I promised to be positive in this series so here’s a new spin on that: a how-to, some advice, a template to run with. Why complain about weak redesigns if you don’t give suggestions on how to be better? But I’m poison-flavoured and sour, like my favourite drink, so let’s sneak in a little evil while we’re here. Let’s look at some pretty bad designs for characters. Let’s dip into the Dynamite and Chaos! stock cupboards.
Our own Ginnis Tonik, Lifestyle Editor, is running a big ol’ feature series on the Gail Simone-led Swords of Sorrow event that Dynamite are putting out. As far as I can tell, it’s an experiment to see if woman writers can salvage characters designed for exploitation, and it’s caused me to take a peek at what these brave women were given to work with.
Swords of Sorrow’s not a project I’m immediately inclined towards (the writers are all women, sure, but it’s not simply a prose experiment, from author to reader in one bound) but the writers involved seem to be doing a professional job of it. Much like with Marvel’s A-Force, I think the lack of extensive visual retooling is a fatal weakness. Massive editorial oversight. One, it’s boring! Two, it supposes that the mid-90s were a good time for comic book lingerie design. Three, well, use your powers of deduction, okay?
So, to ComicVine!
Let’s look at their original designs, and side-by-side them with some polyvore sets I’ve created. (Polyvore is a shopping tool that allows outfits to be aggregated from various outlets, and displayed together, much like the magic Clueless computer).
(Fair warning: this gallery probably isn’t safe for work.)
You may notice an absence of Lady Zorro from my redesign sets. More on that later.
The message here is not “these are the only results that are acceptable.” These sets have been created based on information about these characters: they look different, perhaps immediately unrecognisable, but they “make sense.” These are looks that have been created with the life, circumstances, and reasonable potential tastes and desires of the women they are for (in fact, the women that they are; “character design” defines so much, in comic storytelling) in the forefront of my mind. This is how you redesign.
We’ll start with Pantha. She hasn’t seen much action yet, but she will be starring in a one-shot with Jane Porter in August. ComicVine character synopsis, go!
Okay. Not much to go on. I’ll give you a better look at my redesign, and we’ll work backwards. It should be easier that way.
Ideally when a creator is redesigning a character, they have more than a passing familiarity with them, and more to go on than a ComicVine (CV) profile. There should be publisher’s notes and a decent backstory package. But for the purposes of this investigation, we’re using the basics. CV tends to have a couple of areas in their profiles; Origin, Major Story Arcs, Powers & Ability, Personality, things like that. They’re rarely well-written, but you can get a gist. For example:
Ra had given her the ability to change into a panther. She makes several cat-themed break-ins.
Pantha can turn into a Panther and likes a bit of the cat theme; it’s easy, but it’s established, so that gives you the dark blue. As for the sunglasses? Well, everybody knows that actors go out wearing those as a matter of course, and—
She worked as an actor then and liked to party.
Time passes and we find her in Gotham city, she represents herself as Private Investigator.
While Pantha is away, Dixie is tricked to use the scarab necklace to open a gateway to hell.
Purgatory’s skin is bright red, so the first thing I took into consideration is “what would set that off well?” Answer: I like violent contrast, so turquoise. This coat is from Burberry and cost almost £4000 at first listing; the cut is proud, the fabric is luxe-max, and all in all anybody walking around in this is going to command attention. A red woman with big black horns? Tremendous.
Always the aggressor, Purgatori is characterized as an untrustworthy vampiric goddess with a lust for the blood of deities.
She is something of an antithesis of Lady Death, being secretive, cowardly, using illusion and not afraid to back stab or punch low to achieve her goals.
I like her already. So because I like her, and obnoxiousness is fun—and because seriously, who can blame somebody who lived as a raped slave for taking the world for what it owes her?—I’m going to add bounce and flounce with thousand dollar wedge trainers and cute kitty-cat socks.
Lucifer then became entranced by her and came to her bringing her to Hell where she was to be his wife.
Purgatori is a lesbian and bit Satan in the neck for trying to marry her. I am giving her expensive material goods because she deserves them. The cat and snake detailing is probably Too Much (and too comic book) for a character whose backstory makes such a big but shallow deal out of her Ancient Egyptian early life; the deco-ish shapes in the earrings are all the Ancient Egypt she really needs. But these are quality goods. So why not.
Purgatory’s story relies heavily, heavily on non-consensual sex, or as we sometimes call it, “rape.” Her storylines do things like this:
On October 13, 1995, Purgatori arrived in San Francisco. Victim to her own ravenous thirst [she’s a vampire] she found her desire at a local lesbian S&M bar. She was then attacked by a tormented creature, he called himself the Faithless One.
Sex! Death! Sexy Death!
She was attacked by Karmilla (who had been given powers by [Purgatori’s ex-lover] Satrina) but she effortlessly defeated her, leaving her to be tortured in the dungeon.
And so when Purgatori returned from Cairo, she discovered the betrayal on her own and ripped out Satrina’s heart, killing her.
Her former lover Vulnavia didn’t like that though and attacked Purgatori.
Attacking former lovers! Names like “Vulnavia.” Etc. Etc. You get me. It’s a fetish comic, soft-core body horror for erotic titillation, focused on the curves of a survivor. So I’m in a bind; I don’t want to string her up in fetish gear, but I don’t want to do the “cover up, dear, cover your shame” nonsense either. Answer? Givenchy deep-V. Her established taste is “small garments in black,” essentially cover-the-swimsuit-area basics. So I give her a stylishly cut one-piece in basic black. Sorted. And a ring shaped like lots of little boobs, because if she wants to freak people out with aggressive sexuality, let’s let her.
Next? Chastity. We already covered her!
So Dejah Thoris, then.
Dejah Thoris is the Princess of Mars and the wife of John Carter, the Warlord of Mars.
Very helpful! NOT.
“Dejah Thoris was described by Burroughs as being beautiful in the extreme, with wavy coal black hair, large lustrous eyes, and light reddish copper-colored skin. Because the Red Martian people are born from eggs rather than giving live birth, she has no belly button (though artists frequently draw her with one). As was typical of Martian custom, Dejah wore no clothing:
She was as destitute of clothes as the green Martians who accompanied her; indeed, save for her highly wrought ornaments she was entirely naked, nor could any apparel have enhanced the beauty of her perfect and symmetrical figure.
Dejah’s most recent publisher, Dynamite Entertainment, has made her nearly as naked as originally described in the novels, with only the smallest of ornaments covering her modesty.”
“Modesty” is a strange word, isn’t it?
Anyway, “highly wrought ornaments” are easy; those literally exist in real life and in fact manifest with astonishing regularity. We call’em “jewellery.” So plenty of that, plenty of choice for a queen, and (like with Purgatori’s bright red and coral), I thought that rose gold would look a treat on light reddish or coppery skin. Dejah likes to be pretty naked, so if she’s not going to be naked (redesigning a different glitter harness is possible, and fine, but not necessarily noticeable as a change i.e “redesign”), what’s she going to do? She’ll be naked under a lovely wafting gown. How sensual, how delicious!
Dark teal, again, should flatter reddish copper, and sits nicely with the rose gold, pink, and red.
Jana Sky-Born, then, who will be debuting this month in Swords of Sorrow: Red Sonja & Jungle Girl. Let’s look at Jungle Girl:
(The thing about ComicVine is that it really gives you an impression about what the readers of these comics think about real live women)
I’m being facetious here. I’ll admit it. But I do actually think this is a legitimate redesign.
Take a character called “Jungle Girl” and put her in the city. She’s “extremely resourceful.” I have to assume that she goes by Jungle Girl because she excels in the jungle, and that she excels in the jungle because she’d excel anywhere. So I dressed her like a William Gibson woman. Sorted. Done. City Girl.
Lady Rawhide is a scantily clad masked vigilante who defends the people from their oppression against tyrannical officials and other villains.
You know you’re looking at a well-established character when their pull description begins with “scantily clad!” Good grief! My word! Here goes.
Lady Rawhide’s origin is fucking ridiculous; she hates Zorro because somebody shot her brother. He’s not even dead, but whatever. Here’s a gem from her “character evolution” section:
Lady Rawhide would also save an innocent man who was being accused by his vindictive wife for molesting children.
So I feel no loyalty to the original collar-corset or thigh-highs. This character was designed to be a sexy validator of men’s perverse insecurity. Lady Rawhide’s last adventure ended shortly after a lady vampire had to suck on Lady Rawhide’s “chest” (tit) to get out all… of the gangrene. That’s legit disgusting. Who sucks gangrene?
Lady Rawhide is a great swordswoman: she needs a sword and she needs fencing shoes. She clearly likes to be visible, so lets make them bright yellow, why not! Gloves too? Don’t want to get sweaty or calloused. That’s good for hand jobs, though. She wears a mask, and it’s white: let’s switch that up a bit and go for white sunglasses over white contacts and white mascara. Scary! Intimidating!
As far as personality goes, Lady Rawhide is extremely cocky. She uses psychological tactics to outwit her enemies, such as her revealing costume, which serves as a distraction when fighting them. She often taunts her foes to get under their skin, which usually works in her favor.
A strap-on and a Westwood titty top aren’t exactly subtle, and this outfit is all a bit Morrison, I’ll cop to it. But psychological sexual aggression? Distraction? Taunting? Check, check, and check.
Vampirella is the best known of any of these women, for which Dynamite can’t claim credit. She’s a 1960s Warren success, and her costume is iconic. It varies in size and dimension, but it’s iconic. How can it be redesigned? In my opinion, less is more.
Vampirella’s costume breaks down easily into several component parts.
- Red cut-outs
- White pointed collar
- jewelled statement brooch
- bright yellow
- erotically flattering
The cut-out jumpsuit keeps the gaps, the flattering open shoulders and waist, the cleavage gap. It’s comfortable-looking and glamorous, being Balmain. I’ve moved the white collar wings down into a trapezoid handbag, but kept some white accenting with the leather harness (which I’ve put underneath the jumpsuit, visible through the gaps and over the bare shoulders, to emphasise the “oh no, vampires!” thrill of sexual confinement. Move the brooch to a ring, the yellow to deadly-looking spiked heels, and little gold fang-shaped accept earrings, and I’m happy as can be with this, actually. I wasn’t sure it could be done, but I like this as a Vampirella redesign.
If I do say so myself.
A female impostor of Zorro that mistakes his crusade as inspiration for her desire for vengeance.
I can’t do it. There’s not enough here. She does not exist, on ComicVine at least, in enough dimension to inspire. You can redesign her as literally anything, and say “well why not? It doesn’t contradict!”
As a relatively new character with limited appearances, she has not exhibited much character development. The majority of it seems to have occurred before her first appearance, as she goes from a dedicated wife, to a vigilante fueled by revenge.
Here’s the challenge, reader mine. Do you know more about Lady Zorro? Can you share it here? Can you create a polyvore (or sketch, or anything!) that uses that information to create a new image?
Comic books are collaboration between script writers and artists. Looks should inform character—and written character should inform look.