Abilities: Sorcery (including but not limited to): teleportation, pyrokinesis, healing, telekinesis, creating creatures, molecular manipulation, and various other spells
Titles: “Alpha Flight,” “X-infernus”
Publisher: Marvel Comics
My final example, which tops off my list of good costumes, AND she’s a villain. I had not heard of her until I took on this project, and I must say Witchfire’s costume is my favorite villain costume. A good way to end this critique series.
As far as my preferences, I do seem to love the layered, robe-like costumes the most. Spoiler and Arrowette have the most similar designs to Witchfire.
The multiple belts wrapped around her torso is a nice touch that sets this design apart from other robe costumes.
Because her power is sorcery, a practical costume isn’t necessary. I wish more women with powers like hers were given intensely creative costumes since their powers don’t rely on quick physical movement. It is an enormous opportunity to creative lavish and layered costumes.
The key to this costume is the layers. She’s wrapped in a robe with a hood and cape; belts crisscrossing over her body is a point of visual interest; bracelets matching the belts adorn her wrists, and an amulet hangs around her neck.
Witchfire’s worst costume not only looks ugly and is impractical, but shows cleavage while emphasizing her breasts, and the dress cuts off at her crotch. Plus she’s wearing heels.
Now, I know I said practicality didn’t matter in her case, but this is just such a bad example in more than practicality. That skirt hanging around her shoulders make her breasts the easiest thing to see at first glance. The cut of the hem of the dress feels violating just looking at it. Imaging wearing such a thing for me is incredibly uncomfortable. Looking at her in this outfit makes me uncomfortable.
It would be allowable for costumes to make people uncomfortable if just as many costumes felt strong and empowering. A majority of women’s costumes give off various uncomfortable feelings for different reasons. It’s too much. We need more costumes like Witchfire’s robe costume, a lot more, to have any chance of balancing the scales.
One more lesser example for comparison’s sake. This costume isn’t much of a costume and more of a plain blue cat suit, but there’s still cleavage. The cut of the costume, again, draws the to the cleavage before the action of the panel. The action in a comic book panel should be the ruling factor. If parts of a woman’s body is at the forefront, and/or distracting from the actual action of a panel, then it’s completely unnecessary and gratuitous.
The costume should serve the character and the story, NOT the men who want to see or draw women’s body parts.
Alias: Jenni Ognats
Abilities: Speed Force Conduit: Superhuman Speed, Superhuman Endurance, Accelerated Healing, Decelerated Aging, Flight, Accelerated Perceptions, Phasing, Focus Speed Force Energy into Once Massive Punch, Protective Aura while Running, Self-sustenance, Vortex Creation, and Supercharged Brain Activity
Titles: “Legion of Superheroes” vol. 4, “Legion,” “Legionnaires,” “Impulse”
Publisher: DC Comics
Here, XS is proof that a woman doesn’t have to be covered head-to-toe to be in a logical costume. I find this design so refreshing that I think almost no women have worn shorts. It’s always been thong, skirt, or pants. And for Jenni here, it makes sense, as a speedster, any extra material might get in the way.
The exact cut of Jenni’s shorts is such that it’s not so high they’re basically underwear. It’s a detail I find refreshing, and I wish it was far more common among women’s costumes.
Like I’ve mentioned before, the symbol on the chest can be used to divert the sexualizing male gaze. The bright yellow zig zag draws the attention, rather than Jenni’s chest, underneath the costume.
Belts like Jenni’s are always a nice detail to make a costume appear more complex. Then there’s her gloves and boots that are practical as well.
Another thing I love to see is practical hair on a woman. It’s either short, or drawn back into a ponytail. It would be especially counterintuitive for a speedster to have free flowing hair.
Jenni’s is a prime example, contributing to the potential variety of suitable female costumes.
Alias: Madeline Berry
Abilities: Transform into various types of gases
Titles: “Avengers Academy”
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Avengers Academy did a good job with costume designs for women, as Veil is the second team member who made my list, after Hazmat. Madeline’s costume is another excellent example of beauty and practicality in simplicity. Without the line designs, she’d just be wearing a black catsuit. It’s the way the vertical lines and horizontal lines fall on her form that attracted me to this design.
It would’ve been very easy to design the lines to emphasize her chest and/or butt like so many other costumes do, but it’s avoided. The lines emphasize her curves without actually drawing attention to any particular point on her body, giving her a very feminine look without depowering her or showing her body off to viewers.
Then there’s the practicality of this design as it directly relates to her powers. She transforms gases, so she would normally lose her clothes every time she transforms. This design allows her to unravel her costume as she dissolves, and carry that costume with her. Then she can reassemble the costume onto her body as she reforms into a solid. It’s genius really.
The mask could stay or go in this case. I don’t think it really serves as protection for her or her identity, and because of the nature of her powers I don’t think she needs extra protection for her body.
Alias: Diana Prince
Abilities: Superhuman Strength, Durability, Speed, Reflexes, Agility and Stamina, Enhanced Healing Factor, Sight of Athena: Increased Insight, Emotion Detection and Psychic Immunity, Flight, Animal Rapport, Enhanced Senses: Vision, Smell and Hearing, Master Combatant, Tactics & Strategy, Multi-lingual, Pilot, Lasso Wielder, Indestructible Gauntlets
Titles: “Wonder Woman” vol. 1-4, “Justice League” vol. 2, “JLA: Classified,” “JLA” vol. 1, “Justice League of America” vol. 1-2,
Publisher: DC Comics
Wonder Woman’s costume is the only one on my list that got away with showing a small amount of cleavage. But, I had to include this short-lived design of hers because, as far as her history of costumes goes, it’s the best and most practical outfit she has worn. Diana, more than any comic book woman, has been demanded by fans to be put in a more suitable costume, one with pants and/or straps, and this design has both.
There’s always the division of course, and many people love her classic costume, and refuse to see her wear anything else. I’m just here to comment on practicality and my opinions of the designs.
I love how Diana’s above costume is still red blue and gold. I like the jacket, but the costume could work with or without it, and it could hinder her maneuverability. Just the fact that she has straps on her top and is wearing pants, makes me feel like she’s much more prepared for fighting.
Another thing about her top, here, is that unlike her other uniforms, despite showing cleavage, this top places the least emphasis on her breasts. Normally the design on her chest falls in such a way that makes her breasts the first thing you notice when you look at her. In this example, the design is along the neckline and not on the chest, another design feature I particularly like.
Her only other practical outfit was a little dated in its design. I chose the above example over the one below because she only feels like Wonder Woman, to me, in her traditional colors.
I think this costume in it of itself looks a bit cheesy for her.
Where Rogue has the most costumes that are good examples, Wonder Woman is the opposite. She has the most bad examples of anyone on this list. See below:
So many failures in just practicality alone. All the high heeled boots, the swimsuits without straps and no pants to speak of. The one on the far right where her top is only a bra, I think has straps, but then it’s the most sexual out of all the examples.
Looking at all these negative examples, I don’t feel empowered. Each design feels like a pinup for men’s eyes where either her butt or breasts or both are highlighted. The good examples are what feel strong and empowering. This just feels like an excessive display of skin. Too many women are stuck in costumes that are nothing but swimsuits, whether it’s done for the sake of male readers or the male comic book artists. It’s all for men.
I just want to reiterate that these costumes would not be as problematic if just as many women wore costumes like the ones I’m presenting as “good.” It’s because such a majority of women wear these “bad” costumes that makes it a problem.
Alias: Rita Wayward
Abilities: Spellcasting: teleportation, energy projection, paralysis, conjure objects, invisibility, cause unconsciousness, and remove superhuman abilities. Knowledge in: hand-to-hand, sword fighting, cybernetics, and genetic manipulation
Titles: “Longshot,” “X-Factor” vol. 1, “X-Men” vol. 2, “X-Force” vol. 1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Spiral, the first female villain whose costume was worthy of this list. I find it a little depressing that after combing a huge chunk of the Marvel and DC Universe, Spiral is only one of TWO villains whose costumes I found worth highlighting as positive.
There may have been some other decent villain costumes, but a lot of them did not appear frequent enough to have enough examples for me to display in the first place. Spiral has been around for decades and her costume has been the one pictured with occasional alterations.
I think her costume is a perfect example how simplistic a good costume can be for a woman. Some versions look almost like overalls turned into a jumpsuit. There’s always this sort of “electrician” look to her, dressed in blue, usually with a tool belt. Sometimes the belt is more feminine and decorative, but the idea is still there.
Her helmet might not be the most practical headgear design, but it’s still something hard that protects her head, which is more protection than most women in comic books have. Then with her metallic bracelets and two out of six of her arms made of metal, she looks like a warrior prepared for battle.
Alias: Renée Montoya
Abilities: Master Combatant, Control her Nervous System: Deaden her Body to Physical Pain, Control her Emotions, and Control her Bleeding Rate, Investigation
Titles: “Batman” vol. 1 (1990s), “52,” “Detective Comics” vol. 1 (1990s), “Gotham Central,” “Robin” vol. 4
Publisher: DC Comics
The Question is another costume I found late in my research. She replaced someone else on the list. I had to include her because she’s unique from all the other examples I’ve included. With her long overcoat and formal attire Renée almost looks like a civilian, and then there’s her mask. That mask creates an unnerving feeling since it’s the color of her skin and covers all her features. It makes her faceless while protecting her identity. Women’s costumes are rarely allowed to be unnerving or creepy like this without completely sexualizing them.
Then there’s the fact that Renée wears traditionally masculine clothing, another allowance that superwomen are rarely given without sacrificing their femininity. Renée still appears feminine in masculine clothing, when the norm would be to additionally make her body masculine.
Her design conveys her detective nature and the style of crime-fighting she does. It isn’t one set of clothes she wears, unlike the rest of my examples, but the nature of the faceless mask is what drove me to include her. The mask and her trench-coat are the consistent pieces of her getup.
Alias: Melissa Gold
Abilities: Sound Manipulation due to replacement vocal cord enhancements, allowing her to generate powerful sonic blasts, sonic force fields and can even create solid objects created from sound. Flight, by creating wings made of solid sound. Hand-to-hand, and wrestling.
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Songbird’s costume is an excellent example of a costume with striking designs on the skintight material, making the design part of the costume. So many women’s costumes will have similar intricate designs but they’ll be cutouts to show off skin rather than be an actual component of the costume.
In some ways it’s simple, but in some ways it’s complex. Melissa’s costume is simple in that it’s blue and white with an accent of yellow shoulder-pads. It’s complex in the use of design. The white shape on her chest looks just like a feather, but it’s large enough that it doesn’t act as an emblem, but appears more like an abstract a frontal design. Then there’s the jagged shapes of blue and white down her sides, adding to the feather affect. Before she even creates wings, as part of her power, she already looks birdlike. It’s subtle and brilliant.
Her gauntlets are a costume accessory not often seen in a woman’s costume, but on Melissa they’re a predominant feature. They’re very pragmatic, and I don’t see why artists don’t incorporate such useful protection in more costumes.
Spoiler (AKA Batgirl AKA Robin)
Alias: Stephanie Brown
Abilities: Acrobatics, Computer Hacking, Escapology, Investigation, Martial Arts, Stealth, Tactical Analysis
Titles: “Batgirl” vol. 1 & 3, “Robin” vol. 4, “Red Robin”
Publisher: DC Comics
I am a big fan of Spoiler’s costume. I can’t believe I almost didn’t include it in my critiques. Stephanie Brown is one of the few female characters who actually don’t have a sexualized costume, no inappropriate windows, or excess of skin. She shows no skin at all, not even her face. Since she has no powers, it would be completely absurd for her to have any of the sort in her outfit.
I love purple. There are so few purple superhero costumes. Hawkeye and Psylocke are the only other purple wearers I can think of at the top of my head. Wearing such a rarely worn color, makes Stephanie’s costume standout. Not only the color, but the full head mask and the hood+cape combo.
Stephanie’s costume is one of those that I just saw a glimpse of, and instantly fell in love with it. It’s visually striking and eye-catching without resorting to cheap ploys like weird cutoffs or awkward skin windows. She’s completely covered. It doesn’t look like the most protective costume, but it does allow for maneuverability in a fight, and the dark color would make it easy for her to hide in shadows.
Alias: Anna Marie
Abilities: Ability and Memory Absorption: temporarily take on everything of another person by touch. Sometimes semi-permanently if skin contact is prolonged. Can control whether the “absorption by touch” is activated or not.
Titles: “Uncanny Avengers,” “Xtreme X-men” vol. 1, “X-men Legacy,” “X-Men” vol. 2, “Uncanny X-Men” vol. 1, “Rogue” vol. 1-3
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Nine different costumes, spanning over 30 years of comic publications you can see above. There are a few others that I didn’t picture here. Of all female characters, Rogue’s wardrobe, over the years, is one of the most logical. It’s mostly due to the nature of her power, hurting people with mere skin contact. Her entire body has always been covered, gloves and sometimes coat.
I’m not completely against the skin tight painted on costumes, as I think Rogue’s green and yellow costume is a prime example. It’s a simple design with vertical stripes that when paired with her her bomber jacket and boots, avoids hypersexualization. The design breaks up her body so as not to emphasize any specific part of her, which is the point. She looks ready to fight in every incarnation of her costume with the exception of the following recent blip on the radar.
Rogue recently gained complete control over her absorption powers, which means skin contact without absorption. SO for the first time in all her crime-fighting outfits, Rogue has cleavage. Not a coincidence.
Rogue recently gained control of her deadly powers. Suddenly, skin contact wasn’t an issue, so “OH now she can have cleavage like she’s always wanted.” I won’t deny that it’s completely characteristic of her to have cleavage while in civilian clothes, but there’s no reason for her to have cleavage while crime-fighting, other than a mini-peep show.
It’s especially ridiculous because the costume is the same costume as the bottom, middle example. The only difference is, directly above, the costume is zipped down to allow “the cleavage shot.”
Rogue’s costumes have had a better track record than any other female character I can think of, yet they had to go and cleavage-ize her because no woman is safe from the artists who do that.
Alias: Projectra Wind’zzor
Abilities: Illusion Casting, Hand-to-Hand Combat, Flight via Legion Flight Ring
Titles: “Legion of Superheroes” vol. 3 & 4,
Publisher: DC Comics
Sensor Girl’s costume is a style we rarely see on women, where her entire face is covered. The only other woman I can’t think of is Lionheart that has her whole face covered, but it mostly makes me think of Deadpool or Spiderman, two iconic male heroes and many more to boot. For women, it’s rare, but shouldn’t be because it makes sense: secret identity and all.
This costume isn’t Projectra’s first positive design. She has a previous one that has a face covering mask, and a completely different color and visual design:
Seeing the good does not prepare for the designs that make me roll my eyes. As strong as those costumes are, she has an equally weak design where the most prominent “point of interest” is her breasts. Of course.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. No comic book woman is safe from the pencils of men who decide to draw them in such sexual costumes. It’s just, the costume still has so much material, enough for a huge cape, but gotta leave a nice peep hole cut out in her costume to give the guys what they want.
And it isn’t the only weak costume, as you can see below.
The pink one in particular makes no sense. There is only a teeny tiny strap across her chest like that is enough to hold in those breasts. The black one looks strong in comparison to the other two, but nowhere near as strong as my first examples.
Looking at the Projectra in the positive examples, compared to looking at her in the negative examples, it’s like I’m looking at two completely different characters. The first two give off the vibe that any good costume on men or women gives off, while the second two make me cringe and feel uncomfortable because I’m not reading comic books to see that. It feels like a jab at my entire gender as if any woman should and will display themselves for men.