Welcome to Cover Girls. Each month, we gather a team of WWAC contributors to analyze a new and notable comic book cover featuring a woman. This month Kayleigh, Laura, Claire, and Nola discuss Hunt for Wolverine: Mystery in Madripoor #4.
The Comic: Hunt for Wolverine: Mystery in Madripoor #4 (August 2018)
The Artist: Giuseppe Camuncoli
The Cover: The X-Men’s Psylocke threatens obscure Wolverine villain Sapphire Styx with
the focused totality of her psychic powers her psychic knife, while Sapphire is, well, busting out all over.
Kayleigh Hearn: Confusion. Consternation. Am I seriously looking at bare breasts on the cover of this Marvel comic? What the hell is she wearing? Where are her nipples? Why in the wild world of Batwoman is Marvel publishing four different Hunt for Wolverine minis? Seriously, does the artist think her nipples are on her collarbone? Everyone else sees this, right? I’m being gaslighted by a pair of cartoon tits.
Laura Stump: Why are there buttocks on her chest? What weird anatomical witchcraft is going on here? Just how big are Sapphire Styx’s shoulders and upper arms, anyway? Why is Psylocke grabbing mostly thin air in the general vicinity of Sapphire Styx’s throat? I have no idea what’s going on with the body drawn here, and it leaves me cranky and wishing to beat someone about the ears with a copy of Grey’s Anatomy.
Claire Napier: It definitely looks like bare boobs. Bare boobs with no nips. So it seems like a fetish scenario poorly disguised as street torture. The awful nerd in me wants to be yellin’ about how Psylocke’s psychic knife (the focused totality of her psychic powers) should be coming more out of the finger-area, less out of the Wolverine claws-area, but I’m not honestly sure that’s a matter of me being right or a matter of my having an especially strong visual headcanon. So we’ll keep that under wraps.
Nola Pfau: Nah, Claire, I agree with you: the placement of it is wrong. The psychic knife has no physical mass. It doesn’t need the reinforcement of her forearm in the way that a physical weapon would and there’s no sense in not putting it at the end of her punch. I actually didn’t even know who she was attacking until reading Laura above; who is this strange redhead? Are nipple-less breasts part of her mutant powers? That cut combined with the way the wrinkles and seams are drawn combine to make it look like she’s partially disrobed. It’s a vastly uncomfortable image.
What do you think the artist is trying to achieve?
Kayleigh: If Camuncoli’s intent was to focus on the action and drama of Psylocke using the focused totality of her psychic powers (if you say it three times a culturally insensitive ninja appears in your bathroom mirror) to stab Sapphire Styx in the face, then Sapphire’s jutting, exposed breasts are a huge (sorry) distraction. If the artist was deliberately trying to add some sex appeal to the action, objectifying the woman being threatened with violence was a bad call. Or maybe he tried to pull an Esad Ribic and sneak these babies past editorial. I don’t know.
Laura: I feel as though Camuncoli is just over here aiming for drama by centering Psylocke’s psychic punch, but then the glaring anatomical inaccuracy that is basically all of poor Sapphire gets in the way. To the point that I almost don’t care what the point was, because I’m too busy demanding an apology for having been forced to see this. My retinas want to speak to someone’s manager.
Claire: My impression is that “who’s holding the neck” is supposed to be the “mystery,” as their face is not shown. But I’m too old an X-reader to find that a mystery, unless it’s a purposeful mislead, so I don’t know. With the breasts, again: I don’t know! It’s perplexing. Nipple response is a telling part of fear, so honestly just removing them entirely while keeping the expected nipple area on-page serves to rob the scene of some of its apparently intended urgency.
Nola: I have no idea who Sapphire Styx is, so is it a good thing that she’s being attacked? A bad one? She’s clearly exhibiting fear, but is it fear of justified retribution or fear of a Psylocke who is out of control? There’s no context here aside from impending violence.
In this post-Escher Girls world, do you think Big Two superhero comics have overall gotten better or worse at depicting women with anatomy-shattering poses and exploitative costumes? Or is it *extremely David Byrne* same as it ever was?
Kayleigh: I by no means want to credit Marvel with a feminist awakening, but I think the company has realized that the old covers of Psylocke in a pubic bone-baring bathing suit that might have sold copies of Wizard back in the day look embarrassing now. Not that long ago, Marvel quietly modified Goblin Queen’s classic costume, which flashed some underboob similarly to ol’ Sapphire Styx, to be less provocative, so why not do that here? Looking at Kamala Khan, Spider-Gwen, America Chavez, and yes, even Psylocke, Marvel’s gotten better at designing character-appropriate costumes that are more visually interesting than some looks we’d get even ten years ago. But then we also have Laura Kinney going from full-body armor in All-New Wolverine to bare midriffs and capri pants in her upcoming X-23 series, so progress is by no means a straight line, especially in comics.
Nola: The Laura Kinney thing still irritates me to think about. I don’t really think they’ve improved at all. A few characters have gotten better outfits, and those outfits have stuck, but I suspect it’s only because they’re high-profile enough that Marvel doesn’t want to deal with the backlash of changing them. For every Captain Marvel, we have a Magik or another male artist reverting Emma Frost to corsets and thigh-highs.
Claire: I think naming Escher Girls in this question is spot on, because while I do think there have been improvements since I was reading in my teens (the 2000s, and ’90s for aesthetic and fandom hangover/back issues) I think it’s been a result of public shaming. Sure, maybe some of the men working at Marvel care less for the polished pubis than their predecessors, and some of the women and other gender minorities have probably managed some impressive diplomacy in adjusting the house style. But today, fandom and the wider more critical audience is much easier to hear and communities of people who object to centrefold-as-norm have found their numbers and combined their voices. Noelle Stevenson’s animated Psylocke hopping about with her ass in the air contributed to the change in uniform, I believe that. If you say “look what they did,” everyone sees and it has to be answered for. There are artists coming up who listen to that much more accessible, socially closer criticism, or even who just naturally agree with it, and enough of them are being allowed to prosper that it feels like some kind of change has been wrought. But that change still feels like a surface that’s apt to peel off just as soon as editorial or the higher management institution makes that decision. Like Nola says, there are enough examples of really disrespectful-feeling decisions still in effect for the visible changes to be something for me to be glad about, but nothing to trust.
Laura: I’m inclined to agree with Nola and Claire. There’s superficial change, but it’s easily undone or subverted with less high-profile characters. And because the impetus is external instead of coming from the editorial and creative forces within the Big Two, it’s going to take longer for less-revealing female character costumes to become the rule rather than the exception. I do think comics will reach that point; I’m just not sure how long it will take to get there, and it may require readers and indie publishers to drag the Big Two along kicking and screaming.