Monday, February 28, 2005

Superheroes on the Red Carpet

My first blog entry. What to write...What. To. Write.

I guess naked pictures of myself are out of the question, right?

Right?

See, here's the thing: I don't think I want to write individual reviews of comics. There's a lot of reasons for this. I don't buy that many anymore due to financial considerations; Joe, alex, and Brian already have that segment of the market locked up; and it's not really where my talents lie. I'd much rather write about comics more wholistically. What I think comics should be, rather than what they already are. I also said that the one thing I could bring to this blog table was homofabulosity and goddammit, I intend to. So in that vein, let's talk fashion. Specifically, superhero fashion.

Historically, superheroes wore costumes due to the crudeness of Golden Age art and printing. You had to differentiate your hero from all the other square-jawed male characters in suits and fedoras, so you put them in a brightly colored, skintight costume that accentuated the heroic qualities of the male body while making them stand out on the page. The obvious inspirations for the early superhero costumes were circus tights. In the late 1930's, the circus was a much more viable form of entertainment than it is today, where it's pretty much sidelined as something quaint. Basing your hero's costume on a circus strongman made sense in 1939. Unfortunately, it makes almost no sense in 2005.

And here's what my problem is: all other forms of popular entertainment have evolved over the years in order to remain fresh in the public's eyes. No one seriously expects pop music to produce another Pat Boone, or network television another Bonanza. Why is it, 75 years into the genre, we expect it to operate under exactly the same constraints as it originally did?

Don't get me wrong, I love me the superhero costumes and I think they're absolutely necessary to the genre. I just hate the fact that most heroes wear one of two different designs: the hottest costume of 1941 or the hottest costume of 1961 - and that's it. Hardly any variation at all. What's so frustrating about it is that the last 50 - 60 years have seen the most rapid change in cultural norms civilization has ever seen and like I said, all other forms of mass entertainment either reflected those changes or caused those changes. Superheroes were at one time, at the vanguard of pop culture and because they've changed so little in the last 40 years they are now relegated to nerd obsession.

Granted, what they wear is only a part of it and some would argue, only a small part. But I would say that it's not just a large part of it but the largest part. It's a visual medium and one of the most essential elements of the genre are the costumes. Part of the reason the Silver Age was so explosive was the fact that the costumes were so modern-looking and original. The costumes of the Flash and Green Lantern perfectly reflected the sleek simplicity of Mid-Century Modern design. Spider-Man's costume (at the time) was almost wholly original. It looked like nothing else ever seen on the page, perfectly reflecting both the inner turmoil of the character and the outer turmoil of the times in which he lived. Can you say that about any of the costumes designed in the last 25 years?

I say, screw the circus tights archetype and look elsewhere for inspiration. NASCAR, hip-hop, haute couture - Prada, Gucci, John Galliano, Alexander McQueen. The NBA, the NHL, the WWF, the Olympics. Hell, I'd even accept punk rock and grunge at this point. They're at least more recent than what normally inspires the average costume. I want to see costumes on my heroes that say "This is Of The Moment." "This is RIGHT NOW." I don't care if it looks dated in ten years because in ten years they should start all over again and design new costumes for a new age. Where are the modern equivalents of the comics that inspired Warhol and Lichtenstein? Have a little balls, creators. Pick up a magazine every now and then and look at what the world looks like NOW. Not just Vogue and Maxim and Details, but Sports Illustrated and Architectural Digest - even something as ubiquitous as an IKEA catalogue. Or go the multi-culti route: pick up a National Geographic every now and then for God's sake.

I want comics that make the most jaded creative director or magazine editor sit up and take notice. I want comics that when I read them on the subway, people can't help but stare - not because they're appalled by the grown man reading the funnybook, but because they simply can't take their eyes off it.

And please, I'm begging you. No more outerpants.

18 Comments:

Blogger Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

I see superhero costumes more as uniforms than fashion - functional vs. form - and would liken their relative stasis over the years to things like sports uniforms, military fatigues, etc. They may be tweaked here and there - ie: the lengthening and loosening of basketball shorts - but the fundamental designs stay the same.

I actually like the current trend of more "realistic" costumes, where seams and buttons and shoe tread are all visible. I agree with you on getting rid of the overpants, though.

2/28/2005 11:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Brad Curran said...

I'm guessing taking the costume design in Ultimates, where they took the wings off of Captain America's mask and got rid of the buccaneer boots, doesn't really go far enough here. What do you think about the costumes in Morrison's X-Men run? Or the Ultimate X-Men costumes? Do any of those reflect what you're talking about? I ask because I'm geniuninely clueless about fashion. I need your homofabulous guidance!

2/28/2005 02:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Brad Curran said...

One thing you mention that I do know is the way pro wrestlers dress. I don't really see most of the costumes being that different from superhero costumes. That business comes from the carnie tradition, too, and most of the wrestlers are guys in tights.

Unless they have a specific occupational gimmic (like Simon Dean, the evil fitness guru, or Undertaker, the zombie mortician), they wear speedos or singlets. Kurt Angle, for instance, has tights that are red-white-and blue most of the time, because he's an Olympic gold medalist. Rey Mysterio, a Masked Mexican Wrestler, has even worn superhero themed costumes at pay-per-view shows.

I know I'm picking a nit, but I just wanted to mention the similarities between wrestling and superhero costumes (and use the phrase "Evil Fitness Guru." I take every oppurtunity to do that that I can). Also, I want to make people who feel too nerdy about comics feel better.

2/28/2005 02:18:00 PM  
Blogger Joe Rice said...

I think variety is going to be a key in making something fresh. All the things you talk about along with some more "traditional" superhero stuff should be used. There's nothing wrong with some well-designed tights and symbols. It's just that we need something else, too. And it would help if artists even just drawing "civilians" actually took a look around and saw what real people wear, other than generic shit.

2/28/2005 03:54:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

You know what's funny?

That really sounded a lot like something Grant Morrison would say about costumes.

2/28/2005 05:48:00 PM  
Blogger Joe Rice said...

God, we love him. As anyone with a good mind does. Pure love. Future-sister-in-law this weekend asked, out of the blue, "Is Grant Morrison hot?"

The answer was a resounding yes from yours truly. He's a comic pro that doesn't need Tom's to help dress him. Undress him, maybe.

2/28/2005 05:50:00 PM  
Blogger Joe Rice said...

Something, perhaps my Appalachian heritage, is making me fixate on the Nascar comment. Aren't Nascar outfits basically fatigues or jumpsuits in bright colors? Sure, there's all those patches, but superheroes wouldn't need that. I think that might be a really damn good starting point. Utilitarian, uniform-possible, but distinctive with its own color scheme. With links to Nascar (popular) and the military (very current). Hmmmm.

2/28/2005 06:58:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Fitzgerald said...

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...
"I see superhero costumes more as uniforms than fashion - functional vs. form - and would liken their relative stasis over the years to things like sports uniforms, military fatigues, etc. They may be tweaked here and there - ie: the lengthening and loosening of basketball shorts - but the fundamental designs stay the same."
I don't know...I think sports uniforms have changed fairly significantly in the last 60 - 70 years. Moreso than the average superhero costume.

2/28/2005 07:25:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Fitzgerald said...

Brad Curran said...
I'm guessing taking the costume design in Ultimates, where they took the wings off of Captain America's mask and got rid of the buccaneer boots, doesn't really go far enough here. What do you think about the costumes in Morrison's X-Men run? Or the Ultimate X-Men costumes? Do any of those reflect what you're talking about? I ask because I'm geniuninely clueless about fashion. I need your homofabulous guidance!"
Actually, UltiCap isn't a bad example in that it's at least looking elsewhere for its inspiration: the modern military uniform, and as such, it's a perfect reflection of the character.

2/28/2005 07:27:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Fitzgerald said...

Brad Curran said...
"I know I'm picking a nit, but I just wanted to mention the similarities between wrestling and superhero costumes" True, nitpicker but I think there's actually more variation seen across the WWF than say, the JLA (to mix my acronyms).

And most wrestling costumes do something that only the really good superhero costumes do: tell you something about the wearer - outside of just saying they have great abs or perky nipples.

2/28/2005 07:29:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Fitzgerald said...

Joe Rice said...
"I think variety is going to be a key in making something fresh. All the things you talk about along with some more "traditional" superhero stuff should be used. There's nothing wrong with some well-designed tights and symbols. It's just that we need something else, too. And it would help if artists even just drawing "civilians" actually took a look around and saw what real people wear, other than generic shit."I agree with everything my esteemed colleague says here.

I don't think all traditional costumes need to go. There are some that just can't be tweaked too much anyway. Much as I want to see more modern designs, I have yet to see a Superman redesign that actually still looks like Superman.

2/28/2005 07:31:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Fitzgerald said...

Brian Cronin said...
"You know what's funny?

That really sounded a lot like something Grant Morrison would say about costumes."
It all comes back to Grant - comics' only true metrosexal.

2/28/2005 07:33:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Fitzgerald said...

Joe Rice said...
"Something, perhaps my Appalachian heritage, is making me fixate on the Nascar comment. Aren't Nascar outfits basically fatigues or jumpsuits in bright colors? Sure, there's all those patches, but superheroes wouldn't need that. I think that might be a really damn good starting point. Utilitarian, uniform-possible, but distinctive with its own color scheme. With links to Nascar (popular) and the military (very current). Hmmmm." Exactly. Not to mention most NASCAR uniforms are just walking billboards for product placement. It's be perfect for one of your more mercenary, in-it-for-the-money types of heroes.

2/28/2005 07:35:00 PM  
Blogger Julio Oliveira said...

I liked The Authority in this regard, because got away from the capes and tights tradition. I mean there is a elegant simplicity in a character just using a white t-shirt and black pants. Even Midnighter and Apollo use a better fashion than most DC/Marvel heroes: Apollo have a really simple uniform that is very iconic and Midnighter have the best elements from Batman combined with Watchmen's Rorschach/Hellblazer's John Constantine.

3/01/2005 07:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Brant said...

That was a really good post. I think Paul Pope's work often has interesting, modern, fashion things happening. And the movie Unbreakable did a good job of melding the idea of superhero costumes with current, everyday clothes and uniforms.

3/01/2005 02:25:00 PM  
Blogger alex said...

Nice article, Tommy Boy!

Welcome to our World.

-a

3/01/2005 10:19:00 PM  
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