Comics/Graphic Novels

Fashion Disasters: Starfire

Jessica Plummer

Contributing Editor

Jessica Plummer has lived her whole life in New York City, but she prefers to think of it as Metropolis. Her day job is in books, her side hustle is in books, and she writes books on the side (including a short story in Sword Stone Table from Vintage). She loves running, knitting, and thinking about superheroes, and knows an unnecessary amount of things about Donald Duck. Follow her on Twitter at @jess_plummer.

Jessica Plummer

Contributing Editor

Jessica Plummer has lived her whole life in New York City, but she prefers to think of it as Metropolis. Her day job is in books, her side hustle is in books, and she writes books on the side (including a short story in Sword Stone Table from Vintage). She loves running, knitting, and thinking about superheroes, and knows an unnecessary amount of things about Donald Duck. Follow her on Twitter at @jess_plummer.

Some characters who have been around for decades have iconic costumes that have stood the test of time. Some have progressed through a series of stylish ensembles to reflect their ever-changing time periods.

And some, apparently, get dressed in the dark.

Here on Fashion Disasters, we’ll showcase those poor slobs who just can’t seem to get it right. Today: Starfire!

Princess Koriand’r of Tamaran debuted in DC Comics Presents #26 (October 1980), and yes, Marv Wolfman did name her after the spice. When she first showed up, she looked like this:

Oh boy. This is just…This sure is something, isn’t it?

Here’s the thing: this costume makes just absolutely no sense at all. Is it metal? Is it fabric? Is it some strange alien substance that can be both skintight and reflect light in that fashion? Isn’t it uncomfortable to have so little breast support, especially when fighting? There’s a vague sense that it’s armor (the bracers) but unless Tamaraneans keep all their vital organs in their outer forearms, it’s not doing anything armor is supposed to do. And yes, I have heard your arguments that Kory gets her power from the sun and that’s why she exposes so much skin, but until the equally solar-powered Superman starts strutting around in an ensemble like this, I find that argument suspect.

And yet early Kory is such a joyful, free-spirited delight that I can’t really get mad about how eye-rollingly sexual this costume is. She’s just having such a good time in it! And sure, her co-creator George Perez is on the record as saying that Kory “was made for any young male artist to enjoy,” but he gives her so much personality. (We’re gonna have a little compare and contrast later.) It’s an objectively terrible costume, but I’m honestly fond of it when it’s drawn by Perez.

Plus, to be fair, this is also basically how male Tamaraneans dress, and every time the Titans go to Kory’s home planet, the boys all have to run around in panties and maybe a fancy collar the whole time. So at least it’s equal opportunity abject nonsense.

Finally, all debates about whether or not it’s too sexy aside, it’s, like…pretty tacky, right? But it was 1980, everything was tacky.

Anyway, Kory wore this costume for over a decade before deciding to briefly switch things up:

Well, actually, Kory didn’t decide to switch things up—this costume was designed by an illusionist called Mirage who disguised herself as Kory in order to sleep with Kory’s boyfriend, Dick Grayson. Considering that the Titans spent multiple issues mocking Dick for being “tricked” (translation: sexually assaulted), I guess the fact that Kory chose to adopt Mirage’s version of her costume wasn’t the most tasteless thing happening in that era?

Anyway, no, I cannot explain how that thing is attached to her (this will be a trend with Kory) and it looks just wildly uncomfortable to wear. That’s not even getting into the starburst highlighting her vagina. Everything about this era is a mess.

Also messy: Dick’s response to being assaulted and Kory’s subsequent anger at him for “cheating” on her (yikes yikes yikes) is to propose, so, honorable mention to Kory’s wedding dress:

Honestly, considering that it’s 1993, it could have been a lot worse.

(Side note: the wedding was interrupted by Evil Raven showing up wearing exactly three square inches of fabric and, um, impregnating Kory with her “demon seed.” YIKES YIKES YIKES.)

Kory quickly returned to her original look for the rest of the decade, or at least until 1999, when she decided to experiment with fascinating Earth concept of “pants”:

Well, I mean, they’re super weird pants, but they’re pants. This is pretty much the most clothed she’s ever been, and as such I feel bad taking potshots at it, but considering how armored up those pants are, I have questions about the bare midriff. Again: where do Tamaraneans keep their vital organs? I salute the attempt, and the crop top is on trend for ‘99, but the whole thing just looks kind of uncomfortable.

The point is moot either way, as Kory soon returned to a variation on her classic look:

The collar is more of a gem-studded ring than the textured plate + single gem she had before, but otherwise it’s functionally the same costume, just drawn with a lot less heart. Also our first introduction to it was the cover to 2003’s Teen Titans #1, a composition dedicated entirely to showcasing Kory’s ass:

But 2003 also gave us another very important Starfire costume!

I don’t always cover costumes outside of comics for this series, and Kory has a few later animated variations that I won’t be touching on, but this one is important. Teen Titans ran for five seasons, plus a TV movie; its spinoff/sequel series, Teen Titans Go!, has had six seasons and a movie (sorry, Community fans) so far. This version of Starfire is by far and away the best known version out there—and far and away the least sexualized.

I mean, look at her. She’s cute as a gosh-dang button, stylish as heck, and actually looks comfortable! I want to give her a hug and tell her she’s doing a great job.

But even here…you’ll notice that I said this is the least sexualized version of Kory out there, and not a non-sexualized version. Compared to her comics counterpart, she looks incredibly demure. Compared to the boys on the team, you start to wonder why a girl who looks this young is wearing a crop top and thigh high boots, or why she’s flying around in a miniskirt. Or why Raven doesn’t get pants, when the most we see of the boys is their faces and maybe four inches of bare arm from Cyborg and Robin.

Don’t get me wrong: I love this costume. I wore this costume for Halloween one year in college. It’s adorable! But I think it’s worth pointing out that even when our culture is massively de-sexualizing a character’s look, she still winds up more heavily sexualized than any male character around her. On a show for 8-year-olds.

Still, this bubbly, innocent Starfire was wildly popular, which is part of why there was such a severe backlash to her next big comics makeover:

Hang on, let me pour myself a glass of wine.

Okay, let’s go.

The New 52 reboot of 2011 made Kory a lead character in Red Hood and the Outlaws along with fellow Disasters Red Hood and Arsenal. In the very first issue, writer and confessed sexual harasser Scott Lobdell took pains to establish that Kory was sexually available to both men, and really to anyone who happened to come along, because apparently Tamaranians have short memories and no real ability to distinguish between human faces, so why not just sleep with whomever, am I right? Kory dispassionately offering sex to her longtime friend Roy Harper while looking dead behind the eyes did not go over particularly well with most fans.

This complete and total nadir of Starfire writing was a perfect match for the worst and most insulting costume she’s ever had. I know I’ve already wondered about the physics of a few of her looks, but this is just a superhero in pasties. I’m actively embarrassed for the artist that he thought this was acceptable. That’s really sad for you, bro, I’m sorry.

If there’s any upside to Red Hood and the Outlaws, it’s that it beautifully illustrates the difference between a sexual character and a sexualized one. Kory has literally never worn anything that wasn’t ludicrously skimpy and designed to show off her body, but in earlier years (and thankfully, later ones) she was also portrayed as a three dimensional character with agency and personality. It’s hard to get too mad at admittedly tacky armored bikinis when she’s visibly having so much fun. But when her body is stripped down to the barest attempt to cover her nipples and vagina and her brain is stripped down to nothing but dull, miserable sexual availability, arguments like “She’s always been sexy!” ring hollow. That isn’t a sexy character. That’s a walking manifestation of the creative team’s contempt for women.

Later issues did attempt some damage control, explaining that Kory’s memory was actually better than a human’s and she’d just lied about it for reasons that were never explained, and transforming the pasties into something a little more…cognizant of gravity:

Look, I said a little, okay? Anyway, based on the tropical setting I’m looking forward to the moment Jason falls off the car due to heat exhaustion.

And in the interest of being fair, I must admit that Kory gets a couple of looks in this run that I enjoy quite a lot:

Like, don’t get me wrong, it’s still an ugly design. But the idea of Kory having badass space armor while piloting her own warship is just…*chef kiss* (Someone please explain the armpit braid to me, though, thanks.)

And check out this very cute number she wore as a kid!

Aw, she’s like a tiny space Rapunzel! I love it!

Thankfully for us all, Kory eventually escaped the ’90s-tastic purgatory that is Red Hood and the Outlaws for her own solo title, part of the 2015 DC You initiative:

This is without question the best Kory has ever looked. I mean. Can we just appreciate how dang cute she is? This costume is striking and stylish, with nods to her animated look and a sleek, sci-fi aesthetic that fits perfectly with her extraterrestrial origins. The fabric obeys the laws of physics. She’s probably wearing a bra. She looks comfortable and happy and I’m delighted for her. (Not for nothing, but I believe this is her only costume designed and regularly drawn by two women—Amanda Conner and Emanuela Lupacchino respectively.)

It is still skimpy as hell, of course. Those booty shorts are absolutely working overtime, and with any other character, I’d be annoyed by them. But for Kory? This look is an utter relief.

Naturally, it couldn’t last, and DC You was subsumed in the wave that was Rebirth a year later. But Kori’s next look was also refreshingly tasteful. I mean, for Starfire.

Again, context is everything. With someone like Carol Danvers, we’re like “Oh thank god she’s no longer wearing a bathing suit + thigh high boots and opera gloves, that was so ridiculous.” With someone like Kory, it’s like “Oh thank god she’s finally wearing a bathing suit + thigh high boots and opera gloves, how modest.” This is not something most of us would feel comfortable walking down the street in, and yet for Kory, it’s outright demure. (And fittingly so, as she seems to somehow be a teenager in the Rebirth Teen Titans book, even though she’s clearly an adult in her appearances immediately prior and after. But we’ll discuss how Rebirth broke continuity another time.)

And honestly, it’s pretty cute! The dark purple and white combo is a new look for Kory and it works. She is kind of delivering some Jean Grey vibes here, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. (It depends on the decade.) I know this is a Fashion Disaster, but we’re two for two in terms of cute costumes. Proud of you, Kory!

But Kory changed it up once again for Justice League Odyssey (and yes, if you’re counting, that’s three costume changes in four years):

This is basically the same silhouette as last time, but more regal and less comfortable. I guess that makes sense when you go from “Teen Titan” to “space ambassador fighting Darkseid,” but I can’t look at this costume without wondering how she moves her arms. Also, why is everyone on this cover staring at her butt? I mean, I’m sure it’s great, but you’re being rude.

Currently, Kory is dead (sort of) and also a weird space god possessed by Darkseid:

Okay, these are Jean Grey vibes, my goodness. Hey JL Odyssey team: if she says the word “phoenix,” run.

Look, I love Starfire. I love that she is a confidently sexual character with none of the hangups of her various repressed Earthbound boyfriends (looking at you in particular, Grayson). I love that she loves her body and has no nudity taboos to speak of. I love that she is tough enough to fight evil robots in space or whatever in basically nothing and emerge without a scratch.

But I think it’s important to talk about where the line is between “sexy character” and “sexualized character.” I think we need to remember that when we say “that’s just how she dresses,” it’s not the fictional Kory but real human beings, usually men, designing those outfits. And I think we need to be aware of when we’ve pushed the needle so far into Sexytown that we don’t quite process that a young girl on a show for children is still wearing an incredibly sexualized outfit, because it’s so much better than anything she’s ever worn before.

Let Kory be the free-spirited, cheerfully sexual character she’s always been, yes. But let’s try for a little perspective too, okay?

Previously in this series:

Roy Harper
Guy Gardner
Power Girl
Cassie Sandsmark