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Starfire’s New Costume: A Reflection of Her History and Personality

If you haven’t heard the news about Starfire getting a much needed costume updatenot to mention her own on-going series by powerhouse team Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, of Harley Quinn fame, along with Emanuela Lupacchinothen buckle up because I’m going to break it down for you.

Costume updates are becoming the norm for the Big Two in the past few years, what with the recent influx of reboots and relaunches. Carol Danvers was one of the first to get a notable costume update, shedding her black lightning bolt bathing suit and hip scarf for a colorful and powerful full body suit, as she officially donned the name of Captain Marvel. Other recent costume reboots have included Barbara Gordon’s new Batgirl look under Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher and Jessica Drew’s updated Spider-Woman wear thanks to Kris Anka.

Starfire also received a costume update when she was rebooted with the rest of the DC characters in the New 52 line two years ago.

Starfire, Nu52, DC Comics, Scott Lobdel & Kenneth Rocafort

Starfire, Nu52, DC Comics, Scott Lobdel & Kenneth Rocafort

It was met with less than enthusiasm from fans, especially women. The controversy over her costume inspired a fantasy author Michele Lee to ask her seven-year-old daughterwho was a huge fan of Starfire’s cartoon counterpartwhat she thought of her hero’s new look. Needless to say, Lee’s daughter was baffled and bothered by Starfire’s comic book look. Seems DC is consistently getting told by little ladies.

I wanted to take a look at Starfire’s overall costume history and what it says about her character, including her most recent updated look. Starfire’s original, and longest-running, look appeared in George Perez’s New Teen Titan series in the late 80s. Under the pencils of Perez, this look wasn’t especially provocative and emphasizes Starfire’s free and vibrant personality. With a bright color palette of a purple split bathing suit, pupiless green eyes, and literally fiery red hair; everything about Starfire spoke of passion and brightness.

Starfire, Teen Titans, DC Comics, George Perez

Starfire, Teen Titans, DC Comics, George Perez

During this time period, Starfire also doubled as a model working for and with her new found friend Donna Troy who doubled as a photographer. Even in modeling, Starfire’s choice of clothing spoke of her girlish style and femininity. Starfire loved being feminine, girly, pretty, and sexy. Furthermore, she took pride in it. It wasn’t a cocky sort of pride, but rather just wholehearted confidence and self-assurance of herself. That confidence and playfulness is a key component in Starfire’s overall character.

For a short while, Starfire changed up her look for a more armored costume and then to a singular top and long pantssimilar to the look she has nowfor her short stint on the Outsiders team. She went back to her original costume with her return to the Teen Titans title where she began teaching new recruits, such as Superboy, Robin (Tim Drake at the time), and Wonder Girl.

When Cartoon Network released the popular TV show Teen Titans in 2003, Starfire was given a cartoon costume reboot. Still very girlish and showing skin, but obviously the more sexual aspects of her comic costume were downplayed given the target audience.

The key component in any and all these costumes is one thing: skin. There’s no way around it: Starfire shows skin. Even her kids cartoon adaption shows belly. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Starfire loves showing skin. She’s confident and proud of her body. In Titans #1 by Judd Winick, Starfire is found lounging by the Titans pool completely naked.

Titans: Old Friends Paperback – January 12, 2010 by Judd Winick (Author), Ian Churchill (Illustrator)

Titans: Old Friends Paperback – January 12, 2010 by Judd Winick (Author), Ian Churchill (Illustrator)

This is one of my favorite scenes of Starfire to date, and not for the obvious shallow reasons. Though she’s naked, Starfire isn’t being objectified here. She’s smiling, feeling, thinking; everything about the scene is about her as a person, not her as a hot body. Starfire has always been extremely comfortable with her body, and it’s reflected in her choice of costumes, clothing, and personality.

Donna Troy and Starfire, Teen Titans, George Perez, DC ComicsIn New Teen Titans #1, the team goes swimming after Starfire is officially inducted into the New Teen Titans. Donna Troy provides Starfire with a bathing suit, to which she sincerely questions the purpose of already displaying a high confidence in herself and comfort with her body. At the pool, she openly flirts with Dick Grayson, and later models for Donna in a series of playful and sexy photos.

Donna Troy and Starfire, Teen Titans, George Perez, DC Comics

Donna Troy and Starfire, Teen Titans, George Perez, DC Comics

Notice how in all of these photos Starfire is never objectified. She’s posing, but she’s not being posed. Starfire isn’t being contorted to show off her figure even though in this panel there’s an emphasis on her physical beauty. There’s also an emphasis on Starfire’s personality, from her hair, to her smile, to her overall playful and open nature. This aspect of Starfire’s personality has shown itself in how she interacts with her teammates as well. Out of all the Titans, Starfire is one of the most physically affection and attuned with her emotions.

It’s an aspect that was emphasized in the cartoon with her being the heart of the group, as shown in the episode “How Long is Forever.” Starfire ends up traveling to the future and sees that all her friends have drifted apart after her disappearance. In the show Starfire is often the one providing comfort and affection to her various teammates, an aspect that came directly from the comics.

Starfire could often been seen hugging, cuddling, offering a comforting hand on the shoulder, or holding her teammates. Male or female, Starfire was always there to provide comfort, guidance, or affection in various forms, both physically, emotionally, and yes sexually.

For Starfire, the physical act of affection was just a bridge between connection her with other people in various ways. Sometimes it was sexual, sometimes it was maternal, and others platonic. Starfire is a physically open person to match her emotionally open personality.

Starfire, Nu52, DC Comics, Scott Lobdel & Kenneth Rocafort

Starfire, Nu52, DC Comics, Scott Lobdel & Kenneth Rocafort

So, what was the problem with Starfire’s New 52 costume? It’s all about presentation. When Starfire was introduced in New Teen Titans she came down in a literal ball of fire, couldn’t speak the language, saw Dick Grayson in his cute lil Robin get up, smirked playfully, and then laid a big ole wet one on him. She said it was to “learn the language” which is partly true, but she also just wanted to kiss a cute boy. So she did. Because that’s Starfire. The doll that’s posing in contorted ways to showcase her amazing blowup body to a random teenage boy and her new teammates Roy and Jason is not.

Laura Hudson from ComicsAlliance described the new Starfire as “a promiscuous tabula rasa who can’t even remember the names of the men she sleeps with, and seeks out emotionless sex with both of the two male main characters while they essentially high five about it.”

Hudson hits the nail on the head, especially with her followup about some fans accusing those upset over Starfire’s New 52 costume and persona of slut-shaming:

If you really want to support Starfire’s “liberated sexuality” like she’s somehow a person with real agency, what people should really be campaigning for is more half-clothed dudes in suggestive poses to get drawn around her, since I’m sure that’s what she’d like to see. But people don’t really want that, do they? Because it’s not about what Starfire wants. It’s about what straight male readers want. And they want to see Starfire with her clothes falling off.

This is essentially what the problem with Starfire’s original New 52 look and introduction was. She was no longer a person, a character with pathos and agency, but a sexy doll straight male readers could ogle. Even in the pre-released panel—as pictured at the beginning of the article—Starfire showcases next to no real personality. She’s posing even then, in an itty bitty bikini armor that defies gravity with her eyes closed looking sexy for no other reason than to be looked at. Starfire wasn’t being presented as a character; she was being presented as an object.

Donna Troy and Starfire, Teen Titans, George Perez, DC Comics

Donna Troy and Starfire, Teen Titans, George Perez, DC Comics

Starfire pre-reboot was all fire, passion, and emotion. She felt things with everything she had. Starfire even tells Dick as much during their relationship. Her people feel things almost too much. In the cartoon her powers are driven by her emotions.

Starfire was literally an overly emotional female character, and that was painted as a good thing. While her storylines have always focused a little too much on her romance with Dick, Starfire’s core characteristics remained: Compassion, passion, and uncompromising raw emotion. That was all stripped away with her reintroduction to the New 52 and replaced with a character who pranced around in a ridiculously tiny costume for no real motivation. Since her personality was stripped down along with her clothes, there was no reason left for why she dressed the way she did.

Starfire, Nu52, DC Comics, Scott Lobdel & Kenneth Rocafort

Starfire, Nu52, DC Comics, Scott Lobdel & Kenneth Rocafort

Costumes help emphasize a characters personality and give them a singular persona of their own. Rogue wears full body clothing because she can’t touch people. Batwoman is black and red—a combination of dark and bold coloring—that sets her apart from Batman. Spider-man’s bright blue and red coloring with web designs speak to his originally teenaged, sarcastic, and playful personality. There’s a reason why comic characters have specific color palettes to their looks. You wouldn’t see Batman wearing the bright gold and red of Wonder Woman’s costume, nor the blue and red of Superman’s. Vice versa you wouldn’t see them switching out for Batman’s dark grays and blacks. Nightwing’s blue—then red, now spy gear—set him a part from Batman and his previous identity of Robin. 

The entire Robin troop from Dick to Damian are perfect examples of how costumes reflect the personalities and individual characteristics of the characters. Dick’s pixie boots, Tim’s green and eventually red pants, Steph’s longer skirt-like red shirt, and Damian’s hooded cape. Costumes are important. From the design to the coloring they provide readers with a tone for which the character plays. 

Starfire’s original costume suited her overall personality. Her playful sexiness and confidence. Was it abused at times? Certainly, even female characters without ridiculously revealing costumes are abused for the male gaze from time to time (see Rogue and her ridiculous unzipped costume). But overall Starfire’s original costume fit who she was as a singular character. Her New 52 character didn’t have any of her previous nuance or history—it was just sexy for the sake of titillating conservative male fans as emphasized by the stale and emotionless poses she strikes in her first introduction to the New 52. This is why her new costume, courtesy of the fabulous Amanda Conner, is such a breath of much needed life for the character.

Starfire, Nu52, DC Comics, Amanda Connor

Starfire, Nu52, DC Comics, Amanda Connor

Everything about Starfire’s new costume and cover art screams playful and sexy. Going back to her roots as a character. The colors are bright again, her smile is back, her costume is playful, and her pose sexy. Even the background emphasizes who Starfire is: someone you stop and stare at for various reasons. She makes men, women, and non-binary people look not because she’s beautiful—she is but all comic book people are—but because she flaunts it. Confidently and without reservation or shame. Connor makes Starfire strut while showing off both her curves and personality in a way that screams “look at me!” to both the background characters and fans.

And people look, but not because Starfire is beautiful outwardly, but because she’s beautiful inwardly as well. An old man gapes, a young man stops and stares, a young woman’s jaw drops, another grins embarrassed and indulgent, and a fireman appears worried Starfire’s hair will set something on fire. Starfire invokes all these reactions, yet gives none of her own because she’s too busy strutting her stuff down the street and having a good time. She doesn’t need or want attention—though she appreciates it all the same—she’s just walking down the street looking and feeling good.

She might sound shallow, but Starfire has never been shallow, just unashamedly confident. That’s what her new look is, sexy and confident. Starfire’s is the embodiment of Fifth Harmony’s song Bo$$.

As a long time fan of Starfire, Connor’s rebooted design has me in a tizzy. It embodies everything I love about the character, without stripping her of her personality or contorting her body to service an outdated gaze. Instead of staring blankly at the readers while she poses, she stares straight ahead with a playful smile, all teeth, ready to take readers by storm in her new book. This is the Starfire I knew and loved, and I’m so glad she’s back.

  1. Cy

    March 6, 2015 at 6:34 pm

    Really amazing read! You perfectly captured the flaws in the argument of “how is the new 52 Starfire different than her debut?” that I keep seeing people spout. I’m stoked to see the movement of women in comics becoming multi-dimensional. I think Kamala Khan not having a massive boob window and Starfire being sexy without being a sex object are equally large steps on the path of having depth brought back into mainstream comics.

    Thanks for an awesome article!

    1. Desiree

      March 7, 2015 at 2:23 pm

      Thank you! I love Starfire, hands down my favorite comic character and I’m glad she’s getting more love in recent years. Mainly because of the TV show. Which I know if people grew interested in her and then read the RHATO at least issue 1 they were rightfully shocked and put off. I wanted to rectify that. I wanted to show how brilliant of a character she was and the difference between her being sexual and sexualized played a part in why people were upset.

      I’m glad for characters like Kamala, Spider-Gwen, and now Black Canary and Starfire are making their way into becoming mainstream icons of multi-dimensional female characters.

  2. priya

    March 6, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    That was a really interesting read! I didn’t know anything about Starfire before- I peripherally knew the Teen Titans cartoon, and then saw the New 52 design and barfed- I feel like I have a lot more respect for her character now. That last illustration is super cute, and super bo$$ haha

    1. Desiree

      March 7, 2015 at 2:26 pm

      A lot of people know her mainly from the original Teen Titans cartoon show and what I loved about the original cartoon show is that they kept her playful, feminine nature while still emphasizing her warrior culture and affectionate physicality. She was the emotional core of the team, and in the comics she acts as the same as well for many stories.

      The N52 wanted to draw in a certain crowd, but in doing so they alienated a larger crowd. Starfire has a great foundation for being a thoroughly interesting and progressive female character if they get the right writers to handle her instead of turning into an object to ogle. I have a lot of hope for Amanda Connor (who did that last illustration) and Jimmy Patrotti who are writing her new book.

  3. Michael Hatton

    March 6, 2015 at 10:50 pm

    Actually Starfire first appeared in the early in 1981. Though I think the comic was cover dated in 1980. .

  4. Nick

    March 7, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    I agree with 100% of everything you just said except for the fact that Starfire has had more stories about her in the New 52 run of Red Hood and the Outlaws then either of the two other characters. Because she is so much more of a character then the other two, the writers lean on her to carry the story. I mean lets face it Roy and Jason are just Batman and Green Arrow who kill. She was needed for that book to succeed and I feel like without her it will not as it is continuing its run after Convergence.

    1. Desiree

      March 7, 2015 at 2:41 pm

      This is fair, I think Jason is pretty interesting in RHATO though they’ve stripped Roy of a lot of what made him an interesting character in the N52.

      I was actually surprised by how prominent Starfire grew in RHATO considering she was originally there to just be the token (sexy) woman of the team. But while I didn’t love all her storylines I did appreciate how they focused in on her history, the story with her sister, and really pushed those aspects of her character. I think RHATO’s did help her general popularity (along with the TT tv show) enough to make DC buy the pitch for her solo title.

      We’ll have to see where RHATO’s ends up after Convergence but yeah I don’t think it’ll last long.

  5. Wendy Browne

    March 7, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    Thank you for this. I have never really read too much about Starfire, and only really know her cartoon incarnation now, but I have always known that she is a very sex positive character, and was so disappointed in what was done to her in the n52 debut. I want to see more articles like this to help people understand the distinct difference between sex positively sexy characters and sexually objectified characters, because it’s really sad that people can’t tell the difference.

    1. Desiree

      March 7, 2015 at 2:45 pm

      I agree, because I think sexy characters in comics is completely okay as long as it’s 1. not just women, 2. they’re treated as people not objects, and 3. it suits the character in question.

      Those are my own personal rules. Because yeah, I think Starfire is a sexy character, it’s part of who she is, but she’s not an OBJECT. And treating her as such objectifies her and turns her into an object instead of empowering her character.

  6. Bob

    March 10, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    FYI – The artwork at the top attributed to George Perez is actually art from another Titans veteran, Tom Grummett.

    1. Claire Napier

      March 10, 2015 at 6:33 pm

      Thanks!

  7. Madison

    April 5, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    I think it’s very important to acknowledge the character’s personality and choices when discussing their objectification and sexualization, and you brought some attention to these thoughts, especially in the differences between her before and after the reboot. That’s some great food for thought.

    However, I was a bit disturbed by how completely her “before” was dismissed as her being of a carefree and sexy personality. Of course some characters will be more sexual than others, and some women will choose to dress provocatively and act flirty. But it’s essential to think of characters as creations that were made to be what they are, not independent women who made these choices. I feel like this article dismisses the creator’s choices a bit too much as “what Starfire would do,” when she was in fact designed and made to do these things by someone else, with male satisfaction obviously in mind.

    Every single outfit displayed here was highly sexualized and objectified. The one praised as carefree and fitting of character still boasted impossible breast and waist anatomy, and was intentionally a very sexualized and provocative costume. Why are women “liberated in their own sexuality” in comics always so perfectly fitting of the male gaze? Why don’t we see these liberated women with realistic body types or denying any beauty standards? While you had good points about the losses in her most controversial reboot, the fact remains that in every incarnation she was a sexualized, objectified tool meant to fit a gaze and the fact that “she would like it” stems from a personality chosen to be a part of that gaze. I think this is important to acknowledge.

    1. Desiree Rodriguez

      April 15, 2015 at 10:32 am

      I can understand where you’re coming from and it was a concern from others as well.

      I believe this is where the writing and drawing of a character comes into play, however. A character can wear a sexy costume, but not be portrayed as a sex object for the male gaze. Which is how I read most of Starfire’s stories pre-reboot. Now this isn’t to say she wasn’t horribly objectified in certain cases, she was, even pre-reboot.

      Just as Emma Frost can go from one panel of being sexy in line with her overall character, and sexy for the male gaze in another panel. It depends on the artist themselves and how they’re directly approaching the character.

      For example, I have the complete trade of Avengers vs X-Men which stars Hope Summers as a main character. Now Hope is around the age of 14 to 18 at most (comics are always flaky about age but it’s stated that Hope is still a child/teenager), however reading through the book you can specifically see how different artists portray her. Some draw her as a child, or as a young teenager who has yet to reach full maturity, while others draw her as a fully grown standard beauty woman (meaning tiny waist, big breasts). This is a problem within the industry itself, the general sexalization of female characters.

      While every one of Starfire’s outfits are sexual in nature, what also comes into play is the nature on which they are drawn by artists, and how she is presented as a character within the story. If she’s presented as a sexy lamp (which she has been both pre-reboot and N52) than there’s a problem. But if the act of dressing sexy is directly in line with narrative personality, than I don’t have a problem with it. I would have a problem if Kitty or Raven dressed like Emma or Star, because their personalities don’t align with those clothing choices.

      I do fully agree we need more body positivity when it comes to comics. All ladies fit a one size of super model while male superheroes, while idealized, do experience differing body types.

  8. Andrew E

    June 7, 2015 at 2:35 am

    I feel that this article is too one sided when it comes to Starfire in the Nu52. I was also exposed to her from the cartoon show but also I read red hood and the outlaws because I enjoyed it. When it comes to the first issue of RHATO if you continue on with the series you learn that she has never had sex with Jason Todd and yes she does remember who Dick Grayson is even though she claimed she didn’t ( I can’t remember which issue but jason and dick have a discussion about the relationship). Also through the series she maintains a happy relationship with Roy. Personality wise I perfer her characterization in the Nu52 than the cartoon; I enjoyed the fact she is more serious and not really concerned with how things on earth operated( especially when she was paired with superman, very interesting foil between the two) . Her stories in the book showed that she is incredibly intelligent and powerful( being able to pilot a spacecraft, kicking a nuke, commanding a crew in space for example). Also I can see how people are off put by the costume but for me Kenneth Rocafort, Brett Booth, RB Silva and Rafa Sandoval did great jobs drawing her as both beautiful and capable ( also it’s never mentioned the armor she wore during the space arc and the possible costume slightly featured in Teen Titans #16, #17 and the unused cover drawn by Mico Sauyan). So yes she is different from her previous incarnations but the nu52 also changed roy and jason’s personalities ( jason for the better roy different but I like it) and made it interesting to read them together as very close friends.

  9. Mysterion

    June 10, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    Being affectionate and sexually warm should be a good custom here too. I love hugs and cuddles and i become a little cat when someone sweetly comes to me even for no reason and hugs me. Also i like to be a bit naked but only when im alone because im not so……attractive like her, im also free spirited and easy-going but i should hide it because is not fitting for a big boy like myself….

    1. Claire Napier

      June 10, 2015 at 4:11 pm

      I’m sure you deserve more confidence that you suggest you have here- everybody’s body is good enough, everybody deserves to feel good -but this isn’t the place for flirtation or self-deprecation, mate.

  10. Matt

    July 12, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    You didn’t even touch on the “New 52” artwork just being flat-out bad with incorrect anatomy aside from the pornolicious poses.

  11. Tomás O.

    July 21, 2015 at 9:10 pm

    Even as a young kid who happened to be a big fan of Perez’s and Wolfman’s New Teen Titans, I always saw Starfire as a caricature of what many 80s straight boys would see as their ideal woman: big breasts, big hair, shapely butt, always eager to please and ready to be “one of the boys,” and of course, always scantily clad. She was a cross between a blowup doll, Dolly Parton, and Pamela Anderson Lee. She seemed to me a big orange gimmick that was designed to titillate more than anything else. And knowing that a fellow Puerto Rican designed her look, I was convinced that her voluptuous figure was absolutely designed for the male gaze. I still love the character and her original backstory, but I have never liked her costumes, in any incarnatipn, not even the current one.

  12. COBOL

    July 21, 2015 at 10:54 pm

    Starfire has always been the sex object. We can talk about her being confident with her body image all day long. She’s there to titillate (no pun intended) and hopefully we can good characterization by a happy coincidence. I liked the character from the early 80s. I still thought at times she was the sexy, innocent girl to be taken advantage of by Robin. I must say Robin was extremely annoying when he tries to deny his feelings for Starfire. Also, I don’t like the Amanda Conner interpretation of the character. She looks like a cross between an orange Malibu Barbie and Rachel Dolezal.

    I like the Starfire, but like She-Hulk, the character can devolve into just a sex object. We all know there will be no men in G-strings in a mainstream comic. I just don’t want the female characters to revisit the “Bad Girl” fad of the mid to late 90s.

    By the way, Starfire’s original costume was inspired by another scantily clad warrior woman by the name of Red Sonja.

  13. Pamela

    June 24, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    I really enjoyed this article but I do have problems with the newer revamp of Starfire from Connor’s writing.
    I actually like the New 52 Starfire a lot because the interesting thing I found about Redhood and the Outlaws was that you aren’t supposed to like any of the Characters for about the first 7 issues. And you ESPECIALLY aren’t supposed to like Starfire. Later on in Redhood we see that Starfire has actually come to realize how powerful her sexuality is and uses it to her advantage and then we also see the characters develop together. As Kori, Roy, and Jason all begin to grow on each other they start to grow on the reader. I hated the New 52 Starfire for actually quite awhile till I went back and reread the first volume of Redhood. You begin to see that Starfire feels vulnerable. Later we learn that Starfire, who’s sort of forgotten Dick Grayson, is actually selectively suppressing some memories because in a previous story arc she told Dick Grayson how she still loves him but he says he can’t reciprocate. The thing with Starfire is that, in this version, she still had incredibly deep emotions towards others but she feels vulnerable and alone. This is emphasized because we learn that her sister gave her away into slavery, and that of all the people on Tamaran, no one really wanted to or saw a reason to come and rescue her. She feels trapped because (way back in the early comics) we learn she was married twice with both men dying, and having been given away by her sister (whom she loved very fiercely), and having later had Dick Grayson say that he didn’t love her but only wanted to be with her physically, I think this is a way to show her insecurities. Later we learn that Jason, when he said Starfire was with him, they had actually had a few very deep discussions where Starfire provided him with a shoulder to lean on and was there to listen to his past. Later on in the series when she goes to Tamaran to help with The Blight invasion, she’s more clothed and becomes a very fierce and powerful commander and an incredibly intelligent commander at that. In the same issue, she reveals to Roy and Jason that she’s scared of being betrayed again and needs them to help her straighten out her moral compass in regards to help Tamaran further. At this point, her clothing is covering her extensively because (as before) she was using her promiscuity as an emotional blanket and is using this new clothing that covers her completely as a literal emotional blanket. But once she becomes more confident and allows her emotions to take over, she forgives Tamaran and her sister and from then on is a much more positive character because now she doesn’t define herself by what she wears or who she’s with (physically or emotionally) because she realizes that being Starfire is good enough and she becomes proud of that fact and no longer feels she needs to prove herself.
    I really like her new reboot as well, but not in the fact that it occurs right after Redhood and the Outlaws. I think it would have been a better prequel and to chronicle Starfires first days on Earth. Especially since her having been on earth for years prior and having an extensive ability to read human emotions and pick up on the culture and mannerisms quickly vanished. Other than that, I don’t really have any complaints with those comics other than that I wish they weren’t immediately following Redhood.

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