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Are DC & Marvel Placating a “Vocal Minority” of Fans With Practical Female Character Costumes?

Apparently creator Erik Larsen thinks so. Here we go again…

Simply put: Erik Larsen, creator of Savage Dragon and one of the founders of Image Comics, does not like the Wonder Woman costume revealed last week.

WW_Cv41And he is, of course, entitled to his opinion on that end (I’m not a huge fan of the look either). But many took issue, not with his opinion on a costume, but with Larsen’s harsh words about his proposed reasoning for the change — fans themselves.

Recent months have seen DC Comics’ Batgirl get a new creative team and costume in an effort to revitalize the character and Marvel’s Spider-Woman getting a new look as well, perhaps because of the massive backlash to one of their variant covers.

Larsen certainly believes that’s the case; but were these choices made simply to please vocal comic book fans “bitching,” as he later elaborated, online? Or were they made to appeal to a different audience than the one the publishers had been marketing to as long as we can remember (18-34 year old males) and foster new readership?

Larsen’s twitter conversations spanned overnight, also mentioning his dislike of the costume redesigns for Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan (a costume which is incredibly important to both her backstory and character development); Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers (a direct reference to the outfit worn by the male Captain Mar-Vell); and decrying Spider-Woman’s new fitted motorcycle jacket as a “potato sack.” Even after I posed the question, however, Larsen never responded to how he felt more practical superhero outfits harmed comic buyers at large. Specifically, as he mentioned, the only ones really speaking up were the smaller number of fans he feels use the internet.

But it must be stated again, if this were just about Larsen’s opinion on the costume design itself, I don’t believe anyone would be up in arms; but he veered into specifically offensive and tone deaf territory, blaming “[l]argely vocal critics on the web who get in a tizzy every time a woman character looks attractive,” which completely misses the point of most critiques and is the fallback defense whenever someone challenges the male-gaze norm of superhero comics.

Larsen did point out that “[p]eople seem to assume that I’m championing sexy costumes and curvy women–this was never stated,” though many inferred as such from his comments. He also said, “The goal now seems to be to create something which an artist can’t make look sexy.”

In a series of tweets, Marvel’s Steve Wacker let the world know his side of the Captain Marvel redesign:

Changing Cap Marvel’s outfit was absolutely not due to fan reaction. It was something I’d wanted to do for years. @kellysue suggested @McKelvie and he delivered the basic look before I had hung up the phone. I loved it straightaway. The idea that the costume change was implemented because of a “vocal minority” is incorrect.

There were a lot of reasons to chang[ing] the costume. One big one was that I wanted my daughter to be able to dress up as Captain Marvel. As editor I was in a position to make the change I wanted. That’s the job and it’s what we’re paid to do. Luckily Axel [Alonso], [Joe] Q[esada], [Tom] Brev[oort] agreed. We certainly got some folks upset with he costume change – mostly older fans – but that happens every time you do anything.

I get that not every design is popular, but this one seems to have staying power. [I]t’s a very old school, classic super hero design. I’d hate for someone uninvolved with the decision to give the impression our artists were catering to some online “minority.” Blame me. I should add that Quesada also helped with direction on the design and helped us get it approved corporately. It’s a risk changing a longtime character design & I’m proud to work for a company that embraces risks. (Except of my “WackerMan” pitch)

In a now deleted post, another artist weighed in on the Wonder Woman costume. J Scott Campbell wrote on Facebook:

I rarely comment about comic book industry matters on my personal FB page, but I gotta say, shoulder pads, especially big bulky metal ones NEVER look good on women. Everything about them is unfeminine and lacks style. No grace to this approach at all.

And on a side note, I find the continued knee-jerk reaction to internet message board critics demands to keep female heroines covered from head to toe in fabric an overreaction. She’s an Amazon Warrior, she’s NOT in the *Taliban!

And after some rightfully angry feedback to those words:

(*Well, apparently the Twitterverse is flipping out over my comparison of her coverage to being in the Taliban. It was a flippant and off the cuff exaggeration. Figured that was obvious, but I suppose you can’t be surprised these days. Also, my issue wasn’t with “women wearing armor,” it was with the bulky clunky shoulder pads. Again, a detail lost over there on Twitter I guess.)

“I’m very happy not to be drawing this. Political correctness by committee doesn’t interest me,” he also wrote, referencing the “pressures of corporate conglomerates” and that “[t]here are tasteful and non-trashy ways to have some exposed skin without resorting to this mess. Everyone is afraid of everything these days and my god does it show! … This is how the angry side of the feminists are reacting to my critique of the costume on Twitter. Why exactly did my criticism of a bad costume design turn into an anti-feminist attack… Oh right… ‘The Internet’.”

Campbell also got into a lengthy discussion on Twitter but neither creator specifically referenced editors who forced them into a certain artistic direction, and we haven’t sat in on any editorial meetings lately so we can’t say with any certainty why these changes are made but for the most part reasoning is always going to be to gain readership. That is, after all, the main direction of comic publishers.

He also asked if readers aren’t able to handle a more traditionally “Amazonian” Wonder Woman anymore:

To which we think it’s probably helpful to remind everyone that there is a significant difference between a “sexy” costume and a “sexualized” costume designed solely for the male gaze and a very specific type of consumption by the reader.

Other industry folks got into the conversation over the weekend as well:

Batgirl writer and artist Cameron Stewart also spoke up, dropping the proverbial mic:

Plus, it seems that Spider-Woman’s new design hasn’t exactly hurt sales:

Writer Kieron Gillen wasn’t having any of it, either:

Then there was Chip Zdarsky just bein’ Chip:

To which Captain Marvel costume creator Jamie McKelvie responded:

And well, we can’t be sure what this is in reference to but we’ll leave it here anyway:

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Jill Pantozzi is a pop-culture journalist and host who writes about all things nerdy and beyond! She’s Editor in Chief of the geek girl culture site The Mary Sue (Abrams Media Network), and hosts her own blog “Has Boobs, Reads Comics” ( She co-hosts the Crazy Sexy Geeks podcast along with superhero historian Alan Kistler, contributed to a book of essays titled “Chicks Read Comics,” (Mad Norwegian Press) and had her first comic book story in the IDW anthology, “Womanthology.” In 2012, she was featured on National Geographic’s "Comic Store Heroes," a documentary on the lives of comic book fans and the following year she was one of many Batman fans profiled in the documentary, "Legends of the Knight."