So a few smart people at DC Comics figured out that a female character flying around in a skirt might develop a sense of modesty at some point, and now Supergirl’s costume has red spandex-looking bike shorts on underneath her skirt. Seems practical, logical, and like a tiny little change right? Not so much. Apparently it was much-discussed. I’ll stay away from characterizing the discussion as “APESHIT” but really, some folks got very upset. Heh.

I had heard a little about the change a month or two back, but didn’t really think much of it. So when a reporter for The Toronto Star contacted me last week while I was in Japan, I actually hopped online to check out the hullabaloo. Wow! People are nuts! When she asked to interview me? Sure, why not, this would be great.

The story by reporter Paola Loriggio went live yesterday, and it’s a good one. Sadly because I got my comments on the story in about 4 hours before she had to file (stupid flight delay…!) there’s only one tiny, pithy quote from me in there, when I sent her a few hundred words FULL of pithy material. So first, go read the well-written, balanced story on this change (followed by one awesome bent-out-of-shape comment) and then come back here to read the full text of my answers about this epic non-story, which I have provided for you behind the cut. :)

(Bold Questions by reporter Paola Loriggio, not bold answers by me.)

Why do you think people are reacting so strongly to such a minor costume change?

I think that hardcore comic fans react so strongly to news like this is because of how little superhero comics really change at all, particularly ones from Marvel and DC. If you look at the history of the characters, how much has really changed about them since their inception? Even the smallest alteration to the status quo provokes a lot of passion from the die-hards… however misdirected.

Do superhero costumes typically inspire such strong feelings?

Well, if you look at it the costume is a huge part of the character’s identity. Without their costumes superheroes are just hulking, naked dudes with no genitals to speak of. The superhero costume is a character dressing in his or her personality… that Supergirl has decided to finally put a pair of short-pants on speaks directly to the tone of the series and the type of character she’s going to be now.

How often do the costumes change, approximately, and is there always a big response from the public?

Each artist brings their own flair to a character, costumes change in little ways all the time. The major changes are usually set out with a lot of fanfare. That there was apparently an editorial meeting at DC about having a character throw on a pair of bike shorts under her skirt? Par for the course, as is the reaction to it.

Costumes for both genders tend to be skintight, but superheroines usually show more skin – and so far, that’s stayed the case despite the industry’s attempts to attract female readers. Why do you think that is? And why the sudden move towards modesty/practicality?

Is this the start of a new trend, the sign of a shift in the industry? Or do you think people are reading too much in a one-time decision?

There are so many different reasons why the Supergirl character could be dressing a little more modestly these days, not the least of which is that it was frankly embarrassing to give a Supergirl comic to an actual teenage girl for… jeez, years now. In fact DC had to come up with a specific, kid-friendly Supergirl series just to stem the tide of complaints.

I don’t think it’s an industry move towards modesty, or practicality. Superheroes and their costuming are still as impractical as ever. I think it was a decision by a new writer and a new artist to the Supergirl series that wanted to pull the book in a different direction. I’m happy to see it, personally. Anything that makes a book like that more saleable is a good move, from a retailer’s point of view, and now that’s a book that’s far less embarrassing to have on the racks. But like all corporate-controlled superhero comics, a new editor, writer, or artist will come along soon enough, and it will all change back. Superheroes love the status quo.

Do you think having superheroines in less provocative outifits would draw more female readers?

I don’t think it’d hurt, but honestly if a woman came into the store looking for something with strong female characters or with a strong sci-fi/fantasy/superhero feeling, there are a dozen other books I’d recommend over DC or Marvel superhero titles, provocative costumes or otherwise. If there are women and kids out there that like those books despite… or because of… the skimpy and impractical costumes, that’s great, more power too them. But if a customer asks me for a recommendation, Supergirl probably isn’t going to be on the list.

- Christopher

9 Comments on “That’s Hardly Super, Supergirl”

You can track this conversation through its atom feed.

  1. MichaelJ says:

    Provoactive costumes don’t make the female character. :D
    I mean, Arana is pretty cool, and she’s not running around half-naked.

    Some costume changes are good, some bad- I can’t even look at the old Robin without bursting into laughter (seriously? Scaly green briefs?)…

  2. Halliday says:

    I think the bike shorts are genius, and solve a lot of problems artistically, but also lend a better sense of reality to a character who would, in a real world, probably put some fucking pants on. Still… I can’t believe this was actual news.

  3. THE BEAT » Blog Archive » News and notes from around says:

    [...] in a well-written wide ranging piece, even though we weren’t quoted. But see also Chris Butcher’s unedited comments. Maybe we’ll run ours [...]

  4. dave merrill says:

    The comments under the Star article are pretty special, in that commenters are able to quote issues and page numbers in which Supergirl’s undergarments are visible and to what extent.

  5. KPasquino says:

    The comments to the article in The Star (and for that matter, the article itself) remind me why I used to be embarrassed about reading comics. Because that’s not exactly a skill anyone should brag about: “I can name the exact issue numbers where Supergirl showed her panties.”

    Let’s hope they give Darwyn Cooke’s “The Hunter” at least the same coverage.

  6. linger says:

    Bike shorts under skirt = Supreme ero.

    Probably something that Pretty Cure taught me.

  7. Blog@Newsarama » Blog Archive » Linkarama@Newsarama says:

    [...] “Does a change of shorts mark a feminist shift for a comic book icon or are pants just pants?”: The Toronto Star ran a story about Supergirl starting to wear shorts under her skirt, and one of the people they contacted for comment was Toronto retailer and comics blogger Chris Butcher. Butcher provides all the good questions he was asked and answers he gave that didn’t make it into the final story on his blog. [...]

  8. alternative press festival 2009 | ventedspleen blog says:

    [...] due to the amount of big announcements that are made during the five day event. Among the news: Supergirl is wearing bike shorts under her skirt. The comic industry is failing to boycott the homophobic Hyatt hotel. Marvel have acquired the [...]

  9. Paola Loriggio says:

    I’m horrendously late to find this and reply, but… Thanks again for your help – and I’m glad you published your full (and decidedly pithy) answers here.

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