The Superhero Fetish

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Have you done it?

Entertained impure thoughts about your favorite super character? Had masturbatory fantasies about 'doing it' with a costumed partner? Composed a story -- even if you never wrote it down -- where the superheroine is captured and subjected to debauchery; or where the superhero rescues you and then stares longingly into your eyes?

Have you done it?

Well? Have you?

It all began innocently enough. (Honest!) In an earnest attempt to keep my ear to the ground of comicdom, I found myself wandering into the world of Yahoo Groups, wherein I entered a simple query: SUPERHEROES.

I expected the bulk, if not all, of what I would get back to be fan sites and wish lists, with perhaps a few hits worth exploring.

What I didn't expect was sixty-seven entries under the heading SEX & ROMANCE -> ADULT -> FETISHES -> SUPERHEROES.

Sex & Romance? Well, sure, we've debated for years whether Lois and Superman should ever tie the knot. I can even pinpoint the moment I entered puberty as that same instant I first saw Yvonne Craig wearing that tight leather Batgirl suit.

But superheroes as a sexual fetish? Who ever heard of such a thing?

After some initial snickering, I thought: Well, why not? What's wrong with a little superhero role-playing in the bedroom? After all, it wasn't that long ago when Hollywood's perennial hard-luck actor, Robert Downey Jr., was arrested (again) for felony drug possession -- an arrest during which police found a Wonder Woman costume hidden in the closet. Even the most prudish of news viewers conjured unbidden images of how the costume had probably been used.

And besides, hadn't no less a comic book luminary than Alan Moore touched on the psychosexual aspects of the superhero more than a little in Watchmen? Hadn't Frank Miller showed us similar uses for a Wonder Woman costume in The Dark Knight Returns? That these two grand-old-men of comics felt that the subject was worth including in their works legitimized it enough for me to embark on an exploration of my own.

So, with a little trepidation (and a surreptitious glance over my shoulder to ensure I was alone at the computer), I ventured forth into the groups.

Tijuana Webpages

My first stops were in groups that specialized in superheroines getting naked. For a heterosexual male like myself, I figured these were probably the closest to my comfort level.

Among the several clubs of that type, I found one that advertised itself as "Superheroines Stripping Games," run by a fellow named PHBDLover. I also found several clubs that specialized in "superheroine erotic photomanipulations" -- SEPs for short. SEPs are computer-enhanced photos of nude women with digitally added costumes, (albeit costumes that weren't always entirely in place). Some of these SEPs were clumsy attempts with Adobe, but I had to admit there were some that were astonishingly well done, particularly those done by the club's founder, a gent by the name of Black Alchemy.

Black Alchemy has been a comics fan for the past 25 years. "At that time there were only two companies worth reading, Marvel and DC," he says. "Today there are more choices, some of which are more adult in nature, but I don't follow any of them. I stopped buying comics when the price went over a dollar. Today, I read whatever I pick up, however I can pick them up -- mostly bulk purchases off eBay. Back then my favorites were Marvel, group books like the Fantastic Four and the Avengers along with Iron Man and Spider-Man."

PHBDLover, however, describes himself as more of a fan of the superheroine rather than comics. "I am not really a comic book fan," he explains. "I am a 'superheroines in peril and bondage' fan. I only [collect] two dozen regular comic books, mostly Batgirl, Catwoman (one my favorite villains), and Wonder Woman. I also have all of Eric Stanton's "Blunder Broad" cartoons (a Wonder Woman erotic bondage parody)."

"It was the 1960's Batman TV series that first got me interested in superheroes in peril," continues PHBDLover. "The sexy Yvonne Craig, clad in her Batgirl costume, was a great inspiration for fantasy role-playing. Later it was the 1970's Wonder Woman TV series, featuring the busty and beautiful Linda Carter, especially her sexy pantyhose clad legs (I am a pantyhose legs fetishist). I have been a fan superheroine and superheroine-in-bondage fan ever since."

Black Alchemy first began working with photomanipulations about three years ago when he created a Supergirl avatar for an online friend to use in chat sites. "I'd just seen a few manipulations in a newsgroup and thought I'd give it a try," he says. "Been doing it ever since. I like the medium."

Exactly when Black Alchemy got the idea to turn his talents toward erotic superheroine poses, he can't say. "I saw what others had been doing in this newsgroup and many were not that good," says Alchemy. "I felt I could do better. So I started doing them. Besides, I'm a highly sexual creature myself and I adore women, clothed or not."

"Over time my fan base grew and I eventually founded a Yahoo Club to share them with others more readily than can be done in a newsgroup."

PHBDLover's main interest was stripping games, but found that the female opponents in most computer strip games were beginning to look too much alike -- variations on the same theme.

"Then I had the idea to create a different type of opponent, by combining heroines and strip game," he says, about why he formed the club on Yahoo. "I had always had fantasies involving superheroines playing strip games, and I suspected I was not the only one.

The plan was to create scenarios and pictures of superheroines playing strip poker for fun or through blackmail, or being forced to play a strip game to either save themselves or another person. Members can post images or animated movie shorts featuring their favorite heroines playing the games. "They would be holding a hand of card as they're playing and stripping when they lose," says PHBDLover.

But what's the allure? Seeing an erotic pose is one thing, but it's usually the pose of stranger. Even though these characters are fictional, seeing a superhero or superheroine in a sexual situation provides an odd sense of voyeurism--like peeping in the window of the girl next door, or finding, like J. Giles, that your high-school angel has become a centerfold -- the contributors to these clubs provide an extremely intimate look at somebody you feel you "know."

Is it spicier to see a naked superheroine, rather than seeing a "real" woman on the cover of Playboy, dancing on a stage, or live and up close?

"I don't think so," says Black Alchemy. "Others may disagree, but it's not my fetish. What I do is art, and hang those miscreants who'd say otherwise. There is some skill involved, and imagination. What I like about it is the artistry, and the subject doesn't need to be heroines. I like other kinds of manipulations as well, if they are done well. Of course, I am aware that others do have a heroine fetish, and that they see my work in a different light. To each his/her own."

"What I and others do is not new," explains Alchemy. "It's as old as the hills. Call it parody, spoof, or adoration. As long as little boys and girls grow up to be sexually active adults, this type of material will continue to flourish in the underground. It happens in all media and is often done for a laugh, a lark, or a grin to lighten the burdens of a person's day. The earliest appearances of Betty Boop got followed by drawings of Betty in adult poses and situations. People watched Gilligan's Island on TV, then checked out cartoon strips dished out by underground rags showing Gilligan getting it on with Mary Ann. So this is not something new, it's something old with a new twist."

Black Alchemy is defensive of his work as being more than just mere oversexed fandom. "Some would think that it isn't art. Well, I beg to differ. I've been an artist for more than 20 years in several mediums and I can out-draw most of the so-called artists that circulate their material on the Internet. I just chose not to. I found this medium and have enjoyed the challenges that it poses. My ultimate goal to create an image so life-like that no one could ever guess the costume is faked. Why superheroines? Why not superheroines? They are readily identifiable figures and that catches peoples' attention. They are intrigued by the idea of seeing more of Supergirl than they can in the comic books produced by DC."

For PHBDLover, however, there is a definite difference. "I find it more interesting and arousing to play strip games with denuded heroine characters, when playing the computer games. But I still enjoy real-life strip poker with girlfriends."

Kink It Up A Notch

As long as people have been having sex, they have developed unusual and interesting ways of doing it. Bondage. Discipline. Sadism. Masochism. Fetishism. And while an interest in naked super characters might seem like a fetish to some folks, it looks downright tame in comparison with some of the action to be found out there.

One particular club -- one that I could actually talk about in this medium -- is put together by Norm D'Plume. Like the founders of most of these Internet fan sites, Norm is also a long-time comics fan. "I started reading comics at nine or ten years old," says D'Plume. "After 25 years, I still haven't grown out of them. I've always been a sucker for team books, female lead books, and Japanese manga. The Legion of Superheroes, Teen Titans, X-Men, Justice League, DNAgents, and Harbinger were old favorites of mine. I also read Supergirl, Batgirl, Wonder Woman, Spiderwoman, She-Hulk and Danger Girl. Currently, the only books I buy regularly are Oh! My Goddess, Gen-13 and the DC Animated titles.

But Norm has another interest: vellication. That's a fancy term for tickling. Guests to his club, Legion of Super-Ticklish Heroes, can expect to find... well, the obvious.

"Comics has always been about the stuff of male adolescent fantasy," explains D'Plume. "So it only seemed natural to add one of my fantasy elements -- tickling -- into the mix. It made reading comics a much more personal thing for me, and has given me a reason to keep reading them for as long as I have."

"I think that showing a character being tickled... is a simple way to make them seem more three-dimensional and real," D'Plume continues. "One of the best ways to help flesh out a character is to give them foibles and quirky character traits. For me, ticklishness is one thing that helps to add to the character."

More than a repository for fan submissions, the Legion of Super-Ticklish Heroes club boasts some work by industry professionals as well, including -- if one can believe the signature -- such folks as Kieron Dwyer.

"Through contacts I have made at conventions, through various artist's websites, and via eBay, I have been able to get several pro artists to do commissions for me," says D'Plume. "Most have been pretty cool about doing the commissions because I try to be cool about it as well. The commissions I like to have done are usually very silly and playful in tone, and are a total departure from what the artists' are used to drawing. Many of them take it as a challenge, and are excited to do it, because it is such a departure from the standard superhero posing shots they're used to. I'm also a great believer that if the artist has fun doing an illustration, it'll come out in the work, so I try to make the concept behind the commission as interesting as possible. I'd like to think that we've done pretty good so far."

Lights! Camera! (LIVE) Action!

Dan O'Brian does the superheroine fetish one better. His site, SuperHeroineCentral.com, uses original characters, created by O'Brian and drawn by artists with no shortage of talent in the super-anatomy department. But there's an added feature to this site.

"It's basically comic books and superheroine related television shows done in an adult format, but also without any limits of sexual and violent content," says O'Brian.

Yes, television shows. As in "live action." In addition to X-rated web comics, SuperHeroineCentral.com carries weekly two-minute serial clips acted out by live models.

I asked O'Brian his thoughts about mixing the superheroine mystique with sexual situations. "Well, it's a little more exciting due to the fact that it covers several fetishes for adults -- bondage, catfighting, women fighting each other," says O'Brian. "But more so than those other things, there's a life-or-death quotient to it. In other words, they're fighting against incredibly evil creatures or villainesses. It's a little more exciting."

"It's definitely something you want to keep kids away from," he readily admits. "I used to read the normal comics when I was a kid, and this is what my mind came up with over time -- things that I wished I could see, but I didn't. But if a kid started out where I ended, that would be bad. That probably would have really screwed me up if I saw this stuff when I was a little kid... Your line between fantasy and reality when you're younger isn't as developed as when you're even 18."

Aside from ropes and chains, whips and cuffs, the superheroine mystique is a sexual fetish all to itself. "It's a standalone fetish, but it's very small," he says. "I'm a big fish in a tiny little pond. This fetish really wasn't covered very well until I got into it. As far as the market will bear, I'm doing fantastic."

And what does the market bear? SuperHeroineCentral is a pay site, charging its members twenty dollars a month. With around 1,000 members, and with upwards of 4,500 hits per day, the market would seem to bear rather a lot.

So is it difficult putting together a live action superhero fetish video? "That was a lot easier than I'd thought," says O'Brian. "I had help from friends right from the beginning, as far as the costuming and things. I was a little stunned at how easy it was. I'd go to strip clubs -- that's what I used to do; now I'm bringing models in from California or wherever."

One of these models, an attractive blonde named Taylor, has been with O'Brian since SuperHeroineCentral's inception.

"I've been working with them for about a year and a half now," says Taylor about this, her first adult modeling job. "I've had several characters: American Woman, Ultra Woman, Eclipse, Scorpio, Venom Vixen. I've been good guys, I've been bad guys."

"At first, I was kind of hesitant," she says about taking on the role of a spandex clad superheroine. "I'd never had anything to do with anything like that, and it was very different. Dan was a very nice guy, and he came across very business oriented, so I told him I'd check it out. He showed me the website and what his ideas were, and then we just went from there. He had one girl he was working with prior to me, and she was really nice and made me feel really comfortable."

And how do the other models find the atmosphere at SuperHeroineCentral? "All of them think it's just very fun," she says. "It's something different. A lot of models are stuck in the same routine and everything has a lot of pressure behind it. Dan makes it where it's a lot of fun and it's very laid back. Sometimes when we have new girls, I'll just go in and help them with their hair and their makeup and show them what it is that Dan's looking for -- make the face for them, or show them how to do the punch or the kick."

And what about costumes? "We try our best, but we haven't done a lot where we sew a lot of stuff," O'Brian says. "A lot of the costumes that I draw, we haven't tried anything like that. They're a little too complex. But as time goes on, we'll put more money into that sort of thing."

"But whenever we create a costume, we know we're going to be destroying it in most cases. Either they're fighting a girl and it gets ripped off, or a monster--it's got to come off in some point and time. So we need to make two or three copies of the same thing before we even start."

If you're not into subscribing to an adult Internet site, there's still a possibility of seeing O'Brian's work in the future. "We're still working on editing a videotape of a character called Galaxy Girl," says O'Brian. "The video clips I'm doing now, I'm making sure to hold on to the high resolution files -- the digital video files -- so that we can put the whole thing together on a videotape. Everything I've done in the past has been at too low a resolution."

Currently, only the artwork has required an "X" rating, with the videos coming in at a strong "R." That may be about to change.

"Right now he's going to focus toward the models that will be more sexual than the models that are not going to be [sexual]," explains Taylor. But that doesn't make her nervous, because everybody knows that "nice girls don't"?

"I'm the innocent good guy," Taylor says, with a laugh. "That's how my character has always been, and we're not going to change that. But I will be working with everybody who is. There's all-nude on the site, and he's going to be looking for a more sexual thing going on with this."

What's It All Mean?

So what does it all mean? What's the driving force behind this need to subvert comic book characters? To see the superheroines defeated, demoralized, debauched and denuded?

I asked Katharine Gates, author of Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex to explain it to me.

"It's important to realize that we're talking about the realm of sexual FANTASY here," explains Gates, "and the whole point of fantasy is that it frees you from the limitations of reality. If you can have a sexual fantasy that takes place in a sci-fi world or in a world where superpowers are possible, you're free from the deadening and often oppressive rules of ordinary life. In the realm of sexual fantasy, adding a "magical" or "fantastic" element makes it easier for some people to feel OK about being sexual... after all, it's not REAL. As one inflation fan [those who fantasize about people -- superheroines included -- who experience magical weight gain] once told me, 'If I'm going to the trouble of having a sexual fantasy, why should I bother sticking to reality?'"

"I'd say on the whole the superhero fantasies, like the furry [anthropomorphic] fantasies, are ways of imagining oneself -- and not just one's partner--as being in a different body, a different identity where you can be strong and attractive and not have to suffer from the cruelties of social interaction."

Since comics have often been described as adolescent power fantasies, it's no surprise that superhero fetish carries that one step further.

"Of course, superhero-type fantasies also put power issues in the forefront," says Gates, "and power (dominance and submission, fear, control, loss of control) is a basic theme to sexual fantasy in general. If you're being overwhelmed by a superhero, resistance is futile, and you don't have to feel guilty for submitting to sexual feelings. If you're invincibly powerful, you don't have to worry whether someone will say no, or make fun of you, or whatever. Sexuality can be a frightening thing, because it makes you lose control of yourself. By imagining being fearless and all-powerful, one gains the fantasy of control over sexuality in general."

But in addition to satisfying the primal urges of a superheroine fetishist, there are other matters to consider -- especially when putting your fantasies, and artwork, on the web for the world to see.

"This gets tricky," says Bob Ingersoll, a lawyer who also writes "The Law Is A Ass," a widely read comic book commentary. "On the one hand, one could make the claim that it's a parody, thus protected by the fair use exception of the copyright law. On the other hand, if the portrayal is too 'out there,' one might invite a lawsuit designed simply to warn others off against ever doing this again."

"Certainly the annual swimsuit issue of Amazing Heroes used to have nude and cheesecake shots of copyrighted characters, but was sold without problem," says Ingersoll. "It was largely because [this was considered] parody that they could get away with this."

"On the other hand," he continues, "a more extreme picture, such as pornographic or B&D/S&M, might make the copyright holder feel they had to do something simply to stop proliferation of such images. And, of course, if you use the Archie characters, you're likely to get sued no matter what, as Archie Publications sues irrespective of whether parody might apply."

So how does that affect those pieces that are sold at comic conventions, commissioned and otherwise? I have two pieces by Lurene Haines--a Batgirl and a Rogue -- which are both nudes, of which Ms. Haines was selling several copies. Are they targets of legal scrutiny?

"A Rogue picture commissioned at a convention for personal enjoyment isn't published," explains Ingersoll. "Because it isn't published -- that is to say, distributed in any way -- there would be no copyright violation here."

"But posting the picture on the Internet is a form of publication," he continues, "even if it's not in a book or magazine. For copyright purposes, a publication is any form of distribution or disbursement which makes the work available to others. So, posting a picture on the Internet would be a publication. If the picture uses a copyrighted character, there is a danger that the copyright holder might sue for unauthorized use/publication of its character."

"Not saying it will sue," says Ingersoll. "Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don't. Recently, Warner Brothers has been particularly litigious about their intellectual property, as witness all the Harry Potter sites that are being hit by them."

Which is why Dan O'Brian uses only his own original creations at SuperHeroineCentral.

"That's one thing I had to avoid," says O'Brian. "Sometimes you can use copyrighted characters on a fan site, but you definitely can't on a commercial site, if you want to make any money with something. And it's just too damn easy to create new ones. I'm a little stunned when people constantly copy the old ones."

As for the folks who run the various Yahoo clubs... well, they have thus far received no contact from any of the various copyright holders.

And it probably wouldn't matter if they did. As one club founder puts it, "I have not had any reactions from a comic company and I hope not too. I surf sometimes for adult cartoons related to superheroes, and have seen too many websites closed by the nightcrawlers [lawyers] of overly prudish comic executives. I'd rather keep my club out of their sights. Even so, I exist in anonymity. If Yahoo closes my club, I'll be back."

Antisocial Misogynists?

The long-standing vision of the comics fan has been one of males of underdeveloped maturity, living in their parents basement and drooling over their stacks of Lady Death, Vampirella, Witchblade, or whatever big-breasted comic character is "hot" this month. They stereotypically don't interact well with others, except when discussing who would win in a fight, Wolverine or Batman, and it has often been postulated that, because of their lack of luck with relationships, they don't really like strong, female characters as much as they like seeing them subjugated and humiliated. Which means the public perceives adult comic fans as a breed of antisocial misogynists.

Being an adult comic book fan who doesn't live in the basement and has been happily married for several years, I naturally disagree with their position. However, I find myself wondering if these fetishist clubs don't strengthen the old arguments, tossing gasoline onto an always-smoldering situation.

"Personally, I feel that perception is nothing more than a stereotype," says Norm D'Plume. "I believe that everyone would agree that stereotyping is a bad idea. Having said that, I will admit that there are probably people in the group who do fit that profile. I do not, however, feel that is who the majority of the members are. For the most part, these are people who simply enjoy a harmless fantasy. We're not talking about beating the crap out of someone, but just plain old silly, innocuous tickling, done for the most part in a playful manner. The thing that I find mind-boggling is that tickling, for some reason, seems to be something of a taboo subject in comics. Maybe it's because tickling can have a sexual connotation to it, or we (society) have become totally uptight about physical contact issues. I don't really know what it is, but publishers seem to find violence and physical abuse of their characters infinitely more acceptable that tickling. Frankly, I don't quite understand it."

"I don't personally hate strong women in real-life (I know both Dominant Mistresses and submissive women in the BDSM world, I enjoy my relations with both) or female comic characters," adds PHBDLover. "Catwoman is my favorite villain because she is an intelligent, sexy, and dominating character. Unfortunately for superheroines, one the risks of their crime-fighting activities is that they can be captured and bound to face unknown perils at the hands of criminals, so the heroines must use their intelligence and skill to outwit the criminals."

And Black Alchemy discounts entirely the idea that featuring comic book characters in overtly sexual situations worsens the perception of comics fans. "One of my most vocal fans is female," he says, laughing. "So the answer is...no."

"When it comes to question of why someone would choose superhero fantasies over reality," says Katharine Gates, "I don't think it's as easy as that. In my experience, most people who have these types of far-out fantasies (including "slash" fiction fans like myself, furries, etc.) really would like to have sex with a real person. Maybe they have regular partners -- like I do -- and this fantastic element just pushes their buttons, and takes sex over the top, adds an extra 'Bam!' to the recipe."

"Yes, a few superhero 'fetishists' (and that's using the term really loosely) have little or no interest in ordinary sex with another human being," says Gates. "I suspect that this is another way of feeling in control of a situation. Having no partner and little opportunity to have a partner, either because of being socially inept, unattractive, or morbidly shy -- that is emotionally difficult to accept.

"Having actual sex with another human being is not very easy to do in this day and age," she concludes. "There are so many barriers to intimacy that, for some people, sticking to fantasy can be far more fulfilling and more reliable than taking the physical and emotional risks of an active sex life."

And how about Taylor -- the young lady who makes so many superheroine fetishists' dreams come true at SuperHeroineCentral? She's never read comics, and isn't reading any now. Has she formed an opinion of the fans as being misogynistic?

"I think everybody has their own taste," she says. "Some guys may have what I would call like a 'little man complex' or something, but even if that's why they're looking at the site... we're providing something for people who just enjoy it, period, or if it's the people who enjoy a superhero getting beat up. Whatever it is that they enjoy, we're providing it for them."

About our contributors:

Katharine Gates is the founder of Gates of Heck, Inc, a publisher of fringe-culture art books by Joe Coleman, Annie Sprinkle, Art Spiegelman, and others. She is the author of Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex (Juno Books), and maintains a webpage at www.deviantdesires.com.

Bob Ingersoll can regularly be found at www.wfcomics.com, where his The Law Is A Ass articles are reprinted regularly.