When Are Comic-Book Superheroes Gonna Be Objectified Like Wonder Woman?

From Comic Alliance scribe Andrew Wheeler comes an interesting opinion piece about beefcake in comic books—or, more precisely, the lack of it. Given how well scantily clad mutants, gods and aliens have done on screen—X-Men: First Class, Thor, Green Lantern et al—you’d think it’d translate to bare abs, bulbous buns and exaggerated packages on the drawn page.

But it ain’t so.

Straight boys never have to hunt for that sort of fan service. The whole industry caters to their libidos. Gay boys and straight girls do not enjoy the same level of pandering. Sure, the men in these comics are usually buff and handsome, and they’re all dressed in skin-tight clothes and they all have six-pack abs. If you enjoy looking at athletic, attractive men, you will find athletic, attractive men in these books… but it’s not equivalent. Superhero men are idealized, yes, but they’re rarely sexualized. While women are presented as broken-backed boob hostesses whose every move is a bend-and-snap designed to flatter and entice the presumed-male, presumed-straight reader, the men are sexless paragons of strength, with propaganda poster good looks that serve as visual shorthand for their masculine, heroic bona fides…

Male superheroes are not written sexy, they’re rarely drawn sexy, and they do not dress sexy. While maybe half of all female characters belong on a skin-baring scale from Star Sapphire to Wonder Woman, most male characters fit on a scale from Superman to Spider-Man. Batman has about as much skin showing on his chin as Power Girl shows on her boobs.

As longtime comic-book nerds we have to agree. Wonder Woman wears a bathing suit and high-heel boots to go into battle, but we can’t even think of a male superhero with bare arms. Spider-Man is covered literally from head to toe.

Seriously—how does he even breathe?

It’s too easy to say comics are created by straight guys for straight guys. Entire communities of gays comics fans have popped up nationwide (like NYC’s Geeks Out) and surveys show that at least a quarter of comic-book readers are female.

Obviously film and television studios have no trouble showing us hot, sexualized superheroes. (You did catch any episode of Smallville, right?) We just want our fair share in the funny papers.

Images: David Finch, Joe Phillips, Marvel Comics, Warner Bros.

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  • Cam

    Not sure I agree, most of the male heros are in skin tight outfits with bulging crotches.

  • Franco

    Well since objectifying people is wrong, I hope it never happens. But good question.

  • JayKay

    Well first of all, Namor.

    Second, is this Andrew Wheeler guy also offended by the lack of boobs in Twilight? Sure those movies were made with tween girls in mind, but I’m sure there’s a few straight men who enjoy them. Shouldn’t they have the female cast running around shirtless as often as Taylor Lautner and the wolf pack, just to appeal to that small fraction of the audience?

  • the crustybastard

    In the day when wars were fought as two teams going man-to-man, fighting naked (or nearly so) was regarded as a real dis to your opponent — i.e. “I’m so much better than you I don’t even require armor because you won’t be able hit me.” Mind you, this didn’t happen in every culture, but it did in many.

    By the time Romans invaded Britain, they were well-armored organized fighting units and were frankly shocked to see Celts — male and female (!) — coming at them chaotically wearing not much more than bad intentions. The shock and awe was so profound the Romans actually lost a few battles for it until they pulled themselves together.

    So I always considered Wonder Woman’s revealing costume had a real “fuck you, loser” attitude.

    And I’m not a comic book nerd, but I seem to recall she’s the only one in that universe that can beat up Superman, so she can evidently back that shit up.

  • Kristopher

    It’s not really about what they are wearing, it’s about how they are portrayed.

  • Harper Kingsley

    If you’ve ever read fanfic, there’s a lot more Batman/Robin, boyxboy out there than there is f/m stuff. I think the fact that superheroes are more covered up and there’s so much ambiguity about them is what’s so alluring.

    Since everything’s not just hanging out there, fans have to use their imaginations about what’s going on behind the scenes. All the superheroines that are running around mostly naked actually makes me not like them as much.

    If I want a bunch of nudity, I turn to yaoi.

  • CharlesH

    No wonder why there are roomers about Batman and Robin, have you seen batman topless.

  • Zack

    Um, Marvel has Namor and Hercules? Two heroes who I have never seen drawn with pants on, much less shirts.

  • alan brickman

    Also when are they going to be played by American actors….can only British actors play them?

  • alan brickman

    Steven Strait should have played Jacob….

  • Ted B. (Charging Rhino)

    Don’t forget that comics books for years were censored by the decency morals code forced on the industry over the uproar over Batman and Robin and other characters and potentially-homoerotic depictions in the 1940s and 1950s. It was that, or have comic books officially-censored or banned…

  • Interesting

    There really is no way around the sexualization of women versus men in comic books. You would have to be blind or gay not to see it. And yes, I mentioned gay for a reason- the reason some of you don’t see it is that you aren’t looking for it. The next time you look at your comic books, notice how the women are drawn with both ass and boobs position just right to create a fantasy version of women for straight me. there’s just no comparison to how men are drawn. Almost all of the women are not just in skin tight customs, but often there is no much clothing there with half their boobs about to fall out. Power Girl, M, Storm, and the list goes on and on. I love Storm. I like M. I can do with out Power Girl. The point is that as a general rule you got absurd characters drawn like Starfire in the OUtlaws (in the DC relaunch) that are just straight male fantasy.

  • Interesting

    By the way, I am sure people will play the game of listing a handful of characters whoa re men who are drawn half naked, but the truth is that the numbers are no where near the number of women characters drawn in a sexualized way.

    This artist over at i09 redrew some characters using the women customs for the men. It was amazing how naked and sexualized the men became with those customs.

  • renorris

    I don’t know where to insert this essay into the mix of comments here; yet, gay author Perry Moore created a long list of how LGBTQ superheroes have been treated within DC/Marvel comics. I think sharing it will hopefully provide some background as to how comics have treated LGBTQ individuals to those who wish to know. It is really shocking and sad.


    ^There is the link. I hope some of you take time to read it. I totally agree that comics are aimed at a straight male audience, and that should change. :)

  • LandStander

    Unfortunately the practice of sexualizing female characters whilst providing beefy, but fully-clothed and straight male characters permeates beyond comic books and into video games (I mention this because crossover of these two groups, comic book readers and video game players, is typical). In most games I have played (and that is quite a few), the female characters tend to have back-breakingly-big breasts and get progressively more scantily clad throughout the game (Oh level up, now you are just in a bikini top with shoulder-pads!). The male characters get progressively larger and larger armor, meaning you will be running around as a big tin can, and look like a giant beer cooler for your scantily-clad female warrior friends.

  • InscrutableTed

    You mean, “when are MALE superheroes gonna be objectified Wonder Woman”.

    Or do female superheroes not count as superheroes?

  • Htimes3


    Also, kind of disagree – for example, even if Spiderman is fully clothed, he’s always drawn in poses which show off every curve of his butt.


    Support Htimes3!

    As a teenager, I found ElfQuest objectifying enough! And then, if you would look outside US for a second, you would instantly spot a rich tradition of porn manga (comics) in Japan, they even have separate sub-genres there for butch and feminine guys…

    I know it’s not exactly the Superman type of comic books, but on the other hand they always come with some kind of plot and serve the purpose of comic books objectifying men way better ;)
    For example: http://bara.fuzzybuns.org/content/manga.html

  • Andrew B.

    Best example of an unsexualized female character is Samus from the Metroid video games. Although she is sometimes with out her suit, she usually is just portrayed like male heros; focused on getting the job done.

  • Interesting

    The issue here is frequency. You can point to an odd example of a male being treated sexually, and a female being non-sexualized, but the general weight of frequency is that the male is not sexualized in comic books, but women are. This has an impact, for example, on LGBT characters. Those who disagree keep doing so by citing an infrequent event as proof that the general trend is not true. That would be like going into a Polish neighborhood in Brooklyn to prove that everyone in Brooklyn is Polish.

  • Kele

    This is somewhat dated concepts. The tides have been shifting. Many female superheroes now have more clothing and aren’t sexualized as much (they have brains, don’t have huge breasts, don’t flaunt their curves in every panel, etc.) and the men are starting to wear less, and just because they aren’t drawn jutting out their pelvis to highlight their crotch it’s a rare male superhero that doesn’t appear to be packing a foot long sub in their spandex. One also has to keep in mind that men have always been sexually objectified in different ways then females (think the book and movie posters from the 70s and 80s like for Conan). Men don’t have huge breasts to show off so instead show off huge muscles and ‘manly confidence’. I can say in recent years I’ve seen a lot more naked Wolverine and other male heroes (and villains) in the comics than females, and as for ‘sexualized’ well I think that’s more a matter of perception of the reader than the artists and writers.

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