Costumes & Cheesecake: Power Girl Controversy Illustrates Gender In Comics

Power Girl, a DC Comics superhero and cousin of Superman, has made waves throughout the comics blogosphere with an eyebrow arch - one readers are interpreting as a statement to comics fans who don't check their feminism.

Over at Comics Alliance, Laura Hudson explains some of the Power Girl back story:

It's hardly breaking news that there have been complaints over the years about both the ample assets of DC superheroine Power Girl and her costume — specifically the oval cutout that sits directly over her cleavage. Some female readers have taken issue with the high cheesecake factor, some writers have tried to explain the costume in a way that makes it more than eye candy, but overall it pretty much is what it is (boobs).

Now Esther Inglis-Arkell at 4th Letter has pointed out something a bit new: A scene in the recent "JSA 80-Page Giant" #1 (scripted by female author Jen Van Meter) where Power Girl actually appears to lecture female readers for complaining about her costume. [...]

You know what, Jen Van Meter? Go write an op-ed. I'm not even being sarcastic. You're entitled to your opinion about Power Girl's costume, and if you'd like to explain to the female readership about how they're totally misunderstanding the personal empowerment and meaningful symbolism offered by the cleavage window, then I would be very interested in reading about that.

But quite sincerely: Do not lecture me when I'm in the middle of reading a superhero comic about why you think I'm reading it wrong. Or at the very least, write a scene well enough so I don't feel like you're lecturing me, because there are few things more disruptive to a narrative experience that watching the writer peek around the curtain and set up a teleprompter for the characters.

In Inglis-Arkell's own words:

Wow, I've never read about many female characters giving her a hard time in the comics . . . oh. Oh. That was meta. The ‘most women' comment. The character looking out at us from the panel. This is a little speech given to the women who, for some crazy reason, criticize Peej's uniform. [...]

Are you kidding me? I'm getting an ‘I choose my choice' speech from a fictional character? Feminist fans are getting a slap because they won't accept one bullshit excuse after another for why male heroes are mostly fully-clothed and female heroes mostly walk around in their underwear?

Let me make this clear: No matter how many times you have the female characters talk about how they decided on their outfits, they are still fictional characters. These aren't women who have decided on what they want to wear for reasons of their own. These are characters who are dressed as playboy bunnies because a bunch of creators decided to dress them that way for fun and profit.

Ragnell, over at Written World actually likes the costume - but notes that liking is different from bad justification:

That said? I like Power Girl's cut-out ("boob window") costume. It was stylish when she was introduced, and now it's retro. It's actually very classic looking and when originally designed it was actually pretty classy looking too. The design is just plain good. The design is actually great, I'd say. I'd wear it if I could pull off white myself.

That's why they keep going back to it, because it's a good basic costume and as it was originally just a small cut-out on an invulnerable character it's not inherently lewd/impractical. (Unlike the midriff-baring Huntress, or the monstrosity Carol Ferris is parading around in—though my hat's off to Mahnke for making it less eyesearing.) All the attempts to change it have had her going to worse costumes. (The one with the normal neckline actually tends to show even MORE boob than the cut-out.) And it doesn't need a reason any more than she liked the look better than any emblem she tried to put there, and now she's just used to it. Anything beyond that is downright insulting, like you're trying to fool us into thinking there's something inherently empowering about baring your breasts. There isn't.

Ragnell refers to the original costume, which looked more like this:

Costumes & Cheesecake: Power Girl Controversy Illustrates Gender In Comics

However, as Hudson points out at Comics Alliance, the modern interpretations of her costume look more like this:

Costumes & Cheesecake: Power Girl Controversy Illustrates Gender In Comics

And while most people definitely understand the over used mantra of "sex sells," Hudson lays a few nails into that coffin, in response to a commenter who points out that Van Meter is getting a pass on using sexualized images in the first place:

My problem with this is that the scene comes off as contrived, condescending, and an attempt to spin cheesecake into feminine liberation, when in fact it is BOOBS.

I don't mind people selling sex if you call it selling sex, but don't pretend that you're not doing it, and certainly don't turn it into a lecture on third-wave feminism.

Power Girl [Wikipedia]
Power Girl Lectures Women for Complaining About Her Costume [Comics Alliance]
Comics, Etc. [Cheesecake and the Art of the Pin-Up]
Okay. Now I'm Getting Mad. [4th Letter]
On the Power Girl Cut-Out Costume [Written World]