Visible Pantylines

vp red pantyline 80.jpg

If there’s anything I learned from 1970s underwear
commercials, it’s that nothing ruins a woman’s day like visible pantylines.  Back then I didn’t know exactly what visible pantylines were or why they were so embarrassing, but after reading Terra Obscura, I do and they’ve ruined my day.

Terra Obscura, vol. 1 (America’s Best Comics, 2003) was scripted by Peter Hogan, penciled by Yanick Paquette and co-plotted by Alan Moore. The book builds on Moore’s Tom Strong, a comic as charming as Moore can create, and concerns a twin earth defended by Tom Strange and the Society of Major American Science Heroes (S.M.A.S.H.). Strong, Strange and S.M.A.S.H. work together to save that planet in Moore’s Tom Strong Book 2. 

Terra Obscura takes it from there but what happens next is hard for me to get at because I was distracted by pantylines, butt-shots, upskirt peeks and the floppy haplessness of superheroines. Fighting Yank Carol Carter’s panties show through her jeans—though maybe they’re blue latex capris.  The Woman in Red has a thong sewn onto the seat of her protective suit—possibly a super foundation garment? (She requires full coverage). The pantylines are a twist, but I associate these conventions with comics I avoid, not the Alan Moore line of trusted comics.

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Issue one plagued me with Ms. Masque, Diana Adams, a
corporate executive and “master of nine different martial arts systems” who goes rag doll and flashes her skirt when assaulted. In fact, she’s a master of 9 different systems of keeping her underwear out of an upskirt shot.  As a cherry, she has a wholly inappropriate—and spine-breaking— orgasm when a former S.M.A.S.H. colleague is incinerated by her holographic cyborg boss, The Terror, founder of Terror, Inc.

In issue two, Carol and Diana have a pose-a-thon sleepover drawn from bicurious sorority girl porn.  At it, Diana tells Carol.  “There’s no need to make me sound like a slut” for dating so many male superheroes.  The saddest thing about this scene is that it’s an attempt to address comics’ romantic rotation of many male superheroes through  a
relatively few female ones. Hogan tries to play with readers’ presumed
heterosexual expectations by making Diana appear so very het. But with such a porn set up, my mind was hardly blown when Diana and Carol get together.  Bisexuality here is equivalent to tv’s mysterious motorcyclist who characters pointedly call “he” until she pulls off her helmet and shakes out her hair.

The last few issues aren’t any better. The art renders superheroines vapid and all around inflatable.In fact, the Fighting Yank’s super power could be a valve in her breasts, changing cup size and perkiness at will. The Woman in Red is powered by an alien jewel that apparently makes her fall out of the sky, turn red and cry about it. They all reveal their thongs at will while being immune to wedgies that would saw any female citizen in half. It’s like Yanick Paquette can draw 2 women in four poses and they’re all weird.  She touches her face.  She bites her lip.  She buries her face in her hands.  She gasps.  In fact, these poses and expressions remind me of the less empowering romance comics.  But it’s worse because rendering these heroes more insecure than the ladies of Sex and the City is supposed to humanize them.

There are so manycool, likeable things about Terra Obscura—and the most embarrassing fan service contaminates it all.We could be discussing the obvious implications of a security corporation called, Terror, Inc. or the plain neatness of Invertica, a city that grew deep into the earth instead of up into the sky. I could be posting pictures of a superintelligent chimp or the god Set.  But here we are—distracted by pantylines, asses, inappropriate orgasms and a sophomoric lesbian set piece. And it’s all the worse because Terra Obscura has Alan Moore’s name on the cover and in each issue as a “co-plotter.”  Alan, what were you plotting? I can see the edges of it in the book. I can see how good it could’ve been.

I expect more from the Alan Moore brand. I expect better depictions of female characters.  In fact, if anything, I see Alan Moore as being hard on men. But it turns out there’s no sure way to avoid sexism, misogyny or a full on display of creepy libido. In the end, it’s not like there’s one kind of bad comic and if we avoid it we’re safe. Judging Terra Obscura by its cover, I was worried about the Plains-looking Navajo, Lone Eagle. I hadn’t reckoned with Hogan and Paquette’s panty thing, twisted spine-thing or penchant for bad porn*. Terra Obscura  isn’t as bad as Vicki Vale’s talking ass in All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, but that just makes it more insidious. Alan Moore deserves better.  We all deserve better.  But Terra Obscura’s underthings just get in the way.

* Alan Moore lost patience with bad porn.


Carol Borden hopes never to experience the heartbreak of visible pantylines again.


15 thoughts on “Visible Pantylines

  1. Hi Carol,
    I just have so many questions of everyone involved in this. I mean, why is her underwear apparently on the outside of her pants? Why does the last panel look like Sylvester Stallone? What’s with the disproportionate asses? Can you even walk in one of those things?
    Anyway, I’m sure I’ll think of more in a minute, but right now I’m pondering the imponderable.
    Thanks for calling “shenanigans!”

  2. >Why does the last panel look like Sylvester Stallone?
    I think that’s the part where she bites her lip. Except maybe she’s done it too hard and she’s wincing a bit, but she bravely soldiers on with being drawn like that while delivering her lines almost flawlessly (there was a “…” between the words “week” and “and,” but she plays through the pain just fine).
    It’s not her fault. (Also, is it my imagination, or does she look vaguely oriental in the previous frame?)
    — Chuck

  3. The first panel shown really sums it all up for me. The thing clearly was drawn by and for nerd-boys who’ll never get anywhere near a girl. Reminds me of a webcomic I saw long time ago, Yoda tells Luke, “Kid, do the universe a favor and go bang yourself some whores”. While I can’t say I agree with the story idea, it certainly shows their attitude towards women. Pretty sad, no?

  4. Anyway, I’m sure I’ll think of more in a minute
    and I did! Isn’t the point of a thong NOT having people know you’re wearing a thong?

  5. maybe lady superheros don’t use thongs to avoid visible pantylines but as superstructure to support their super asses. or maybe fighting yank, carol carter, thinks if the look’s good enough for superman, it’s good enough for her.

  6. hey dr.o–
    while i sympathize with the idea that maybe more fans and artists need to get themselves some honest porn, i have a little problem with suggesting they go bang them some whores. mostly ’cause i think the aim’s off and prostitutes and sex are collaterly denigrated as part of deriding luke. besides, seriously, who wants to have sex with luke?
    anyway, yeah, it doesn’t look like yanick paquette’s using his life-drawing experience. sketchy source material all the way.

  7. Actually, I didn’t really agree with the “bang yourself some whores” thesis so much think it reveals an awful lot about the nerd-boy world-view. The fans of a comic drawn like that, I suspect, honestly have no concern about how “realistic” it is, but rather want an idealized porn/barbie-doll world that not even the porn industry can produce. If you want to see what I mean, wander by some of the 3d-graphics art-gallery sites like and take a look at what they’re doing with the program called “poser” these days. It’s getting pretty depressing.
    -dr o

  8. hey dr. o–i thought about this a little more. the trend you describe is sad. but what i find weird is not so much the unrealistic porn element, although there’s a lot of ass in the book. while the t & a is inescapable, it covers up more subtle weirdness, like ms. masque pulling her hand back aghast or biting her lip (without crinkling her forehead). those are romance comics conventions and they’re being used strangely. there’s a disparity in paquette’s ability to draw women versus his ability to draw men. it’s less that paquette’s drawing creepy fantasy women and more that he hasn’t paid enough attention to women to be able to draw them. like he’s reconstructing some extinct creature based on copies of pictorial romances and ass magazines for gentlemen.

  9. It pains me to see that you evidently have no familiarity with the alternate reality that is Terra Obscura. In New Lancaster, girls are so super-smart that they’ve discovered a way to overcome the inefficiencies of donning both underpants and pants in separate procedures by permanently stitching the former into the latter. And the overall lack of facial expression through wrinkling and the like is entirely intentional, all supergirls know that botox is perfect for ensuring that no nervous little tics or sudden pinches will tip off an evil genius about their plans.

  10. i suppose they are also comfortable enough with their femininity that they like having softcore sleepovers, rather than saving the world more directly?
    maybe i haven’t been giving catwoman enough credit for her cunning purple latex.

  11. Ah, so you are more familiar with New Lancaster than you’d let on! Not only comfortable enough with their femininity, but changing the oppressive
    structures of patriarchy one sleep-over at a time!

  12. Got to agree that the Terra Obscura books are a pretty thudding failure and (I think it’s not too much to say) a petty betrayal of the promise of Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics line. Actually, almost everything that came out of the line and wasn’t written by Moore fell astoundingly flat (aside from Rick Veitch’s great Greyshirt miniseries). Terra Obscura is only marginally less disappointing than the Top 10 follow-up on that scale.
    I think the antidote to Terra Obscura may be Grant Morrison’s Bulleteer miniseries, also drawn by Paquette. Bulleteer has its cheesecake and eats it too, walking a thin (post?)feminist line that celebrates and condemns the visible panty line.

  13. ooo, that’s hard. grant morrison, yay! but i think i’ve developed some sort of reaction to yanick paquette. some exotic disease involving brain boils… but then again grant morrison and bulleteer…

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