Sunday, May 24, 2009

Power Girl, WTF?!

It's up! It's up! It's up! Whoo Hoo!!!

My editorial on Power Girl is up on

Female creator, Kat Rocha talks boobs, feminism, and DC's new Power Girl series.
By Kat Rocha (with a little help from Josh Finney).

Growing up, as I did, an awkward tomboy teen with big breasts and absolutely no interest in being "girlie," finding females role models I could relate to was nearly impossible when it came to film and TV. Throughout the 80's and 90's, if a woman was tough, she was always shown as a bra-burning dyke, or made "approachable" by way of a strong maternal instinct. Terminator 2, Red Sonja, Aliens --these films are remembered for their strong female leads, but think about it. Were any of these women kick ass simply for the sake of being kick ass? No, Ripley was an motherly protector, Sonja an avenging man-hater, and Sarah Connor a little of both. And as much as I enjoyed these films, I can't say I identified much with any of these so-called feminist role-models. Someday, maybe, the rest of Hollywood will figure out what Joss Whedon did a long time ago, and that is feminine strength has nothing to do with being a frigid harpy...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

So yeah. For me, the media's portrayal of strong women remains lackluster at best.
And when it came to the portrayal of women who shared my particular bra size, it absolutely sucked. Television, movies, even novels --if a woman has a D-cup or more, she is automatically a slut, a buffoon, or worse, the resident bubble-headed foil for the “Plain Jane” to make look stupid. It's no wonder beautifully endowed actresses now routinely hack off their breasts to improve their marketability in Hollywood.

So growing up, as I did, an awkward tomboy with big breasts, who enjoyed action movies and sci-fi, who wanted to be the hero-adventurer in my own right. Where did I find my role-models? Where in the world would a budding young geek girl find sexy, no-nonsense heroines who were gutsy and powerful and not weighted down with the tired mommy/man-hating baggage that Hollywood likes to pin on its tough chicks? Where indeed.

As you can tell, I don't buy into the whole "comics are sexist" bull that pervades so many editorials on a certain other website. For me, comics have been a sanctuary. It is the only medium where I can routinely find strong, beautiful women to cheer for and inspire me.

And this is why I am so upset about DC's new Power Girl series. They've taken my favorite caped goddess and reduced her to a third-rate Emma Frost. She's snotty, prudish, and her inner-monologs read like the spoiled rich girl who found her way into a women's studies major. This is not Power Girl. This is not the Kryptonian tough girl Geoff Johns wrote so well in JSA. In the hands of Gray and Palmiotti, DC's number-one sexy tomboy not only falls flat, she hits an all time low. Now, I am aware there's been an event recently with the word "Crisis" in the title, and naturally, the DCU has become even more convoluted, but I'll say it again, THIS IS NOT MY POWER GIRL!

How so? Why not start with the most obvious --Power Girl's bountiful chest. Or more specifically, how it is handled under Gray and Palmiotti. Right out of the gate in issue #1 they've got Karen bad mouthing a young man, a nice guy, no less, just because his eyes wandered southward for a moment and noticed those huge cans of hers (which just happened to be packed into a cleavage revealing top that's cut just above the nipples). Being a woman with a sizable rack myself, I can tell you this is the biggest load of crap I've seen in a while. It's a cheap shot, it's completely out of character for Karen, and smacks of the kind of thing "sensitive men" equate with being a strong female. For the record, gentlemen, strong women aren't afraid of their sexuality. They don't need to put down men who find them attractive. Only the most insecure of females would flaunt their goods in a low-cut top and then complain at the first hint of notice.

This, of course, brings me right back to Geoff Johns and his take on Karen. There is a subtle, but huge difference between the way the writers handle the same subject. Here's an excerpt from Johns' JSA Classified when Power Girl notices Jimmy Olson eyeing her chest at an inappropriate moment. Karen's internal monologue reads, "But he's still a guy...They all take a quick glace down, some of the women too." Now let's take a look at a very similar scene in the Palmiotti/Gray Power Girl #1, "I can overlook his staring at my chest. It's something I had to get used to a long time ago." The difference is subtle, but it's an important one.

Johns' Power Girl is stating a fact. She aware of her attributes. She's aware that men (and women) find her voluptuous figure attractive, if not down right distracting. She doesn't hold it against Jimmy for noticing. Is she a little annoyed for him taking a peek at an inappropriate moment? Sure. But clearly she doesn't think less of him. Why? Because Johns' Power Girl is a woman who is comfortable with her body and has nothing to prove (on that front, at least). On the other hand, Palmiotti/Gray takes a similar situation and turns Power Girl into a dismissive, stuck-up, jerk. Really, if she's so concerned about people noticing the twins, she should cover the damn things up! There, done! Fixed! Now shut up!

Really, I think Johns nailed the boob issue best in JSA Classified when Power Girl saved the window washer from know, the popular "eyes up here" scene that has proliferated onto nearly every Power Girl fan site on the net. A warm smile and a little good nature ribbing was all Karen needed to make her point. And by her expression, you even get the sense she found the whole situation, dare I say, a little cute.

But it isn't just about the boobs. If it were, maybe I'd be willing to give Gray and Palmiotti a pass. But no, it gets worse. Much much worse. Not only do they turn Power Girl into a snotty prude, Gray and Palmiotti then fall back on the most predictable of plot devices for a female hero...a megalomaniac nemesis who also happens be a raging sexist. In fact, Gray and Palmiotti are so sure this plot device is still fresh they give us not one, but two, yes TWO sexist Neanderthals for the audience to hate. And just for good measure to ensure no one misses that they're making a "feminist" statement, one of these sexist men actually happens to be an ape-man. Gosh, guys, laying it on a bit thick, aren't you?

Every good writer knows that villains are the standard by which a hero's worth is measured. Superman has Luthor, Green Lantern has Sinestro, Batman has...well, the Bat has more cool villains than anyone. Who does Power Girl get? Ultra-Humanite. The dollar-store version of Gorilla Grod. You want to talk about sexism? THIS is sexism! This is freakin' Power Girl! A member of the JSA! A full-powered Kryptonian! This woman can hold her own in a knock-down drag-out with Black Adam! And Gray and Palmiotti choose to stick her with Ultra-Humanite!?!?! The guy is the Fisher-Price "My First Nemesis" of villains! His big master plan in the story is to steal Power Girl's body and conquer the world by gender-bending. What the hell?! Batman never has to put with this kind of crap...okay, well maybe sometimes he does, but you get my point.

Which brings me to the second cookie-cutter misogynist to appear in Power Girl #1, Bevlin. Please, can somebody tell me why is this guy in the book at all?! He is such a cliché he doesn't even qualify as an actual character. Far as I can tell, Bevlin's only function is to be the stereo-typical sexist white guy in a scene that could have been ripped straight from the Lifetime network. I mean, Karen actually says to him, "Get out and take your sexist nonsense with you?!" Seriously, what the hell is this?! Gray... Palmiotti... Stop for a minute. Think about who you're writing for. This is POWER GIRL. This is the woman who offered to introduce Isis to her fist. And the best you could come up with is, "...take your sexist nonsense with you?!" Guys, did your brains slip out?! Did you suddenly think you were penning an Ally McBeal episode?

I guess what it all comes down to is I expected more from a stand alone Power Girl series. I mean, she's part of the big leagues now. She's got her name as the masthead. And THIS is how she gets to make her debut? Matching wits with a gender-bending gorilla and a corporate douche? Imagine if this had been The Flash? Or Martian Manhunter? How about Doctor Fate? Would Doctor Fate ever be pitted against a villain who hates him because he's a man, yet wants his body? I didn't think so.

Yes, Power Girl is female. Yes, she's going to run up against some gender issues from time to time. But this? This is just, I don't know...embarrassing. If you are going to tackle the gender issue, put a new spin on it. Give readers something we haven't seen before. And most importantly, keep the character true to herself --strong, sexy, and kick ass. Like I said before, growing up as an awkward tomboy with absolutely no interest in being "girlie," Power Girl spoke to me on a personal level. She has all the qualities that make many male heroes awesome, and a few others that are awesome in a uniquely female sort of way. All I'm asking is that she be treated with a little respect in her own damn book.

Eh....who knows, maybe in a few issues Gray and Palmiotti will reveal that Karen is actually a robot, or from Bizzarro world, or heck, even a Skrull. We can only hope.


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