Fashion Statements: Comics Fans and Costume Conflagrations

What does it say about comic book fans that we trust our female superheroes to save the world and vanquish the bad guys, but not to dress themselves in the morning?

With Ms. Marvel finally ascending to the rank of Captain, most fans were pretty happy to embrace her title change and welcome her new ongoing, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and announced at WonderCon earlier this year.

There was, however, quite a bit of discussion about her hairstyle which, in the original version of the cover, appeared much shorter than it is in the image at left. According to DC Women Kicking Ass, an explanation that it was merely pulled back and not actually short was insufficient to quell fans' concerns and the cover was modified by artist Ed McGuinness to what's seen here. Series artist Jamie /McKelvie, who doesn't do the covers, responded to the blog post by saying, “The new version - and Terry’s - is closer to the original design sheet (created by me). Nothing to do with 'outrage', just being matched up more closely.”

That sounds well and good but misses the larger point.

This whole thing brings to mind, of course, the tense discussions that surrounded DC's short-lived decision to give Wonder Woman pants and the recent controversy over Power Girl's costume. Much of the conversation and consternation surrounding the latter revolved around the closing of the characters' iconic "boob window," a peekhole in the middle of her chest that was alternately an object of derision or the character's indispensible, defining visual trait, depending upon who you ask.

Pantsless Wonder WomanLike Captain Marvel, DC's made adjustments to the Power Girl redesign after all the negative feedback, and like Captain Marvel the changes didn't seem to reassure critics.

Superhero comics are, of course, often talked about as adolescent male power fantasies. This insistence that female characters must never change, must always remain just who they're "supposed" to be, feels almost fetishistic in that regard.

Comic book fans are notoriously resistant to change, and it's not unique to female characters; notably, Superman's New 52 costume change has evoked strong, angry reactions from many readers who were upset that DC had upset the iconic status quo.

Certainly that's been the argument with Wonder Woman as well and, to some extent, Power Girl (although it seems it's stretching credibility a bit there, given the number of reinventions her costumes have had over the years). Captain Marvel is just...apparently people are upset by women with short hair.

And it's bizarre. The "too iconic to change" label is slapped rather arbitrarily on Superman and Wonder Woman while Batman has had more wardrobe changes over the years than Shannen Doherty had in Mallrats.