Power Girl wasn’t “just a super girl, she was a powerful woman”

Power Girl creator Gerry Conway on sexism in comics, creating a feminist icon and how to rescue Power Girl

Often used as a stick with which to beat the perceived male agenda within comic-books, admittedly male dominated and admittedly in need of a stern talking to from time to time (Red Hood And The Outlaws being one of those times), Power Girl rubs feminist critics up the wrong way through appearance alone – her outfit showcasing a steadily booming breast size and storytelling occasionally erring towards patronising, it’s ultimately a shame though, because that’s not how she was written.

Introduced to the Justice Society of American in All Star Comics #58, 1976, to breathe some fresh life into the ageing superteam of Golden Age relics, Power Girl was the cousin of Superman, who, unlike, Supergirl, refused to be defined by a male counterpart. Co-creator Gerry Conway explains how her message and position within comics have changed.

“I think part of that is that she has been kind of objectified as a sexual object over the last 20 years,” Conway admits. “I’m both a reader and a fan and a inveterate critic in my own head of what I read and write and enjoy, and this is not meant in any way as a denigrating statement about a particular artist but I think that Adam Hughs [laughs], you know, is the premier example of the objectification of women in comics. He, more than anybody – even more than Wally Wood who began the whole thing with Power Girl by making her breasts bigger and bigger in every story that he inked [laughs] – he was doing it almost ironically, he was fully conscious of the absurdity of it and we all sort of went along with it because it was kind of amusing, but it detract in our minds from the power of the girl, to use the most effective way of saying it.

“She wasn’t just a ‘super’ girl, she was a powerful woman, a powerful character. So she was never written to be objectified, but in the art she’s definitely been objectified. It’s similar to some of the complaints we’re hearing now about Catwoman, except that Catwoman is written to be objectified in her current incarnation and not just visually depicted in an objectified way. So as kind of a… [laughs] I can’t call myself a feminist, that’s insulting to feminists I think for men to call themselves feminists, but as someone who’s aware of the struggle that women go through to be taken seriously as individuals when society tends to portray them as sexual objects, I totally get the confusion that’s raised over a character like Power Girl.

“I think it’s really unfortunate, it’s a character I have a real fondness for as one of the first characters that I created at DC Comics that had any kind of a shelf-life, but I do think they could tone it down a little bit and possibly have a more successful character,” he concludes. “Women want empowered figures, and she could be an empowering figure.”

Look out for more Gerry Conway in a future issue of SciFiNow, and check out his interviews on Spider-Man and The Punisher. If you want to read more on the subject, dip your toes into this piece on Power Girl by the always brilliant Laura Sneddon, which is far more comprehensive and provides far more context to the era and issues than this snapshot.