Supergirl’s New 52 Costume: Leave your dignity at the door


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.

- Mahmud Asrar on Developing Kara’s New Look for the Fall

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.

Michelle loves comics and code. The Superfamily are her favourite comic book characters, but she’s a fan of DC, Marvel, Image and many different manga. Her fansites can be found at michellebacon.com

43 thoughts on “Supergirl’s New 52 Costume: Leave your dignity at the door

    1. The fix is so easy I can’t stand it. Just like the boots – make them all of a piece, boom, you’re done. Jim Lee had to work really hard to make her costume look that stupid.

      Actually, looking through those photoshop fixes, it strikes me that the only thing that’s cool about the costume are the cape and the stylized S. It’s only Mahmud Asrar’s beautiful art that makes her appear as awesome as she does (from the waist up). What happens when someone else draws her?

  1. Co-signed. Ugh, that crotch triangle makes me so angry. The costume wouldn’t bother me nearly as much if it was just blue all the way down.

  2. Excellent post! I mentioned this same problem to a friend just recently (and you didn’t even factor in the stripper-esque boots). Still, even give my problems with it, I will take this costume over the hyper-sexualized Michael Turner-Ian Churchill version from 2004-2008 (or so) any time.

    1. Stripper-esque? I wasn’t aware those boots were even possible in real life!

      I read a good analysis somewhere of how those boots wouldn’t even stay up. Quite ridiculous.

  3. As a followup, did Elton John loan an old pair of his shoes to the ‘new’ Supergirl? Just wondering. :)

  4. I think the uniform is a one piece. I’m not sure where the whole “triangle with edges digging into her pubic region” is coming from, though it does make me question the writer’s thoughts when looking at comic book women. Everything mentioned in the article about how creators over-sexualize women in an erotic way comes from the writer’s opinion of the costume. I personally wasn’t crazy about the redisign. I thought the boots AND the ‘S’ and the collar-cape looked silly and over-done. As if they were trying too hard. But a sexual thought never came into my mind. It reminds me of the Man of Steel complaints where people are saying “it looks” like a porno” or where they’re laughing at his crotch bulge. These things didn’t even occur to me. It does fascinate me that where our “adult” minds go on these types of things is immediately to the sexual. You’d think grown men and women would be more adult than that. But then, we are still reading comic books. Myself included.

    1. I’m not a fan of inferring motive or morality to anyone cosplaying any costume (god knows women get judged on the motivation behind every single thing we wear enough already). It’s an expression of love for the character. I’m more concerned about why new costumes for female superheroes keep sucking in the same old gendered ways over and over.

      (I really sympathize with people trying to cosplay this costume. Those boots are just impossible!)

  5. What else could be expected from “heroes reborn” Jim Lee? This 90’s generation of sexist artists was one of the worst thing that happened to the industry.
    Though a reboot of the universe is a great idea, I’m very disappointed with the new designs. Most of them don’t respect the essence of the characters (Superman wearing an armor? WTF?). As for Supergirl, well, see what happened to Wonder Woman pants…

  6. I couldn’t agree more with what you posted. I think the whole costume looks stupid, especially the crotch shield. If I could modify it somewhat, I would extend the leotard to cover her thighs more and have the red wrap around the entire lower half of her costume. I would also give her the regular “S” shield too.

    At this point I frankly hope the entire DCnU fails.

    1. I would extend the leotard to cover her thighs more and have the red wrap around the entire lower half of her costume

      That would work for me too.

    2. As I said below, I work in a comic shop and I see the good that the DCnU is doing. More people are buying more comics and that’s wonderful.

      I don’t like the reboot any more than the next person, but if DC fails, it likely means “bye-bye” to the entire company….

      1. I’m genuinely worried about DC’s long-term future. It’s amazing they’ve made it this long under their current leadership, which seems intent on making every wrong decision possible.

        It’s great that more people are buying comics, but it’s impossible to tell yet whether that’s sustainable.

  7. This suit is by far the worst Supergirl ever had(It’s right up there to the one from the 70s). Why did DC let Jim Lee design the costumes? He’s a good artist but a terrible designer. Thanks for giving the link to the easy fix suit, it’s a HUGE improvement and looks amazing(Hope someone at DC see’s it and changes it to that look).

    1. Well, Lee did say at a panel that he was inspired by Supergirl’s 1970s costume, so you’re not far off.

      (I’ve grown to enjoy the 70’s costume, but I really hated it for a long time.)

      1. To me I hate it because the S Shield is not in the center, it just feels off. As for my favorite, it was her last costume before the reboot.

  8. Not only would she have to shave that area daily, but the super wedge from flying around. It looks like a thong almost and thongs are never comfortable. The shield part of it does look ridiculous.

  9. If she had pants it would been so much better. Heck! Even this would’ve worked: http://misskitquinn.tumblr.com/post/8421875281/mylesb-gender-bent-justice-league-cosplay

    Here’s an article about the GBJL crew: http://www.themarysue.com/gender-bent-justice-league-tallest-silver/

    Here’s all of the Genderbent JL: http://misskitquinn.tumblr.com/post/8421816576/cineboobs-gender-bent-justice-league

    These folks did a great job and proved a point, too, about male vs. female hero/heroine costumes while they were at it. This cosplay group made my whole life. ^_^

    1. That cosplay group is truly awesome. That’s some fine costuming (far more iconic than Jim Lee’s redesigns). Thank you for sharing that. I would buy every single book in that DC universe.

      1. Same here! Thought it was a good topic to bring up since we’re talking about Supergirl’s new duds. I, for one, dislike the crotch patch and the knee boot things…

        If they went with Jamal Igle, Amanda Conner, Nicola Scott or any other artist who does a normal looking redesign, then I might’ve reconsidered… But the Supergirl and Superman costume redesigns and personalities for this DCnU looks… Well…REALLY off. :-/

        I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks that, here. ^_^

  10. Frankly, all the costume redesigns have baffled me. Getting rid of iconic imagery (Superman and Batman’s undies, Supergirl’s skirt, Poison Ivy’s…leaves) seems like a bad idea if they’re trying to maximize the recognize-ability of the brand (which is why they’re saying they’ve made Babs is Batgirl).

    I work in a comic shop and I see the good that the DCnU is doing. We’ve had foot traffic exponentially increase, have gain about 40-60% more new customers with Pulls, and are seeing new people from around the area coming in and actively asking for comics by name. I admire DC for one thing, and that is getting the buzz of comics out to the world.

    The problem with many comics fans is that they are often very close knit and quick to make mocking comments to/about new fans. This is the same with so many fandoms. I am glad DC is at least giving newbies a chance to get into the fandom without as many sneers.

    Now, all that said, I loath the direction that so many of the comics (especially the ones with female leads) seem to be going in. Cassie is a brash thief now? Catwoman is sexy and obsessed with Batman? Supergirl hates EVERYONE???

    I’m not saying DC is sexist, but there is certainly a role that they are relegating many of their headlining female characters to…And don’t get me wrong, I love costumes like Power Girl’s, but there has to be a reason, a meaning, behind it, other than pure T&A.

    Poor Supergirl looks like she’s lost her girlhood and is being forced into being a sex symbol. And, come on, really? Knees are sexy, Jim Lee? Yeesh!

    1. DC’s stated reasons for their decisions are wildly contradictory and inconsistent with what they’re actually doing. Whatever the reasons (a combination of deliberate obfuscation, poor communication by management, and misguided good intentions I suspect), I don’t trust anything they say anymore. Which is a problem.

      “The problem with many comics fans is that they are often very close knit and quick to make mocking comments to/about new fans. This is the same with so many fandoms. I am glad DC is at least giving newbies a chance to get into the fandom without as many sneers.”

      Yeah…the type of fans that dominate stores can be very offputting. It’s certainly a different crowd that can be found online, but a newbie has to get past that barrier to entry first.

      “I’m not saying DC is sexist, but there is certainly a role that they are relegating many of their headlining female characters to…And don’t get me wrong, I love costumes like Power Girl’s, but there has to be a reason, a meaning, behind it, other than pure T&A.”

      I have no problem saying DC as a company is sexist. They consistently make sexist decisions and their corporate culture is overtly misogynistic. Individually its employees may be awesome, but as a corporate entity it has serious gender (and race) issues. And the product – e.g. costumes, roles and portrayal of women vs. men – speaks for itself.

      1. I love all your comments on here, by the way. Not only are they well thought out, but also well spoken. It’s refreshing to see fans defending characters in a very eloquent fashion.

        And thumbs up on that last bit about corporate misogyny. Fanboys are quick to defend DC saying they aren’t sexist because they treat female characters just like every other company. Um, that’s the problem! And when your brand new, debut issue comes out, and there is not one of any of your four slotted female characters in that issue at all (Justice League), that’s clearly an issue that relates to sexism.

  11. Wait… So…

    Superman can get a nosebleed now? With what? A Kryptonite-filled punch to the schnozzola? :-/

    I thought they depower him, then end up repowering, him, at least, every ten years or so…:-/

  12. Although I found the writing for this page a little more heated than normal for this site I agree with it entirely. If I was a woman I might sound ticked off as well. In my never-humble opinion all women in comics should wear pants. Not shorts, not skirts, not scorts, PANTS.

    The only counter-points I thought of is a technologically advanced society like Krypton has devoted a branch of their science to ensure the pointy-bits of the crotch shield don’t injure the wearer and the above the knee portion of the boot stays up and does not bind behind the knee. (I know that sounds so lame that DC might even use it, lol ) You might also be making an assumption about Kryptonian women having to shave “ahem” delicate areas.

    Thanks for a great web-site, I have used it several times to try and sort out the varied history of Supergirl.

    1. Yep, I’m highly ticked off. Supergirl’s costume has been a sore spot for years, and instead of fixing it they did this. That’s what really ticks me off. (Also Mahmud Asrar telling me that my criticism of the crotch shield was just “my opinion, and we all have our opinions” didn’t help.)

      Am lol’ing at your description of Kryptonian fashion technology. I will buy that just the minute they give Kal the same costume :)

      1. Totally agree with you there, Michelle.

        The issue here is, I guess, the costume double-standard that each hero has verses their female counterparts.

        The GBJL expressed this wonderfully, if I might add.

        I’d rather have an artist like Jamal Igle on this costume…

        I.e… Someone who can jump in and “fix” the problems on it.

        Jamal did a great fix to Turner’s version. And I, for one, loved both the redesigned outfit he did AND the “super-shorts”. ^_^

      2. In Action #2 Gene Ha who has been appointed to design all things Krypton is quoted as saying “At the basic level, Kryptonians could have body-defying technology and clothes.”
        HA! – I called it on September 12, 2011 at 4:00 pm declaring it to be so lame DC might use it.

    2. Also, I will stop making assumptions about Kryptonian secondary sexual characteristics (re: shaving) when they stop being portrayed as exact analogues of humans, just “enhanced” ;-)

      (Tangentially, someone on Wikipedia listed “Smaller hands and feet than men” and “Smaller waist than men” as female secondary sexual characteristics *facepalm*)

  13. I am not a fan of Supergirl’s new costume in the least. It is beyond insulting. The way they did the blood red panty bugs me the worst!

    From a shaving standpoint though, in the latest string of Power Girl comics, #9, p.1, like in Ester’s link above, Power Girl simply used her heat vision to rid herself unwanted leg hair, etc. I imagine, for Supergirl, it would be just as simple. And though Power Girl’s costume is cut rather high on the leg, unlike Supergirl’s new costume, Power Girl’s is simple, sheik, and with clean line functionality!

    Sure they’re trying to portray a “different” universe here, but these latest renditions, especially with the armor plating too, are just plain artistic over-the-top-ness, that’s ridiculously unneeded.

  14. I understand the “sexualisation” of characters, even Superman is sexualized somehow but here it’s ridiculous. It reminds me of women in heroic fantasy video games: they wear bikini armors while men wear full-body armors as if vilains would never hit them in the legs or in the stomac…

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