Thursday, August 30, 2012

Clothes Make the Character: Venus de Gotham

*Tunes of the Day: Poison- Alice Cooper* (oh come on, you had to see this coming)

It's time to talk about sex appeal, with the help of Poison Ivy and a few other sexy females!

If you’ve been around my site for long, you may have noticed that I some times... go on long rant-- I mean, uh, discussions, about sexism, feminism, etc. I’ve talked about it in my Voodoo review, my character redesign of Power Girl. And well... practically every Wonder Woman article I've ever done (Hmm. Haven’t seen her around here for a while. Hmmm...)

I know I was a little vague about what this was about. That's because my brain somehow had a melt down and I... uh... kinda forgot the word. Stop laughing.

Today? We’re looking at Sex Appeal.

And what better character to help me along then one of the most well known sex symbols of super hero comics: Poison Ivy.

Pamela Isley was a young biologist, turned into a science experiment by her professor, giving her a psychic connections to plants. Heck, she thinks she is a plant. Maybe she is. And most of all, Poison Ivy is known as that woman every man and woman wants. She makes you want her with her pheromones. She ‘s sexy, powerful, intimidating and smart. Since her creation, she’s one of the most well known sex symbols of the DCU and probably one of the earliest I ever grew up with.

And yet, despite all the sexy moments, the swaggering hips, the pecks on the cheek she give to unsuspecting victims---- under that husk of sexuality, Poison Ivy is like an onion. She has layers. (I'll go easy on the plant puns)

The Many Leaves of Ivy

If ever there was a character to represent both the worst and best of female protrayals, look no further then Poison Ivy.

Why Poison Ivy? Well, out of all the sexy characters out there, Ivy is the one who has gone through the most changes both in personality and look, for better or for worse. Catwoman is complex too but is pretty much summed up into two words: "feline fatal". Get one of those wrong and it's not Catwoman.

Ivy on the other hand, has had many more extreme takes on her character, due to not only her appeal, but that her human and plant sides are constantly at odds with each other.

In the early days of the Batman animated series, Ivy was a sultry plant obsessed diva that just wants to have fun, make money and grows killer plants. This was also one of her most human portrayals;

She was a teenage radical environmentalist in The Batman, cutting back on the sexualization;

And lets not forget the super sexualized and campy Queen of the Green in Batman and Robin;

A cold hearted hater of mammals, a big sister to Harley Quinn, a human that thinks she’s a plant trapped in a mammals body, and of course, her favorite face---an eco terrorist. In ever version, Ivy is ever tugged between the line of sultry human and disdained filled plant.

Some instances being so insulting and squicky, I'm not even going to post them here on the site (the horror...the... horror...). While other instances shows she has maternal instincts, caring not just for her plants, but showing some wish to start a family. During the comics, Ivy once took pity on a group of orphans, caring for them as if they were her plants, and questioning her views on humanity.

But what about the sexy?

Well, Ivy is a sexy seductress, but her more recent incarnations don’t have her a someone who enjoys the “game”. She isn’t interested in flirting with someone because she enjoys it but rather as just some way to get what she wants. Ivy’s appeal is that she makes you want her. Ivy has a healthy, toned, attractive body, but characters fall for her because she blew a puff of pheromones in their face.

To date, my favourite version of Poison Ivy her portrayal in Gotham City Sirens (which is a series all of you must go out and buy now!) Mainly, issue 8, a one shot involving the green girl. Here, I saw Ivy as someone that didn’t consider herself human. She looks at humans with disdain. She rolls her eyes at the male gaze, shrugging it off as a typical primate's need to mate. But at the same time, you can see that the human part of her peeking through. She muses on things like love, something she's either witness or experienced in negative ways (Harley's obsession for the Joker for instance)

Oh, but don't make any mistake-- Ivy’s still evil, and good at it.

I love Ivy as the sexy temptress. But like Power Girl and the boob window, she is so much more then that.

Evil Demon Seductress

The Evil Demon Seductress--- This is a trope that can work. It’s worked with Poison Ivy. It’s been in our culture since the beginning of... well culture. Though back then it really was purely sexist. Today, it’s just a fun, sexy trope. Sometimes. Kinda... in a perfect world.

The problem is that today it has become a so popular and cliché a trope that it shows up everywhere. And the bigger problem is when it makes no sense what so ever.

But lets not let Poison Ivy have all the fun! Now who else works here...?

The Borg Queen. Holy holly leaves, do I hate the Borg Queen. First Contact was a good fricken movie but I HAAAAATE the Borg Queen with a passion. Not just her scenes in the movie but her entire creation. Finding out that a hive mind has a queen that controls everything is dumb. Making it a sexy queen is dumber. She makes no sense to the borgs. She doesn’t act like a borg. She flirts and seduces Data for... no real reason. And apparently she wanted Picard as a mate!? The heck!? GRRRRRR!

Ahem. I'm sorry I have no idea what happened there.

If you want an example of a good story with lots of flirting, sex and sex appeal, check out Skydoll.

The main character is literally a femmebot, created to serve, and takes place in the world where ethereal love rules. It’s deconstructed that ethereal and spiritual love in front of us, showing us where the peep show becomes something dark, twisted and wrong. Along with that we’re also looking at death, rape, slavery, religion, politics, power of media and most of all, love. So sometimes the humorous cheesecake is actually a bit more of a pick me up after a dark conversation.

So, before anyone points to me and screams “DEMON FEMINIST!”, let me be clear about something: I like sexy things. I love them. Why wouldn’t I? I like dressing myself and my characters in sexy outfits they wouldn't wear in battle. Why? Because it’s FUN. I have a femme fatale character whose name is literally “Mantis”. And it's fun to draw her in her tiney winey yellow and green bikini. But Mantis is a character that enjoys looking sexy.

So when do sexy characters cross the line into sexist characters?

Cheesecake ahoy!

In my experience, sex appeal crosses the line from harmless cheesecake into exploiting is when the character is being put on display purely for the audience. And when it becomes insulting to the character. It’s one thing when the character is wearing something skimpy, swaying her hips and flirting with other characters for the story. But it’s another to have the same thing, with constant T&A shots, sexualized poses---heck--- atomically incorrect poses at that, and have it have nothing to do with what’s going on. Note that I said “purely”. It’s okay for the audience to find a character sexy, or find the way their drawn appealing. Even in the most successful erotic comics, you have the sexy, but if the sexy doesn’t actually have a reason to be their except for the audience’s attention, then the story falls flat and turns into pure porn. (And no. I’m not discussing porn here.)

Good example of Cheesecake verse Objectification is Frank Millers latest works. I actually love Millers book Sin City. All the sex and sex appeal works here because it makes sense in the universe he created and with the characters living in it. Prostitutes own a part of the city. Corruption, and dark elements rule.

But in his recent works, it doesn’t belong. In All Star Batman, Vicky Vale is drawn... like this...

There's even an pantied butt shot that Frank specificly asked for. No. Really. He wrote that in his comic script. There is no other reason to have the this image here other then a pointless ass shot.

Um, did someone draw a face on those panties? Oh no! Hynotoad has infected her underwear!

And honestly, it's just the tip of the iceburg, but you're going to have to google search for that yourself.

Okay, so going back to the main character here....

I’m not too fond of Ivy’s outfit in Arkham Asylum/City. Sure, it’s sex appeal, and the way she’s written is really, well, Ivyish. But the plants that do cover her are literally pasted on her like stickers, plus she wears a uniform that’s just a few sizes too small. Not exactly your standard issue jail house uniform. Seemed more like lazy character design to make her sexy.

Here are other characters beside Poison Ivy whose sexy is part of their nature, but are still complex (or somewhat complex) characters. This does not actually mean they’re all femme fatales or super sexualized characters. Mostly:

Nudity vs Sex appeal

Okay, lets get into what makes a character sexy. When people think sex appeal, they think skimpy outfits. The tinier the outfit, or (lack there off), the sexier the female (or male) in question will look.

Not so.

In fact, sometimes it what you don’t see that makes a character more intriguing. Lets see, what's a good example....

This pose is so famous it was made into a figure. Really.

Okay, While I’m talking about Star Trek-- Seven of Nine. Great character, great actor, terrible outfit. Seven’s outfit is a very good example of fully clothed eye candy... Because that’s the only reason it was there.

Okay, sure, there were reasons the writers gave, reasons that did make some sense. The silver suit was meant to mimic her borg exoskeletion. And I suppose you could argue that if she was wearing a star fleet uniform, it would hurt her exploration of becoming an individual. The outfit has indeed changed, with her no longer wearing a high colour and color changing.

But each time, it is always a cat suit. Nothing to give personality. Not even a tool belt. Just something that covers hew whole body, it fits snugly to her form. A little too snuggly. The thing acted like a silhouette, giving you an idea of what she looked like underneath. Not to mention the way her breasts stick out. Even adding things a pattern, a belt, or seam-lines going down the front, would have pulled the eye away from the silhouette, making the character less objectified. Instead of looking alien, she looks like a Barbie doll.

Despite the reasons--- the full color, lack of personality and overly tight corset fitted silhouette was there to make her sexy, even when it had nothing to do with the story.

On the other side of the scales is Angora from the Meek. A teenage jungle girl who walks around butt naked during the entire comic. She isn’t the typical sexy jungle girl we’re all use to seeing. She doesn't have the Barbie doll figure, or a skimpy fur bikini. Just someone who’s grown up in the woods. And even though she is first seen being hunted by men who, er, want her, at no point is the story insulting, or takes advantage of her nudity with T&A shots.


Okay, I’ve talked about nudity, sex appeal, and cheesecake. Now, on to the redesign.


Jokes aside, Since I know Ivy more then PG, I went a lot deeper into the redesign, remaking her whole character, combining some of my personal favourite versions.

Anywho, I kept the “queen of the green” idea. I actually came up with a few different “outfits” for her--- when she’s relaxed, she has less growths on her body and her hair is down. She's also butt naked... but this image was more visually interesting. (and I don't have to worry about censorship, yay!)

When she wants to sit high up, her feet leave the trunk-like boots, and are only covered in bark. The bark can cover her entire body, acting like armour. This Ivy doesn't see herself as human, hence why she doesn’t care about clothing. She treats her body like she’s her own planet earth, something for her plants to make a home on and can grow right from her body. This means that her body is literally a weapon, instead of just figuratively.

This image here is more of an empowered Ivy. And no, I don’t mean female empowerment. I mean she’s literally powered up, with plants growing sporadically on her body, preparing to defend. This Ivy sees herself, as one iteration put it, “mother nature's arm”. The ones coming on out of her head acts like a crown, holding up her hair as well (the one part of her Arkham city design I actually liked). One thing that always sticks to Ivy is that she has a lot of ego. When in the presence “delicate human modesty” (ok that was sarcasm), she puts something almost glamorous on, something to show that her enemies are dealing with something higher then themselves: A Goddess of the Green.

I pushed the plant aspect even more, basing a lot of her design on Dryads and Fey Folk. And I swear, I had no idea how she looked in Swamp Thing before I drew this (seriously, need to buy that comic!)

Now she has plants growing from her, her blood now a acting like a fertilizer, but poisonous to mammals, hence why some of the plants are growing right out of her skin.

The sex appeal is still there, but it’s more surface. Like her previous versions, it's purely an act. A way to manipulate her prey. Due to her pheromones, it doesn't’ really matter what Poison Ivy looks like, but I wanted to keep those trade mark curves of her. And I want to make her silhouette recognizable from the other sirens. Harley is lean and skinny, Catwoman is, well, cat-like and much more sexualized, and Ivy is toned, curved and meaty, like a woman in a renaissance painting.

I would love to see Ivy like this. Okay, maybe not exactly like this. I'm still a sucker for the original costume. But I would love to see comics have a sexy characters, without exploit them, even when nude.

I’m actually really fond of the New 52 Ivy’s design. Her outfit is literally a second skin. It’s a giant plant covering her body that she can grow and control.

But is it possible for someone to take a character who is sexy and nude to not be objectified? Well, ya. Duh. I’ve seen it in works of Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore. Maybe one day the objectification will stop all together...

Y’know. One day.

Next time:

Yep, we’re going there. Again.

 Tegan Dumpleton aka SlugLady28


Scheduling news.

Okay, so anyone checking out ArtSlug knows what’s happening already. I’ve decided that due to this being the busiest month next to christmas at work, and how much I really really really want to get working on large projects and my webcomic that I’ve been hinting to for like, a year, I'm going to be slowly down on the sites.

So, September and October will only have one large article, each at the end of the month. And artslug will only updated every once and a while.

If you want to check out some more things regarding feminism and sex appeal, here are some of the videos I used in my research.

Tropes vs Woman by Anita Sarkeesian

Big Picture and Game Over thinker with Bob Chipman:

Oh, and I didn't use this for research but Nostagia Chick put this out last night and it's another point of view on sex appeal

Okay, which me luck!

Edit: Okay, fixed some grammar and added an image at the end. Gah. I need and editor...

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