Aug 1, 2013

Comics Cube: Costume Week

It's Costume Week for us here at the Cube, where we each write something about costumes. Since I've already written about my favorite costumes three years ago (although there have been changes of opinion since), I thought I'd work off a different theme.

My 10 Favorite Superhero Costumes That Have Some Sort
of Functional Purpose or Rational Reasoning to Them and
I'll Shut Up Now
by Duy

So essentially, these are 10 costumes that I feel have a point to them, either in terms of communicating what the character is about, shedding a bit of light on the character, having an in-story reason for being just the way it is, or serving a functional purpose for the character. And, to add to that, I have to like the way they look. So it can't just be "The Flash wears red and has running boots!" because that still doesn't explain why he has those little wings on his head or his boots. These have to, as a whole, make as much sense as a comic book can possibly make. No "Superman's red underpants make sense because they were based on circus strongmen of the 1930s," because that doesn't explain why he's wearing them now. Something like "Rogue wears a full bodysuit because she can't touch anyone" would qualify. (Except they have to look cool to me, so Rogue's not on this list.)

(And for the record, the Flash's costume is still my favorite costume of all time, so functionality and reason aren't really high up on the criteria list here.)

This criteria is probably not as clear as it should be, but it makes sense in my head, so without further ado, here we go.

Honorable Mention: I'm not going to put on this list people like the Black Cat and Catwoman, who are cat burglars who wear catsuits when they commit their cat burglary, because that's a little too obvious in terms of what I'm going for (and for that same reason, no Black Widow costumes because they're relatively similar, if you squint really hard and zip up everyone's costumes). But here you go, from Wizard #135, apparently:

By the way, don't Google "Black Cat Catwoman" at work.

Honorable Mention: Thor — and the rest of the Asgardians — has a costume that more emphasizes the overall look of the Marvel Universe at the time. It's regal, it's bold, and it's arrogant — and it works really well because no one else at the time had a costume that had a cape or other royal elements. It works well on its own to communicate what the character is all about, and it works really really well in context.

10. The Many Individual Costumes of the Fantastic Four

Travis touched on this yesterday, noting that the Invisible Woman's mid-90s "skin, skin, and lots of skin!" look was justified in the story as Reed not paying attention to her and her trying to get her husband to pay attention to him. I'm sure someone out there will say that that's an extreme course of action, but superhero stuff is melodrama and extreme courses of action are par for the course.

Right after this costume debuts, Sue yells at an aloof Reed and says
he wouldn't notice her if she were naked. Truly, "Invisible Woman"
might be the most apt name ever. At least regarding her husband.

Did it bother you when Sue started dressing up in the 4kini? Join the club — everyone was bothered by it, including just about everyone in the story. That includes Reed, the tenants of the Baxter Building, Johnny, and everyone else who wasn't Namor. That was the point. She is, after all, a mom, and the closest the entire superhero multiverse has to a universal mom figure. So of course you were bothered, unless you were Namor or every male in the audience who was hitting puberty.

When Reed "died,"she quickly put on some more clothes, though I'm sure some fans still cried for blood on account of her wearing no sleeves.

Mothers are supposed to wear sleeves! This is scandalous!
I wonder if anyone wrote in back in 1968 complaining that she started wearing a miniskirt to get Reed's attention?

Scandalous. Just scandalous!
None of these costume changes for Sue ever last long; they're only ever there to highlight what a dysfunctional relationship they have, because Reed is a terrible husband, and maybe Reed should actually, you know, give his wife some TLC.

The Human Torch has twice decided to wear a red costume. The first time was to pay homage to the original Human Torch. I prefer the second time, in the Heroes Reborn universe, when the Fantastic Four was being heavily merchandised, and he realized he could sell more toys if he had more costumes.

The Thing would sometimes wear different costumes, sometimes fitting in with what the team is wearing, but most of the time just wearing trunks, because he's the Thing and what's the point of clothes? But I think the big one is really Reed — costumes are the furthest thing from Reed's mind, and when Reed changes costumes, everyone changes costumes.

The Fantastic Four are so often thought of as a unit, and it's reflected in their uniforms. So it's refreshing, every now and then, to see them change their costumes on an individual basis as a plot or characterization point.

9. Blue Aquaman

I showed this costume to someone the other day who said "Ugh! That's horrible!" But I like it. I'm sure this has to do with me being four years old, seeing this house ad, and thinking "That looks cool!", and I'm also pretty sure that has to do with me never being a fan of Aquaman's classic orange scaley and green suit. In fact, I kinda hate it. It's bland. I liked Aquaman with the long hair and the beard and the hook better, because it at least has a bit of personality, but the orange and green suit? Pretty boring.

But I like this blue one, 'cause it's like underwater camo. Aquaman's son in the Brave and the Bold TV show ended up wearing it.

This costume was designed by writer Neil Pozner for that 4-issue Aquaman mini he did with Craig Hamilton. I never read it, but I loved that house ad.

8. Yellow and Red Daredevil

Not only does this Bill Everett–designed look uncharacteristically practical for a Silver Age costume, with the holster for the billy club and the as-functional-as-possible boots and gloves, but it also has, even then, little folds and creases to show you that it's not strictly a skintight costume. It's also a terrible-looking costume, as if Matt took these functional elements and slapped them onto yellow spandex with devil horns. And of course it looks terrible. The dude's blind. Moving on...

7. Gangbuster

Gangbuster is Jose Delgado, a nonpowered protector of Metropolis! I just realized putting this together, this was essentially a late 80s/early 90s version of the Daredevil suit, wasn't it? I think this was designed by Jerry Ordway, and it's essentially the same thing, right down to the colors (Gangbuster's are darker) and color arrangements (maroon over orange, as opposed to red over yellow, so it's like Daredevil's first costume with an extra layer of red). He's got that storebought helmet and some armor going for him, and instead of a billy club, he's got nunchuks that double as a belt.

I loved Gangbuster as a kid. My favorite story was Adventures of Superman #437, which was the one where he saved Lois — and Metropolis — from a Lexcorp goon named Combattor, who was designed to take down Superman. Delgado broke his spine in the process. One of those awesome "He won, but at what cost?" stories. And I loved that costume.

6. Shi

Ana Ishikawa wouldn't have been on this list a couple of months ago, and it's possible she won't be on it in another couple of months. Chalk this one up to recency. My LCS, Comic Odyssey, gave me some unresellable Shi comics a while back, and that was a title I never paid attention to when it was coming out, because there was just such a glut of Bad Girl stuff and most of them weren't very good (or... good, at all). Turns out, Shi was pretty good. She's got a costume that highlights her Japanese heritage, and while I can't really explain why she's got no clothes in between just under her breasts and the middle of her thighs, I guess it can be said that it helps her in terms of flexibility and maneuverability. One thing that makes it really work for me, and maybe this is only true for when Billy Tucci was drawing it, is that you could see her toes delineated through her footwear, so there really is an illusion of stealth and facilitation of movement.

Hey, at the very least, she could beat up movie Batman.

5. The Punisher

Yes, this was partly an excuse to get this cover here.
The Punisher has a great costume, designed, if memory serves correctly, by John Romita Sr. It's all black and dark blue, which makes sense for stealth purposes, but it's got a big giant skull on the torso, giving criminals a target for when he confronts them. Of course, it's right over his kevlar armor, and that's the point of it. What really does it for me though is that the skull's "teeth" double as holders for his ammunition. That's pretty inspired.

4. The Scarlet Spider

Confession time: Spider-Man should really be on this list. He's got webs, it looks creepy, and it's red and blue, which is perfect because Spider-Man originally wanted to be a TV performer. So why isn't Spidey on this list? Because of a "similar costumes on similar characters can't be on the list" rule that I made up twenty seconds ago.

Ben Reilly's Scarlet Spider suit came at a time when he wasn't sure if he was up to the responsibility of having his superpowers. But a returning Venom forced his hand and so he slapped a bunch of nondescript red spandex together and bought a blue sweater with a big giant spider on it (him seeing the sweater on sale is actually a scene) and ripped off the sleeves. He's got his web-shooters outside of his costume, because he's got more weapons than Spidey and — they actually explain this, which I thought was unnecessary but cool, regardless — those weapons are triggered by different wrist movements. So it makes sense that they'd be outside of the costume. And he has those little pouches for money. Okay, I made that up, but he's got to keep his money somewhere. Concede my unprovable hypothetical scenario!

And he kept the hoodie because... well, I can't explain that.

In short, he looks like a Spider-Man with significantly less money. Which is exactly what he was.

This costume was designed by Tom Lyle. Check out his and Mark Bagley's other designs here.

 3. Captain America

I don't really get the hate for Cap's costume. More than a few people I know have described it as lame, from the wings to the color scheme to the big A on his head (and yet, oddly, not the trunks). I guess this is reflected in modern takes of Cap, from The Ultimates to the movies to his costume design in the current comics. And yet, I think, if it is corny, it serves its purpose. As Agent Coulson says in the movie, maybe we could use a little old fashion.

Watching the movie and looking at the current comics, I just can't help but think how bare his mask looks without the wings. I understand the difficulty in making the wings look good in real life, but it looks great in line art. Plus, it calls on the image of the eagle, that American symbol of freedom.

So since Cap is a public figure, the costume is a constant reminder of what he stands for. If it comes off as lame, maybe that says more about the person looking at it. But it's not all for communicative purposes — the scales show he's wearing chainmail underneath the whole thing. That's one reason why the modern-look scaly-armor costume doesn't work for me. The chainmail underneath made sense and looked cool. The scaly armor doesn't make sense and doesn't look cool.

(And I love swashbuckler boots. They are to me what ridiculous and stupid-looking collars are to Jim Lee.)

This costume was designed collaboratively by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. I'm sticking by that sentence.

2. Zatanna

A lot of people have, over the years, tried to redesign Zatanna's costume, often with disastrous results. (Just Google her other costumes. Really. Terrible doesn't begin to cover it.) She's a magician. More, she's a stage magician. Before she was a stage magician, she was her dad's stage magic assistant. She is simultaneously the one who does the trick and the distraction, hence the sex appeal. Plus, due to the nature of her non-costume costume, the basic look can vary in details each time, and it's not a problem, because who doesn't change their clothes? It's not practical for physical fighting, but Zatanna isn't a physical fighter. She's a magician.

It's also just a good-looking costume. Definitely one of those things that I don't feel need changing. And if they are going to change it, please don't ever have it changed to things like these:

I think her basic look was designed by Murphy Anderson, but Brian Bolland draws her best to me.

1. Snake-Eyes (Version 2, or anything close enough to it, with that visor)

Probably the prototype for everything the 90s is remembered for overdoing, Snake-Eyes from GI Joe has pouches, weapons, guns, swords, and all sorts of weaponry up the wazoo. He also looks incredibly cool. You know how everyone gets on 90s characters for overdoing the pouches, guns, and weapons? Snake Eyes did it before they all did, and no one gives him flak. That's because of all the characters to ever be overloaded that much with so many accoutrements, Snake-Eyes always stood out in terms of his ability to pull it off, and a part of that is because he's actually going to use every single one of those weapons. He's a ninja (so he wears something with stealthy colors), a soldier (so he's got all those weapons), a burn victim (so he wears a full bodysuit, including a visor), and a badass (so he's carrying a lot of stuff — he still looks awesome). And that's why Snake-Eyes tops this list.

For today, anyway.

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