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REIMAGINING SEXIST SUPERHEROINE ARCHETYPES FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY READER

Brian Delaney

Storm

I remember taking my daughter to my local comic book shop for the first time. The same family-friendly store I had been going to for years. She was maybe five, so we held hands. As we approached the stands, it was like I was in a different store. The regular titles from DC Comics and Marvel were there. However, I did not see it through my forty-year-old, male eyes anymore. I was seeing them through daddy-vision. The same sight that predictively told me that something was going to cause her physical harm or she was being left out of playground games. Of course, it was not a different store, nor had the publishers of mainstream comics done anything remarkable with the cover art on their books. It was the same misogynist stuff; female characters in as little clothing as possible, tons of cleavage, suggestive poses, and catchphrases and even some violence, with female characters being dominated and defenseless against their male counterparts.

This was not my first time noticing these portrayals. But, with my daughter by my side, it stung. It became personal.

I have always had a strong desire to tell stories through the medium of comic books. I had one of those moments of clarity and realized I wanted to self-publish my own comics. To tell stories that my daughter would want to read and that I would feel great about her reading. I started writing WMN, a comic about four young women that are taking over traditionally male-held positions of power and leadership within a covert society. I then launched Silver Sparrow comics, a site to publish my original webcomics in 2006, four years after my daughter was born.

So, in 2016; halfway through my graduate degree, I had to come up with some twenty odd thesis topic proposals and one rose from the pack and was unanimously chosen by the board, reimagining, dated sexist superheroines for a contemporary audience.

The goal of this study was to see if three iconic, superheroines could be reimagined with just the original backstories and other subsequent origin tales with research as the guide for how to portray those characters in the light of the 21st century.

This is a really important point, the research proves they should wear more clothes.

That is not my opinion.

What the clothes look like is totally my opinion.

First, I want to preface by saying my original paper was titled, "REIMAGINING SEXIST SUPERHEROINE ARCHETYPES FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY WOMAN." The goal was to apply design methodology and academic research to address the disparity in the way female superheroines are portrayed in mainstream comic books when compared to male superheroes, with the hopeful outcome that female readers would find these great characters more relevant. For this article, the data, findings, and results are identical. However, the language is intentionally broader to be more inclusive of all readers.

Also, please note that every thesis paper has a governing committee comprised of professors from the university. Mine was composed of two males and two females; one who is a Ph.D. and whose work and research focus are on female body image and it's portrayal in contemporary art.

Lastly, these outcomes are only just that, my outcomes. In the hands of another creative, the same origin tales and the same research would yield different results.

I followed a general methodology regarding the research and conceptualization of each character. I searched online comic book databases (e.g., www.comicvine.gamespot.com) to identify each character’s first appearance and additional stories relevant to her origin. I then located and purchased digital reprints of these comic books from an online comic book publisher (www.comixology.com). I reviewed each origin and subsequent backstories, noting key “impact moments” in the development of each character as potential research opportunities. As an example, the Marvel Comics-published character Storm is orphaned and lives on the streets of Cairo from a very young age; this impact moment leads to considerable research into the impact of homelessness on young girls.

Please note that I have listed all of the works cited for images and data from my entire thesis since this is a paraphrasing of the actual paper.

 

Statement of the Problem

Sexualized images are harmful. What is a sexual image? Anything that conveys that the subject of the image is sexually available. This can be clothing the subject wears, facial expression or the position or pose of the subject. What harm is caused when women are sexualized? Science proves that in females it can create a multitude of negative emotions and a skewed self-image. It can also create an attitude of acceptance, that these narrow and negative perspectives are acceptable and defensible. In males it is equally damaging, these images serve to reinforce negative constructs and belief systems regarding the objectification of women. Sexualized images validate a one-dimensional view of women as sex objects, that serve the sole purpose of male sexual fulfillment. This narrow view undermines men's ability to empathize, relate, compete, and collaborate with women, intellectually and physically, as peers.

Mainstream superhero comics are no exception. Routinely superheroines are depicted as long-legged, large-breasted, and tiny-waisted. Their costumes accentuate these distorted physiques with low-cut necklines, high-cut hips and the most unlikely action accessory, high-heeled boots. These sexualized images of superheroines not only portray unhealthy and unrealistic body types to both their female and male readerships, with varying, negative results; they also appear illogical and are not relatable to twenty-first-century readers.

The goal of my research and the subsequent ideations was to reimagine three popular superheroines in an effort to counter this effect in the medium of mainstream comic books by creating relevant-looking characters that in general readers can embrace and celebrate. It is my hope that these relevant depictions may also challenge female and male readers’ preconceptions with regard to these well-known characters.

It seems like reboot after reboot, in general, the publishers of mainstream comics keep using the societal sexism that was prevalent decades ago as a baseline for something to attract "new" audiences. They rewrite this backstory and retcon this one when in reality the stories are fairly timeless. It might be the visual tropes that need to be left in the past.

It is my hope that this study will serve as a basis and encouragement for other explorations regarding the positive portrayal of female characters within the medium of popular superhero comics and other related fiction categories.

"A Career in Botany." A Career in Botany | CCBER. UC Santa Barbara, 2011. Web. 03 July 2017.

 

AFP. Myra%20Hindley. Digital image. Mirror. MGN Limited, 21 May 2017. Web. 14 June 2017.

 

“Africa, Sub-Saharan: History of Dress.” Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion. Encyclopedia.com. 18 Jun. 2017. Web.

 

Belk, Russell W. “Effects of Identification with Comic Book Heroes and Villains of Consumption On Materialism Among Former Comic Book Readers.” Advances In Consumer Research 16.1 (n.d.): 414–419. SocINDEX with Full Text. Accessed 4 Oct. 2015.

 

“Black Sea.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 24 June 2017. Web. 25 June 2017.

 

“Bettie Page.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 25 June 2017. Web. 25 June 2017.

 

Brown, Jeffrey A. Dangerous Curves: Action Heroines, Gender, Fetishism, and Popular Culture. University of Mississippi, 2011. Print.

 

Carcamo, Javier. Masai Woman.jpg. Digital image. Maasai People. Flickr, 18 Nov. 2006. Web. 18 June 2017.

 

Chakraborty, Rajasree, Manisha Dasgupta, and Nilanjana Sanyal. “A Comparative Psychosocial Study of Aggression, Attachment Styles and Personality among Orphans and Normal Children.” Journal of Projective Psychology & Mental Health, vol. 22, no. 2, 2015, pp. 103–114. PsycINFO [EBSCO]. Accessed 13 June 2017.

 

Chieni, Telelia, and Paul Spencer. “The World of Telelia.” Being Maasai: Ethnicity & Identity in East Africa. Athens: Ohio UP, 1993. 205. Print.

 

Claremont, Chris (w), Dave Cockrum (p), and Sam Grainger (i). “Who Shall Stop the Juggernaut?” Uncanny X-Men v1 #102 (Dec. 1976), Marvel Comics. Web.

 

CMG Worldwide, Inc. Bettie_Page.jpg. Digital image. Bettie Page. Licensed by CMG Worldwide, Inc., 28 Mar. 2012. Web. 14 June 2017.

 

“Continuing a Thread of Innovation with Performance Fibers.” DuPont. DuPont, n.d. Web. 25 June 2017.

 

Conway, Gerry (w), Jack Abel (p), and Vince Coletta (i). “A Poison of the Heart” World’s Finest v1 #252 (Sept. 1978). DC Comics. Web.

 

Fite, Linda (w), Werner Roth (p), Sam Grainger (i) “The Female of the Species!” Giant-Size X-Men v1 #1 (May 1975). Marvel Comics. Web.

 

Cooke, Jon B. "Dave "Blackhawk" Cockrum." Dave Cockrum Interview - Comic Book Artist #6 - TwoMorrows Publishing. TwoMorrows Publishing, n.d. Web. 03 July 2017. <http://www.twomorrows.com/comicbookartist/articles/06cockrum.html>.

 

Foreman, Amanda. “The Amazon Women: Is There Any Truth Behind the Myth?” Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian Institution, 01 Apr. 2014. Web. 21 June 2017.

 

Gaiman, Neil (w) and Mark Buckingham (p, i). “Pavane.” Secret Origins v2 #36 (Jan. 1989). DC Comics. Web.

 

Galichet, Marie Louise. “Aesthetics And Colour Among the Maasai and Samburu.” Kenya Past and Present no. 20, 1988, pp. 27–30. Sabinet Gateway. Accessed 14 June 2017.

 

Grant, Alan (w), Brian Apthorp (p), and Stan Woch (i). “Year One: Poison Ivy.” Batman: Shadow of the Bat Annual v1 #3 (1995). DC Comics. Web.

 

Grant, R. G. Warrior: A Visual History of the Fighting Man. Doring Kindersley, 2010. Print.

 

Heerde, Jessica A., Kirsty E. Scholes-Balog, and Sheryl A. Hemphill. “Associations between Youth Homelessness, Sexual Offenses, Sexual Victimization, and Sexual Risk Behaviors: A Systematic Literature Review.” Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 44, no. 1, n.d., pp. 181–212. Social Sciences Citation Index [EBSCO]. Accessed 13 June 2017.

 

Holmes, Richard, et al. Weapon: A Visual History of Arms and Armour. Dorling Kindersley, 2016. Print.

 

Kanigher, Bob (w), Sheldon Moldoff (p), and Joe Giella (i). “Beware of—Poison Ivy!” Batman v1 #181 (June 1966). DC Comics. Web.

 

King, Anthony. “The Digital Revolution: Camouflage in the Twenty-First Century.” Millennium: Journal of International Studies, vol. 42, no. 2, n.d., pp. 397–424..

 

Klump, Donna, and Corinne Kratz. “Aesthetics, Expertise, and Ethnicity, Okiek & Maasai Perspectives on Personal Ornament.” Being Maasai: Ethnicity and Identity in East Africa, edited by Thomas T. Spear and Richard Waller, Ohio University Press, 1993, p. 205. Print.

 

Kreis, Mette K. F., and David J. Cooke. “The Manifestation of Psychopathic Traits in Women: An Exploration Using Case Examples.” International Journal of Forensic Mental Health, vol. 11, no. 4, Oct. 2012, pp. 267–279. [EBSCO], 10.1080/14999013.2012.746755. Accessed 13 June 2017.

 

Lepore, Jill. The Secret History of Wonder Woman. 1st ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. Print.

 

“Lightweight PE Ballistic Plates.” Protective Armour Products: UK Manufacturer of Body Armour, Stab Vests, Ballistic Helmets and Armour Plates. Protectivearmour.com, 2016. Web. 25 June 2017.

 

Marston, William M. (w), and Harry G. Peter (p, i). “Introducing Wonder Woman.” All-Star Comics v1 #8 (Dec. 1941). DC Comics. Web.

 

---. “Wonder Woman Arrives in Man’s World.” Sensation Comics v1 #1 (Jan. 1942). DC Comics. Web.

 

Nguyen, Marie-Lan. File:Herakles Olympos Louvre F30 Full.jpg. Digital image. Ancient Greek Art. Wikipedia, 10 June 2007. Web. 25 June 2017.

 

“Panzer.” Britannica. n.p.: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2014. Research Starters. Web. 13 June 2017.

 

Paolo, Marc Di. War, politics and superheroes: ethics and propaganda in comics and film. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2011.

 

Perri, Frank S., and Terrance G. Lichtenwald. “The Last Frontier.” Forensic Examiner, vol. 19, no. 2, 2010, pp. 50–67. [EBSCO]. Accessed 13 June 2017.

 

“Poison Ivy.” DC. DC Entertainment, 14 June 2017. Web. 15 June 2017.

 

Rabinovich, Leandro Adrian. “Poison Ivy (Character).” Comic Vine. CBS Interactive Inc., 03 June 2017. Web. 14 June 2017.

 

---. “Storm (Character).” Comic Vine. CBS Interactive Inc., 08 June 2017. Web. 14 June 2017.

 

Russell, Kate M. “On versus Off the Pitch: The Transiency of Body Satisfaction among Female Rugby Players, Cricketers, and Netballers.” Sex Roles vol. 51 no. 9–10, 2004, pp. 561–74. SocINDEX with Full Text [EBSCO]. Accessed 13 June 2017.

 

Stewart, Amy. Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities. Algonquin Books, 2009. Print.

 

“Strangler Fig.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 20 June 2017. Web. 21 June 2017.

 

These Girls [El-banate Dol]. Dir. Tahani Rached. YouTube.com. N.p., 3 June 2015. Web. 17 June 2017.

 

Thimbleweed. “Approximately 30 x 30 cm square of the French Centre Europe camouflage pattern for the F2 uniforms. Redrawn from photo of actual specimen.”. List of Military Clothing Camouflage Patterns. Wikipedia, 3 Sept. 2012. Web. 26 June 2017.

 

Tiunova, Alona. “Relationship of Body Image and Self-esteem in Adolescents with Different Types of Constitutional Development: Preliminary Results.” Activitas Nervosa Superior [serial online]. vol. 57 no. 2, 2015, pp. 81–86. Academic Search Complete. Accessed June 17, 2017.

 

Ward, James A., and Steven Kiruswa. “Rise To Leadership: An Evaluation Of African Maasai Women’s Leadership.” Journal Of International Business Research, vol. 12, no. 2, 2013, pp. 109–120. Business Source Complete. Accessed 8 Jan. 2017.

 

Wein, Len (w), Dave Cockrum (p). “Second Genesis!” Giant-Size X-Men #1 (Dec. 1975), Marvel Comics. Web.

 

“What Is CrossFit?” What Is CrossFit – CrossFit: Forging Elite Fitness. CrossFit, Inc., 2017. Web. 21 June 2017.

 

Zell, H. ”Panthera Uncia – Zoo Karlsruhe.jpg. Digital image. Panthera Uncia. Wikipedia, 27 Feb. 2017. Web. 25 June 2017.

 

Zurbriggen, Eileen L., et al. Sexualization of Girls. Rep. American Psychological Association, 2007. Web. 16 June 2017.

 

*The research focuses on each character's origin story, first appearances, and other backstories first telling.

 

Storm was originally mistakenly referenced as a Silver Age character.

Works Cited and Image Credits

Images from my defense presentation of the findings and outcomes from my research and ideation. I created visual synopsis for each characters backstory in order to get my audience on the same page. On the reverse side I had highlights from key research findings as talking points. I also had lifesize standees for each reimagined character that at the end of the findings, I would reveal to the audience. We had a great time!

Texas A&M University-Commerce Media Services.

Storm is a Bronze Age character from the publisher, Marvel Comics and created by artist Dave Cockrum and writer Len Wein. She made her first appearance in Giant-Size X-Men #1 (1975), in a story written by Len Wein. Her backstory was further developed in Uncanny X-Men #102, written by Chris Claremont and published the following year.

The world of comics does not need another female cat-like character.

 

Let’s lose the haircut that looks like cat ears.

 

White hair and a black cape, voilà!

Original Backstory*

Original Powers and Equipment*

What I discovered through research...

As a result of her being an orphan on the male dominated and harsh streets of Cairo, Storm would feel more comfortable in unisex or masculine styled clothing.

Research reveals that women experiencing homelessness are at a huge disadvantage when compared to male runaways in terms of personal safety from sexual assault. Multiple studies have shown that adolescent female runaways are raped or trafficked at three times the rate of males. We must also consider the physical locale where Storm was orphaned. The location specified in her backstory is Cairo, Egypt. Tahani Rached’s 2015 documentary, These Girls, paints an indelible and harrowing portrait as she and her camera crew follow a group of desperate homeless girls as they survive on the hostile streets of Cairo. As a forgotten and marginalized group in a male-dominated society, the young women constantly face the risk of being gang-raped, maimed, or murdered. Logically, Storm would seek to blend in with male runaways and not call attention to her femininity.

From an article on the documentary, “These Girls.” about homeless girls on the streets of Cairo.

Kinias, Alexandra. These-girls-21. Digital image. Is Anyone Listening to 'These Girls'? Alexandra Kinias, 25 May 2012. Web. 14 June 2017.

Storm would not wear clothing that resulted in men looking at her in a sexualized way.

Storm would likely wear clothing that downplayed her sexuality. In the backstory, she is orphaned at age six and raised on the streets as a pickpocket and thief before leaving Cairo, driven by a deep longing to travel south. It follows that she would not abandon the survival techniques she learned on the streets, especially when she found herself on her own, without the protection of her “family” of thieves. Given her upbringing, Storm would likely not find men looking at her with sexually charged intent as something desirable, but as something to avoid; research confirms that almost half of young female runaways live in fear of being sexually assaulted or raped.

Attalllah, Omar. El-Moez Street-Old Cairo-Egypt.jpg. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Project, 27 Sept. 2016. Web. 14 June 2017.

How much does Storm’s ancestry influence her costume?

I conclude that Storm’s life experiences among these tribes, coupled with the cultural and geographic influences that shaped her person from childhood to maturity, would inform her personal expression as a member of the X-Men. A further argument could be made that Charles Xavier, a mutant telepath who intimately understands Storm’s memories and experiences, would design a costume that took all of this into account.

Examples of the people and dress from the region around the Serengeti in Africa.

From left to right, top to bottom, Bridge, Eleonore. “Samburus.” Samburus, www.leblogdelamechante.fr/blog-mode/kenya-samburus/-© Eric Lafforgue, www.ericlafforgue.com,-William Warby Photography © 2018.

The Maasai use color to ‘catch the eye’ by creating color combinations with high contrast and overall balance with regard to decoration.

Storm’s Color set

Narok “black” color set

“beautiful colors” muain sidain, “white” set

Instead of becoming an isolated goddess, Storm would become a mentor for Kenyan women.

Instead of becoming a goddess as depicted in the original comic—aloof, isolated and reactive—Storm is here reimagined as a mentor for Kenyan women. I believe that being orphaned in such a horrific way would impact her character visually as well as narratively. Children who are orphaned experience what some researchers refer to as a “primal wound” that can have a polarizing effect on the child, causing them to respond to the world by “shrinking away from it or by doing battle with it.” The reimagined Storm would use her social status as royalty (and from being perceived as a goddess) to “war” with the marginalization of women in this region of the world. For instance, illiteracy is high among Maasai women, who find very few opportunities for advancement without the endorsement of men. They are further hindered by the discriminatory norms of the surrounding culture, little or no access to formal education, and lack of mentorship. However, studies reveal that female mentor support was the overriding and consistent factor among Kenyan women who have attained leadership roles in their society. Storm’s intervention in this regard would potentially have a profound effect on the women within her sphere of influence.

By controlling the weather, Storm can create an updraft to float on, so her costume needs to have built-in wings.

Some of the concept artwork!

I had budgeted a handful of weeks to research, ideate and finalize her character. My goal during the redesign was to represent the research findings as they relate to the character that is outlined in the original* backstory. The "notes regarding the redesign" below, outline the details and logic for the final outcome.

Notes regarding the design.

Storm’s final design depicts her hovering above the ground in her weather-controlling state. Her clothing is functional and made for travel, since her character is an adventurer. Her lightweight, loose-fitting pants come to mid-calf in length, matching the length of the typical Kenyan outfit silhouette. There are plenty of pockets, all with zipper or Velcro closures, since the character generates flight by controlling gusts of wind. For a top, she wears a variation of the traditional torso wrap, also known as a kanga. It is high-contrast in color and forms a visual focal point and opportunity to convey movement. Over this torso wrap, Storm wears a modern update to the traditional flight jacket. The jacket has vertical-oriented zipper pockets on either arm, just below the shoulders. It also features two front pockets with traditional Maasai-style beadwork in hues that are signature to her character, yet authentic to Maasai color logic. This augmented flight jacket also has retractable wings hidden behind a gusset panel across the back of the jacket. She can hook her fingers through loops of nylon webbing and pull the elastic-lined wings outward.

The wings are decorated with a yellow lightning bolt—a visual nod to her original costume colors from the 1970s. The jacket also features multiple internal pockets, some of which are concealed—a nod to her thieving days in Cairo. Her belt cinches her modified kanga at the waist and conceals a set of lockpicks that she keeps on her person. She also wears accessories in the form of bracelets and ear spacers depicting a single white lightning bolt framed with red and black, a color pattern used by the Maasai. This also is in line with the body augmentation practices of the tribes throughout the Serengeti. Her skin is dark and her hair is white, as in the origin stories; however her hair is short and shaved in the pattern of an abstracted cyclone, marking her past as a goddess among the Kenyans and her present as a weather-controlling mutant and member of the X-Men. In the final redesign the I depict Storm with one sleeve of her jacket cinched above her elbow and the other fully extended to her wrist, covering up that arm’s matching bangles and bracelets; this contradicts the Maasai “balancing decoration philosophy” regarding her outfit. This choice was made to communicate her character’s anti-authoritarian attitude, as revealed in her backstory; this attitude also jibes with the research findings that she would likely feel “at war” with the world and not comply completely even with the traditions that she embraces.

Original artwork of the reimagined Storm battling a classic Sentinel from the X-Men. I love her shoelaces and kanga, as an artist, they provide the opportunity to visually convey that she is creating an updraft of wind that is sustaining her flight.

Poison Ivy

Catwoman is too sympathetic; we need someone new.

 

Maybe she is poison, like “Rappaccini's Daughter?”

That's a classic.

 

She should be a real temptress with looks like a pin-up model.

Poison Ivy is a Silver Age character from the publisher, DC Comics and created by artist Sheldon Moldoff and writer Robert Kanigher. She made her first appearance in Batman #181’s “Beware of—Poison Ivy!” (1966), in a story written by Bob Kanigher. Her backstory was further developed in a story that was published in World’s Finest Comics #252, featuring Wonder Woman. This story, “A Poison of the Heart,” was written by Gerry Conway. In 1989, this Silver Age; a period of comics publishing from 1956 to 1972, backstory was retconned—that is, retroactively written out of continuity—in favor for a new origin devised by writer Neil Gaiman and published in Secret Origins v2 #36. Another key story, written by Alan Grant and appearing in 1995’s Batman: Shadow of the Bat: Annual #3, referenced and elaborated on Gaiman’s 1989 retcon.

Original Backstory*

Original Powers and Equipment*

What I discovered through research...

Poison Ivy’s character was fashioned after the famous sex object, Bettie Page.

In fitting with her origins as a sexualized character, Poison Ivy was modeled after Bettie Page, a pin-up model from the 1950s. Comparing the fictional character to her real-life counterpart, we see that they share the same hairstyle, physical shape, and approximate height; Bettie Page was 5'5", while Poison Ivy’s “official” height, according to her character overview on the DC Comics website, is 5'6".

Poison Ivy's creators used Bettie's figure, hairstyle, and height as inspiration.

They even gave her a southern drawl.

CMG Worldwide, Inc. Bettie_Page.jpg. Digital image. Bettie Page. Licensed by CMG Worldwide, Inc., 28 Mar. 2012. Web. 14 June 2017. Bettie Page TM is a Trademark of Bettie Page LLC

Kanigher, Bob. "Beware of Poison Ivy!" Batman (1940-2011) #181. Vol. 1. New York: DC Comics, 1966. 11. Web.

Poison Ivy would not have to dress seductively to manipulate.

Looking at the character’s abilities from a logical standpoint, Poison Ivy would not need to dress seductively—as in the comics—to manipulate people. In both Poison Ivy’s Silver Age and Modern Age appearances, Ivy demonstrates the ability to manipulate others. In the Silver Age stories, she uses her in-depth knowledge of botany to concoct lipsticks and poisons that she uses as part of her physical seduction techniques. In the character’s Modern Age incarnation, her body naturally releases pheromones that make her victims pliable to suggestion; these chemicals are even more potent when she kisses or touches a victim. In the Modern Age retcon written by Gaiman, the plant-based toxins to which Ivy was subjected to transformed her: “These tests twisted Isley’s (Poison Ivy’s) mind and gave her a dangerous set of superpowers.”

Academic articles on the subject, provided names of public record regarding women who have suffered from psychopathy. This research guided the researcher’s visual reference searches which included references to Myra Hindley (shown above), Helen Golay, Olga Ruterschmidt, and other public cases. Since psychopathy occurs in diverse types of people from all walks of life, the researcher focused on trying to capture the appearance of evil, rather than any specific physical characteristics

AFP. Myra-Hindley-Moors-Murderer. Digital image. Mirror. MGN Limited, 21 May 2017. Web. 14 June 2017.

In a real-world context, studies suggest that psychopathic women may rely more on flirtation than their male counterparts. One of the disorders associated with psychopathy is Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD). A woman with these traits would seek attention through unorthodox methods: inappropriate sexual seductiveness, obvious emotional reactions that in context seem over-the–top, or a lack of deep emotions. These are all part of a “construct” that is vital to women suffering from psychopathy.

If we imagine Poison Ivy as a psychopath, her powers of manipulation would, by extension, allow her to disregard the “construct” which psychopathic women who lack superpowers must maintain in order to manipulate others through their sexuality.

Poison Ivy, the brilliant criminal botanist, would have weaponized plants at her disposal and not be limited to area flora.

I designed a delivery method through which Ivy can store a variety of dangerous plant life on her person.  She wears this delivery method in multiple places both under and on the outside of her clothing. It is not a stretch to theorize that one encounter with Batman and the preparedness that his utility belt provides, would not have a profound influence on Poison Ivy. Original artwork.

The Poison Ivy character would have a delivery method for controlling a variety of flora, given a particular need. A “utility belt” for plants.

Our reimagined Poison Ivy would not have to employ existing flora from a nearby forest, park, or greenhouse to attack or defend herself, as depicted in the comic books. Given her infatuation with Batman —and her observation of how his ever-present “utility belt” leaves him ready for anything—it seems logical that Poison Ivy would choose to keep her weapons close at hand just as he does, and adopt a flora-delivery method of her own. The U.S. Department of Agriculture describes how to take grape vine cuttings, wrap them in burlap or sphagnum moss, and store the cuttings in plastic bags under cool, dark conditions for up to eight weeks while the roots develop. Botanists are also very familiar with the creation of herbariums, organized records and collections of preserved plants. The researcher argues that as a collegiate botanist, Poison Ivy would possess at least these basic skills in preserving and gathering plant life, even if we discount her extraordinary ability to control vegetation.

The flora of a super villain.

Sandbox Tree

Hura crepitans

West Indies, South America

Tree trunk is covered in sharp thorns, fruit explodes sending poisonous seeds up to three hundred feet away.

Stinging Tree

Dendrocnide moroides

Australia

Fine silicon hairs cover the leaves of this tree and deliver a potent neurotoxin that causes heart-attack inducing pain. Dislodged hairs create an airborne hazard as well.

Strangler Fig

Ficus

Tropical areas, worldwide

This fig grows downward on a host tree, over time depriving sunlight, crowding the root system and squeezing the life out.

Whistling Thorn Acacia

Acacia dreparalobium

East African tree

Wicked three-inch thorns line the length of this trees limbs.

Some of the concept artwork!

As with Storm, I had allotted a handful of weeks to research, ideate and finalize her outlook. My goal during the redesign was to represent the research findings as they relate to the character that is outlined in the original* backstory. The "notes regarding the redesign" below, outline the details and logic for the final outcome.

Notes regarding the final design.

Poison Ivy’s final design portrays her standing in an unassuming yet threatening manner with her hands hanging by her sides. Her head is slightly tilted downward and her green eyes tilted upward, giving her stare a malevolent intensity. Poison Ivy’s hair recontextualizes the bangs—famously inspired by Bettie Page in the character’s 1960s origins—to further emphasize the non-sexualized outlook of this concept; there is a part in the bangs, offset to one side to visually imply her mental imbalance. Her hair also features the traditional red coloring, with added yellow highlighted feather cuts, randomly spaced, which evoke the leaves of a “weeping willow” tree. The lips are dark red, with one end slightly upturned in a predatory way. Darkening the area around her eyes adds to the character’s darkness and intensity. Her skin color is pale, with a hint of rose coloring.

Poison Ivy is clothed in modified hiking and outdoor gear. The top is made from lightweight material in two tones, yellow-green and dark green—a nod to the colors of the original character’s costume. There is a zipper closure, diagonally positioned at her neck, for ventilation. A buttoned tie on each arm, just below the shoulder, can cinch the long sleeves above her elbows if needed. The long sleeves of the top extend to the wrist and have a wide, angled opening to accommodate her new wrist-mounted delivery method for dangerous flora as needed. The sleeves are also decorated with ivy-inspired graphics and feature a gradient color change that blends from the yellow-green to the darker green. The pants are close-fitting and lightweight, with wide openings at the ankles. The color scheme from the top carries over to the pants. They have zipper pockets on each hip, and dark-colored, water-resistant “dry panels” on the thighs, buttocks, and knees. Zippers above the knee easily convert the pants into shorts. These are common features in modern hiking and outdoor wear. Her footwear is a modified version of high-end chain mail socks with rubber injected details in the soles for traction.

I designed a delivery method through which Ivy can store a variety of dangerous plant life on her person. She wears this delivery method in multiple places both under and on the outside of her clothing. he final design image shows a sampling of some of the plants she might use. The strangler fig of the Ficus family, found in tropical areas worldwide, grows downward on a host tree, over time depriving it of sunlight, crowding the root system, and squeezing the life from the host. Positioning these clippings at her ankles would allow Poison Ivy to create living stilts that elevate her and ensnare potential enemies.

 At her wrists, she is shown with stinging tree or Dendrocnide moroides clippings. This tree is found in Australia; the fine silicon hairs that cover its leaves deliver a potent neurotoxin that causes heart-attack inducing pain. Dislodged hairs can create an airborne hazard as well. Also pictured are thorn-covered branches from the whistling thorn acacia. This African tree would not only inflict tremendous physical pain and damage with its wicked three-inch-long thorns; it would intimidate visually, as well. Emanating from her right sleeve is the barb-covered branch of the sandbox tree found in the West Indies and South America. Sharp thorns cover this tree’s trunk; its fruit explodes, sending poisonous seeds up to 300 feet away. The sap from this tree is caustic.

Original artwork of Poison Ivy battling Batman. She encased her chest in a protective shield of solid wood to counter his punch while she attacks.

Wonder Woman

Give her a tiara for a helmet.

 

Captain America wore an American Flag, and he’s popular.

 

She has to be as naked as possible, like a Vargas girl.

Wonder Woman is a character published by DC Comics in various self-titled comic books. She is arguably the most recognized superheroine in the world. She made her debut in the 1941 story “Introducing Wonder Woman” in All-Star Comics #8, written by William Marston with artwork by Harry G. Peter. Marston created the character in hopes of creating “a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.

Original Backstory*

Original Powers and Equipment*

What I discovered through research...

What does superhuman strength and agility, look like actually?

Wonder Woman is described in All-Star Comics #8 as possessing “a hundred times the agility and strength of our best male athletes and strongest wrestlers . . . As lovely as Aphrodite—as wise as Athena—with the speed of Mercury and the strength of Hercules.” These attributes describe an incredibly physically fit woman, the equivalent of a contemporary female cross-fit athlete, who embodies “the best aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and more.” In her study, “On versus Off the Pitch: The Transiency of Body Satisfaction among Female Rugby Players, Cricketers, and Netballers,” researcher Kate Russell discovers that women who engage in physical sports where performance is highly valued wrestle with the balance between optimum physical fitness for their sport and fitting in with society’s narrow views of feminine beauty. This reimagining of Wonder Woman begins with the argument that, as part of an all-female society of Amazons, the character would feel no pressure to strike such a paradoxical balance, as there is no male influence in her society.

Female Cross Fit athletes in a test of agility.

N.D. ISABELLEDEROND.com. Web. 13 June 2017..

I began the ideation and conceptualization process by performing visual research on how an Amazon woman might be physically built. Since Wonder Woman is depicted as the best warrior among the Amazons, I searched for visual reference that portrayed champion cross-fit athletes. I noted that while the physiques of the modern female cross-fit athletes might vary, there are similarities that can serve as a template for Wonder Woman’s physical appearance. The women all shared thick, muscular necks, pronounced trapezius muscles—that is, the muscle mass that extends from the base of the neck to the start of the shoulder and down the back toward the spine—and broad shoulders. The higher muscle mass and lower body fat in these female athletes results in relatively small breasts. While their hips structurally are generally wider than those of their male counterparts, the increase in abdominal and lateral muscle mass produces the appearance that their waistline transitions to their hips with relatively little delineation. The women also possess largely muscled thighs and buttocks, which are necessary to provide the superior agility and strength they need to compete at an elevated level in their sport.

How would geography influence Wonder Woman's costume and physical outlook?

I also considered the regional influences that might inform Wonder Woman’s physical outlook. In researching the history of Amazon’s, the first mention of them is in Homer’s Iliad as part of his recounting of the Trojan War. Later, in his “fictionalized” history, Herodotus added to the lore. describing the Amazons as dwelling near the coast of the Black Sea—a land-locked body of water found between eastern Europe and western Asia, in the region where we find modern-day Turkey. This data point, along with findings from archaeological digs in the Ural Steppes—a region in southern Russia to the north of the Black Sea—gave me an area focus.

I also considered the influence of traditional dress from the regions around the Black Sea; Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Georgia, and Ukraine. Consistent dress motifs emerged in research on the different regions, which the researcher used as visual inspiration.

Examples of the people and dress from the region surrounding the Black Sea.

From left to right, Le Blanc, Franc. Portrait of a Turkish Girl. 2010. Multiculturele Turkse Ontmoetingsdag in Drunen. Flickr. Web. 13 June 2017. -Kennan, George. 1913. National Geographic. NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC.nl. Web. 13 June 2017.  -Noroc, Mihaela. Romania. 2015. The Atlas of Beauty: Women of the World in 500 Portraits. THEATLASOFBEAUTY.com. Web. 13 June 2017.

Ancestry, clothing patterns, silhouettes, and hairstyles from the traditional dress of the region surrounding the Black Sea were considered.

Examples of the people and dress from the region surrounding the Black Sea.

From left to right, Kennan, George. 1913. National Geographic. NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC.nl. Web. 13 June 2017.  -Vadiroma. Traditional Dress of Georgia. 2014. Georgia. The Lovely Planet. Web. 13 June 2017.

How would technology influence Wonder Woman's costume?

Technology is also key to the backstory of Wonder Woman. This is not something that I knew when I began my research on her character. To quote All-Star Comics #8, written by William Marston, "That is why we Amazons have been able to far, surpass the inventions of so-called man-made civilization! We are not only stronger and wiser than men but our weapons are better–our flying machines are further advanced!" With that in mind, I considered how modern materials might inform the ideation and conceptualization of her costume.

 

I began with a pictorial history of warriors from history to modern day, drawing from two comprehensive resources: R. J. Grant’s Warrior: A Visual History of the Fighting Man, and Weapon: A Visual History of Arms and Armour by Richard Holmes et al., both published by Dorling Kindersley. These publications document weapons and armor from the dawn of primitive man to the modern marine, all with museum collection photos, accurate replicas, and functional documentation. Once I had an understanding of how armor worked I began to research how modern technology might influence the function and outlook.

Armor that allows for maximum freedom of movement, but becomes rigid upon impact.

Impact suits use woven fibers like Kevlar and fuse them with a particular polymer that is liquid when at rest, but upon impact hardens. Currently used in skiing for Olympic level athletes providing maximum flexibility and range of movement and protection when exposed to impact, liquid armor.

Top image, Zamansky, Jake. Jake Zamansky EC-GS Hinterstoder 20080111. 2008. Wikipedia, Hinterstoder. Wikipedia. Web. 13 June 2017., bottom image, "Trust Vest." D3O. D3O, n.d. Web. 14 June 2017.

Wonder Woman is an Amazon. The greatest warrior of her kind.

She would not fight in a bikini even if it were metal.

A superior race of warrior women that has the technology during World War II to design, engineer and fabricate invisible jets, would have invisibility cloaks. An original sketch. Notice the gun? The Amazons in Marston's original backstory had superior weapons, including pistols. In fact, during the final contest, a masked Diana defeats her fellow Amazon in the contest, bullets, and bracelets for the right to take Steve Trevor home. They are not stuck in the dark ages, like the modern movie version of the character.

Notes regarding the final design.

Wonder Woman’s final design portrays her standing in relaxed, alert stance. Her head faces opposite the direction of her body, eyes fixed on a hopeful future. Her feet are spread apart to connote stability and power. Her right hand is on her upper thigh in a commanding pose. Her left arm cradles a helmet against her side. Wonder Woman’s dark hair is styled in a manner typical of the visual references of women in the Black Sea region; it is straight, parted down the middle and combed behind the ears. One side is braided, to illustrate how her hair would be held in place during physical conflict. I designed a 3D-printed ponytail holder that gives the appearance of the hair being braided. Braided or plaited hair was a common visual theme in the traditional dress of the regions. The researcher also intended that this style, when double-braided would keep her hair out of her face and under control in combat situations. 3D printing is a technology that takes a base material like plastic or metal and “prints” it into any shape or geometry as dictated by a CAD developed file.

I imagined the 3D printed ponytail holder to easily be applied. It would be flexible and have some grip on the inside surfaces of the curl, to stay in place.

Wonder Woman’s final design portrays her with light skin, as in the origin story. I could not find any contradictory evidence to support a revision of this feature. Her facial features represent an amalgamation of those common to the Black Sea region. Her strong nose is straight and broad. Her eyes are blue, as in her origin story, and slightly upturned at the outside corners, as visual reference suggested.

Wonder Woman’s costume is multi-layered. Her tunic is made from a lightweight synthetic material that is stab- and tear-resistant. It is open at the collar for maximum coverage and motion. The tunic has wide, loose-fitting sleeves that hang to the halfway point of her upper arms, and extends to her mid-thigh both in front and back. A slit at each hip that allows for freedom of movement and additional protection. This garment’s shape was modeled after the ancient Greek chiton worn under Hoplite armor. It also is decorated in multiple earth tones derived from all-terrain camouflage used in modern military applications. The three shapes are inspired by the leaf patterns and diagonal lines found on ancient Greek urns and the amorphous circular shapes from a snow leopard’s fur. Once colored and overlaid, these shapes form an indistinct pattern that the researcher designed for the appearance of concealment. Applying modern military methodology, the intention is that artistic portrayals of Wonder Woman’s costume would change color depending on the narrative settings.

The design of her armor was a mix of shapes from traditional dress from the region around the Black Sea and what would offer the most protection and mobility. I gave much thought and consideration as to how the levels of protection would layer.

Wonder Woman’s brown pants are close-fitting and fall to just below the knees, where her boots meet the cuffs. Pockets in the front and back feature button closures. Both sets of pockets are concealed by the camouflage tunic. Her pants are fused with panels constructed from impact material, a variation on the impact suit technology used in Olympic ski suits. Impact suits use woven fibers like Kevlar, fusing them with a polymer that is liquid when at rest, but hardens upon impact. These garments provide athletes maximum flexibility, range of movement, and protection when exposed to impact, acting like liquid armor.

Wonder Woman’s two-tone green boots are knee-high, and angled so that the front of her knee is protected while the back is exposed to provide comfort with crouched or kneeling. The boots are leather, with impact material panels lining the front shins and the tops of the feet. They zip up in the back for quick donning or removal.

As a top layer of protection, she wears a flexible breastplate, also in two-tone green, which fits over the head and extends over both collarbones, covering both shoulders along with the front and back of her torso. The shape of the breastplate is determined by the need to cover her vital organs while not impairing movement. The breastplate is constructed of Kevlar, the miracle fiber invented by DuPont that can be woven in such a way as to create an impact-resistant fabric that slows the velocity of bullets and other high-speed projectiles. I designed long pockets that form panels on the garment; these panels would be filled with magnetically oriented hexagonal plates of HPPE (high-performance polyethylene), a ballistics-grade plastic material that is lightweight and bullet-resistant. The plates are injected around small spheres of rare-earth magnets. These magnets are oriented so the plates interlock positive to negative, forming a scale-like pattern inside each sleeve. These magnetically attached plates can shift and slide with Wonder Woman’s movements and still provide protection. The overall shape of the vest was visually inspired by the V shapes found in the traditional dress of the regions surrounding the Black Sea.

The shoulders are covered with 3D-printed HPPE. On her right shoulder are alternating red and white stripes; on her left, three white stars on a deep navy-blue background. These identify that she fights for the United States of America.

Around Wonder Woman’s waist is a Kevlar girdle that can be adjusted and fastened with hook-and-loop fasteners on the sides. The front of the girdle has three HPPE shaped plates that overlap and can compress or expand with her movements while affording maximum protection. The three shaped plastic plates stack to visually form a continuation of the V shape on the breastplate. Long tails hang from the front and back of the girdle, made from the same lightweight synthetic material used in her tunic. There is a loosely knotted belt to keeps the tunic and the tails of the girdle in place; the red, white and blue horizontal stripes at the ends identify her military affiliation.

I also approached Wonder Woman’s iconic bracelets with superior Amazonian technology in mind, extrapolating that they would use deflection geometry to give her maximum protection and a measure of control over the flight path of the deflected bullets. Modern vehicle armor, such as that found on tanks and other military vehicles, uses deflection geometry to minimize the impact of high-velocity projectiles on the armored surface . The bracelets also fit over her wrists with socks made from the same material found on her tunic, providing comfort and protection.

Wonder Woman’s helmet is constructed from lightweight steel. It is colored in the same dark green found elsewhere in her costume, with a matte finish so as not to reflect light. It bears a Wonder Woman emblem on the front, centered above the forehead, in the same dark green. The design draws inspiration from the long history of military helmets. A flat steel ridge circles the front, face opening above the brow that is used to deflect blows from hand-to-hand weapons away from the face and eyes. The helmet also features cheek guards and a protective ridge along the back of the neck, all intended to deflect sword blows. A wing detail on the top of the helmet adds visual interest and balance, and references that Wonder Woman possesses the speed of Mercury. The helmet also features a removable neck guard of modernized scale mail, an ancient method of creating flexible armor by linking flat discs of material together to resemble the scales of a reptile. In this design, the discs that form this flexible armor are constructed from HPPE, so they are silent, unlike discs made from metal.

One of my favorite posters in the series illustrates the reimagined character, Wonder Woman in a physical showdown with a reimagined Cheetah a longstanding nemesis.

Some of the concept artwork!

For Wonder Woman, I allotted a handful of weeks to research, ideate and finalize her outlook. As with all the characters my goal during the redesign was to represent the research findings as they relate to the character that is outlined in the original* backstory. The "notes regarding the redesign" below, outline the details and logic for the final outcome.