Thursday, December 01, 2011

Revolt of the Super-Chicks

In late 1965, Supergirl and Wonder Woman starred in The Brave & the Bold #63 - "The Revolt of the Super-Chicks!", a love letter to conformity and traditional gender roles. The premise: lacking romance because she's seen as too intimidating for men, Supergirl abandons her role as a superheroine so she can focus on being what men want: something feminine, i.e., weak and frail. That's not subtext in this story, it's flat out text:
It seems laughable on the face of it that men wouldn't be attracted to an adorable blonde co-ed in a skintight leotard and miniskirt, but in the world of sixties comics, apparently Supergirl can't catch a break in the dating game. So she takes drastic measures...
Superman, playing the voice of masculine authoritarianism, tries to convince his cousin that she's making a bad decision. But she's a little too clever for Supes, with hilarious results:
"Why...uh...ulp...I - I'm very FOND of girls...I...uh.." Methinks thou dost protest too much, Superman.
Supergirl figures that Paris is the home of romance and the best place to get some action, and she's right - no sooner does she set foot in the City of Lights that she becomes a "glamorpuss playgirl," at least according to Wonder Woman, dispatched by Superman to talk sense into his cousin. But Supergirl is a bad influence, and soon enough Wonder Woman finds herself a suave French playmate as well...
...a chauvinist dimwit who thinks fighting crime is unfeminine. Tell that to the world's female police officers! And yet, Wonder Woman buys into her lover's point of view without question.
Meanwhile, some boulders conveniently fall out of nowhere to reinforce the sexist point. "If I stop them with my super-powers, I'll no longer seem feminine to him!" You know, if Sylvia could throw boulders, I'd still be attracted to her. Were men really this insecure in the sixties?

The rest of the story is cheerfully mundane; Supergirl and Wonder Woman team up to fight the forgettable Multi-Face and realize that they must continue to serve as superheroines, foregoing romance. It's as if the two endeavors are completely incompatible, yet super-heroes have no trouble fighting crime and having girlfriends. No double standard there!

1 comment:

"Those Jeff And Sacred Fires" said...

Were there women working on comic books back then? You would know better than me. The editors and publishers were male, or maybe women using male pseudonyms. These gents would have mortgages and alimony and cottage payments to make. Likely, they would not mess around with their star characters, because nobody would buy the comic books if Wonder Woman and Supergirl decided to retire and become housewives until the end of their days. The writers would have to invent a way to press the Story Arc Reset Button before the final page of of the Super-Chicks issue to make things come back to normal, so of course they would have to come up with some plot devices that were cheap and quick.

At least Supergirl gets to rock out her bikini, there's an excuse to show the ladies in something other than their uniforms.

Were men more insecure back in the sixties? Take a look at what passes for Supergirl these days. Silicone boobs and injected lips, zero-percent body fat and crazy Barbie proportions all poured into a Sailor Moon suit. Is it possible to find a normally-attractive female in any comic book these days? Check out Ms. Lois Lane from Earl's March 12, 2009 post. How many women (who aren't showgirls) would wear those stilettos to work?

I'd argue that men today are at least as insecure as they were back then, just in different ways. It's a tough call to judge the mores of a society based on the comic book culture, but I think the changes in art style are indicative of something perhaps more profound. Comic book women have lost their femininity in favour of sexualization. I'm not trying to pass a judgement here, just an observation. There is a tremendous amount of artistic engineering that goes into making today's comic book woman look the way she does, and solid market-based reasons as well. Sex sells, feminism not so much.