Okay, so you have two young women who have just been through a shattering experience together which involved the older one saving the life of the younger one. Oh, and I should have mentioned that the younger one has a crush on the older one, shouldn’t I? Well, anyway, they’re in the process of regaining balance after the excitement, and they’ve done something faintly mind-altering and are now in a very deep and intimate conversation and the subject of the feelings for one another has come up. And it turns out that they like one another a whole lot. So what do you think happens next? If you, like me, expected, oh, a kiss, some embraces, maybe a discreet fade-out, then you’d be right everywhere except in the PG-friendly world of Power Girl. In this bright, cheerful, sanitised world, they each confide that the other is their best friend and – that’s it, they lie there looking as if admitting to having a best friend is the best fun a girl can have.
Now, this isn’t intended as a criticism of Power Girl and her happy tales as such, it’s more a warning. If you’re feeling in the mood for some old-fashioned escapism, where nobody was really bad, men were real men, and women were real women and all had enormous busts, then this is absolutely what you need. Similarly if you aren’t feeling very strong right now, and are in need of a tale where nothing bad really happens to anyone, oh yes, and there’s lots of bosom. But if you’re looking to be challenged, invigorated or moved, go elsewhere – unless, of course, copious cleavage does that for you, in which case, good luck to you.
Now, you might have noticed a certain theme emerging in that last paragraph. Yes, it is undoubtedly the case that Power Girl has two defining characteristics, and they’re both about a foot beneath her head. Now, there’s three ways you can go when it comes to heroines with large boobs. Either you can do the standard bad SF thing and get somewhat fixated on them and do the literary equivalent of what Howard Hughes did for poor Jane Russell in The Outlaw. Or you can make the best of it and actually make the lady’s endowment integral to the story. Or you can be Russ Meyer. Now, nobody except Russ Meyer could ever be Russ Meyer (which is a shame) and the ‘OMG Boobies!!!’ approach may work for teenaged boys, but doesn’t really hack it for us literary types. So that means you have to do something to make your heroine’s shape relevant. Otherwise the reader is constantly going to think: ‘Why is the artist devoting so much effort to depicting her breasts? Shouldn’t they be concentrating on what’s actually happening here?’ and then you’ll start to wonder about alternative versions in which a flat chested Power Girl does her thing and trying to decide whether she would be more or less effective, and before you know it you’ll be into meta-narrative and be in danger of turning into Roland Barthes. And who wants that to happen to them?
So, boobs – relevance of to narrative. The writers start okay, with a deliberate attempt to build the whole ‘superhero built like a porn star’ thing into the narrative by showing Power Girl’s frustration at the way men keep on addressing their remarks to her chest, and there are some reasonable jokes along those lines. And then, after the first issue, they seem to have forgotten what precisely it is about her that rouses the libido so much and just gone for the ‘she’s gorgeous and everyone loves her’ line. And so we’re back to wondering why someone in her profession would wear a costume that must actually be quite inconvenient, with a tendency to snag, not to mention sudden containment breaches, and why, given she appears to have no over-riding attachment to her current shape, she hasn’t opted for reduction surgery as the obvious way of dealing with her problem. In other words, what does Power Girl get out of going around dressed like a male fantasy figure? And answer came there none. Which is a shame, because these are, as I said, nice, harmless tales for those seeking gentleness, but they would have been nicer if there hadn’t been the lurking suspicion that the heroine is being drawn like that because they think it’ll pull in more readers.
And they may be right.