Let’s be honest: Right now, female superheroes aren’t good role models. They have the potential to become incredible role models who inspire young girls to pursue their dreams and fight their fears, but they’re currently portrayed as little more than sex objects.

For example, look at the female superheroes in Death of Superman, a storyline from the early ’90s. Yes, this work is a bit older; however, it provides a good frame of reference for how women are treated within the comic book universe. In this series the Justice League International includes three women: Ice, Fire, and Maxima.

One of the largest problems with female superheroes right now is their physical portrayal. A majority of female superheroes are dressed in incredibly revealing costumes that serve little practical purpose. For instance, Fire’s outfit does little more than show off her body.Fire-Death of Superman

It is, essentially, a long-sleeved bathing suit held together by string that crisscrosses across her chest. The revealing nature of the outfit allows Fire to be objectified by comic book readers; in fact, it could be said that by putting her in such a revealing outfit, the authors are encouraging readers to objectify her. She is meant to be sexual, as evidenced by the detail put into her body in the frame on the right.

This is further extrapolated on by the position in which the artists had Fire fall. People do not typically fall in that manner. Fire’s head is tilted to the side with her body facing the viewer, effectively putting her breasts on display. Not only is this anatomically strange, but it also draws the reader’s attention straight to Fire’s chest.

It should also be noted that when Fire is using her powers, her costume disappears entirely. She becomes coated in green flame, as her name suggests. However, she retains her body shape. Readers can still see the curvature of her breasts amidst all the supposed flames.

Maxima’s outfit is not much better. Again, it looks similar to a bathing suit. This time, though, it covers a bit more, but a panel of it was cut out to show her stomach like Power Girl’s infamous “boob window.”

Compared to most female superheroes, Ice’s outfit is rather modest. She wears a blue and white body suit with a crop top over top of it. Though the outfit is skintight, it reveals close to no skin — unlike the other female superheroes of this comic arc.

The women’s outfits are not the only problem, though. They are also are portrayed as being both weaker and less intelligent than their male counterparts.

For example, Ice uses her powers once throughout the entire Death of Superman arc. She creates ice to “melt the flames” from an explosion. While this phrase could have been a mistake by the writers, it still gives off the impression that Ice is not even smart enough to know how her own powers work.

Also, when Superman, Fire, Bloodwynd, and Guy Gardner combine their powers in order to destroy Doomsday, Fire is the first to give up. She remarks that she feels her flame going out and then falls in the previously shown panel. The rest of the team keeps fighting.

Not all female superheroes in the comic book world are portrayed in the same manner as these three, but most are. Mystique from the X-Men series is a great example. Mystique is a mutant with the ability to shapeshift into whomever she desires.


In the 2011 movie X-Men: First Class, Mystique is portrayed as having low self-esteem and hating herself. Therefore, she spends a majority of the movie in the form of an attractive blonde rather than her own blue-skinned one. At the end of the movie, she finds that she is actually okay with who she is and reverts back to her true form. She, thus, joins the side that is supportive of her decision, the one that thinks she should not have to hide who she really is — the “evil” side.

All of these superheroes do not give female readers all that great of an example to model themselves after. They are women who come off as being weak and dumb. Their looks are valued over their powers. All of this is a problem as it is implying to young readers that that is how they should be treated as well.

A-Force CoverThe comic book industry is changing, however. Marvel, in particular, has been spearheading a movement that is introducing more strong female characters into mainstream comics. They have Spider Gwen, a female Thor, and A-Force, an all-female Avengers team.

The women in these comics seem to able to fight for themselves, making them much better role models than the female superheroes of the past. They are not perfect, though. Their outfits are still, for the most part, skin tight, and they are still fairly objectified.

In order to really change how female superheroes are portrayed in the media, authors, artists, and readers need to treat women in the comic book universe as people, not just sexual objects. They need to be given real powers, intelligence, and backstories. They need to be more than just women in refrigerators — a.k.a. plot motivators for male characters. We are on the way there, but right now, female superheroes encourage self-deprecation, not self-empowerment for young women.


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