Women’s Representation in Comic Books

Taylor Moore and I were very excited when we came up with the idea for this project. A final project about something we actually cared about? That’s amazing! We couldn’t wait to share our ideas of how to better women’s representation in the comic book and graphic novel formats. As avid comic book readers, we wanted to feel like we were welcome in the community, and we agree that the objectification of women in comic books only turns female readers away and makes them feel unimportant and unwanted.

During the early stages, while Taylor was sketching and I was researching, we began promoting our project to anyone and everyone we could: friends, classmates, convention goers, Tumblr followers. This project is still a work in progress; we’ve finished two redesigns with the hopes of doing one or two more over the summer. While we would have loved to have done an actual book for this project like we have been planning, we made the decision to cut the project down to pamphlets due to costs and time. Although we’re worried that there will be pushback and/or a  lack of interest in this project, we hope that those who do enjoy it spread the word about our project.

Taylor and I will  be posting the rest of our project here periodically over the summer, but anyone who’s particularly interested in the artwork can follow Taylor’s art blog here. For other information about the project, feel free to contact myself (Lauren Woehrer) at my blog here. In the meantime, the work we have done can be found under the cut. We hope you enjoy them!

Catwoman (Selina Kyle)

Origin Story

Catwoman redesign by Lauren Woehrer and Taylor Moore

Bob Kane and Bill Finger introduced Selina Kyle in Batman #1 in spring 1940. Inspired by Kane’s cousin Ruth Steel and actress Jean Harlow, Catwoman has evolved from Batman’s adversary to an antiheroine, all the while being one of Batman’s most frequent love interests. As established in Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, her backstory is that of a former dominatrix who steals in order to provide for herself and fellow runaway Holly Robinson. After running into Batman, she is inspired to become the ‘Catwoman’ and continue to commit burglaries, albeit now they are more in the vein of Robin Hood than an actual thief. In the past, she has teamed up with Batman in titles such as The Long Halloween and Hush, and her fellow villainesses Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy in Gotham City Sirens, but she usually prefers to work alone. She currently stars in the solo title Catwoman in the New 52 comics reboot.

Powers and Abilities

Catwoman primarily uses claws in her gloves and boots and a bullwhip in her capers. A master of disguise, she is also trained in advanced acrobatics, hand-to-hand combat, and stealth. The closest thing she has to a power is a heightened affinity for cats, and she sometimes uses big cats in particular to her advantage.

What’s Wrong and How We Fixed It

New 52 Catwoman, in a pose that exposes MAXIMUM BOOBS AND BUTT

For a character that was partly created to appeal to female readers by being the female equivalent of Batman, Selina Kyle lives up more to her other reason for being, which is to give the Batman comics more sex appeal. A realistic, face-covering cat-mask has since given way to more stylized face masks in her later portrayals. In recent years, artists switch between two costumes for her: her skintight purple catsuit with an attached tail from the 1990’s, or her iconic black PVC catsuit that looks like Michelle Pfeiffer’s costume in the movie Batman Returns and draws inspiration from Emma Peel’s costume in The Avengers television show. This costume also comes with infrared goggles that are attached to her cowl.

While her costumes are the most modest ones being examined in this project, Catwoman’s costumes are still rife with issues. While she is covered up for the most part, Selina’s skintight catsuits don’t provide much protection from the elements or other enemies, and the fabrics look like they would offer limited movement and a lot of chafing. Her catsuits are typically zipped down to expose maximum cleavage, and often make her look like she isn’t wearing a bra, which wouldn’t be a good idea for her large breasts. Panels in her current solo title are usually overly provocative, often showing off Catwoman’s breasts and behind more than her actual face, and she has been drawn at one point being sexually penetrated by Batman for no apparent reason other than titillation. Laura Hudson of Comics Alliance writes that scenes like this “don’t support sexually liberated women; they undermine them.”

The main idea of this redesign is to give Catwoman more protection while still being lightweight enough for her to move around. We kept the goggles and cowl, but decided to give her a jacket with fur lining so she can be warm while running on freezing rooftops. She wears a bodysuit made of tactical gear and a foamy material that allows her freedom of movement and possible protection from gunfire and other weapons. Underneath this, she has a sports bra that not only provides proper support, but also keeps her breasts strapped down enough so they won’t get in the way while she performs complicated stunts. Finally, she wears knee-high boots with flat heels, a black choker, and a utility belt with a cat buckle and compartments for her whip and other gadgets.


Citations

  1.  Kane, Bob (November 1989). Batman and Me. Foestfille, California: Eclipse Books
  2. Batman: Year One. Frank Miller – David Mazzucchelli – DC Comics – 2005
  3. Hudson, Laura. “The Big Sexy Problem with Superheroines and Their ‘Liberated Sexuality’.” Comics Alliance. 22 Sept. 2011. Web. 19 May 2014.
  4. Batman: The Long Halloween. Jeph Loeb – Tim Sale – DC Comics – 1996
  5. Batman: Hush. Jeph Loeb – Jim Lee – DC Comics – 2002
  6. Gotham City Sirens. Paul Dini – Guillem March – DC Comics – 2009
  7. Catwoman Vol. 1: The Game (The New 52). Judd Winick – Guillem March – DC Comics – 2011
  8.  “The Man Behind The Cat – Exclusive Interview with Ed Brubaker”. Archived from the original on May 28, 2005. Retrieved May 19, 2014.

 

Starfire (Koriand’r)

 

Starfire redesign by Lauren Woehrer and Taylor Moore.

Origin Story

Koriand’r is a princess from the planet Tamaran who was enslaved by Tamaranian enemies, who were led by her older sister Komand’r, also known as Blackfire. Jealous of Starfire’s claim to the throne, Komand’r swore vengeance against her sister after she was expelled from warrior training for nearly killing Starfire. Both sisters were later captured by the Psions and had cruel experiments performed on them to see how much energy their bodies could absorb before exploding. While Blackfire’s forces kept the Psions distracted, Starfire broke free, eventually fleeing to Earth and helping form the Teen Titans.

Koriand’r is the fourth and most notable character to use the name Starfire. She was created by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez and was introduced in October 1980 in a preview story inserted in DC Comics Presents #26. Her most popular appearance has been in the 2003 kids’ cartoon Teen Titans where, like her comic book counterpart, she is romantically involved with Robin. She currently costars in the New 52 comic book series Red Hood and the Outlaws.

Powers and Abilities

As an alien from the planet Tamaran, Starfire can convert ultraviolet radiation absorbed into her skin into pure energy for flight. She is also able to use this energy as blasts called ‘starbolts’, a power she gained while captured by Psions. While she is not as strong as her Teen Titans teammate Donna Troy (a.k.a. Wonder Girl), her warlord-tested training in armed and unarmed combat, combined with her superhuman strength, helped her take down Donna two out of three times during purely hand-to-hand sparring matches.

What’s Wrong and How We Fixed It

New 52 Starfire. Is this safe for work?

Starfire has had a history of scanty costumes. Her original 80’s costume basically looks like a swimsuit with too many cutouts; there’s enough material to cover her collarbones, breasts, crotch, and a bit of her stomach, but that’s about it. Her current New 52 costume, which is comprised of two strips of purple armor that barely cover her nipples and a purple armored thong, is even skimpier. A common excuse for her lack of costume is that not only does she has some degree of invulnerability and that she gains her powers from the sun, but her alien species has different ideas of sexuality and modesty. While this might have made sense in the context of when she was first created, her current portrayal in comics is, according to Andrew Hunsaker of craveonline.com, “…essentially a highly advanced Real Doll…complete with installing a lack of memory of anything related to humanity.” Koriand’r’s depiction in comics especially comes as a disappointment to fans of Teen Titans, where she is seen as a strong, competent role model, with a comparatively modest costume comprising of a purple crop top that completely covers her breasts, a purple skirt, and purple boots that cover most of her legs.

Since Starfire is a warrior princess, the idea behind her new costume is to give her something more combat ready. Her top half is a cropped, short-sleeved purple breastplate with a glass panel that shows her cleavage and her bottom half are purple, armored pants. She also wears purple gauntlets and her boots that almost completely cover her legs have flat heels. The glass panel and bare midriff allow Starfire to maintain her sex appeal and have enough exposure to the sun while still covering her up and keeping her protected in battle, whether she’s fighting on Earth or another planet.


 

Citations

  1. Lobdell, Scott (2011). Red Hood and the Outlaws #1. New York: DC Comics.
  2. Wolfman, Marv and Pérez, George (1980). DC Comics Presents #26. DC Comics
  3.  Hunsacker, Andrew. “New 52 Review: Red Hood and the Outlaws #1”Comics/Reviews. Craveonline.com. Retrieved 19 May 2014.
  4. Winick, Judd (2005). Outsiders #25 Part 4. Los Angeles, CA: DC COMICS. p. 25
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