Tag Archives: hero

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Superhero Fashion

Marvel, X-Men, heroes, capes

Could Mystique’s outfit even be called a costume? Or is it just skin?

When looking at superhero fashion, there are several things we must remember:

  1. The heroes have perfect or godly physiques. Even if slim, or buxom, superheroes are muscular and perfect. (There are exceptions like the Blob.)
  2. They have powers or abilities beyond the normal human.
  3. They are superbly fit and agile, as well as being able to withstand physical abuse that would disfigure, cripple or kill most other people (they never lose teeth for instance).
  4. They’re exhibitionists. This goes for the evil fellows too. Everyone wears flamboyant clothing, even if it’s subdued, flamboyant clothing. That type of style doesn’t make you invisible and suggests a certain level of arrogance.
  5. They rarely get paid unless it’s by the government or supported by benefactors, or they’re millionaires (Batman, Iron Man).

With these suppositions it’s obvious that superheros might not have their wits about them, evidenced by outfits both form-fitting and often more provocative than the sane person would wear. But if in fact there were people who fit the above paradigms in our world today, what would these costumes do for them?

First, capes. I mean, seriously, they were once great for the people of the middle ages, before coats came along, because they could keep a person warm or wrapped up for the night. And okay, vampires. The Bela Lugosis out there need a nice big cape to wrap their victims, and just in case they can’t turn into a bat, well it gives the impression that they can. And speaking of bats; let’s look at one of the more famous superheroes.

Batman, superheroes, hero, supervillains, costumes, fashion, leotards

DC’s Batman by Neal Adams. That’s a lotta muscle to see through a suit.

Some would call him vigilante, some would call him hero, all would call him dark. Batman. The dude is caped and hooded, unlike the caped but barefaced Superman who somehow naively believes that glasses and dashing his hair to the other side will confuse everyone as to his identity. But let’s look at the capes. Whether long and voluminous, or short and sparse, they are not used in most every day criminal or do-gooder capers (get it?). The capes flow behind the hero, denoting movement or speed, but should you have to battle someone or whip around the corner you risk the criminal element grabbing your cape or getting choked, or worse, tripping over your costume and looking stupid. How bad would it be if the bad guys laughed at Batman? Pretty bad for them I guess.

The picture above of different DC superheroes shows Batman, the Martian Manhunter (guy in green, doncha know) and Shazam in capes. Oh and Robin in a little demi cape. But really, if your cape is flowy, it’s only good for show but not for battle. And if your cape, like some of the versions in the Batman movies, is stiff and ribbed, well, you won’t trip over it or have it flap in your face but you’re as likely to have trouble going through doorways and windows as getting into a car. Unless every caped hero is stupid, even the most arrogant wouldn’t want to limit the chances of just taking down the bad guys. And these guys do it for truth and justice and because it makes them look good.

Now we can leave some aspects up to artistic expression, but you have those old pre-60s costumes and the morality codes that once ruled the comic world bringing out those shorts over the tights look. If some guy dressed like that and yes, I’ve seen some women do this, it’s a bit of a geekathon fashion nightmare. But you will notice that these guys to a one have great tailors and their clothes are form-fitting, so tight in fact that I wonder that their butt cracks never show nor underwear lines.  And we have to hope that, like dancers, these guys are wearing a dancer’s cup or codpiece underneath, or you’ll know whether they’re circumcised or not. Flash, in the background, is superfast and his costume is okay because it won’t get in his way.

Hawkman wears a harness of wings and can fly so his costume makes sense, unless he’s in the Arctic. Actually most of these guys would freeze in inclement conditions but that’s part of their powers. They can wear barely nothing and still survive. Hulk wears an abomination of torn purple pants, always. Bruce Banner is certainly a science geek with a limited wardrobe. Utility belts and other paraphernalia make sense if you’re scaling walls and swinging from rooftops. Gadgets are especially the guys’ domain, as is the real world.

I would think though, should these heroes walk/fly down the street in broad daylight, no one will miss them. And they will have

capes, heroes, superheroes, Storm, X-Men, costumes, fashion, skin tight

One version of Marvel’s X-Man Storm, with cape. By Greg Land.

to have something of steel to withstand the catcalls, wolf whistles and propositions they’ll receive for such outfits. Hell, they’d be noticeable in a total eclipse. I’ve only mentioned the guys so far but the women have costumes painted on in a much more provocative way. Not all artists go to this extreme but the pic to the right shows navels and nipples through their incredibly thin and skin-tight suits, what there is of them. High cuts, bare asses, low-cut bustiers; really every female superhero is a wet dream or perhaps just a call girl gone wild.

I already talked about capes and how they’re a bigger problem than not. Some exceptions are the X-Men’s Storm. She’s a weather witch and her cape buoys her on the elements she stirs up. Banshee has a sonic power which buoys his wings on the power of sound. But on top of capes some of these gals wear skirts, short short skirts. Of course they all have matching pants underneath, like tennis players, but it’s just something else for your supervillian to hang onto. Perhaps distraction is a diversionary tactic.

superheroes, female costumes, Wonder Woman, Zatanna

Female superheroes show a lot of butt and cleavage and wear high heels.

The gals above have been modernized a bit but Wonder Woman (far right) and Zatanna (right) are wearing fairly tight corsetlike tops. Corsets restrict breathing and movement and should they be made of more supple material, the adequate to the amply endowed gals would pop out of their tops, especially doing acrobatics or hanging upside down. Some accessories, like Wonder Woman’s, serve a functional purpose. Her armbands deflect bullets, her head band is a boomerang (long before Xena’s) and her lariat binds and forces truthful answers (not just for bondage). Very few of these heroes worry about armor or weather with their outfits.

I’ve already touched on the overtly sexual nature of the women’s costumes. They are as sexual, maybe a bit moreso than the men’s, but when you define every indentation and muscle, well, the costumes are just like paint over nekkid bodies. And perhaps their beauty is one way to stun perpetrators. If archvillian Doctor Doom gets mesmerized wondering if Power Girl is going to pop out of her top, that does give her an advantage. I won’t bother going into the high heel boots and the fishnets. We know what it’s like to run and kick in those. (For more on this see The Problem With Supervillains )

Suffice to say, superheroes really aren’t dressed for action, unless in the bedroom. Send Prince Namor or the Angel my way and I’ll find out if their costumes are painted on. I’ve looked at the functional aspects of the costumes but if you want another take on the style, check out the links below for Tim Gunn of Project Runway’s opinion, on Crazy Sexy Geeks.

Part 1 with Tim Gunn

Part 2 with Tim Gunn

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Writing: The Lovable Bastard

Several editors have said that you have to have a protagonist that the reader can identify with. If the character is a bastard, he has to be a lovable bastard. And in essence this is true. In any story, whether a short story or a novel there has to be some character that the writer can like. Often this will be the main character or one of the viewpoint characters.

The biggest problem, if you make all your characters bastards or despicable murderers, is that no one will identify with them except perhaps the odd psychopath. If no one identifies, then no one cares. The reader is not invested in seeing if the protagonist wins against her personal conflict or not. Does the hero beat the evil overlord or die a valiant death? Who cares if it’s only evil overlords battling each other…unless there is something human about them, a softer side. The evil overlord who has a little puppy that he loves dearly will garner some sympathy from the reader compared to the overlords that eat the puppies.

So why have a  lovable bastard at all? As the realm of speculative fiction writing grew and changed, it began to reflect deeper plots with more well developed characters. It wasn’t just about the giant space ship with a tachyon drive going through space with a man, any man, battling the alien elements. It was now about a specific person, a woman or a man, who was much like you and me, but placed in a different time or world. The “every man” “every woman” aspect means that we can relate to these characters because they are human. They’re flawed. They have good days and bad days, have shining aspects of their personalities and flaws that can be their downfalls.

No one is a hero twenty-four hours a day. Even the most valiant knight must eat, drink, fart, defecate and sleep. He’s human. In spec writing you may have an alien, a god, some other life form and they may be truly alien in their actions or thoughts, but if you don’t have some character that the reader identifies with it will remain too hard to fathom for the average reader. I have a story I wrote a long time ago with alien larval and insectoid creatures. No matter who I sent the story to (even when I stopped rewriting every time), one editor would find the character too alien and the next would find it too human.

Perfume, by Patrick Suskind was  a book about a man born nearly blind but with a sense of smell so acute that he could “see” with it, could tell the past and almost the future. It won the 1987 World Fantasy award and though the world portrayed was vivid and nearly magical, I didn’t like this book. The main reason was that the main character, more an antagonist than a protagonist, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was a bastard, and not lovable in the least. He was a murderer bent on procuring the ultimate scent, who had no compassion for his victims. The victims themselves are not with us long enough for the reader to care for them. The movie took a slightly different twist to probably portray a victim long enough (and her father) so that we had someone to relate to and care about.

Stephen Donaldson, many years ago, wrote the Thomas Covenant series (Lord Foul’s Bane, etc.), which encompassed two trilogies. His main character was again a bastard, a reluctant hero. Thomas Covenant, to me, was not lovable either. He was a big whiner. Being a whiner is okay in a story, if it changes, but Covenant whined until he died and then his girlfriend took over whining. The story was of larger scope than Covenant but the whining made him too unlikable.

A main character may be so flawed that they are not likable. Then the writer needs to have the faithful sidekick, the every woman that you and I feel we could be. Lane Robins handled this deftly with Maledicte. Her main character is tempestuous, jealous, vengeful and ridden by a god that darkens the soul.  Maledicte isn’t that likable but then there is Gilly, a human servant, a conflicted man who is just a man. No gods afflict him and he has no special powers. He is the simple unsung hero to Maledicte’s antihero.

Overall Maledicte is more successful as a book than Perfume when it comes to characters and making your reader care. At times I even care for Maledicte and, like any bastard who is the main character, Maledicte should change by the end of the story, and does. Grenouille never changes so that I did not care if he lived or died in the end. With Covenant, I was relieved when he died.

These three books have stuck in my memory, two becaue the characters weren’t likable and one because there was a sidekick who was. You might think this is okay then but Perfume had a unique world and I could never stomach another Donaldson book again. I tried but found the one book I tried had a character too much like Thomas Covenant. I couldn’t put up with any more “poor me” whiners through a complete series.

To have a likable character, whether faithful sidekick or lovable bastard is truly essential to almost all stories. There are exceptions but for a writer starting out, it’s a must. So here is to the lovable bastards out there; may they all have some redeeming qualities.

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Writing: Revisionist Poems & Stories

A discussion of revisionist writing came about on another list when I mentioned that I had sold my poem “The First Taste” to Dreams & Nightmares. It is a revisionist poem about Persephone. I was asked what I meant by revisioning. A good question because the term is probably most often used in terms of history and politics. But on the other side are the revisionist myths or fairy tales. Some will come tagged with feminist revisionism but it goes beyond that.

I ran into revisioning somewhere way back, maybe first to do with the retold fairy tales, especially the ones that were in the Datlow/Windling anthologies. But I was also doing a course on children’s literature where we examined fairy tales right back to Perrault and the Grimm brothers. Angela Carter’s tales came up as some early revisionist fairy tales. I’ve also run into it in poetry but don’t remember when anymore. It could have been in the creative writing courses at UBC or in the world of speculative poetry.

I guess the basis for any revisioning poem is that instead of a third person or narrative tale of a hero’s or god’s deeds, the tale is now told in first person, though third person is also used. It might also be in the voice of the lesser being/mortal/bad guy who traditionally was fairly two-dimensional. This is not always the case with stories, which may also be in third person, but all tend to delve into the psyche of the person and how they feel.

This is sort of what happened to SF when it evolved past the embryonic stage of BEMs (bug-eyed monsters) and started to become more realistic; or magic realism, set in today’s world with just a small twist of otherness. (Is this the bastard child of canlit and spec fic?)

Like all genre labels, revisioning is just another fancy word for categorizing what we write. 🙂 In my revisioning poems (which really is just a classic tale, whether fairy tale or heroic myth, from another point of view) I’ve written on Dionysus, Kore/Persephone, Athena, Leda, Psyche, Demeter, Aphrodite (though the last really doesn’t fit the same way as the others). I’ve also written one story on the oracle on Pythos before it/she became the Delphic oracle.

In stories, I’ve taken various fairy tales and rewrote them as well, from the Princess and the Pea, to Snow White, to Dorothy after Oz.I’m sure there are other takes on revisioning but this is pretty much how I see and understand it. One well-known child’s story done in a revisionist mode is the about the three little pigs but from the wolf’s point of view, pointing out how he was framed.

Classical fairy tales are fairly thin and two-dimensional, offering very little depth into the whys and wherefores. Many fairy tales were cautionary tales, and others were, what academics now presume, tales to show/train young women for their eventual separation from their parents, and subsequent marriages. It is the purview of fantasy and speculative fiction to take the regular world and twist the what-if. If we’re looking at old, tried and true  tales, then it’s turning the story on its edge and presenting a new view.

Whether called revisionist, speculative or just plain fantasy, taking the classics and showing a new perspective is part of the evolutionary process. Fairy tales, myths, fables were once passed down, word of mouth from person to person. The oral tradition actually kept the story current to the times as the teller would adapt or change aspects to suit the understanding of the listeners. The constant evolution means many stories have passed over the lips of humanity to be lost in the trails of time. With the newer tradition of taking those now codified tales, whether Sleeping Beauty or the tale of Eros and Psyche and telling a new story, the process continues to bring evolution to the myths and fairy tales of our ancestors.

Here is a lesson plan on revisionist fairy tales for anyone who teaches about writing and reading: http://www.readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_view.asp?id=992

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