The Difference Between Sexiness and Sleaziness in Superhero Comics

Greetings, my pernicious pen partners! I actually had thought that I’d be able to have a “Postal Apocalypse” last week during Comic-Con. Comic-Con had other plans that involved me working 14-hour days and sobbing hysterically at my desk, begging for the sweet release of death. But I’m better now! So on with your questions!

Sex and the Pity

Eleanor S.

Dear Post-Manimal,

As a wannabe comic-maker-person, I am interested in hearing your thoughts on what is the right way to do sexy superheroes (both men and women) without denigrating them.

For example, I happen to have no problem with the Power Girl Boob Window™ because it makes sense for her character’s personality and because she is invulnerable (How a particular artist chooses to render her, however, can be at times cringe-worthy.).

While a boob window doesn’t make sense for a character like Batgirl from both a personal and practical standpoint. Also, I’m fine with Namor in just his swim trunks, even with a bulge, should the artist see fit to render it, because it makes sense for his character as well.

On the other hand, Alpha Flight’s Guardian, not so much. It gets cold up in the Great White North. And unless his battle-speedo has a heating function, he probably wouldn’t sport much of a bulge. Also, he seems pretty stoic. So it’s both impractical and probably not his style. Although a red speedo with the Canadian Maple Leaf on it could be pretty hilarious.


An excellent question! I know it’s excellent, because my esteemed co-worker Cheryl Eddy asked Amanda Conner and James Palmiotti, the writers of the sexy but not sleazy Harley Quinn and Power Girl comics, the very same question. Here’s their excellent answer:

[Your work is] sexy without being sexualized, which a lot of other comics try and fail to do. How do you guys succeed at that so well?

AC: I think being sexy is a lot of an attitude rather than just—you know, I can see a character portrayed in shredded clothing with really big boobs, and if they’re just eye candy, it’s not a turn-on. But if they have attitude and personality, that’s what I think is sexy.

JP: Confidence, too. I think a character who has confidence is very sexy. In life, confidence is a sexy thing. Even when we’re writing Power Girl, we’re not going to apologize for it, because that’s just the way she’s built. Now let’s get into who she is. That’s what we’ve always done with all the characters, about who they are and what they think.

CH: If you think of them as a person and not an object, it’s easy.

JP: At the odd times when it’s a little tease-y, it actually makes sense with the character. It’s not a lecherous thing. It actually makes sense that the character is in that way of thinking. With Harley, there’s a lot of personalities going on at once. It isn’t always obvious. And then when Ivy’s around, it’s a whole other thing. I think we try to explore all the parts of her personality. If you don’t like her, then it’s hard to look at scenes like that, where they’re being pretty sexual or whatever. It comes off as creepy I guess.


It’s actually artist Chad Hardin who has the best summary of this: “If you think of them as a person and not an object, it’s easy.”

That’s really the key—putting characterization ahead of drawing boobs and butts. Unsure of how exactly to tell the difference? Let’s look at two DC examples. Here’s how Starfire debuted in the New 52 in Red Hood and the Outlaws #1.


A cheesecake shot focused on her ass, Starfire wearing a very tiny swimsuit, followed immediately by her asking Arsenal if he wants no-strings-attached sex. She’s introduced solely as a sex object to be ogled by both the cast and audience. Now compare these panels from Harley Quinn #15:


This is much more overtly naughty than the Starfire scene above, and yet it’s sexy as hell, not gross. Because in these 15 issues, Harley has been presented as a fully developed character in all sorts of situations with goals and fears and conflicts and challenges; she and Ivy’s relationship, and the genuine affection between them, is shown in all its complexity . There’s much more to Harley than looking sexy, and there’s much more to her and Ivy’s relationship than just girl-on-girl action.

Also, please note that none of Harley and Ivy’s apparently heavy petting is visually depicted, no one’s presenting their ass or chest to the audience (as so egregiously demonstrated in the Greg Horn illustration up top). It’s still incredibly sexy without pandering to the audience, and I’d argue it’s much sexier than if Hardin had drawn the two of them smushing their breasts together.


Here’s the “tl;dr” version for those who need it. Is your primary goal to give dudes boners or tell a story? Is the reason people are buying your comic because of the T&A, or is it because they’re invested in the characters? Story > boners.


Suicidal Tendencies


Dear Postman,

Over the Weekend SDCC happened and a bunch of trailers got leaked: Suicide Squad, Deadpool, X-men, ect.

And then WB properly released the trailer for Suicide Squad, much like how the properly released the Batman v Superman teaser last year after it was leaked. Only this time it came with a message:

“Today we will release the same footage that has been illegally circulating on the web, in the form it was created and high quality with which it was intended to be enjoyed. We regret this decision as it was our intention to keep the footage as a unique experience for the Comic Con crowd, but we cannot continue to allow the film to be represented by the poor quality of the pirated footage stolen from our presentation.”

Isnt that Kinda stupid? Like I would understand if it was an early screening of an episode, or rough footage for a film like Warcraft, but this is a trailer. Its not going to change in the 3 weeks It’ll take for us to get the proper version?

Its not like people would stop going to Comic Con Panels if they knew the trailers would be online after they saw them. Hell a lot of Cons dont even have much celebrity presence and the panels still get packed. Its not like trailers are the only memorable thing. Things like Loki telling everyone to bow, Karen Gillan revealing her shaved head and throwing the wig into the crowed, Bryan Cranston taking off his Walter White mask. Things like this should be more than enough to put people’s butts in chairs.

So whats the deal with Warner Bros? Why are they (and some other people) acting like SDCC trailers should have timed exclusivity?


This is kinda stupid on a great many levels. Almost all trailers that premiere at Comic-Con get leaked, period. Fans know that, and yet there’s clearly no problem with Comic-Con attendance. It’s baffling that WB is so naïve as to think this somehow wouldn’t happen to them in 2015, after it’s happened to them (and every other major studio) for years.

It’s even stupider for them to send out this passive-aggressive note about it. Not because the trailers leaking was the most obvious thing in the world, but because the reason people are making ass-cam recording of the trailers and literally millions of people who watch it is because they are interested in your goddamn movie. A trailer is marketing for your movie. Let people see your goddamn marketing, and don’t get angry at the people whose crime is being interested in your product.


You’re right that holding some stuff back makes sense, like the super-rough Warcraft footage that I know director Duncan Jones felt he owed the Comic-Con attendees, because it almost certainly is too rough to go out. It’s not representative of the final film, and it could give people a bad impression of it. So let people leak the bootleg version and show them the real footage when you have something to show.

But if you have trailers that are that finished, just release ‘em because they are 100% in all certainly going to get out early. And people are much more likely to get a bad impression from a bootleg version of your trailer than the real thing. But whatever you decide, acknowledge that showing it at Comic-Con means it will be posted on the internet. Don’t act all surprised and huffy when it happens.



As the Jurassic World Turns


Dear Postman,

1) So, this summer saw the release of both Terminator Genysis and Jurassic World, two new installments in long-running franchises that both aimed at recovering the franchise old glory by going back to the original after very disappointing sequels.. And both were heavily criticized, rightly in my opinion, for using nostalgia as a crutch and substituted callbacks and references to the original for good characters or plot

Yet, Jurassic World is getting good (if not great) reviews and is making all the money, while Terminator Genysis is a flop at the box-office and is getting terrible reviews. Why do you think this is? Why is it that both movies committed the same sin yet only one is getting punished for it? Are dinosaurs that much cooler than robots?

2) Infamous sci-fi writer Orson Scott Card has always said he would overthrow the government if gay marriage became legal in the US, which it now is (about time USA!). Since you are from the future, I must ask you - does he do it? Is that what led to the apocalypse?


1) You’re 100% correct about both movies being pastiches of past references hoping to cover for their various flaws. The question really is less about why Genisys tanked and more about why Jurassic World has done so well. I think it’s mainly because you don’t have to remember any of the Jurassic Park movies to get or enjoy Jurassic World. The story boils down to “dinosaurs are on the loose.” Pretty simple to grasp.

Genisys, on the other hand, is overloaded with references—in fact, the whole movie is based on the mythology established in the earlier movies.If you haven’t seen Terminator 1 and Terminator 2 and remember them reasonably well, nothing that happens in Genisys makes a lick of sense. (And to be fair, even if you do remember all the previous Terminator events, it still doesn’t make much damn sense.)


Jurassic World’s nods to the original movies aren’t subtle, per se, but the movie works without them. Terminator Genisys is wholly dependent on the history of its entire franchise and is not only intimidating to new audiences, but pretty dull, too.

2) Card doesn’t try to overthrow the government but, in defiance, he does successfully throw a can of Pringles across his living room. (Cheez’ums, as I recall.)



Fail Hydra

James K.:

So recently I got into an argument about something I’d feel you’d be able to answer. Does Hydra = Nazis?

I know they’re origin is with the Third Reich but they broke off from them, and don’t really seem to stick to Nazi ideology in modern times. So are they still Nazis?


Naw. They’re definitely interested in world domination, but they aren’t looking to eradicate inferior races or anything. There’s certainly no anti-Semitism driving this evil, secret organization in modern times. In fact, in most WWII flashbacks of recent memory (including the Captain America movie) they don’t seem to be on board with Hitler’s plan to rid Europe of everybody but the Aryan race—they don’t mind, certainly, but their goals seem to be much more about general evil and world domination than any kind of racial prejudice.

Also—and please correct me if I’m wrong, although you guys always do—I think Red Skull has pretty much abandoned hating Jews as well, despite the fact he’s been Marvel’s #1 Nazi villain for most of his comics career.


It’s weird, but it seems overt racism is such a taboo that even the bad guys can’t display any of it in comic books. Hmm.

Was This Not Clear?

Josh E.:

Dear post-apocalyptic postman, please do inform your faithful audience whether you like anime or not.


Uh, I ran a magazine devoted to anime for five years. I know all the storyarcs of Dragonball Z and One Piece, in order, by heart. My quote is on the Cowboy Bebop movie poster. I’m constantly telling people Robotech contains the greatest love story of the 20th century. I have an anime tattoo of Lum from the ‘80s anime Urusei Yatsura, and when I interviewed Fruits Basket/Kodocha director Akitaro Daichi in Tokyo he was so stunned he demanded to take a picture of it. I remember when “Japanimation” was a perfectly acceptable term.

So yeah, I think anime is okay.


Peeing in the (Dead)Pool

Ryan B.P.:

Dear Postman,

I hope that this electronic time traveling letter finds you well, and not strung up as a blood bag for some poor War Boy.

When they announced Deadpool, I was thrilled, and then when they announced it was going to be ‘R’, I was ecstatic, but then I thought of all the wonderful comic book movie Ryan Reynolds has been in. I mean remember all his great work in Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Blade Trinity, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Green Lantern, R.I.P.D! Nope. Wait … those are all terrible and franchise ending (They were going to do a lot of “Origins” movies, obviously the X-Men movies continued). Sure I just added Sabrina the Teenage Witch for fun, and Origins was okay for the first two thirds of the movie, but I mean, wow, that is an impressively bad list of films that spans Marvel, DC and Dark Horse. A lot of that may have been outside Reynolds control, but he didn’t make any of those movies better. I am just hoping we are not in for another train wreck. Am I over reacting, or will this be another terrible movie in a month (February) known for its terrible movies? I really want this flick to be good.


A reasonable fear! But not one that keeps me up at night, and I’ll tell you why.

Ryan Reynolds’ biggest movie failures have come when Hollywood has turned him into a generic action lead. In Green Lantern, he is the utterly humorless Hal Jordan; in RIPD, he’s the straight man to Jeff Bridges’ wacky comic relief. Reynolds is incredibly bland—somehow much more bland than the movie wants him to be.


Where Reynolds shines is when he’s allowed to be funny—not hilarious, necessarily, but allowed to crack wise. In both Blade Trinity and Wolverine (ignoring the mouthless nonsense at the end of the latter), Reynolds makes some jokes and he is exponentially better in those two films. Generally his performances in his comedy movies (which are mostly rom-coms or bro-y, to be sure) are enjoyed if not lauded. And, in the recent black humor indie film The Voices, he plays a murderous lunatic for laughs, and it seems impossible that this Reynolds is the same guy who sat expressionless through the entirety of Green Lantern.

Deadpool is a superhero movie, but it’s also an action-comedy starring a murderous lunatic—and Reynolds not only has experience, but has had quantifiable success pulling off a very tonally similar role. Plus, all the clips we’ve seen (or heard about) sound like the movie gets Deadpool right, and that includes Reynolds’ performance.



Burn Notice

Wesley S.:

Dear future Postman,

I am just wondering, with this recent weekend getting Suicide Squad and B.V.S, is it possible that we will get burnt out of superhero movies in the near future? I am the ultimate Batman fan, and while the trailer gave me hope, Zack Snyder has been a consistent failure for quite a few years. What I am concerned could happen is that we get a product so crappy that it disinterests the entire market and shuts down the superhero scene in Hollywood for a while. (keeping TV out of this because the Flash is amazing)

Watch out for the flesh eating lizards.

There’s probably a cap to how many superhero movies the general public really wants in a year (and maybe we’ve actually reached it already, and we’ll have some readjustments shortly), but it takes more than one bad movie to ruin an entire genre.


Think of it this way: There are tons of terrible superhero comics, and yet the comic industry has been going strong for decades now. One terrible X-Men run doesn’t destroy the whole shebang. But when overall content turns from generally good to generally bad—like, say, in the ‘90s, when more comics than not were genuinely terrible—that’s when the genre can take a drop.

So more than 50% of comic book movies (very approximately) will have to be terrible for fans to abandon them entirely. Audiences will have to go from thinking “I will probably enjoy this because it is a comic book movie” to thinking “I will probably not enjoy this because it is a comic book movie.”


Now, the interesting part is that this means when a new genre takes off, it’s much easier for it to die. If two of the first three superhero movies were crap, well, that’s more than half, and it could very well keep audiences away from future movies. But Spider-Man, X-Men, the Marvel stuff, the Nolan Batman… these have secured the future of comic book movies for the next decade at least.

And FYI, I try to steer clear both of the flesh-eating lizards and the flesh that eats lizards. It’s just good sense.


Do you have questions about anything scifi, fantasy, superhero, or nerd-related? Email the! No question too difficult, no question too dumb! Obviously!

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