This article was originally published at The Nerd Cave on May 9, 2014.
I sit on the volunteer board for a charity race held in Omaha called the 5K Superhero Run for CASA. It is a superhero themed run that supports child advocacy efforts in the Omaha area. Although the race is still growing, it is a lot of fun for both adults and children, giving them an opportunity to dress up and support a great cause. A close friend and I are the designated comic fans of the organizers and this week we were asked what young girls could dress up as for the event. I was surprised at how much the question saddened me.
You don’t have to think twice about what superhero a young boy can dress as: Spider-Man, Batman, Captain America, Superman, Thor, The Flash, Iron Man, etc. You can continue to rattle off characters for several minutes without stopping or mentioning any unfamiliar names. I was able to think of a few examples for girls, but was entirely underwhelmed with the response I was able to give. Shouldn’t there be plenty of recognizable female heroes for girls to identify with? Shouldn’t their costumes be appropriate for a 10- or 12-year-old to wear on Halloween or to this race?
Absolutely, but it doesn’t seem that way without some serious thought. Walking into Planet Comicon this year, I saw a lot of young girls dressed as Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass (an incredibly violent, foul mouthed, and subliminally racist caricature) and Sweet Pea from Sucker Punch (whose schtick is literally giving strip teases to the wardens of a mental asylum). That says something incredibly disheartening about the culture surrounding comics right now.
As a straight white male I have it incredibly easy. Most of the heroes I read about resemble me. That doesn’t make the current state of fandom and superhero comics any easier to accept though. My mother, sister, and girlfriend are the three people who I work most actively to share my love of comics with and whose opinions matter most to me. They are all women and big comic fans. My mom read Sandman and Watchmen alongside me when I was just figuring this stuff out more than a decade ago. My sister is an incredible artist who is just learning how to turn her static pictures into sequential narratives. My girlfriend, Alex, loves geek culture every bit as much as I do, if not more. We go to conventions and cosplay together.
The ability for women to find heroic role models and be able to dress like them, no matter their age or body type, is very important to me. I want the people who I share my passion for comics with to be able to dress up at conventions and run superhero themed charity races without having to worry about what they can actually dress as.
So with that in mind, Alex and I worked together to come up with some cosplay ideas that all women could find accessible. We established a few basic guidelines for our selections:
– The character could not be primarily known as the female counter-part to a male character. We wanted to find characters that were unique to women and that would be easily distinguished from others in a crowd. This excludes great characters like Batgirl and Supergirl. However, others like Hawkgirl are still viable since the cartoon Justice League left her more recognizable than Hawkman.
– The costume could not be overly revealing. This means the costume, given a reasonable latitude for re-design, would only draw attention due to its being an extravagant costume. This immediately removed anything that exposed the mid-riff, cleavage, or hips, including some popular characters like Starfire and Zatanna.
– The character had to be accessible to young readers. The age we used as a guideline was 12. If there wasn’t a story starring the character that we could, in good faith, hand to a 12-year-old, then we couldn’t use the character. This excluded some great ideas like Death and the women of Rat Queens.
With those rules in mind, we came up with a list of 10 superheroines.
1. Wonder Woman
Of course Wonder Woman is on this list. She is one of the most iconic superheroes in the world and for good reason. Combining Greek mythology and warrior-monk philosophy, Wonder Woman is a hero that actively chose to leave paradise in order to help mankind. Her 75 year history also ensures there are a wide variety of costumes to choose from.
2. Captain Marvel
Marvel Comics has been working to better establish iconic women of their own in order to expand their cinematic universe. Captain Marvel, as written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, has become a heavy hitter in Marvel Comics. Her kick-ass, can do attitude, love of flight, and awesome costume will likely make for a great movie in the future.
3. Sailor Moon
Every bit as recognizable as their best-known American counter parts, the young women of Sailor Moon represent pure superhero awesomeness. Every member of the team represents a distinctive personality that show there’s no wrong way to be a girl. It’s a perfect group cosplay idea as well.
One of the most iconic mutants in the Marvel Universe, Storm has led the X-Men, ruled over the nation of Wakanda, and battled more villains than the entire population of Madripoor. She’s the power and mystery of the winds made meta-human. She’s also had a wide variety of very cool costumes over the years, ranging from regal to punk rock in style.
Best known for her starring role in the animated series Justice League and JLU, Hawkgirl is the female counterpart to Hawkman that has overshadowed her predecessor. She’s aggressive, cunning, and knows how to wield a mace, and is every bit as cool as the guys she consistently beats up.
6. Ramona Flowers and Knives Chau
These two may not technically belong to the superhero genre, but they do use tran-dimensional portals, samurai swords, and gigantic hammers. It’s close enough. Ramona and Knives are the dual romantic interest of Scott Pilgrim in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim comics. They’re also complete characters with their own identities, motives, and special powers.
Rogue has been popular among comic fans since her debut in Uncanny X-Men, but gained even greater levels of stardom after she played a starring role in the films. Her powers capture a tragic story that embodies the essence of adolescence, learning to overcome alienation and become accepted by those around you. Those powers have also helped to ensure her costumes remain modest, yet stylish.
Unlike Batgirl and Batwoman, Helena Bertinelli was a Gotham hero who defined her own identity. The daughter of a murdered mob boss, she trained and armed herself with crossbows to take out the criminal gangs that killed her father. Self-reliant and capable, Huntress has begun to appear on the TV show Arrow.
Wolverine has had many teenage wards like Shadowcat and Armor, but none of the others had the crazy style of Jubilee. Her personality, powers, and outfit are all flashy. Unlike many X-Men, Jubilee loves her special abilities and embraces life as an adventure. For whatever reason, that means being consistently armed with a rain coat.
10. Liz Sherman
This is literally a Dark Horse pick, but Liz is just as much a superhero as anyone on this list. Whether it is in Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics or the films based on them, she’s a loyal friend and determined leader who continually faces some of the most horrific threats in comics. Her military style and pyrotechnics also lend themselves to an affordable costume.
This list is a good starting point. These are all great examples of heroes with dynamic, reasonable costumes in comics, but they’re far from comprehensive. For every example of a heroine with a non-revealing costume, there is at least one that would be deemed entirely inappropriate for a 12-year-old to wear. For every example of a female hero starring in a blockbuster, there are a half dozen men doing the same.
So this is a good beginning, but we have to remember that there’s still a long ways to go. With more young women watching superhero movies on the big screens and being introduced to comics, the situation will continue to improve. The readers and fans of today will become the writers and artists of tomorrow. What we sew with events like the 5K Superhero Run for CASA and family-friendly conventions will be reaped as increasing diversity in comics fandom and stories. In the meanwhile, it’s important to continue to seek out these positive role models for young women to read about and dress as.
Because everyone deserves a hero.