Cover: Supergirl #1
Cover: Supergirl #2
Cover: Supergirl #3
Developing Kara’s New Look for the Fall
For the new look of Supergirl we were trying some costumes and throwing some ideas back and forth with the creative team. In the end Jim Lee came up with the design you see on the cover. I’ve made some minor tweaks on it but nothing too drastic.
The most notable things about her new look is probably her collar and the boots. The boots surprised me when I first saw them in Jim’s design. Once I gave them a try with some sketching I’ve come to enjoy them quite a bit. They’re something people seem to be talking about too. The collar and cape give her a sort of a regal and alien look which goes along great with her Kryptonian roots.
Superhero comics excel at making female heroes look foolish. Case in point: Supergirl’s new costume for the 2011 DC reboot.
The gorgeous artwork, the cool new haircut, the redesigned cape, the stylized “S” on the shield – everything cool about the new costume is overshadowed by that huge, honkin’ red shield placed squarely on Supergirl’s crotch, drawing the eye like an arrow pointing to a teenage girl’s pubic region. The effect in the first iteration of the costume was apparently too subtle, because in subsequent covers the costume has been revised to emphasize the red crotch shield by cutting back the leg line and leaving sharp-looking corners that must be awfully uncomfortable…and require daily shaving. Sorry about going there, but it’s what we’re all thinking.
Need I point out that we would never be having this conversation about Superman? Superman wouldn’t put up with this shit.
Jim Lee would be laughed out of comics if he put Superman in a leotard or even shorts, never mind a skirt. That would be considered humiliating, something only a woman – or child – would wear. As in Victorian times, long pants are a symbol of male adulthood for superheroes; short-shorts and high-cut leotards are reserved for women. Even shorts are no longer suitable for the boy Robins of the New 52. For girls? The more leg the better. The image of superheroic men is supposed to be strong, dignified, commanding and imposing. Thongs are out. Superheroic women consistently get drawn, by the same male artists, with their breasts and buttocks on display in absurd and self-conscious ways. Starfire? Check. Harley, formerly clothed head to toe [like a man]? Fixed that. Supergirl, long-time rocker of the skirt and hot pants? Like Mary Marvel, not “sexy” enough for the New 52. I guess someone has to fill the role of Superman’s sexually objectified female counterpart now that Power Girl has been turned into Mr. Terrific’s girlfriend.
Important questions like “Would (or could) Supergirl wear this? Would a woman wishing to be taken seriously wear this? Wouldn’t that hurt?” apparently never crossed the minds of the artists designing this costume. The idea that Supergirl might be portrayed with as much dignity as Superman wasn’t even part of the discussion.
Jim Lee’s character design from SDCC 2011’s Designing the New 52 panel
Promo art by Mahmud Asrar
|Supergirl #1, page 8, inked|
In trying to imagine what on earth the artists responsible for this costume must have been thinking when they drew that crotch panel, I’m reminded of this quote regarding the way that our patriarchal society categorizes one half of the population as the sexual class, and how every decision on how they’re portrayed flows from that conceptualization:
there is one category of sex — female” and this “category of sex is the product of a heterosexual society which imposes on women the rigid obligation of the reproduction of the ‘species'”; it also “turns half of the population into sexual beings….Wherever they are, whatever they do…they are seen (and made) sexually available to men, and they, breasts, buttocks, costume, must be visible” (Monique Wittig in The Straight Mind. Source: The “Straight Mind” in Russ’s The Female Man, Science Fiction Studies.)
What makes Supergirl’s costume redesign the most frustrating is that DC gave themselves permission to completely redesign the costume without any regard for tradition. Supergirl’s skirt or shorts are as intrinsic to her character as Superman’s red shorts. Both were eliminated in their redesigns. After years of criticism about focusing on a young girl’s panties, DC decided to ditch the skirt in favour of not shorts, not pants, but a leotard. Then they pasted a shield-shaped panel over her crotch that acts as an awkwardly symbolic red arrow, and threw in some WTF boots that ensure everyone will be staring at Supergirl’s pelvis and thighs. Because what DC really needed was more sexualization of teenage girls.
The costume was supposed to look cool, wasn’t it?
If they truly wanted to design a new Supergirl costume for a modern fictional universe in which Superman wears a full-body armored costume and has done away with his red panties, they would have given her pants. I love the shorts and the skirt (when worn with bike shorts underneath), but DC left themselves no other choice when they gave Superman and Supergirl plated armor all over their elbows and chests and decided to make Superman susceptible to physical injury (according to Grant Morrison, “His nose can be bloodied, he can have his ribs broken, and although they may heal very quickly, it takes a little bit of effort to do the feats that he does.”). There was also some nonsense about the armored costume honoring his Kryptonion heritage which I don’t entirely get, but in any case, they’ve created a very definite rationalization for why Superman’s costume looks the way it does. But when it came to Supergirl, that rationalization suddenly went out the window and “female! must! show! skin!” took over their brains. There’s a clear double standard being applied when the costume is on a female body: deliberately exposing the more vulnerable parts of Supergirl’s body makes the woman appear more vulnerable, more weak, and less worthy of respect than her male counterparts. That’s how cultural sexism works.
Is it too much to ask that DC treat its female heroes with (almost) as much dignity and respect as their male heroes? All signs continue to point to “yes”. And that’s a damn shame.