Friday, June 22, 2018

Why is this a Sexy Cover?

That’s really the question nobody asked, isn’t it? Why do I propose this to be a sexy cover? And I bet the first answer on everybody’s mind is simple and obvious: Boobs, man… duh. And, yes, I’m sure breasts are a prominent part of it (no pun intended). But there is so much more. After all, comic covers with big breasts are a dime a dozen (thankfully), but not all of them are sexy. And, for me at least, this one is.

So, let me try to project some of my subterranean libidinal thoughts into this wonderful cover, maybe misreading it, probably enraging some sensible readers, but – I hope – not twisting what is there. Or, better yet, what isn’t there. For I guess what makes this cover so sexy is precisely what isn’t there.

ALL STAR COMICS #59 sports only the second cover featuring über-chested heroine Power Girl, who had made her first appearance in “All-Star Super-Squad” in the preceding issue. As such it is a full plate for that particular kind of reader (yeah, that’s you, you pussy!) who’s ready to point a vigorous finger at the way such a powerful feminine character is shown as a defenseless damsel in distress right from the start. Even if she is presented as less powerful than Earth-1’s Supergirl and not “as strong as [her] cousin, Superman, but (…) still ten times as strong as any mere man”, she’s clearly the main hero in this two-parter. And those who’ve read the story in #58, and were duly impressed by the feats she packed in the mere four pages she was in (diverting lava flows, causing the earth to tremble from a single foot-stomp) will get the measure of the present menace by seeing her in such dire-straits in the cover at hand. And yet, what dire-straits are those, as nothing even remotely similar takes place inside the book?

One can only conjecture. The one thing one can be certain of is that the enigmatic stone-man’s goal is to take Power Girl. To what end, who can tell? Is it of any significance that she is the only female in the group? That she is the prize to be fought over by all those males? But again, why? The anonymous monster, although clearly male, is markedly sexless.

Copulation cannot be its intent. However, one cannot help but notice that the artist intended Power Girl’s breasts (her only sexual attribute that is not hidden by the colossus’s body) to be level with the monster’s (and Flash’s) groin; it is a non-sexual and almost subliminal contrast between the cold sexlessness of the creature , and the soft, nurturing, warm, living breasts of the powerful girl. It is almost a symbolic depiction of eros and thanatos, eroticism and death.  An equation made even more powerful for nothing in the picture (besides the reader’s conviction that she’s the hero – although a new one, and therefore potentially killable) allows us to feel sure that she is still alive.   

I’m sure a lot could be made out of her being the only female in the cover, and the only one apparently defenseless. But is she? What about the other invisible element from the cover? Yes, what about you, the reader? Are you not there as well? Aren’t we all there? That’s what the cover’s composition seems to imply with its worm’s-eye-view that places the reader on the floor, fallen, already defeated on the fight with the anonymous colossus. Are you male or female, dear reader? In what side were you fighting? Was the metal colossus your creature, were you its victim? Were you trying, as the Flash was, to save your partner? Or are you about to be saved? Or to be picked up from the floor to be taken along Power Girl to be subjected to ‘a fate worse than death’?

It is a cover that takes you back to that magical time when you’re young enough that you’re still able to immerse yourself as an invisible character in the action; not yet as grown up as to derive all the sexual implications from the situation depicted, but already raging with the inner fire stoked by the subconscious eroticism of the scene.

On a final note, one’s clearly drawn to Power Girl’s breasts. They literally defy gravity:

In true Wally Wood style, they look equally and gorgeously enticing even if you choose to flip the image upside-down. As such, they’re depicted as an erotic note, not a realist one, and that as always been one of the magnets pulling young readers to comic books. In it casts into shame the present attempt to de-eroticize comic-book art, reducing all characters into big shapeless and sexless colossuses.


  1. Hey, Sherman!

    Since even in the 1970s feminist readers had problems with Power Girl's breasts, I imagine that they would've freaked had the cover-artist shown a "realistic" depiction of upside-down boobs, having them slide down toward her chin, etc.

    But I agree with your point; that realism in this case would have vitiated the sex-appeal rather than enhancing it. Also agree that as often as not, elements of unreality generally serve eroticism. A while back, there was a lot of protest against high-heeled superheroines, because high heels are not practical for racing around rooftops. Thus we got a Batgirl with "sensible shoes." OK, but Batgirl in high heels will always be the classic version, because the heels function to exaggerate her femininity-- which is of course the intention of the apparel in real life, too.

  2. Hello, Gene!

    You are, as always, absolutely right. The obtuseness in some people in resisting the fact that super-hero comic books are not realist books is staggering. But what irks me the most is the obstinacy with which they try to counter the intrinsically unreal aspects of the art with absurd calls for selective realistic elements such as athlete body types, etc...

    Obviously, if a certain character - say Superman or Supergirl – derives superpowers directly from the alien radiation of our son, body types are irrelevant. They could as well be thin as sticks or big as whales that their prowess would be the same.

    And then, if you believe a man can fly, you can also believe that a superheroine can run, fight and do all kinds of actions in high heels. Is not a matter of it *being real*, but of looking believable. The good old suspension of disbelief.

    If we're talking about superheroines in high-heels, we must not confine ourselves to the medium of comics. In both Wonder Woman's 1970s TV series with Lynda Carter, and 2001's Black Scorpion TV series featuring Michelle Lintell (who took over from Joan Severance who starred in the two films from the late nineties) won't find it unbelievable, as both actresses manage perfectly well in high heels (and Lintell does have some fighting acrobatics in the series).

    So, unless the costume, or the physical type, are essential to the kind of narrative you're writing/reading, what you are wearing or what you look like is absolutely secondary.

    I guess it would be interesting to explore the plight of a Superman that instead of being Apollo-looking was a fat flubber-like guy. I can imagine a dirge of interesting stories based on that concept. Or about a powerful Amazon princess, from a lost island without men, that instead of being as gorgeous as Aphrodite would be as ugly as an harpy. But I can't imagine any of those characters lasting for 80 years as cultural icons.

    People like to see beautiful people in action: as a general tule, men like to look at sexy women, and women like to be thought of as sexy and desirable. That's in human nature and no ammount of cultural imposition will ever change that.