The Fine Art of Superhero Costumery*
*may or may not be a word
Yesterday was kind of a weird day for me, because I had two conversation with two different women, both about Captain America.
Which in the Land of Dorks, that’s known as a “Star-Spangled Twofer.”
One of the conversations turned to the topic of costumes, and one of the ladies mentioned that she was dressing up as Jean Grey for Comic-Con, and my first thought was, “should my erection be this painful?”
My second thought was “wow, this woman really knows her stuff,” because she pointed out that a lot of the costumes from the early 90’s (AKA “the Dark Ages”) just don’t work. For example Jean Grey and her ridiculous outfit.
Compare that to this.
Now, neither one is, you know, everyday wear, but the second one is simple and iconic and the first I posted is too busy, overly complicated and brings nothing to the table in terms of design, theme, or function.
Let’s look at Aquaman.
Not the coolest costume, but it works, and is the defacto version in everyone’s mind.
Here are two of his later costumes:
Now, the first one makes sense as aquatic camouflage, but what the hell is happening with that second one? That’s not even gritty or edgy. It’s a quarter shirt made out of metal for someone who swims in the ocean. Both were drawn up to try and modernize or make Aquaman edgy, but one looks like a figure skater and the other makes him look like a pirate who only plunders cock.
Aquaman is welcome to put whatever he wants into his various holes, but as superhero costumes it’s ridiculous. You have no idea who he is, or what he does, and both are way too busy to be truly iconic.
Let’s look at some superheroes who work, Batman, Spider-Man, and the Flash.
Batman’s is simple, sleek, and you know exactly who he is, with the added bonus of having a very distinct silhouette, which for a character who spends most of his time in the shadows, gives you a lot of room to get creative in terms of design, layout, and panel structure.
Spider-Man’s nice because while the webbing may be complicated to draw, it’s actual design is simple: two parrallel lines with a half circle in the middle. Couple this with the bright red and blue which reflects the fun of the character, and the full face mask and big, blank eyes which can be kind of creepy and off-putting (because who really likes spiders), and it’s a costume that perfectly encompasses the character and all of his personality traits.
Finally, the Flash has a nearly perfect costume. It’s simple; it’s clean, it’s iconic, and it tells you what the character’s powers are: going fast. The hot rod red, the yellow lightning bolts, and the Hermes’ esque wings on his boots all tell you everything you need to know about the character in one look.
I bring this up, because nowadays movies and video games, for some reason, feel the need to add all kinds of shit to costumes to…what? Make them more realistic?
Look at all those lines on the Batman costume from the Dark Knight. It’s supposed to look realistic because he’s a normal guy. Here’s what actual body armor looks like.
So why is Batman’s so complicated?
And Spider-Man’s costume with the raised webbing. How exactly does a high school kid make that?
Even Superman’s has a weird texture thing going on and I have to wonder why? Homeboy’s bulletproof, they even shot him in the eyeball. THE EYEBALL. So the extra textural stuff to make the material more substantial is wildly unnecessary.
Some costumes don’t work in real life, like Wolverine.
But Batman and Spider-Man should be slam dunks. These unnecessary details are really becoming a trend even in video games. Look at all the unnecessary frills on these stills from Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. Why is that weird ribbing and piping there?
Would it pull me out of the game if his armpits and thighs didn’t look different from the rest of his costume?
Earlier this month (or was it the end of June?) DC showed the Jim Lee redesigns for the new Wonder Woman costume. It looks like this:
This is what the 90’s looked like in comics. A lot of of may have been too young for the Dark Ages of comics, or maybe you just watch the movies, whatever, but in the 90’s every hero had to get updated, so that’s why Spider-Man had a hoodie, Dr. Fate looked XXX-treme, and all the Avengers had ugly brown jackets.
So now we have Wonder Woman rocking a jacket for some reason and pants.
Now, I think the pants are a good idea. She’s from a warrior culture that’s not the Celts, so armor and protection would be wanted or at least a routine part of her life. However she is bullet-proof, so if she wants nothing on her legs, it’s not like it matters. In the End, pants on Wonder Woman can only be a good thing, as now, collectively, comic dorks look marginally less like perverts.
However, if you’re going to update Wonder Woman and change her look (which, let’s face it, is probably going to be around for a only a few story arcs before the status quo comes back), why not go all the way? All the patriotic colors and symbols on her other costume were because she was going to the “Man’s World,” specifically America, so she adorned herself in the US’s symbols.
That’s gone now. So why not make her look like a Greek Warrior, or a whole new color scheme design? Give her something that makes her stand out and maybe showcase what she is or her power set? The rest of the Justice League is some kind of cop or vigilante, and if the Hawks and Orion and Barda aren’t on the squad, then she’s the League only true warrior, especially in reference to th Big Seven. Dress her like it.
My point is this, when I was having the Captain America discussion with my future wife, I pointed out that most of the designs are simple and iconic. When I worked with kids at a summer camp, everyone liked the costumes that were instantly recognizable, because they were easier for kids to draw. The kids could remember and identify even the tiniest details instantly.
Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, and Superman, are all simple, straightforward designs infused with character that stay with people. There aren’t a million lines and logos, and that’s why they endure, because these designs have stuck with generation after generation since they were kids.
Yes, the mean age of comic book readers are over 18, as are gamers, and males who frequent movie theaters, and I think a lot of that has to do with carrying these bold icons in our hearts since childhood.
But as the Eastern influence of Japan and it’s eye for complicated design grows here in the West, along with the ridiculous idea that we have to add edge and “realism” to everything, we’re slowly diluting our icons and mythology.
More examples of this can be seen in this fantastic io9 photo essay, which is a site you should probably have bookmarked if you read this blog somewhat regularly.
Posted on July 9, 2010, in Comics, Lists, Matt Loman and tagged apparently Matt thinks he knows stuff about fashion, aquaman, Batman, comics, costumes, Deadpool, Jean Grey, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, Matt Loman, nkfeatured, Spider-Man, superheroes, Superman, Wonder Woman. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.