On the Feminist Impact of DC Bombshells

Curator's Note

In my In Focus essay “The Hawkeye Initiative: Pinning Down Transformative Feminisms in Comic-Book Culture through Superhero Crossplay Fan Art,” I examine transformative fan art movements like The Hawkeye Initiative, in which comic book panels featuring female superheroes are redrawn to feature Marvel Comics’ Clint “Hawkeye” Barton.  By mapping the superheroine’s costume and pose onto a male body, the site satirically “illustrate[s] how deformed, hyper-sexualized, and impossibly contorted women are commonly illustrated in comics.”  Much of my analysis draws on Richard Dyer’s work on the “instability” of male pin-ups [1], but for the purposes of this post, I’d like to suggest a scholarly need to map the intertwined aesthetic histories of comic book superheroines and pin-up girls.  For example, by considering the ongoing aesthetic influence of someone like “good girl” comic artist Bill Ward on superheroine costuming, physicality, and posing conventions [2], we might better theorize both the presumed male gaze for superheroines, and the industrial reticence to build franchises around superheroine protagonists.

 Nothing stresses this need more than the DC Bombshells franchise, which began as a series of popular collectible statues and since has evolved into a merchandising and cosplay phenomenon, culminating in a comic book series in 2015.  For those interested in the backstory of how the collectible line transitioned into comics, CBR has an incredibly detailed oral history. It’s important to note that the DC Bombshells comic is helmed by a female creative team (a rarity within contemporary mainstream comics), and the alternate 1940s universe it presents has been both incredibly popular with female readers, and heralded by critics as repurposing pin-up iconography to tell a pointedly feminist tale.  Thus, between franchises like DC Bombshells, and transformative fan art movements like The Hawkeye Initiative, we appear to be in a moment in which the intersections between pin-up iconography and superheroine representations are being challenged and repurposed.  Whether or not this will have a transformative impact of superheroine art or adaptations remains to be seen.         

 

[1] Richard Dyer, “Don’t Look Now,” Screen 23, nos. 3–4 (1982): 61-73.

[2] Alex Chun, The Glamour Girls of Bill Ward (Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2007).

 

 

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