Right, well, just as we were all grumbling about having to carry our asses back to work after the Thanksgiving holidays (in America, anyways--to my international readers, we ate a lot and had a few days off from work) it seems that once again, Power Girl's boobies have set the comics intelligentsia aflame with anger, defensiveness, and exactly the kind of awful displays of sexism that have made superhero comics fandom the mortifying writhing mass it often is.
It behooves me then, as I attempt to struggle for validity (or even the smallest bit of attention) that I get a marshmallow toasted on this bonfire before it's all burnt out. I will attempt (and likely fail) to avoid being put to the sword by one side or the other by dodging the whole sexism thing as much as possible and addressing another trend that comes from this whole thing that I actually find encouraging.
But before that, I'm going to ramble at length. Let's have a look (not that way) at Power Girl. Lost in all the debate over boobie windows or convoluted origins, it should be mentioned that Power Girl is a product of the zeitgeist of her age, specifically the feminist movement of the 70's.
Whenever superhero comics try to capture the spirit of the age, the results are more often as not cringe worthy stuff (how many black superheroes exploded onto the scene in the 70's? How many of them had nothing more to distinguish them except having "Black" before their name--just in case our attention wasn't drawn to that fact already) done with the best intentions and quite often from a position of white middle-class liberal guilt.
The results, looking back on things with the benefit of hindsight are often hilarious or time to facepalm--black superheroes seem to be constantly furious at Uncle Charlie, and every "feminist" or "liberated woman" (or Lady Liberator) is a serious ball-buster. Part of that could be down to the generally exaggerated nature of superhero comics (like pro wrestling, the phrase "theatre of the absurd" springs to mind--superhero comics deal in hightened, almost operatic, reality) but also the simple fact that it's very hard to get a sense of a social movement while it's happening around you--it's slightly too big to be easily perceived.
It was with equally well-meaning intentions that women characters began to hit the scene in the 70's and in deference to lessons learned (or not) a hell of a lot of them seemed to have "she-" in front of their names or "-woman" or "-girl" after them. Again--just in case we forgot.
Nevertheless, even with all the best intentions in the world, an outsider trying to write for a different gender, sexual orientation, or race will face a certain disconnect. I am not saying that straight writers can't write gay characters or white writers can't write black characters, I'm simply saying there may be subtleties that you can't get to owing to the fact that one is on the outside looking in. It can be mitigated, it can be compensated for, but it's not easily hurdled, and I struggle with it in my writing, too.
Also, a creator's experience and predilections also inform any creation, blatantly or subtly. For instance, a group of mostly old-line creators, raised in times where the gender roles and expectations were quite different are bound to have a certain subtext in their perceptions of women's liberation than someone who was born and raised in the midst of it, and he would have a different opinion than, say, Dave Sim. But who doesn't?
This idea of experience informing intent will become important . . .right now.
Wally Wood designed Power Girl's look. In addition to designing Daredevil's red suit and committing suicide, Wally Wood had quite a line in drawing women who were, if we're honest, built like brick shithouses. Some artists have pretty blatant obsessions, and whether they like it or not, they bleed onto their pages.
So, Power Girl, poster child for "feminism" in superhero comics (not easily defined then, possibly less so now) created with what were surely good intentions, ended up on the page as a bit of a ballbuster who was built like a brick shithouse.
Here's another example--nearly around the same time, Marvel created Ms. Marvel, who is very much Power Girl's opposite number--she's a distaff version of a male hero, she's a feminist who demonstrates it by being a ballbuster, origin and current status has been hopelessly muddled, and her costume's probably more famous than the character. I think they even fought in JLA/Avengers, just in case we missed the connection.
I once read an anecdote Dave Cockrum told about re-resdesigning Ms. Marvel's look. Her first outfit was lacking something and so he designed the second--and ultimately more enduring--costume and presented it to Marvel's head honcho (at least in the public eye) Stan Lee, who was elated and declared that this was what he'd been looking for--"Black leather and tits and ass."
He would know, I'd imagine--this is the Stan Lee who gave us Stripperella, for God's sake.
I present these things not to make any great point (except "this was nascent feminism in superhero comics 30+ years ago.") apart from how good intentions can often go awry in ways we may not be fully cognizant of. Mind you, there was still plenty of times to right the ship between then and now, but . . .well, as anyone who knows anything about comics will tell you, all too often things swing back to a permanent status quo. Part of that is the nature of the beast--to keep the soap opera running things can never fully resolve, after all.
Another part of it is that some ideas that should long ago have been tossed in the bin stick around, molder, and get a bit stinky.
However, that there's this much of a debate, and about Power Girl, to boot, gives me hope for one thing. For all the sturm und drang people throw about (me included) about how the comic market is shrinking and catering to the 30+ year old male geek is resulting in a slow countdown to extinction, that women would get this passionate about a character shows that there are characters that female readers would embrace and would take an interest in, if perhaps something could be done about the barnacles of intentional and unintentional sexism that have accrued on them over the years.
I very much hope those that have been most vocal will bring some of that to bear, perhaps, on creations that redress the problems with these character that prevent that vital connection from being made. Failing that, I hope they get their shot someday to do something with them on their own--I'm a big beleiver that at some point a new generation has to being its ideas to bear on these hoary old icons so it will speak to younger generations and there will be later generations of comics readers.
It's the only thing that's ever seemed to work.