If you haven’t heard the news about Starfire getting a much needed costume update—not to mention her own on-going series by powerhouse team Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, of Harley Quinn fame, along with Emanuela Lupacchino—then 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.
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 daughter—who was a huge fan of Starfire’s cartoon counterpart—what 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.
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 pants—similar to the look she has now—for 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.
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.
In 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.