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B. Clay Moore on the history of female superhero costumes

by  in Comic News Comment
B. Clay Moore on the history of female superhero costumes

[The following post appeared in its original form on the Facebook page of comic book writer B. Clay Moore, who provided CBR with a slightly expanded version of his text.]

Female superheroes and their costumes?

A lot of people arguing about this don’t seem to have a real understanding of the history of costume design in comics.

There’s this conventional wisdom in place that female superheroes were always designed with titillation in mind. Forget the strange psychosexual implications inherent in that idea, the fact is that most female superheroes up through the ’70s (maybe into the ’80s) were created to attract female readers, not to pander to boys. (Just as kid sidekicks were designed to appeal to kids… Robin didn’t wear short pants for kinky thrills.)

Sure, there were always notable exceptions (it’s hard to look at covers featuring Phantom Lady straining against ropes with “headlights” protruding and imagine them as an appeal to young girls), but the industry was trying to find something for everyone.

As an example, Batgirl was designed by DC and the producers of the “Batman” TV show as a way to bring female viewers into a male-dominated viewing audience. She was basically forgotten by the time Alan Moore shot her in the spine, but that act did allow for the creation of Oracle, which was a very positive step forward in mainstream genre comics. In a sense, the character has always been a pioneer of sorts (and is now again).

In the ’70s, Marvel introduced Ms. Marvel (no matter how clumsily) as a nod to the rising feminist movement, even borrowing part of the character’s name from Gloria Steinem’s quite liberal and explicitly feminist Ms. magazine. An earlier, less successful (in terms of longevity), but equally earnest Marvel effort was “The Cat,” featuring a female creative team. Both of these books were primarily designed to attract the attention of female readers.

In any event, with the shrinking of the broader demographic, and with comics moving primarily into comic book shops, publishers (and creators) started shifting the focus to pandering to a male-dominated readership, and that’s when costumes and drawings of women really started to become over-the-top sales pitches to raging boners. (And when impossibly huge guns that shot impossibly huge bullets became in vogue.)

What we’re seeing now is a return to the idea that it’s possible to bring in (or appeal to) a broader readership. One that includes and embraces women.

So you can whine about losing boob windows and hot pants and drawings of women where both boobs and an entire ass are visible, but what’s happening now is a good thing for comics, because it’s a return to the idea that the medium doesn’t exist for the enjoyment of a single, narrow demographic.

And if you’ve decided you’re not going to read a comic book because it depicts female characters with dignity as a consideration, I doubt anyone will mourn your absence.

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