Superhero comic books are infantile. Just like any other form of art that strives to represent perfection. To represent the super-human, to represent that which rests above humanity’s clear limitations. Or, for that matter, the universe’s own limitations. Which does not demeans them in any way. By being infantile, they delve into the deepest recesses of human individual and collective fantasy. The world of art – of great art, of popular art – is a world of perfection. A world without ugly people, without poverty, a world where ugliness and abject poverty signal – again, infantile-ly – a breach of the order of the plastic universe of the mind. A universe of color and beauty, bright as a glass bubble or a rubber ball. A universe of texture. The texture of candy-colored superheroes costumes, of naked skin emerging from star-spangled spandex.
You can’t read superhero comic books if you don’t understand this. Sure, we all love the gritty comics, the real edge of the violence that progressively substituted the POW-CRACK-KAPOW of yesteryear. We don’t call them comic-books anymore. They’re graphic novels, or simply books. We want them to be real. Not reality real, but politically real. Or, more close to the truth, politically correct. We want them to embrace the equivalent of literary realism, as if literary realism has ever attracted anyone to a book (or a film, or a comic-book). We want them to be real, but we keep suppressing important parts of life from comic books. Superheroes are asexual.
And yet… and yet, when we were young, when we first picked up our first comics, attracted by the POW-CRACK-KAPOW sizzling from inside the stapled pages, dazzled by the bright colors (how deep blue was the sky on those comics – how bright the color of the costumes), we were also in love with its gorgeous women. Supergirls with long naked legs. With impossibly firm and round breasts. Escaping from villains that always reserved them a destiny worse than death… Oh, that destiny was never portrayed like that… but you knew what it was all about didn’t you? (Maybe if you’re a girl you didn’t. That’s why you didn’t read comics then, and why you don’t read them for fun, now.) But we were as attracted to the beautiful, strong, impossibly sexy women of comics, as much as we were by the superheroes on which we projected our own body-fantasies. Male and female in superhero comic-books have idealized perfect morphologies. For asexual beings, they sure pack the full complement.
Obviously, the erotic potential was never satisfied – it couldn’t be, remember? Superhero comic books are infantile – but it kept us coming back for more. For a glimpse of a bosom under a torn costume – oh, how we loved torn costumes after a fight. Those were truly subversive images. The eternal suppression of the full disclosure, the perpetual tease, kept us hormonally on edge. Like a high-tension live-wire.
A scene like the one pictured above, from MEN’S ADVENTURE COMIX #5, could never happen in a major house comic book. You would never find Supergirl, or Zatanna, Rogue or Jean Grey, Black Cannary or Wonder Woman, Dazzler or Dagger, in such a predicament. Sure, as comic books got more sophisticated with the times, they would dare some darker themes (always to the outcries of outraged infantile feminists that never read comic books, and don’t want to read them now, but can’t stand to be out of the loop, of any loop), even the dread R-A-P-E (remember the outcry over The Evil That Men Do?). They were sometimes sold as slaves. They started to fuck (remember another outcry over TEEN TITANS #1, with Grayson and Koriander together in bed?) But, yeah, you know, that always happened frustratingly out of the frame. Superheroines make the most caste of sexual slaves.