You've heard the argument that male superheroes are sexualized simply because they are often bare-chested. But a man taking off his shirt doesn't make him a sex object. It's actually rare to find examples of male superheroes who truly are sexualized the way women are in comics. Here are ten examples.
Top pinups by Joe Phillips.
A quick word before we dive in. The point of this list isn't to say, "Oh, male superheroes are sexualized too!" When questions of female superhero costumes come up, inevitably someone will say, "But male superheroes wear skimpy costumes!" That's true, but those wrestling costumes and loincloths are (usually) about highlighting a character's physical strength rather than inviting the viewer to examine the character's body in an erotic way. (Which isn't to say that people don't find all sorts of superheroes—and superhero costumes—sexy.)
The people-who-are-attracted-to-men gaze is rarely invited into superhero media, especially compared to how often the people-who-are-attracted-to-women gaze is—even when it comes to comics that are ostensibly being marketed to women. While female comic characters are sometimes used as eye candy, male superheroes rarely ever are. The camera may occasionally zoom in on their butts or abs, but they still have their own rich stories without these fanservice moments.
So there are revealing male costumes and occasional male butt shots. But that's not what we're talking about here. The purpose of this list is to show you what deliberate male superhero sexiness actually looks like.
The Marvel movies certainly include more lingering shots of men's bodies than the comics do, but the real flipping the script moment happens when Jane Foster comes face-to-chest with the hero Thor. Time and again in movies, we've seen men go gaga over a woman's body (just look at Iron Man 2), but here the roles are reversed. Jane Foster is a brilliant scientist, but she's rendered positively moronic at the sight of those mighty abs. Thor has shown off quite a bit of skin during his MCU run, but that in that moment, the movie truly invites the female gaze.
There is actually a long and storied history of gaze-attracting chests in Marvel superhero movies. The most recent set of Captain America movies may have been a bit cheeky with the steam pouring off of Steve Rogers' newly buff chest, but the 1979 film Captain America 2: Death Too Soon already gave us Steve Rogers' strategically ripped shirt.
This is a great example of how objectifying a superhero of any gender can sometimes be just plain weird. Batman Forever gave us a batsuit with nipples, and Nicole Kidman was ready to appreciate those nipples. When she has a moment alone with Batman, she purrs about bad boys in rubber and rubs her hands all over his chest while attempting to seduce him. It's supposed to be sexy, I guess.
And when Batman later comes to her bedroom to determine whether she is truly in love with Bruce Wayne or Batman, she lists off the physical attributes she finds attractive—those lips, those eyes. Okay, so the parts of him you can see in that costume. Got it. The movie works so hard to have Meridian objectify Batman physically—forget his ingenuity, his fighting skills, his bravery—that it completely misses its mark.
Ah, the Marvel Swimsuit Issues, where superheroes would abandon their cares and worries and costumes and enjoy a little fun in the sun. While the female characters were more universally portrayed as sexy in their swimsuits than the men (although maybe someone found the skull emblem covering Punisher's junk hot), many of these pinups do invite aesthetic appreciation of the male form (or some interpretation of it).
Joe Jusko's Scarlet Spider:
Colossus getting bathed:
And Lou Harrison's Captain America pinup is a bit humorous. Apparently, Steve Rogers treats the US Constitution as beach reading.
Nightwing is paper and ink proof that superhero sex appeal doesn't necessarily go hand-in-hand with skin. Dick Grayson might be all covered up, but he has a strong following among fanartists who draw sexy superheroes and there's a particularly strong interest in his butt.
Some comic book artists do highlight Nightwing's posterior (often paired with his acrobatics) in a way usually reserved for female characters. And Nicola Scott gave it special, detailed attention in an issue of Secret Six.
Above: Crop from Mike Mayhew cover.
When people talk about sexy male superhero costumes, the go-to example is often Namor. What's interesting about Namor is that he doesn't wear much less than a lot of male comic book characters, but he is often drawn in a way that pays particular attention to his abs—particularly in pin-up-style covers and variant covers.
Gerakd Parel's Namor variant:
Marko Djurdjevic's cover featuring Namor:
Even when Namor is given a bit more material for his costume, it's done in a way that still very deliberately puts his abs on display, such as with his Phoenix Five outfit:
I'm hesitant to include this on the list because it's actually played for laughs, but it's a great example of what we usually don't see in comics: the camera placed on the package and buns. Vartox's regular costume looks like Sean Connery's outfit from Zardoz, but his supposed formal attire is actually risqué. Power Girl certainly sees it as uncomfortably sexual, which is a bit funny given Power Girl's own costume.
The prospect of seeing the character Oliver Queen on TV was certainly one draw of Arrow; clearly the CW marketing department felt that Stephen Amell's abs would be another. In case it wasn't clear enough that they were going for beefcake, the critics' pull quotes helpfully remove any doubt.
Stepping away from Big Two properties, we get Chad Sell's webcomic Manta-Man, a highly self-aware comic about a 20-something guy who can turn into a manta ray. When his girlfriend learns his secret, she puts him in a costume and encourages him to fight crime. But to her, it's all part of an elaborate bedroom game. Manta-Man certain plays up the humor of skimpy male costume and
Now this is a great example of a character being portrayed as sexy in a fun and sweet way that doesn't overwhelm the scene. In Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's Young Avengers #1, we see Kate Bishop watching Noh-Varr dance in her room. It's her gaze that's on him, and some readers can appreciate Noh-Varr in the same way that Kate does, but at the same time, it's a nice character moment. And it's much sexier than running one's hands down an unwilling Batman's chest.
While male characters aren't typically objectified within official comics, they certainly inspire loads of sexy fanart. The pinups up top by Joe Phillips and the ones just above by Stjepan Šejić are just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of folks who find male superheroes sexy, even if they have rely on their own drawing skills to see them in the same sexy light in which we routinely see female superheroes.