Let’s play a game. Think of one thing about Lady Death other than her looks. Do you know her real name? Do you know her backstory involving witchcraft and her evil father? Statistically, if you're reading this, you probably just know that she has large breasts, hardly any clothes, and each cover has her posing in a suggestive way. The truth is most comic book fans have seen Lady Death, but maybe haven’t read her series. She is one of the prime examples of the excessively sexualized female characters of the ‘90s.
Batman stands tall above Gotham City, and often times he has the weight of the entire world on his shoulders. Does he have what it takes to defeat The Joker ? Bane? Doomsday? When your little one takes the mantle of The Dark Knight, there will be no need to fret over which villain is threatening the neighborhood, because we’re sure he’ll be able to just focus on his Halloween party and all of the trick-or-treating fun. But when it’s time to strike a pose and show the world that he’s The Bat, you’re going to want to get the picture just right. A little breeze will make his cape look epic, and when he has his fists on his hips, the molded effect of this premier costume really stands out. A stern face will project his newfound power, but if he happens to crack a smile, that photo will look just as epic.
Years later, with Wolfman and Wein now working for Marvel Comics, Wolfman brought the character to Marvel's Art Director, John Romita, who took Wolfman's original design and adapted it into the character that would be known as Nova. Romita reduced the starbursts on the chest to three and added a bit of a starburst onto the helmet. Using bold, primary colors, the Nova armor design was often the most notable thing about the character for years. Even as other characters took over the identity as the main Nova at Marvel, the costume itself remained the same, as it was near impossible to improve on that basic design of Romita/Wolfman. If/when Nova shows up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you can bet that this is the costume we will see.
Harry George Peter was already 61 years old when he came up with the design for the new female superhero that William Marston was planning for All-American Comics, then called Suprema. This was 1941, when patriotic characters were a big hit in comics, so Wonder Woman definitely had a strong Star Spangled Banner take on her design. In the early 1980s, DC Comics helped create a short-lived Wonder Woman charity, the logo of which was the double W's, which led to Wonder Woman adapting the "WW" on her chest emblem. Other than the emblem, the only thing different from her classic look than in Peter's original design is that he had Wonder Woman wearing a skirt instead of short pants.
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Not only are they unnecessarily sexualised, they are also extremely impractical in most cases. For instance, why would a female character with no superhuman durability to speak of go into battle with heavily armoured and massively powered opponents wearing what is essentially a bikini? It shouldn't happen, but it does happen in comic books - and it happens a lot. Of course, there are characters whose durability is such that they don't necessarily need to wear full body armour in battle but, even so, revealing 90% of their body is still unnecessary.
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Let’s put the massive nature of his sex appeal in perspective. Gambit is not a great hero. In fact, he is responsible for the massacre of the Morlocks by the Marauders. He led the killers to the Morlock tunnels, and then went on to hide this from his fellow X-Men. Even with doing something so despicable, fans still pine over the Cajun hero. In fact, if you ask readers to name one defining characteristic of Gambit, they’d probably mention his love affair with fellow X-person, Rogue, and forget the horrible atrocity that he allowed to happen. There’s no denying that Gambit is much more of a sex symbol than a hero.
Harley is one of the most entertaining villains Batman has to fight occasionally, second only to the Joker. She is the Joker's lover and partner in crime, although their relationship is weird on so many levels. Harley used to be a normal psychiatric intern in Arkham Asylum, where she met the Joker and then turned into the crazy person she is today.
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If you ask a comic book fan to name the first thing they would say to describe Emma Frost, odds are it’ll be a physical attribute. Emma Frost’s sexuality has been at the forefront of the character since her early appearances. Before she turned hero and became one of the central X-Men, her stint as the White Queen featured the character in very revealing white lingerie. Even when the character joined the good guys, her “assets” were still on display for all to see.
By the end of the 1940s, superheroes had lost a lot of their appeal to the public. National Comics (now DC Comics) went from having dozens of superhero titles to only having a handful. Most of the members of the Justice Society of America fell out of sight in the world of National. Flash and Green Lantern went from appearing in multiple titles to not appearing in any books at all!