This cover has been the “Outrage of the Week” for three nonconsecutive weeks in the Comics Fan Feminist Blogosphere, and its making its way towards a fourth with this post. Alpha Girl backs up the arguments laid out by Greg Burgas earlier this week, points out that the entire argument is pointless, states her appreciation for the character and makes a noble defense of large-breasted women at the hands of wicked extremist Feminists.
There’s one big problem with her post. The argument was a strawman. The complaints about the cover are not the wicked extremist Feminist arguments described. Neither Burgas nor Alpha seems to have read the actual complaints about the cover, and both bring up several arguments (Comics are a guy’s fantasy anyway. Its just as bad in TV and movies. Women have better self-esteem. Men are more realistic than you think. Why don’t we focus our energy towards something more important?) that are thoroughly, skillfully and convincingly refuted elsewhere.
We won’t be discussing those.
Instead, we’ll be addressing the expressed idea that artwork has less of a bearing on characterization than writing and of course, Power Girl’s breasts.
In all seriousness, we will be discussing more than Power Girl’s breasts (the promised pictures are here, however), because there is far more to Power Girl than just her breasts and I believe that it takes a supremely dense reader not to realize this. Most Power Girl fans realize that there is a world of character behind the massive chest, and tend to be outraged when a writer or artist (yes, artist) does not realize that.
Those of you that think that characterization is job of the writer alone are sorely mistaken. Comic books are a visual medium. There are a thousand tiny little clues in each issue to give the impression of the character’s personality, things the writer can’t convey through dialogue alone. Turner has managed to completely disregard all of the little clues about Power Girl’s personality in a single picture. Anything more than a blank thought balloon over her head would fall flat at this point!
Don’t believe me? Then let’s first look at some artists who do know how to convey Power Girl’s personality.
This is a close-up of the Alex Ross cover for Justice Society of America #1. Power Girl barely takes up an eighth of the cover, but he still managed to convey her attitude. The impression I get is readiness. She’s in front of the table and staring at the viewer. She’s standing with her hands on her hips and her weight shifted onto the leg closer to the viewer. She’s poised to react to any unexpected threat, easily able to pivot on that closer leg and throw a punch. The expression on her face makes it very clear that she is ready to do this. Her sturdy build and muscular arms make it very clear that punch would hurt. Power Girl’s steady character traits include a willingness to deal out massive amounts of violence in battle quickly and efficiently. In her first appearance, she stomped her foot once and knocked a squad of soldiers off of their feet, ending the battle. Alex Ross’ Power Girl is the sort of person who could do that, you can tell from a single cover.
Of course Ross, while a legend to many eyes, is not to everyone’s taste. Some people do prefer a soft, cartoonish style that offers a taste of cheesecake but still delivers the kind of energy needed to propel 90s comics through their hormone-fueled adolescence. For those people, here is Jim Lee’s cover to Infinite Crisis #2.
I’m not by nature a fan of Lee’s, but I have to admit this is a beautiful cover. Again, she distributes her weight on her right leg and stands with her shoulders back, hands on her hips. This time isn’t readiness, though. She’s not looking to kick anyone’s ass, she’s just feeling powerful and sure of herself. Her head is held high, not looking at the viewer but instead looking towards an unseen future. Her mouth is slightly twitched upward in a smile, and her eyes are focuses on that undefined future. She’s basking. This is an optimistic woman, but the overall message of the pose is power and certainty.
Body image in our society is complex and devastating for most women, and white spandex forgives absolutely nothing. If you want insight into how self-assured she has to be to wear that uniform, go to a dancewear store, try on a basic white leotard, look in the mirror and contemplate walking out of the dressing room like that. Any woman who poses like that, in public, in white spandex with a hole over her chest is twelve feet tall and bulletproof when it comes to her self-esteem. Power Girl flies around fighting people wearing that, which makes her ten times the superbly confident woman who just poses at the convention with you. We should all cultivate such an attitude towards our bodies.
I believe Mr. Lee has sufficiently captured such a mindset in this cover.
Not enough? Then we have the Amanda Conner cover for JSA Classified #1. She’s shifting her weight from hip to hip as she rolls up her sleeves. Its a leisurely, exaggerated, threatening motion. She’s still solidly planted, but she’s leaning over much further than a person normally would and getting as much flex as she can out of each arm position. That’s a wicked smile accented by her eyes and eyebrows, the little dimple just adds to it. She’s not even cautiously sizing up her opponent. Instead, she’s giving a theatrical prelude that tells us she plans to kick ass and savor the experience. The messy hair, the dangling cape and the slightly spilling cleavage give the overall impression of ruggedness. She knows she won’t get hurt. She knows she can hurt us. We all know what’s about to happen.
One of the most beloved traits of this character is that ruggedness. Its an enjoyable determination. We know she’s resolute, we know she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty, we know she’s capable and she knows all of this, but on top of that she enjoys herself when she can. She revels in that ability to wade into the fray with the heavyweights of the DC Universe and potentially come out with the title belt. She’s not out of control, but she enjoys a good workout. Conner’s cover combines the traits of the previous two covers with a sense of humor.
Please note, if you will, that two of those pictures showed Power Girl’s breasts in the center of the page, drawn to the point of spilling out of her uniform. The third displayed them prominently. I’m of the school of thought that Power Girl’s breasts are part of her characterization. It goes beyond her confidence and sexuality. Power Girl is a very large person, in the sense of her personality as well as her physical form. Her physical form reinforces her personality. The personality of someone who calls herself Power Girl and is worthy of such a name. The toughness, the roughness, the confidence, and the impulsive fun are in every muscle, every bone in her large body and every curve of fat from the cheeks on her face to the convex belly that some artists like to throw in to give her a proper hourglass figure. The large breasts are just part of the overall largeness of the character.
However, if you look at the above pictures, the large breasts are not the only thing used to convey that largeness.
Compare Turner’s cover to the above.
Look at her passive stance. The placid shape of her eyes and that confused tilt to her head. Her arms are limp at her sides, and her body is positioned as if its just an outgrowth of those round orbs attached to her chest. They are spherical, perky, and seem to float in the air. By comparison the rest of Power Girl, from her hair to her belt, seems to hang. I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised if the final cover showed a puppeteer at the top and strings attached to her head and breasts. She’s like a doll. A robot. The vacant look even implies she’s been turned off for the night. This is not Power Girl. The only thing Turner managed to draw correctly was the breasts.
And that is why most of the Power Girl fans are pissed off. Because he took a vibrant, vital, impressive character — possibly the most lifelike woman in the DC Universe — stripped her of every character trait that made a difference, and reduced her to a pair of breasts.
That’s insulting to male and female readers.
Related: On my personal blog, this post from about a year ago, which debunks the legend about Wally Wood increasing her breast size. (Because I know one of you is going to bring that up.)