DC’s recent universe-wide reboot has a lot of people talking, for a whole lot of reasons. One of the biggest causes of nerd-rage has been the reboot of Starfire, an alien princess who harnesses solar energy and uses it to power her flight and energy projection abilities. Before the reboot, she was a leader in the Teen Titans, a capable, competent combatant and a valued team member to a lot of heroes in the DC universe. Afterward, DC attempted to make her into a Strong Female Character by emphasizing her sexual openness. What seemed to be a well-meaning attempt at writing a woman who controlled her sexuality ended up coming off as another over-sexualized DC superlady. Swing and a miss, DC, but at least you were swinging.
On the topic of Strong Female Characters, suspiciously missing from all the reboots so far has been a regular in the DC heavy-hitter stable, Power Girl, usually Exhibit A when it comes to over-sexualized female characters in comic books. Do a Google Image Search for “power girl”, and you’ll understand why pretty quickly. While she’s one of the strongest and most capable heroes in the DC universe, she’s been held up again and again as nothing more than a pin up girl for lonely basement dwellers to drool at and sweat over. But look past her physique and you’ll see a powerful feminist character.
Bring up that image search again. The first thing you’ll notice (and don’t worry, everyone else noticed it, too) is Power Girl’s more-than-well-endowed chest. She’s got ‘em, and she flaunts ‘em. It’s a widely accepted fact about the character, to the point where each new artist who takes her on has to decide ahead of time how they’ll be addressing it. You’ll also notice that rather than a traditional symbol on her chest, like a big red S, a bat, or a spider, she has what has come to be tastefully referred to as the “Boob Window”. Many short-sighted critics will say that this is more evidence of her position as an object of male sexual fantasy, who exists solely as cheesecake. These critics see the window as little more than cleavage viewing access, but upon examination, it’s revealed to be something more: a symbol of where Power Girl draws her power from.
Superheroes have, since their creation, traditionally put the source of their power on their chest. Spider-Man was bitten by a radioactive spider, which gave him the proportionate strength, speed, and agility of a spider. Thus, a spider is on his chest.
Captain America was injected with the Super Soldier serum to inspire America in the fight against the Nazis. Ever since, he has fought for truth, justice, and the American way. The spirit of America empowers him, and thus he's emblazoned with the stars and stripes.
At first glance, Superman’s chest simply seems to remind people what the first letter of his name is. But if you research his back story, you’ll find that what we recognize as a large S is actually his Kryptonian family crest. His Kryptonian biology allows him to draw power from our yellow sun, and since his genetic heritage empowers him, he honors his ancestors by wearing their symbol.
Batman seeks to be a stalker of the night who strikes fear in the denizens of the underworld. The image and idea of the bat hunting rodents in the dark empowers him, and he makes it obvious with his symbol.
The Punisher, similarly to Batman, wishes to strike fear into the underworld with the threat of death, and a deadly skull stretches across his torso. The X-Men all derive their powers from the mutant genes in their DNA; this X factor genome is usually represented on their costumes in some way. The Flash was struck by a bolt of lightning and gained his powers of speed, and lightning bolts are all over his costume. Iron Man’s abilities come from his own genius technological mind, and his entire costume is a product of it, right down to the power source glowing in his ribcage, and so on and so forth.
This puts the notorious “Boob Window” in a much different light. Power Girl’s power doesn’t come from her place as a sexual object, but rather from`being a woman, and the symbol on her chest is her own femininity. (It’s worth noting that in today’s society, “femininity” doesn’t have to associate with breasts, and breasts don’t always associate with “femininity,” but that issue, in regards to its representation in comics, is a topic for a whole other article... or seven.) In fact, she’s really the only superhero who has taken command of her sexuality and used it as an advantage in her quest for justice and knockin’ bad guys’ heads together.
And let’s face facts- in a world where superhumans exist in the thousands, there are bound to be a few super women who are naturally well-endowed. Should comics not represent that? There are extravagantly-proportioned, beautiful women in positions of power in the real world today, but do their physiques negate their abilities and potential as leaders and decision makers? Of course not. Women (and everyone else, for that matter) are as capable as they are not because of what kind of shape they’re born with. We are all powerful in our own ways because of what we choose to do with what we’ve been given.
Power Girl, in all her chestiness, is, in this author’s opinion, a feminist hero who admits that some women do fit the traditional straight male sexual ideal. These women can still be powerful and independent, to the point of using their shapes to empower them. Where DC needs to be careful is in showing these women are powerful regardless of their shapes and sexuality, not because of them.