Costumes, Costumes, Costumes

Regular readers will probably have noticed it’s been a bit of a ghost town recently around here. My excuse is, holy shit my thesis. But I’m back (today, anyway) for the one-year anniversary post about (what else) comics!

Now, after giving up on AvsX, I haven’t been paying too much attention to what Marvel’s been doing lately. (Again, holy fucking thesis). I do know that Marvel is relaunching Uncanny X-Force, and the updated costumes rock. Storm’s mohawk is back, and Psylocke gave up the bathing suit!

Comics Alliance interviewed the writer and artist about the new costumes, and guess what? They thought about practicality and character personalities when designing the new costumes! I thought the day would never come. Artist Kris Anka had this to say: “I felt that every costume should not only highlight the personality of the character it is wrapped around, but also of the function that the costumes will serve towards.” For this reason, Psylocke was given an outfit she wouldn’t be “falling out” in, and they took away her heels. While I’m extremely supportive of this change, I wish it hadn’t just been made with Psylocke. The other female team members also, despite not being ninjas, need “mobility,” so those wedge shoes need to go. It’s disappointing that in a design so heavily focused on functionality, wedge heels still make the cut.

They look great on Storm’s new costume (which I love! someone cosplay it! immediately!), and emphasize her regal posture, but since realism was a factor in the design, it falls a little short. It’s also one of those moments where I wish someone asked a woman what she thought of the design. Aesthetically it’s wonderful, but, again, these costumes were supposed to be more than just pretty.

Interestingly, the female version of Fantomex has smaller wedge heels than Storm:

This means that they considered that two female characters might choose different heel heights, but still decided that they would both choose heels.

Still, there’s a lot to like about the new costumes and the new team, including the 4:2 female-to-male ratio. Kudos to Anka and Humphries for making my week better after it was ruined by seeing this gross chained-up Storm cover of Wolverine and the X-Men. Also, kudos to commenters on the Comics Alliance article for suggesting Storm’s hair be left natural, and even posting this cool picture of a natural mohawk.

And, in case reading about these costume changes is getting you in the mood for making your own costumes, there’s a great site called Take Back Halloween that catalogs really cool costume ideas and how-tos for women who aren’t interested in the generic Sexy Version of Whatever Men are Wearing style of Halloween costumes.

Til next time!

-Joanna

‘Gambit’ and the Female Gaze

So, I banned myself from writing about comics this week, but here we are anyway.

Before I read the first issue of Gambit, I was curious what I would find between its covers. In an interview with Comics Alliance, writer James Asmus said, “Gambit really is one of the few explicitly sexy male characters in mainstream comics, and that’s a major part of how I envision this book. Luckily, our artist on the book is Clay Mann. And he completely taps into the easy cool and good looks that help make Gambit such man-candy to his fans.” (Also, Asmus said he has actually lived in Louisiana and known actual Cajuns, and therefore won’t have to rely on “other fictional portrayals of the culture,” which is amazing for a whole ‘nother set of reasons, fit for a whole ‘nother post.)

The idea of putting Gambit’s sex appeal at the forefront of the book was extremely interesting to me, for a probably fairly obvious reason: superheroines are primarily sexy all the time, regardless of how much sex appeal their characters actually have, but superheroes are rarely sexy first and foremost, even when their characters have a lot of sex appeal. Also, James Asmus thinks that Gambit’s “fans” think he’s man-candy. This means Asmus understands that not every single comics reader is a straight man. Which blows my mind in the most unreasonable way.

And then there were hints of a shower scene! Be still, my beating heart!

Fast forward to the release of issue 1. What do we open with? Naked Gambit in a naked shower! Hurray, world! Four thousand points to feminism, right?

Sort of. What I find most interesting about the way Gambit is drawn is that his sexiness manages to be both overt and subtle at the same time. His character also manages to be sexy without being objectified.

Let’s go back to that shower scene.  In the first panel, we get all of naked Gambit that’s fit to print. (Meaning, he’s positioned so he isn’t facing us, so sorry, but no genitals.) Then we see various body parts of Gambit as he gets out of the shower, all leading up to the panel where he’s toweling off his hair in the buff, with a picture frame covering (just) his crotch. This panel is extremely erotic, I think, and in part because it balances subtlety and overt sexiness so well. The placement of that picture frame at the same time conceals and emphasizes what we all know is there anyway. And then the final panel gives us a gleaming shot of Gambit’s muscley manly-man back.

First page of Gambit #1

This is all pretty hot-and-bother-inducing, yet, does it differ from superheroine shower scenes? Do I find this portrayal sexy, but not creepy, simply because I’m not a man and am unused to seeing naked men in comics?

I don’t think so. One of the major reasons why objectification of women’s bodies is so harmful, is that it teaches us that women are interchangeable. The eroticism associated with a woman’s body is unrelated to her as a person; she is sexy because she has a cis woman’s body, not because she is a sexy person. And yet, in this first page, this snapshot of Gambit is very intimate, in every sense of the word. It’s not just that we’re seeing him naked, it’s that we’re being introduced to him as naked, and, while he is naked, we are putting together pieces of his life. In the panel with the picture frames, we’re looking at Gambit’s not-penis while also looking at the picture in the foreground of Gambit and Rogue. These things are associated directly. We’re not just looking at a naked attractive man; we’re looking a specific naked attractive man, one who we are trying to get to know. His naked shower scene is actually advancing story and character. This is inherently different to the idea of objectification, which, in addition to being gratuitous, teaches us that women (or men, but usually women) are sexual objects, not sexual people.

Throughout the first two issues, most of the time Gambit keeps his clothes on, and leaves his sex appeal to be channeled through his words and actions. However, even when clothed, Gambit’s posture and placement are much sexier than that of most male comics characters. He’ll lounge topless, looking devil-may-care, while having a conversation about that thing that got stuck in his chest (long story). Which brings me to another distinction between the sexiness of Gambit and the traditional sexiness of women in media, particularly when catering to the male gaze. Women’s sex appeal usually slows down the plot, allows for a pause in the story, and is never used for the advancement of anything, really. But Gambit’s sex appeal functions as part of the story. It keeps pace with the story, rather than slowing it down. Consequently, it seems natural and necessary. I can hardly imagine this book being the same without these poses and angles.

The one reservation, sex appeal-wise, I have about this series is actually his female antagonist/partner. In the first issue, I actually liked how she looked. She had a cute, rockabilly sort of style, and she wasn’t drawn in gratuitously sexy poses or angles.

But, I’m not sure that’s going to stay that way. Issue 2 had a cover which, though hardly the creepiest cover I’ve ever seen, was still somewhat problematic, with the shot of Gambit surrounded by the cut-out silhouette of a sexy woman, presumably his new acquaintance.

Cover of Gambit #2

When we met this woman, she had personality and style, but now that’s she’s on the cover, she’s just a hot body. Next week’s #3 isn’t looking too much better, considering that apparently she decides to wear short-shorts and a belly shirt when they go do secret-adventurey things in Guatemala.

While the objectification of the female character in the series is tremendously less bad than in most mainstream comics, it’s still objectification to some degree. The series manages to make their male character a sexy person, yet fails to emphasize that the sexy woman is a sexy person. It leaves me to feel disappointed and strangely apologetic at the same time. I’m forced to say, “It doesn’t make me uncomfortable, because it’s not that bad, but it’s still noticeable!” Which is an annoying thing to have to say.

My theory is that they excel at keeping Gambit’s sex appeal without objectifying him precisely because he is male. When female objectification is the norm, it’s difficult to make a specifically sexy character without falling back to the same old tropes. And when you’re a man, I imagine it might be more difficult to spot the difference between mild objectification and sex appeal.

I’m not opposed to sex appeal in comics, especially when that seems to be at the heart of the series. And I really am enjoying the “man-candy.” But objectification, male or female, is something comics needs to learn to avoid. My suggestion? Do what you’re doing with Gambit, but do it with the female character, too. Include her sex appeal in ways that are interesting and advance the story or character. Cater equally to the male and female gazes, so that sexiness seems natural.

Or, at least, put Gambit in booty shorts and we can call it even.

-Joanna

Completely Unsolicited Advice to Storm

Hey Storm,

You might remember me from that last letter I wrote to you a while back. You didn’t respond, but that’s ok. I’m sure you were really busy.

Anyway, I found out about what happened between you and Black Panther. I just wanted to say that I’m really sorry. T’Challa really should have talked to you about it before going ahead and having the marriage annulled. I know you guys were in couples therapy, but that kind of lack of communication is pretty low, in my opinion. I get that being on different sides of a superhero war can really strain a relationship. But I think that T’Challa is just hiding behind this conflict. I don’t think he gave you the respect you deserve, and the way he behaved about this is an indication of that.

Namor destroyed half of Wakanda, you didn’t. You didn’t even know that Namor was going to, because only Emma Frost did. You don’t even know anything the Phoenix Five are doing, because they don’t tell any other X-Men what’s going on. Maybe T’Challa doesn’t know that. But he should have given you the benefit of the doubt. He should have trusted you. You came back to Wakanda because you wanted to help after Namor destroyed Wakanda. That shows you care about your people, and you care about him. You did the right thing.

I also wanted to say that I think you can do better than T’Challa. Maybe that sounds harsh. You guys did only get divorced like yesterday. But I mean it. You deserve someone who will believe that you didn’t know Namor was planning anything. You deserve someone who will communicate with you, let you know that he’s going to give up on therapy instead of getting an annulment behind your back. You deserve someone who will stick with you through this superhero war.

So here’s my advice, Storm: Forget about him. Not completely. The time you two spent together probably affected you deeply, so you can’t just wave the magic wand and ignore that part of your life. Relationships are complicated. Even ones that involved retconning origin stories in order to seem real. But I think you should try not to think about him for a while. You need to do things to take your mind off him, and, most importantly, you need to socialize.

Call up your girls. Have some fun. Talk about relationships, or don’t. I’m sure Rogue’s got a thing or two she could say about Gambit. And don’t get me started on Sue and Rick. Yeesh. But if you’d rather just hang out, drinking Cape Cods and talking about last’s week’s Project Runway or the future of Downton Abbey, that’s fine too.

Don’t let this rule your life. You are better than this behind-your-back-annulment. You are better than the man who did it. Always remember it’s not your fault. He failed to communicate with you, and that is his fault. There was nothing you could do to prevent either Namor’s destruction of Wakanda, or T’Challa’s misunderstanding your role in all this.

Keep on fighting for what you know is right, Storm. You’re powerful, intelligent, and brave. Remember to always be true to your heart, because that’s when the heavens will part, and someone will actually understand the Mulan reference I’m making here.

I know you’ll find someone better, someone who will respect you for being the strong, indomitable force of nature that you are. But if you don’t find anyone else? No problem. You’ll always have the X-Men, and friendship can be just as meaningful as romantic relationships. So don’t stress out about finding a new man.

In short, Storm, don’t get too down about T’Challa. It might hurt to hear now, but he’ll never be half as badass as you, and he couldn’t handle that.

Lots of love and admiration,

Joanna xoxo

Shameless Self-Promotion

Remember when I said that if I were Marvel, I’d market the crap out of Storm? Well, consider this my attempt to market the crap out of superheroines, like the capitalist filth I am!

I’ve opened up shop at Etsy, where I’m selling glass pendants made from comic books like this:

At the moment I’m only doing superheroines (and it’s pretty X-Men-dominant), but I might branch out and do lesser known male superheroes. (So, sorry, but probably no Wolverine or Iron Man, unless you ask nicely.) I’m also planning on making other kinds of jewelry, like earrings of super-pairs (ex. Gambit and Rogue) or a charm bracelet made up of X-Men, Avengers, or any combination of your favorite superheroes. (I’m always up for discussing custom orders!) I’m also planning to showcase some DC heroines.

If you want to proudly let the world know you’re a nerd who loves superheroines, take a look at the shop!

(End of shameless self-promotion.)

-Joanna