Jul 31, 2013

Pop Medicine: Costume Week

It's Costume Week for us here at the Cube, where we each write something about costumes. Today is Travis' turn!

The Good, the Bad, and the Silly Pouches
Pop Medicine
Travis Hedge Coke

I wanted to avoid trashing entire redesigns, since the talent doing the redesign generally have some agenda they are attempting to express through the new look, and fair enough as far as that goes. Even something like Daredevil’s gray and red armor or attack-hair Shiva have a point to them. Someone thought that chin-spike on Midnighter was deadly, I’m sure. So, if I can be swayed at all, I’m leaving it alone. There remain, however, some elements that aren’t necessary ugly, maybe they aren’t bad on their own, or good on their own, but the effect they have on the overall character is significant. Batman without a cape simply is not Batman, while I can easily accept Wolverine without his mask, his boots, the triangles on his sides, or even his gloves with the little metal casings on the back of the hands.

Our three categories of the day are:

“Yes, Please” – Things I love seeing, communicate a great deal, and fundamentally alter the character’s look for the better.

“Never Again” – Elements that just wreck the whole thing for me and present a hurdle I probably can’t even be bothered to leap over or walk around.

“It Made Sense at the Time” – Ever have someone pull up an old photo of you and you had a perfectly good reason for dressing as you are in the picture, but even explaining it is embarrassing?

Yes, Please

1. Shirtless Thor – The Wasp called Thor, “the god of hunks.” Others have referred to him as “Fabio.” As, “Muscle Beach.” And he should damned well dress like it. Going shirtless shows off Thor’s muscles, his disregard for weather and normative dresscodes, and it’s perfect for all Thor-related occasions, from beating up the Absorbing Man to drinking beer with the Avengers.

2. Batman’s chest emblem – “If Batman was realistic” and “If Batman wanted to be more efficient” need to take a hike and die. Batman is a symbol, a brand, he puts that brand right on his chest where we can all see it. When you’re a kid and you want to play Batman or Superman or whatever, you need a cape and a shirt with their emblem on it and that’s about it. That bat on his chest makes him Batman.

3. Daredevil’s red leather – Ben Affleck called wearing the red leather Daredevil suit “humiliating.” That’s a good thing. It should be. It’s as much penance as it is permission, in-story, so why not out? Matt Murdock’s a rich, swinging attorney who puts on tight, dyed leather and gets hurt all night and half the day long, then he goes to sleep in an isolation chamber and lies to his friends about how he got the bruises. Of course he does.

4. Starman One Million – DC One Million had several wonderful designs, but the star-field sprayed over Starman’s chest is gorgeous. It looks super-futuristic, but it is probably just simple, old-fashioned silkscreening. It is, for superheroes, a weird leap in graphic design I’m surprised hasn’t been used more often.

5. She-Hulk’s one-pieces - Shulkie wears swimsuits. It’s clearly her thing. Jennifer Walters didn’t wear stuff like that, and Psylocke does but she can’t stop arching her back and shoving her ass at the reader. She-Hulk likes showing skin but doesn’t have to constantly sell it, and the one-piece swimsuity costumes show that with ease.

6. Static’s hat – Static has a Malcom X hat (sometimes) and it is awesome. Anyone bothered by that hat deserves to be bothered by that hat.

7. The Extremist – The Extremist is the suit. It looks like a pervert suit because it is a pervert suit, and anyone wearing it can be, and therefore is, the Extremist.

Never Again

1. Black Widow’s zipper – She needs a zipper to get in and out of that costume (go ahead, visualize her changing without the zipper, just come back after awhile), but that zipper isn’t there for her, it’s for pencilers who want to highlight cleavage, and it’s too lazy.

2. Huntress’ belly-window – See above statement of laziness. Ooh, it’s some skin! On an entirely un-bulletproof character, in a sensitive area, with no functional reason to be bared, as she goes into potentially-lethal combat.

3. Superman’s shorts – When Superman’s costume echoed strongman outfits that required shorts to hold up the tights, the little red shorts made sense. Now that even weightlifters and muscular showmen aren’t wearing those things, they just look antiquated and highlight the lack or presence of bulge by drawing our eye right there.

4. Jean Grey’s Jean Grey Costume – Oh, Jean! When Phoenix, Marvel Girl, Dark Phoenix, even gobliny future Phoenix, she had excellent costumes, sharp, exciting. When she decided to superhero under her birth name, she adopted orange and blue, with puffy bits and a weird headwrap, because that can never fail.

5. Zatanna’s headcrab – Zatanna wanted to look more superhero while she was with the Justice League, so she bunched up her hair in a red crab-looking thing. Alan Davis can make it look good, but even he shouldn’t have to. No, Zatanna, just no. Enog eb barcdaeh.

6. War Machine’s alien armor – When War Machine quit wearing Tony Stark handmedowns at one point, he got an alien symbiote, as you do. Unlike the sleek black and white of Venom, which could grow its own slobbery demon mouth, War Machine’s symbiote grew clunky, nonsensical bulges and piping, like Bosch painting the Michael Graves collection at Target.

7. Guy Gardner’s tattoos – They just look stupid. They’re huge, blocky bands and structures of basic color solids. Guy may be an idiot, but even he can pick better bodyart than this. Arsenal picked better tats and he had a continuing relationship with a sociopath who nuked a country into rubble.

It Made Sense At the Time

1. Captain America: Fighting Chance – Cap was dying, his body failing him, his spirit challenged by his seemingly increasing inconsequentiality. Tony Stark built him an armor, because that’s the kind of thing Tony would do, and Cap used it because it kept him in the field longer, but even he knew the airbags were humiliating. But, clothes do not, and true to the Cap spirit, must not make the man. Captain America, in his traditional outfit, in armor, even buck naked, is Captain goddamn America, and that commands respect.

2. Batman: RIP – The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh look, the stubble, the missing tooth, the multicolored costume stitched together while Batman was hunched over a jacked up shopping cart is distracting, distressing, and confident. “Batman wears back and looks cool,” as they say in RIP. Batman in purple and yellow looks deranged. “Robin wore bright colors for years,” Bruce muses internally, and that’s another benefit, the suit psychs you up. Normal Batman is designed to hide, to blend in, to disappear. Now, here’s a guy who can’t hide, in a bright and garish costume that’s poorly put together, and the only tools he has are a broken radio and a bat. Little says “new game,” like a broken radio and a baseball bat in the hands of a guy bleeding from the mouth and wearing purple bat-ears.

3. The Many Pouches of Cyclops – When X-Men launched a second self-titled ongoing, Cyclops was back in a leadership position of a huge team, fresh off screwing up everything from his son to his team. The last time he’d tried the X-Men, he got his ass beat trying to be a leader. So, when he comes back, he overcompensates. No more bald look with a skullcap, no, he’ll have flowing, handsome hair on display. Storm, who beat his ass before, had secret pockets to keep tools in, so Cyke goes her one better and puts pouches everywhere possible. Storm carries knives and lockpicks? Cyclops will carry so many things.

4. Casey Jones’ bag – Casey Jones is an idiot. He’s unnecessarily violent, paranoid, prone to overreaction, and he’s beating up criminals and guys who might be criminals with sports equipment, because he wants to be a superhero and superheroes have a theme. How heavy is that bag full of bats and clubs and sticks and balls? Less important than having a theme, that’s how.

5. Fantastic Four circa #375 – Johnny has a terrible jacket. Sue has a keyhole 4. Ben’s in a mask. Reed’s carrying bigass guns. Is it the 90s? Hell yeah. Is all as it seems to be? Johnny hates the jacket, Sue’s desperately trying to get Reed to pay attention to her cleavage, Ben needs the mask to keep his face from completely breaking off, and Reed’s guns are mostly a bluff. Like Erik Larsen’s cyborg Spider-Man, it’s a ploy to get you to pay attention, generated by the story, not a permanent new look.

6. Forge’s fringe – Forge is a military man, a g-man with a job, a suit, a pay grade. He knows his place and he does as he’s told, which is how you get things like that remove-their-powers gun. So, why the occasional burst of dangly feathers, leather fringe, and beaded headbands? Forge, before he died, had serious identity issues, feeling that being contemporary meant he was ignoring his culture, feeling that keeping his job made him whiter than his family, and other such dumb things. So, sometimes he tries to be super-Indian, and that’s when the costumes come out. That’s why, when he’s completely lost his mind and at his most desperate, he’s got the most buckskin fringe every going on.

7. Penance’s spiky suit – Penance’s penance isn’t just having a thousand spikes inside his clothes and a dumb new name that used to belong to identical twins smooshed together and rendered mute. Penance, formerly the happy go lucky footloose Speedball, is serving penance by wearing a stupid helmet, having an ugly costume, and being called Penance aloud every day by everyone. By wearing that suit, Penance gets to humiliate himself in front of millions, without even uttering a word or taking any further actions. The suit is not edgy, it’s not intense, it’s just stupid and embarrassing.

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