Emma Frost can get away with dressing that way

Comics Alliance talked to several creators about the way women are artistically portrayed in comic books. Kieron Gillen notes that it’s in-character for Emma Frost to have a revealing wardrobe, while for some other female characters, it would be out-of-character and objectifying against them.

Emma always risks being every bad cliché about women in comics, simply because half the time she’s a tendency to look as if she’s just wandered out of a retro-themed sex party. Which she probably has. I think Emma gets away with it for a few reasons, and they’re reasons I keep in mind whenever writing pretty much anything.

First one, is something I think is as close to objective as anything craft-based gets. It’s about storytelling. Not a character’s actions, but how you choose to frame those actions for the reader. This includes the poses a character strikes. You could have a character reciting feminist theory, but if you’ve shot them so they’re leaning over to give a cleavage shot and come-hither eyes up at the reader, it overrules anything else you could be trying to do.

In other words, her costume’s actually a secondary concern compared to how you choose to frame the person wearing that costume. Take a look at Whedon/Cassady’s Astonishing X-men for a masterclass in Emma. She’s her usual semi-clothed self throughout, and Cassaday never does anything to draw attention to it above and beyond what the story demands.

If you treat your characters as objects instead of characters you are, by definition, objectifying them, and if you constantly objectify your female characters you come across as sexist. Male characters, despite the similar unlikely physique, are simply not objectified in the gaze of the reader in the same way as female characters often are, to the detriment to the drama. Because if the reader is thinking “Nice ass” or “Oh God, tacky!” on a panel that’s meant to be about something emotional and true, your choices have betrayed the story.

emma frost jamie mckelvie

Second reason why Emma gets away with it links to the line-up. This is a team which includes a number of other women. In terms of my team, two are in unisex jumpsuits (Magik, Hope) and one is in something a little more elegant (Storm). We can have a character like Emma simply because not all characters are like Emma. If you dress all your characters like Emma, it sends – no pun intended — an explicit message.

Third reason is the flip of the first reason. That was about how you choose to present the story. This is the content of the story of itself. Emma’s unique dress-sense is absolutely part of the story. It’s for a reason. It’s for a reason which other characters respond to, both positively and negatively. If you’re going to have a character like Emma, you have to accept it’s a thing and roll with it.

In short: If you treat your characters as characters, you can get away with pretty much anything. As a final thought, it’s also worth noting that the deepest plunging cleavage in my X-Men team is actually Namor who’s close to being the masculine inverse of Emma in terms of amount of skin versus appropriateness of showing that amount of skin. Which, I suppose, is my own attempt at playful sexual egalitarianism.

Read the rest at Comics Alliance.


  • Khino

    That was a good reading.

    Gillen made good points about Ms. Frost. I specially agree with his 3rd point. The biggest problem with sexualization in comics, for me, is that it’s blatant fan service. There’s no point in having most of the females dressing like they do if it serves no purpose to the story. Sure, i could make a point about Wolverine’s ridiculous yellow outfit not being relevant to his character,  but like Gillen said, male characters are not objectified that way.

    The only point i disagree with is not even about Emma, it’s when he mentions that Storm’s outfit is more elegant than Magik’s and Hope’s. Maybe I just miss Storm’s 90′s and 80′s looks, but for the most part of the past decade and until now she’s wearing as much clothing as Emma and Psylocke (and unlike Emma at least, the way Ororo dresses is irrelevant to her character). 

    Later on the article, Emma is mentioned another time, by Kurt Busiek:

    “There’s nothing wrong with sexy. I don’t want to change Power Girl. She
    works really well as a character. What’s wrong is when everyone’s sexy,
    and in the same way, too. Playing it that way even hurts the characters
    who are meant to be sexy. If Storm and Kitty Pryde look and stand and
    act like Victoria’s Secret models, then how do you make the White Queen,
    who is supposed to be strikingly sexy and vamp-ish, stand out? Make her
    look like a Hustler model? That doesn’t come off as sexy; it
    comes of as ludicrous. But if everyone gets presented the same way, it’s
    harder and harder for the characters to be distinctive, even the ones
    who _should_ be presented that way, because it’s no longer possible to
    tell that that’s a choice, not a default. No range, no distinctiveness.
    Would Catwoman need to hump Batman on a rooftop to establish how hot and
    sexy she is if everyone else wasn’t crowding into the “sexy” end of the
    scale?”I agree with him. I guess every Emma fan has heard, at least once, a hater complaining about the way she looks/dresses, often comparing her to other characters that “don’t need to show off to be hot” or whatever. But, who’s the real problem, Emma, who, like Busiek said, is supposed to be sexy, or the other women who dress like that just for fan service? I mean, Storm and Psylocke are supposed to be an street fighter and a ninja, respectively. To say that they should be sexy/hot the same way Emma is, and not athletic or even bulkier, is the same as saying that this body type is the only acceptable/attractive depiction of a woman’s body in comics.The way I see it, Frost’s appearance is as important to her character as Beast’s or Nightcrawler’s are to theirs. It’s the old don’t judge a book by its cover thing: she may look and even dress like a porn star, but she’s also the only woman on her team who has been running her own company since her very first appearance. No objectification here.(That’s not saying I agree with everything Marvel has been doing with Emma in regards to her sexy attitude. She’s a teacher and a businesswoman, and she’s often depicted as being arrogant, I do think she would consider herself above some of the clothes Marvel makes her wear).

    • Niklas B

      That’s a very good point.

      Her costume is often a little (slight understatement) over the top, but since so many other female comic characters are under-dressed for no real reason (except fan-service) there’s really not any other way to go if they want her to stand out in the way she’s meant to.

      They could of course try to get that aspect through via good writing, but that might perhaps be too subtle for a genre like superhero comics.

      • Shark

        Get rid of Greg land and half the problem is solved.