandpuffin.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/paul-sizer.jpg

Having said all that, the swimsuit look was a bit embarrassing (even the writers knew it: http://lh6.ggpht.com/_1bhS26_vGU8/TI_kmZPx3lI/AAAAAAAABhk/6XNx-QW6R88/wonder-woman-costume.jpg) and hell, even her Denny O’Neil ‘Emma Peel’ look was kind of groovy and in many ways preferable (http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-KDrL0sYgS4w/TjJepl0DS7I/AAAAAAAAAys/3uzlbiTantU/s1600/DC_Retroactive_Wonder_Woman_70s.jpg).

But I actually quite liked the previous JMS/Odyssey reboot costume: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51T70Ro2ZvL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

The newest look seems a bit of a step backwards in comparison: http://hereticaljargon.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/wonder-woman-1-cover.jpg

Particularly since they were clearly toying with maintaining much of the Odyssey look but backed off at the last minute: http://holdyourfireal.smugmug.com/COMIC-BOOK-IMAGES/Wonder-Woman/i-sQKRcpv/0/O/Wonder-Woman-1.jpg

Maybe the statue look with the lasso or some combo of the others would work.

PS And no, no one knows what was going through DC’s minds for the Catwoman/Starfire reboots. We can guess. Shame. It’s really put a lot of people off the new titles (even guys).

Jess McCabe // Posted 2 October 2011 at 7:22 am

@rob thanks for that great summary of wonder woman’s various looks :) I love, love, love the one where she is wearing the armoured wings – awesome.

Laurel // Posted 2 October 2011 at 10:45 am

i think something mentioned on his list of top and bottom 10 redesigns, is that metal bustiers? OWCH, theyd cut!

Rob Buckley // Posted 2 October 2011 at 11:24 am

@jess That’s my favourite, too ;-)

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