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Thursday, September 28, 2006 

Since when did a tank-top ever become a problem? And why is sex still worse than violence?

In the past year, I'd noticed something very odd about the reception for Supergirl in some, if not all, quarters. Some people, it seems, are actually throwing a fit about the cheerleader-like costume the post-COIE Kara Zor-El now wears in the new series she's got.

Well now, this was quite a surprise in more ways than one, and I'll certainly try to elaborate on the one that really made my jaw fall off my face in utter disbelief later on the topic, but anyway, just how is that Supergirl's costume, currently a tank-top design, suddenly became a problem, or even being "sexed up", as if she'd never been like that years ago, nor any other superheroine? Does this mean that even her miniskirt, drawn before its time by Al Plastino, was a bad thing, and that she should've worn a pair of spandex pants like Hawkgirl's instead? Or at least a pair of farming shorts like those worn by Silvana Mangano in Bitter Rice? Since when did the Maiden of Might suddenly get singled out for special treatment?

Now I decidedly won't be naming any of the sources whom I found voicing these bizarre - and downright rude - sentiments. I'll just say for now that they included a message board whose residents were most unbearably moonbatty, and about four or five bloggers. What I will say in fairness is that the message board I speak of was much worse than the bloggers, and bore unedited comments that included alarmingly vile responses like calling Supergirl a "crack whore" and other horror-movie-worthy obscenities. One blogger was even criticizing Michael Turner's artwork design for being "anorexic". Gee, what would even Julie Schwartz think if he saw this?

I don't know, but until then, let's get a few things straight here about where I stand, or would stand, on the whole issue. First, if it's anything to do with the story, if it's not exciting enough, or funny enough, or it's insufficient in character personality and development, if the latter citation is really, truly important, then I can understand that. But when it comes to the costume, in and of itself, that's where I'm decidedly in a state of bewilderment. Because, aside from the fact that the Maiden of Might was one of the first characters to change her costume design (eg-from a blue shirt to a white shirt, but with the Super-symbol always there), haven't a whole bunch of other superheroines, teen or adult, also worn a costume like that? And with the possible exception of Ms. Marvel, whom a lot of women may have liked as a working woman's figure, leading to Marvel's changing the 70s design to a one-piece, I can't say that any of the others ever drew even a whisper of complaint. For example...

When Aquagirl's tank-top costume was intro'd in the Silver Age...
Nobody complained.

When Kendra Saunders wore one, right during her debut in JSA...
I never heard a single complaint there either, and she wasn't even 20 years old when she first entered the spotlight.

Even when Linda Danvers started wearing a tank-top towards the end of her run...
There was nary a complaint that I can think of, and I certainly don't know of any. And if she wore one, then I think it's only fair if Kara Zor-El does too. It's definitely not new, that's for sure.

Storm also wore a tank top in the past decade...
And noone complained about that either.

The same goes for...
Cassie Sandsmark.

Perhaps more noteworthy a teen, however, is...
Courney Whitmore, aka Star-Spangled Girl and Stargirl! She's worn that cute little tank-top of hers ever since she first debuted in 1998, and I haven't seen anyone complain about that.

And on another important note...
I might also add that Kara Zor-El began wearing more cleavage on her costume during the Bronze Age, at a time when the artists were beginning to draw her hotter and hotter than before. (This pic comes from the Krypton Chronicles 3-part mini written by E. Nelson Bridwell in 1981.) And who complained? Noone that I know of, that's for sure!

Next up, who in the right frame of mind can forget...
George Perez's stunning design for the Scarlet Witch in 1998? Hubba hubba, HOT HOT HOT!!!

We could also include, for good measure...
Tigra's fur bikini design, which was also very cool.

And to the blogger who called Michael Turner's artwork for Supergirl "anorexic": if that's what you think, well then...
What would you call this?

As for Ms. Marvel/Carol Danvers, while I didn't include her here (yet), I think I know why they simplified her costume to just a one-piece: it was said that there were some female readers during the late 70s who asked Marvel to rework her costume, and maybe some did, but I think it more likely that Chris Claremont, who took over writing from Gerry Conway, who may have begun the series first, and the editors, thought to do it themselves, because given that she was the kind of character who occupied a more reality based setting, they felt that a tank-top didn't convey her seriously enough as the working-woman type of girl she is. Which is possible. She's also one of the few female protagonists I know of where her personality and careers are what shaped her character, something that almost none of the other women I've mentioned here were ever characterized by. That doesn't mean a tank-top couldn't have worked for Carol, but either way, while her own series was only 3 years, they did manage something all the same. But whether a one or a two-piece costume, nobody had a problem with her being sexy, that's for sure.

So it strikes me as very, VERY odd that all of a sudden, people are starting to make a fuss over Kara's new costume out of nowhere, when here there have been quite a few heroines who've worn outfits like those before, and nobody kvetched about them one bit. Mainly because, wasn't this supposed to be just escapist fare?

(In sharp contrast, almost none of the bloggers who were against IC seemed to have anything against the tank-top itself, most likely because no, it's not something of serious importance when compared to the problems with gratuitous violence. And I think you can very well say that, if there's anyone who may not have any gripes about it, it's the women who wear them in real life!)

My initial guess was that this could have something to do with the bizarre old-fashioned stance that sex is infinitely worse than violence. But then, as I discovered, it was worse than I thought - it WAS some kind of a sex-is-worse-than-violence position, and not a very good one IMO: the people at the message board and five of the bloggers I saw who were costume-bashing also had a favorable opinion on Identity Crisis! Great guardians galore!

And that's how they pushed the button that turned me away from giving any credence to their arguments. My jaw just crashed to floor in disbelief. What, exactly, are these people thinking? Well, that's why I've written up the following guesses, theories and other musings below.

I think one or two bloggers were railing against the Kandor arc for being too "racy". Now I'm aware of what scene they speak of, BUT: in sharp contrast to the vile molestation scene in IC, which bore no female viewpoint to back it up (and didn't have a female lead either), the Kandor scene left no impact on me the way that the rape of Sue Dibny in IC did, if at all. Put another way, it did not offend me, not just simply because it wasn't a rape scene, but because it did not bear the vile tone and contempt that IC did. Maybe it's just got what to do with the fact that I'm familiar with the hilarious love scene between Sydney Savage and Johnny Barracuda in Danger Girl, but there you have it, I don't know what they're talking about as far as the "love scene" in the Kandor adventure goes!

Okay, this brings me to where I'm in horror at the message boarders and the bloggers: how is that they can see a de-facto love scene involving a teenaged girl and a [evil] Super-clone as smutty, but cannot see the same when a grownup woman is violated, as Sue Dibny was, in IC? Oh, I get it! Because Sue's an adult, and when its grownups who're violated, that alone makes it okay, is that it? Classic, classic.

This of course, is completely ignoring the questions of if it's done in poor taste or not. I even once wondered to myself, what if Sue Dibny were a member of a minority group, say, a Latina just like Kendra Saunders' mother, or even a teenager herself - would they have been so quick to praise the whole cesspool then? What if Tula, the Silver Age Aquagirl, were the rape victim? What then?

I realize that I cannot judge said message boarders and bloggers outright. But assuming that they would go the polar opposite route in a case like what I described above, that would only show why they took the side of IC to begin with - because, simply put, "stereotypes are easy." In other words, if you're white, you make easy fodder for discrimination. Or, put another way, what we have is a case of anti-white discrimination. Isn't that just glorious?

I said I cannot judge, not prematurely anyway. But even so, when I think on all this based on what I've theorized now, I come away feeling more than a bit disgusted. Where's anyone's responsibility these days? It makes no difference what the color of your skin is, how old you are, or what your character status is within a fictional universe, that does not make it illegal for any specific character to wear a tank-top, or to have a hot artwork design. And maybe this is just me, but what right do these message boarders and bloggers have to be arguing against the tank-top if they're going to legitimize a bottom of the barrel book like Identity Crisis? Not in my book, that's for sure.

I can understand if anyone would want there to be some focus on Kara's personality, as some did, but in all due fairness, I'm going to have to note that that's but a problem I've been finding with a lot of today's comics - they've been concerning themselves far more with "personalities" that they end up ruining whatever enjoyment the books could have besides that, and most of these character developments turn out to be so phony that they fail even there. That's why I don't see it as a priority these days, because if personality is all I'm going to be concerned about, and not even care about what joys there could be in the action/adventure theme, then all I'll end up doing is ruining my chance to enjoy even that much. I'm not the overly demanding sort myself, and that way, I'm able to enjoy a book based on the adventure theme alone.

So as long as the adventure theme works well, I don't go too far in my demands of a writer or a publisher. Escapism is what Marvel and DC alike are mainly about, and if I'm going to worry my head off about "reality" then all I've done is ruin what entertainment value there is.

Another thing I noticed about these message boarders - especially them - and the bloggers, was that they seem to be of the camp that wants more "realism" in comics, including rape(!). But if rape is something that happens in the real world, then so is wearing a tank-top. I've seen plenty of girls here too who wear tank-tops, and are also pretty slim too (I was also in Eilat this past week. Plenty of hotties there, local and foreign). I even once sat next to a chick on the bus with an outfit almost like that who read the bible!

If anyone's going to say that they're okay with rape in comics as a product of reality, but are hostile to having tank-tops there as well, that'd be a selective choice of reality, and by doing that, all they're doing is making themselves look ridiculous.

Such sentiments, I suspect, also stem from desensitisation to violence, in which case a male and even a female are quite okay with violence but hostile to sex. In fact, Peter Sanderson, a former comics editor himself, recently said when reviewing the third X-movie:
In the film Scott encounters Jean alive at Alkali Lake, the site of her seeming demise in the previous movie, X2. The filmmakers have Jean remove Scott’s protective glasses, holding back the optic beams, as Claremont and Byrne did in the mesa scene in the comics. Scott and Jean kiss. In the novel Claremont presents this as a love scene, a “perfect moment” albeit with an undercurrent of danger. In the movie the sequence seems ominous rather than ecstatic.

Then, in the movie, something happens to Scott offscreen. Wolverine later finds Scott’s glasses at Alkali Lake, but Scott is nowhere to be seen. When Jean thinks back to what happened, she is deeply disturbed, but the flashes of memory that we are shown still do not reveal Scott’s fate. But Claremont’s narrator explicitly states in the novel that Scott is dead.

The implication in the movie, made somewhat clearer in the book, is that Jean/Phoenix’s sexual passion for Scott literally consumed him. Consider how the filmmakers have transformed Claremont and Byrne’s mesa scene. In the comics, it was a touching love scene; in the comics it becomes a scene from a horror film. How many horror films have there been in which the young lovers get killed as soon as they have sex, as if they were being punished? In the comics version, sex is good; in the movie version, sex is bad.
Sadly, even comics suffer from the kind of problems the highlighted text above points to for many years, just like movies. It's been a common problem far too long that people are concerned much more about sex in entertainment, yet blandly tolerant of violence. And the current situation oscillating around Supergirl and IC, I'm afraid, is no different.

One more reason why I don't see the subjects of my critique here as being worthy of arguing about whether or not Kara should wear a tank-top.

And why do I get the feeling that, were Courtney Whitmore to get another solo series just like Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E, that they'd have nothing whatsoever to say? Which would beg the question - why does Courtney get a free pass but Kara does not? Where's the logic in that?

Which brings me to the saddest theory I've feared - that post-Crisis Kara Zor-El's critics are also her real life enemies - they're ungrateful that DC ever brought back the original Maiden of Might, presumably because they liked Linda Danvers more, and she's been tossed out of the spotlight. Well gee whiz, taking out their anger on poor little Kara is not the way to go, and it's a shame that they're throwing away a big chance to appreciate the return of a much beloved superheroine from the Silver Age, whom I thought a lot of people wanted to come back. But worse is if they don't have courage to admit it and are looking for all-too easy excuses on which to attack the character!

If the anti-Kara lambasters don't appreciate Kara's return, I guess I can't argue with that. But to do it while legitimizing distasteful violence at the same time in a rock-bottom miniseries that took almost all the buzz that Kara should've had in 2004, that's just lame. Likewise, if they're going to pretend that Courtney Whitmore's own costume never existed, to say nothing of discriminating against Kara as if she's not allowed the same privleges as Courtney and others who also wear a tank-top, then I'd say, without apology, that something very insulting is going on here.

It practically begs the question: what do comic book readers want?

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About me

  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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