Something that has always bothered me as a woman who reads and loves comic books is common ideas and stereotypes about women who do read comic books. And reading this the other day got me thinking about this. As I am a feminist, people always assume my problem with female characters is the large breasts and tiny uniforms. So I have written this to try and explain that breasts and uniforms are the least of my worries. I’m going to compare two images of Power Girl, from the DCU, to try and explain what I perceive the real problem to be. The first is Michael Turner’s cover from the Justice League of America issue number 10, and the second is Amanda Conner’s cover of the Justice Society of Americas Classified issue number 1.
Lets get straight to the point; She has huge breasts and a scanty uniform. But you know what? It’s not the breasts that bother me; it’s the eyes.
The representation of gender through comic books can vary hugely, depending on the artist. Not just in the way the body is drawn but through the gaze and the context of the image. An image can show both the artists desires and the desires of the community they are pandering to, although how the artist perceives what said community wants can vary from artist to artist. I’m focusing on two images of the same woman, yet two entirely different representations, as I feel they display the problems with female representation in the comic book world as a whole.
Let me explain. I don’t object to the breasts being large; Power Girl has always had huge breasts and it is part of who she is. Her body can be unrealistic, but should at least be in keeping with the comic book aesthetic – exaggerated but not deformed. The image is not a likely aspiration for female readers and male readers are aware that it is not a realistic body standard; at least one would hope. My problem, as earlier stated, is the eyes. Expanding on that, its the way strength and weakness is displayed, posture, and how power girl is viewed.
The first image is Michael Turner’s controversial image of Power Girl. This image caused uproar in the comic book community, mainly because of her hugely out of proportion breasts and their ridiculous position to the rest of her body. When we look at the image we are drawn to her breasts through the keyhole shape her leotard makes, and follow the eye out to a ridiculous and impossible body. Yet to me, it is not the body that is the problem with this image, that kind of body is fairly common in comic books (although this is a somewhat exaggerated version of the standard large breasted body), it is the blank stare that bothers. Look closer, to her eyes and her stance; she appears weak and she is submissive – a little girl lost. That she is a woman is in no doubt, yet she is not a powerful woman. She is standing passively, she looks like she needs rescuing, the image is static.
The second image is Amanda Conner’s version of Power Girl — an entirely different Power Girl. Her stance is strong, her gaze is challenging, her eyes are alive and she is enjoying herself. Her knowing smile and the way she is rolling up her sleeve scream action and moment. You know she is a woman, she flaunts the fact. The enormous breasts are there but she wears them well. She is proud of who she is and aware of her sexuality, and she is not hiding behind her breasts waiting for someone to save her. She parades her strength and sexuality; she revels in it. The keyhole in her uniform is still there, perhaps just exhibiting the DCU for what it is: a place of escapism. People don’t necessarily want hyper-realism in superhero comic books, but they do want strength and self-awareness – an escape that is fantastic but not absurd. We desire to absorb ourselves in the story and the character. The image implies strength and action, and there is movement.
What dominates the image is the eyes, the strong stance, the fact she is shown to be powerful, and – importantly– she is proud. She knows she could kick arse and so does the viewer. That is Power Girl.
So please, artists out there. Don’t make our superhero women weak little girls lost. We want action and strength just as much as the lads. We don’t want to be saved. We don’t need to be saved; we want escapism with power.