What can we learn from Power Girl?

Introduction

Power Girl, or Kara Zor-L as she may actually be known (and the reason for that equivocation at this early stage in the argument is that the poor thing’s back-story is positively labyrinthine, with her origin seemingly changing every time someone decides to write about her; she started out as Superman’s cousin, then she shifted to a parallel world, then she came to this one as an Atlantean, then she was from Krypton after all, but a different Krypton, you see, and then she seemed to be am amnesiac from the future, and then . . . confused yet?) is something of a mystery. She is, or may be, an immensely powerful superhero, possibly even surpassing the Man of Steel, and she’s meant to be incredibly clever as well, not to mention thoroughly decent and an all round good egg. And yet there is only one thing about her that anyone ever pays attention to. Or rather two.

So, we find ourselves in the odd position that together with a whole bunch of interesting characters, with complex personalities, credible back-stories and all kinds of interesting abilities, who regularly indulge in thrilling exploits, DC Comics have, in their wisdom, chosen not only to create, but to maintain, giving her a starring role in Infinite Crisis on Infinite Earths for example, a character who is notable for the fact that she has breasts. Yes, you heard me. Poor Kara may be stronger, smarter, nicer than just about everyone, but it seems that writers and artists who otherwise produce credible, meaningful, interesting stories, when turning their attention to her say to themselves ‘Oh yes, she’s the one with the breasts’ and leave it at that.

Why is this? What purpose can be served by having a character whose entire existence can be summed up in one word, whose function is to act as a breast transportation device? And if it is taken as given that when you write or draw Power Girl, breasts must feature heavily in the narrative and art, why is it done in such a terribly anaemic way? Shouldn’t she be starring in a Russ Meyer-esque saga of mammary madness, not headlining such lightweight fare as Power Girl Volume 1: A New Beginning and acting as a walk-on bosom in other tales? Why is she sexless when surely her identity should be as the DC Universe’s leading sexpot?

That is what I intend to find out.

The evidence

Any piece on Power Girl would be incomplete without a number of eye-popping pictures, and I feel I ought to include a few, just in case some of you don’t believe me when I say that Power Girl’s breasts often get higher billing than her face. So here we go. Pictures with commentary.

Power Girl

So, here’s the first one. Notice immediately that this is reasonably old, so the identification of the poor thing with her breasts is not a feature of modern decadence. Oh no. She’s had an unlikely shape for decades. But, believe me, it gets worse.

This is from her latest incarnation, in which she has become a figure of fun. Now, there’s nothing wrong with fun, but we’re coming to a pretty pass when it gets this blatant. Plus, isn’t the disparity between her bust size and her upper body size a little alarming?

So this is from the brief period when she didn’t have the gaping hole in the front of her costume. So surely things must have been better? Well, perhaps not. As you can see, the artists still managed to make her into the mammary monster, with unfeasibly huge breasts that are actually considerable wider than her upper body.

Once again, look at that huge increase in width caused by the bosom. Oh yes, and surely a top that low cut can’t be especially advantageous if you’re in the hero trade? Unless you seduce your enemies, that is.

Now that’s just silly. But this really shows her weird proportions, with a wasp waist, a chunky rib-cage and then two massive beach balls on top.

So there you are. I think once thing we can be certain of is that, whatever her origin story or superpowers happen to be this week, clearly she has superhuman powers of uplift. But seriously, everything about her depiction is predicated on three things: her waist, which varies from small to ludicrously small, and her breasts, which are uniformly unnaturally large.

So what?

So does Power Girl exist just because the makers (and obviously readers too) of comics have a deep atavistic urge to look at women with large breasts? Well, that’s more or less plausible, but what’s odd is the fact that her breasts seem to be very nearly all there is in the slender body of material that makes up Power Girl.

Consider, for example, the sheer mess of her origin story. It seems as if every new writer who has turned their attention to Power Girl has made up some random nonsense on the fly, because they can’t be bothered to try for consistency. What matters is the breasts, not the woman! And then her antics are incoherent even by the standard of superheroes. It’s as if no-one really cares about her enough to give her something interesting or constructive to do, be or say. They just want her around for those moments that come into every author’s life were they have run out of things to do and realise that some breasts will do nicely to bridge the gap.

Let us look more closely at her recent solo incarnation, which throws up some really unlikely facts. Power Girl, in spite of looking the way she does, has no friends, no life. For all her behaviour says about her, she is very probably a virgin. It’s as if she’s not even aware that she is, er, sexually attractive, and if she is aware that people tend to talk to her chest, she doesn’t seem to put two and two together. She just isn’t interested. At one point she gets into a terribly intimate conversation with an attractive young woman who clearly has a crush on her. It transpires that they like one another a whole lot. So, do they have sex? Do they even kiss? Or hold hands? No. They decide that they are friends and lie back staring into space, wondering at that amazing fact.

Now, fear not, I am not saying that I think that just because Power Girl is sexy she should be at it like a rabbit. If she wants to live her life as if she were a character in an Edwardian story book for girls (who happens to biff people for a living) then that is fine. But there is, undoubtedly a tension between the fact that the authors portray her as an absolute innocent, and yet simultaneously labour over showing just her astonishingly desirable she is. That is, if you’re the sort of person who gets off on women whose breasts appear wholly preternatural, which, personally speaking, I’m not.

So, am I alone in feeling that this tension exists? The answer seems to be yes. In this, rather illuminating essay (from which I borrowed the illustrations, by the way) the writer rehearses my point about nobody really caring enough about Kara to give her a real personality, and only caring about her breasts. Fine. Where he and I diverge is that he thinks that’s just great, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a character who seems to have no point other than to display cleavage.

What does it all mean?

I have a problem with that point of view. As I said before, there is nothing wrong with a Power Girl who has rather tame, mildly amusing adventures where nothing really bad ever happens. But in that case why the breasts? On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with a character who oozes sex-appeal and knows it; admittedly they tend to be villains rather than heroes, but the point is, it’s a known thing. More subtly, there’s always room for a character who is incredibly sexy but doesn’t realise it. In the broadly comic world of the latest Power Girl, one could have all kinds of fun making her blissfully unaware of the effect she has on people.

But that’s the problem, she’s none of those things. She’s just a quiet, unassuming character who – has enormous breasts, which are on display on every possible occasion. There’s a gratuitousness about it that jars, in that what we have is a ‘sexpot who doesn’t know it’ character dropped into an ‘innocent fun’ world. In other words, Kara’s physique is unjustified by anything, it isn’t even the subject of any good jokes. It seems that she does, indeed, exist solely for the purpose of amusing those, like the author of the essay to which I linked, who see nothing wrong with a spot of gratuitous cleavage. To them, Kara is just a boob-carrier and, apparently, has no potential to be more. And as such, because her adventures serve no purpose other than to give her a chance to show us her breasts, they have, in spite of their overt innocence, the sensibility of pornography.

And if you don’t believe me, explain this last picture, if you can.

An interview with Power Girl

Having dissected the poor thing to the point of finding nothing to say about her save that I would hate to have to try to guess her bra size, I thought it was only fair to give Power Girl the last word. So here is the transcript of a brief interview that Power Girl, or, as she is now known, Sister Agatha, granted me.

JP: So, er, Sister Agatha, thank you so much for agreeing to talk to me. I know that you are very private, so . . .

PG: I am not at all private, but now my life belongs to God, and I can hardly spare the time from God to talk to everyone who wants to discuss what I once was. Loving God takes all the hours there are in the day.

JP: Right. So, why did you decide to talk to me?

PG: I felt it was time that the world knew that my retirement is of my own choosing, and that now I feel a joy that I never did when I was Power Girl. Oh, it was so painful seeing all those poor innocents wanting me, oh so badly, and yet being unable even to talk to them let alone love them.

JP: So are you saying there’s a reason why you never . . .

PG: Of course there was. Though now I am sworn to chastity, I still feel it was a sin that I was prevented from bringing joy to those people. If God made my body, it must have been his intention that I use it, but I could not.

JP: So you couldn’t take a lover because you were ill, you were too powerful for them . . .

PG: No. It was in my contract. Superman insisted that if I, as he put it, stopped being just eye-candy and acted like a real woman, then sales of comics to teenaged boys would halve. He said they didn’t care about love, just about my body. Which seems so, very, very wrong.

JP: You mean Superman forced you into being a body-for-hire just to keep up sale of his comic books?

PG: Oh, not only that. Now things have moved on, so there’s no reason I cannot tell the truth. Lois loved me. All that stuff about her loving Superman was just a charade. We loved one another. But Superman was jealous and we never, ever . . . Once we kissed, and it was rapture such as I never knew before or since until I found the love of God. We kissed and undressed one another, marvelling at one another’s beauty. And who knows, maybe now she and I might have been happily married, only Superman’s robot spies tore us apart. He was so angry, so very angry. I never saw her again.

JP: I’m sorry.

PG: There is no need to be sorry, young man. I have found the Lord, and every day I pray for Lois’ happiness and repose, wherever she is.

JP: And after that?

PG: After that, Superman held me to my contract. I went through it blindly, grinning and baring my breasts as if I were a porn star, not a superhero. And when my contract expired I left. I had my own Hegira and ended up here, as Sister Agatha. And I have found peace in the quiet of contemplation.

JP: Thank you so much, Sister Agatha. If I may ask just one final question, you have had any number of names in your time, so why Sister Agatha?

PG: I suggest, young man, that you pay some attention to the circumstances of her martyrdom.

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7 responses to “What can we learn from Power Girl?

  1. Pingback: Cutting heroines down to size | Julian's Books

  2. Pingback: More from Power Girl | Julian's Books

  3. Actually Power Girl was created because of the two parallel Universes on DC comics, one has Super-Girl, and second has the Power Girl, basicaly she was created by the same reason that Kal-L(Superman of Earth-2) was created, the Second Universe had to have another version of the Heroes of the First Universe, so Power Girl was created matching Super Girl.
    And all those comics are this way, the same way that the female heroes have great ”proportions”, all male heroes are overmuscled.

  4. Pingback: The case of Amanda Conner | Julian's Books

  5. Nice story, I always liked her ever since I discovered her and though, I never knew she was Christian/Catholic

  6. Pingback: The case of Amanda Conner - Julian Porter

  7. Pingback: Cutting heroines down to size - Julian Porter

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