Flom Covers Spidey Covers: Part Two

Everyone knows that superheroes (and, perhaps to an even greater degree, supervillains) would look stupid in real life.  This is one of the first conflicts that erupts in a young comics-reader’s mind: you’re sitting there reading X-Men and you’re thinking “How does Wolverine’s hat/mask/whatever even work?  Does his hair stick up through there?  What the hell is the deal?”

You can suspend all kinds of disbelief about dudes flying and space travel and how radiation and toxic waste can actually be really, really GOOD for you but the one thing you can’t shake is that all these people, if you saw them hanging out in the rumpus room, would look downright ridiculous (and — it must be said — GAY).  To be sure, while some pretty amazing movies have been made outta comics, the one thing that always threatens to bring the whole thing crashing down is the lame-ass costumes these poor millionaire movie stars have to wear.  I’m gonna argue that the only truly successful superhero costume ever worn by a real human is the one worn by Christopher Reeve in (duh) Superman.  It’s not that the costume looks so great (would YOU wear it?) but that Reeve makes it work somehow by being The Most Perfect Man To Play Superman That Could Ever Possibly Exist.

Others weren’t so lucky.  The new Superman costume is puke city.  Michael Keaton’s Batman costume was lame as hell and he couldn’t even turn his head to look at you if you were standing next to him and asked him if he wanted a bite of burger.  Later Batmans were worse and worse and the new one in Batman Begins is sort of ok but still undeniably superstupid looking.  That TV show The Flash in the early 90s or whatever had a costume I like A LOT because the muscles are spongy and shaded in interesting ways but that costume doesn’t count because the Flash may be the stupidest character in the history of comics (Superman went fast first).  The X-Men movies don’t even bother with costumes (solving that wolverine hat problem nicely) and Spider-Man may be the stupidest of all even though those movies are great.  Great movie/extremely shitty costume: it’s a fact of comicmovie LIFE. 

But that’s just talkin’ MOVIES.  I mean, if they can’t get them to look cool spending millions of dollars and utilizing the best minds in Hollywood, imagine how hard an Actual Superhero struggling in today’s world would find it to look reallycool while fighting injustice.  One of the great things about comic books is that they’re not pictures of actual people they’re drawings drawn by human hands and they’re not supposed to be totally realistic (unless you’re Alex “Norman Rockwell” Ross) they’re supposed to be fantastical.  So Spider-Man looks really cool on the page even though if you use your imagination and try to picture in your brain that same person who looks so cool on the page out there in the street doing the exact same thing you’ll break your own braincells because it just ain’t possible because he would look lame.

So what it comes down to is that superheroes are meant for comic books and that’s where they look the coolest.  So unless you think you can avoid the crushing disappointment that is seeing a supposedly awesome superhero look like a total jackass wearing the dumbest clothes imaginable (dumber than chinos) then you should AVOID superheroes outside of comic books.  Nevertheless, (and this brings us finally to the above cover) it’s a cruel fucking world because every once in a while you pick up a comic book and instead of a cool-looking drawing it features a picture of an actual person taken by a camera like this one.  What A Terrible Cover.  Not only is this guy wearing a stupid costume (made by Mom?) but he’s wearing a really dumb belt buckle and there are plenty of reasons to assume he listens to Billy Joel.

When I bought this comic (for a quarter) I thought it meant that there was some kind of Spider-Man TV show I didn’t know about.  Nope.  (Good!  TV rots the spleen!)  Just Marvel spending $8 on a photo session in Gimmick #7865 from the gimmickin’-est company in Christendom.  I don’t remember what happened in the issue, but I do recall that despite the banner, tweren’t nothing “special” about it.  Luckily, though, the inside was filled with drawings NOT photographs.  And it all paid off because this comic is now worth seventy million dollars.


One thought on “Flom Covers Spidey Covers: Part Two

  1. Peter Bagge wrote a pretty extensive piece on this theme in Comics Comics, too. I really thought he missed the point – which was ironic because he’s an artist. I feel like you’ve come closer here, but the reality of costumes I think comes down to pragmatism for characters drawn by lots and lots of people, some of the weaker and stronger on the finer points of draughtsmanship.

    I think superhero costumes started as a way to appeal to kids. Brightly colored and exciting. I think they also symbolized the openness of the superhero. As heros, they had nothing to hide.

    Later, though, I think the wisdom of costumes came down to this: it’s really hard to draw comics where the same faces are recognizable again and again over the course of a comic. The costume solves that. In fact, I think it was Jack Kirby who said that costumes should be so distinct that you should be able to see just PART of it and know who the character is.

    Have you read any of Brian Michael Bendis’s early books? Jinx or AKA: Goldfish, whatever? He relies heavily on real faces, and it gets pretty damn confusing. It’s just hard to have a lot of young white guys in the same scenes, draw them over and over and make it so the reader can easily keep them straight. Much easier to throw a distinctive mask on.

    So that’s the point. In drawn work, the costumes make it easier to keep track of who is who.
    And they would be silly in real life.

    But… I think you missed something in the X-movies. They do have costumes. They are just more subtle and more like normal clothes. Both when they go on missions and just sort of hanging out, their clothes all fit the character and I think that’s how modern superhero costume design is going to evolve.

    I think Matt Wagner deserves a lot of credit for evolving the superhero costume to something a little more logical. He took Kevin Matchstick and gave him a t-shirt with a big lightning bolt on it. Good enough, the said, and he’s pretty much right. It doesn’t quite fit the Kirby rule above, but it’s probably enough to cover the real need of the superhero costume.

    Anyway, if you like to think about superhero costumes, might I recommend Project Rooftop:

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