No spandex

I suspect if you believe what Ben Affleck said about his Daredevil outfit, the other problem with superhero costumes is that they risk looking perverted if not silly. Even if there’s fabric that’s exactly as tight as superhero outfits are in comics, that is micromodal, it can become too sexualised especially on characters that make it harder for them to be taken seriously.

To put it this way, Peter Berlin wore tight outfits before. Not because he wanted to fight crime but because it’s kinky. (I could go on saying that there’s a profound overlap between superhero aesthetics and BDSM outfits, if it weren’t for the odd fact that some writers like Chris Claremont were also allegedly into BDSM.)

The creators of Superman also did BDSM comics at some point so it seems the association of superhero outfits with BDSM’s inevitably in some ways or another. And partly why costume designers avoid putting characters in very form-fitting, almost naked oufits.

Smoky stardust

I actually still think it that my ideal Felicity Smoak is inspired by the late David Bowie. He wasn’t above his own flaws (whatever they are like seducing teens and cocaine addiction) but he’s an interesting enough character to inspire a lot of people. Had Felicity Smoak been redesigned to resemble David Bowie in some fashion, I have a feeling that between Emily Bett Rickards and David Bowie, the latter would be a much more influential muse.

Even Mattel had Barbie dress up as him. Kate Moss cosplayed as him at some point. That’s saying in how big of an impression Bowie made on people that even if some of the stuff he did wasn’t always good, it was still interesting enough to others to check it out. Lastly but not the least it’s oddly fitting as Bowie was so prone to reinventing himself that should Smoak be reinvented as a hyena-styled Bowieseque woman it would be appropriate.

She started out as some character’s irritable mum. Then became what seemed to be an amalgamation of other characters. She was practically equal parts Chloe Sullivan (another blonde hacker who also fell in love with Oliver Queen…on Smallville) and NCIS’s Abby Sciutto (Goth thing). Reinventing her as a David Bowie like character would write itself way too well.

Especially when his absence makes the yearning all the more profound.

It looks daft

When it comes to Peter Bagge disparaging superheroes in terms of the way they dress, I have a feeling that he’s got a good point about it. Especially when it comes to the odd fact that they frankly don’t look good in live action. It’s possible to wear a catsuit and still not look silly in it, especially if you’re a man. But I even think costume designers would feel similarly too.

Another problem’s that of iconography. Had Barry Allen dressed up a lot like an actual sprinter or footballer (as in soccer player), it’s not too out of place within these sports but too bland a costume for him to wear. Actually and ironically, as a blog at TCJ pointed out, actual athletes can and do wear less than most superheroes do.

Sprinters, boxers, rugby players and footballers wear shorts. Weightlifters and some wrestlers show more leg than most male superheroes do. Wrestlers on average wear skimpier outfits in combat than superheroes do. Keep in mind some athletes wear skimpier outfits out of practicality as to keep cool.

(Although sports clothing isn’t above its own problems.)

I still think when it comes to men in tights, it can be harder to pull it off without looking too sexualised and partly why costume designers don’t give superheroes tight outfits much.

Peter Bagge on Spider-Man

I have the odd feeling realising that Peter Bagge may have a point about superhero costumes and why they don’t translate well to live action. Especially if the original outfits look either daft or pervy (go ask Ben Affleck about it).

From Comics Comics 2:

Peter Bagge
I don’t like superhero comics, and never did. Well, like all little boys,
I certainly liked the CONCEPT of a superhero, and did my fair share
of towel-bedecked backyard “flying” when I was five or six years
old—my main source of inspiration being the old live-action Batman
and Superman TV shows, both of which I still find campy and garish
and thoroughly entertaining. But the DC comics featuring the same
characters during that time (c. mid ‘60s) seemed suffocatingly lifeless and dull to me.
The art was so stiff and formal, and the stories were told in this very
deliberate step-by-step manner, like an instruction manual on how
to assemble a ham radio kit. In retrospect I find these same comics
rather amusing, the way they so carefully and earnestly describe the
most laughably absurd and implausible scenarios imaginable. I doubt
the authors were going for irony, however, so even in retrospect I’m
reluctant to praise them for the unintended effect their work would
have on me forty years later.
This situation was very frustrating to me, since I loved comic books
in general, and still do. I love the feel and format of them, and I could
be very forgiving when it came to the content or lack thereof, as I’d
mindlessly wade though mountains of Archie, Sad Sack, and Dennis
comics. Yet then as now, the comics shelves were dominated by
superhero titles, and due to the sheer preponderance of them I
gave many of them a try. But as I got older my resistance to them
only increased. Those COSTUMES, for one thing. These characters
were supposed to be Men of Action, yet they looked like effeminate
clowns! I suppose I could make the requisite “gay” wisecrack here
as well, but to be honest superheroes and their appeal aren’t really
a gay thing at all, which makes them even more pathetic. They’d at
least make a lot more sense to me if they were!
The one line of titles that showed some promise for me back then
were the new Marvel comics,
particularly the
titles drawn
by Jack
Kirby,
such as The Incredible Hulk and The Fantastic Four. (I also preferred
characters like the Hulk and the Thing, since they DIDN’T look like
effeminate clowns!) Kirby’s art really stood out from the crowd in
those days: It was so lurid and full of life; gruesome yet beautiful. It
jumped off the page! I also liked all the wisecracks the characters
made, in part because it seemed like a wink to the reader that yes,
what we’re asking you to believe here is patently absurd, but play
along with us anyway….
What I DIDN’T like about Marvel titles, however, was that all their
titles were serialized. Not only was this a shameless trick to hook
you into buying the next issue (which was obvious to me even as an
eight-year-old), but after plowing through a solid twenty-two–page
story I wanted some sort of resolution. I wanted “The End,” NOT
“to be cont.”! This approach also made the stories FAR more
involved and convoluted over time, asking the reader to become
far more invested in the characters than I could possibly ever want
to be. The sad thing is, this scam paid off—many of their readers
DID make that investment—and all the other superhero publishers
followed their example. Thus, a huge separation was made between
dedicated superhero-comic fans and the rest of society, as the term
“casual reader” became something of a misnomer. This was also
the beginning of a distinct and recognizable class of humans who
now make up the core of comic fandom, though terms like “nerd”
or “comics geek” didn’t exist at the time. Instead I used to
think of them simply as “weird creepy guys who have
no friends.”
So now these “heroes” in psychedelic ballet costumes
also all had complex, convoluted personal lives, to go
along with their “professional” woes. Gone too was
Stan Lee’s snarky wisecracks, as he replaced himself
with younger writers who not only grew up on this stuff
but who also totally BELIEVED in the Marvel Universe,
and wanted the reader to totally believe as well. The
suspension of disbelief required to become thoroughly
engrossed in these comics had now reached a
level that bordered on the psychotic, and the most
psychotic of all was Marvel’s “flagship” title and
character, Spider-Man.
I was turned off by Spider-Man right from the
start. For one thing, his costume is particularly
ugly (in my opinion, anyway). I also hated the artist who originally drew and co-created the series,
Steve Ditko. This statement will read like sacrilege
to most comic fans, who will prattle on forever about
Ditko’s “compositional skills,” which he indeed did have.
But that was ALL he had. The way he drew FACES, for one
thing…. I’m told Ditko is and always has been a bit of a shut-in,
and I believe it, since I have to wonder if he ever really studied
another human’s face long enough to get a real feel for it. What he
drew instead were COMPOSITES of faces, as if he were a space
alien who needed someone to verbally describe what a human looks
like, or what a “smile” is. This stiffness and formality extended to
the entire human figure, giving everything a cold lifelessness that I
could not find less appealing.
What I now DO find appealing about the early Spider-Man comics
is Stan Lee’s writing. Lee is a bit of a whipping-boy among hardcore
comic fans, since they feel he gets way too much of the credit for
creating the Marvel Universe over Ditko and Kirby, which is true
(though if you ever read anything that the latter two scripted by
themselves you’d have to admit that neither of them had a clue
how to tell an engaging—let alone coherent—story). Stan “the
Man” also has this arrogant, Rolex-watch-flashing, Miami-tanned
mobster persona that’s very easy to loathe. Yet when you read the
early Spidey comics, it’s also obvious that at one time Stan Lee was
some scrawny, Sci-fi–loving Jewish kid named Stanley Leiber, who
most likely adopted a gruff, wiseguy exterior purely as a defense
mechanism at first, until he eventually BECAME that gruff wiseguy.
“Stan the Man” is Stan Lee’s greatest fictional creation of all!
My point is, Peter Parker IS young Stan Leiber, probably even more
that Stan Lee was aware of at the time. It’s like the miserable, insecure young Stanley just sort of leaked out of him, consciously or
not (and I think not, even if he claims otherwise). Unfortunately, he
also felt obliged to make his stand-in, Peter Parker, look and act like
a total goy, and a very handsome one at that, which makes it harder
for me to buy into all that loneliness and alienation jazz. Well, I suppose I’d feel pretty alienated too if I was the only Iowa farm boy to
ever grow up in the heart of Brooklyn, but then you all already know
by now how much I stink at all this suspension-of-disbelief stuff.
What’s really annoying about Peter Parker, however, is the relentless POUTING he indulges in. Except for when he’s in costume,
he rarely gloats or even expresses a single moment of joy over
his super-heroic exploits. Instead, all he can do is dwell on the
downside of his chosen profession. He’s a real glass-half-empty
kind of a guy, totally in need of a serious bitch-slapping. He was at
his worst whenever he was around one of his beautiful girlfriends, at
which point his pout-o-meter would go through the roof…. All these
endless “misunderstandings” that went way beyond his never-ending I-can’t-tell-her-I’m-Spider-Man dilemma. I remember this one
story where a college-aged Peter Parker stood up a girl, and when
she confronted him about it he said nothing—he just stared at the
ground the whole time with this wounded puppy-dog expression
until she stormed away. Only rather than being out all night fighting
crime, it turns out he was up all night cramming for an big exam!
“But why tell her that,” pouted Ol’ Pouty Petey. “She wouldn’t
understand.” She wouldn’t? What’s not to understand?!? But God
forbid he should miss a single opportunity to feel sorry for himself,
even if that opportunity is totally self-created.
At this point you’re probably wondering how a self-described
Spidey-hater like me would know so much about the Spider-Man
“canon.” The reason is that I was hired by Marvel several years ago
to do a one-shot Spider-Man comic,
in my own style and with my own “take” on the
character. I know, I couldn’t believe it either, but this was back when
Marvel was struggling financially and was willing to take a shot at
anything (a situation that quickly resolved itself for them, ironically,
by the enormous success of the first Spider-Man movie that came
out shortly afterwards). My “take” was to use Spider-Man as an
allegory for the whole Stan Lee vs. Steve Ditko back-story, which
involved actually reading all the issues they did together. I also
threw a whole lot of ME into the story, and what I was going through
at the time, which was rather self-indulgent on my part, but who
cares. My editor told me that the readers of the regular Spider-Man
series hated its very existence, since it messed with the fragile suspension-of-disbelief thingie that their pathetic existence so relies on,
so to this day I have no idea who DID buy it!
Reading superhero comics beyond adolescence seemed REALLY
weird to me. Sure, I understood the appeal that these escapist
fantasies can have for some fat ugly kid who can’t throw a baseball. But then, my friends and I were hardly a bunch of “winners”
ourselves—we were all covered in zits and sucked at sports, too!
But none of us retreated into some total make-believe fantasy world
starring a bunch of “heroes” who closely resembled the type of
guys that beat you up every day. We were in the process of finding
and BECOMING ourselves, and not FLEEING from ourselves. It
makes as much sense to me as a teenage girl playing with Barbie
dolls—not merely collecting and dressing them, but acting out
scenarios with them as well, the way little girls do. Superheroes are
kids’ stuff, f’r cryin’ out loud!
Yet what was considered nerdy and pathetic when I was a teen is
now totally acceptable and “cool” in our current infantilized society.
For example, the other night I caught a bit of an awards show on
MTV where the young actor who recently played Batman in the
movies was sharing the stage with the young actor who’d played
Superman in the latest film incarnation of that character. At one
point the Batman actor commented on how the character he plays
is much cooler than Superman, which elicited cheers and jeers
from all the heavily tattooed rappers and rockers in the audience.
The odd thing was, none of it was tongue-in-cheek or played up for
laughs. Everyone was being dead serious regarding this comparison. This country has gone insane.
It’s not just the nerd-ification of America that would explain the huge
popularity of so many superhero movies lately, however. For one
thing, the genre lends itself extremely well to all those computergenerated special effects—effects that also serve the dual purpose
of obliterating dumb stories, bad dialog, and idiotic premises. They
also break a lot of the old comic books “rules” by, say, letting the
hero get laid now and then, or by having the characters make jokes
re: the absurdity of their entire existence, thus expressing a certain
self-awareness that rarely occurred in the comics, if ever. This sort
of rule-breaking drives many of the true believers crazy, and I’d be
willing to give them a certain amount of sympathy because of it if
they weren’t also the same people waiting on line for days to see
these movies. Still, it’s amazing how slavishly true these big-budget
Hollywood flicks are to the superhero source material, Spider-Man
in particular, especially when you consider how much they’ll mess
with everything else. As a non-superhero cartoonist stuck in a
superhero-dominated industry, I’d love to see
them completely mess with Spider-Man
purely out of spite! Yes, I’m bitter, and so
what. Spider-Man still sucks!
Art by (clockwise from top left): Mike
Reddy; Frank Santoro; Matthew Thurber;
Amy Lockhart; John Mathias

Mary Sue, how does she do

I sometimes think when it comes to Mary Sue characters, the best way to tell them is if the writers not only love them a lot but also won’t allow them to logically develop into. Something like how writers never allow Kitty Pryde to become a full-time assassin, in canon. I actually think the real red flag’s that for all her training, she could’ve become the character Psylocke ended up as.

Kitty got ninja skills through brainwashing, Psylocke got it through body-swapping. Add to that she did sport retractile claws at various points should’ve enabled her to render X23 redundant. (That involves a lot of careful thinking really.) As for Barry Allen, he’d actually be DC’s best escape artist if only writers allow it to. Though that involves significantly limiting his powers to simply running as fast as a vehicle.

If Caitlin becomes a werewolf and threatens to kill him, if nobody wants him to kill her he should’ve conned her as to escape in time or even before that. (As velocity increases mass or something, there ought to be storylines where villains lock him up but he escapes by punching through something real hard.) It’s not that Kitty and Barry lack flaws.

But the real red flag’s the inability to take them to where they’d logically become and do. (The real issue’s that fans won’t even like that, which makes it a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.)

Too overpowered

I sometimes think when it comes to defining Mary Sues, it’s sometimes used to disparage characters that unfairly get this (especially Carol Danvers). I actually think she’s not a Mary Sue because she’s been a punching bag (especially for villains and Rogue, and to some extent the writers themselves) for so long that it’s about time to treat her kindly and respectfully. Giving characters flaws and consequences for their actions is the easy one.

Sometimes some characters are Mary Sue because authors won’t take them to where they’d logically become. This isn’t always the case but a surefire sign especially if authors like this character a lot as to avoid taking them to the logical option. I actually think that’s the case with Kitty Pryde where writers seem to like her a lot but to the point of avoiding what she could logically do. If true, this would make the Age of Apocalypse portrayal as assassin the least Mary Sue she’s been.

In the sense of focusing a lot more on stealth and assassination in tandem with a feline nature (retractile claws and going through narrow spaces) that it’s appropriate for her. It would just as appropriate for her to become the character Psylocke ended up as. Psylocke, as initially presented, was a white woman who certainly hadn’t any ninja training until she traded bodies with another woman. Kitty got brainwashed to do ninja stuff and would easily do the things Psylocke ended up doing.

In a way should she use the focused totality of her phasing powers when she’s about to assasinate enemies. Actually she’d also make both Feral and X23 redundant if only writers stuck to giving her claws and that she’s already got a feline name that she’d actually be Feral (there are some attempts at making her more feline). Some stories do treat her as a female Wolverine, right before X23 came into being.

That she’s closely associated with Wolverine still makes me think she’d have no issues with stabbing people brutally (again she’d make both Psylocke and X23 redundant if they let her become a clawed asssasin). Likewise writers are often tempted to make Tim Drake evil. It’s not that he lacks flaws but if he’s intended to be likable that makes it harder for some people to trust him. Especially if it feels manipulative that Tim Drake being shady is understandable.

It’s not that he should become evil. I’d rather have him do things that he thinks seems good but bothers people (just like in the real world). Something like poisoning animals to keep them from attacking him but ends up angering Stephanie a lot. (It could happen though.) That would mean even if Tim meant well, he’d become responsible for his own actions should it bother others.

Even if Tim isn’t evil, given the repeated attempts at making him so having him do shady things to do what seems good to him does make him less of a Mary Sue. But in the sense of facing the consequences for his actions, especially if it angers people like his girlfriend. Though that would mean either writers have spoilt him a lot or that Tim would have to actually have some unlikable tendencies to do what he thinks is good.

(Like everybody else.)

As for Barry Allen, whether if he’s a Mary Sue or not’s up to anybody’s guess. The real issue isn’t so much that he lacks a personality but rather he lacks a personality beyond being an idealised reader surrogate. Make him more than that and some readers would take issue with it. Again it’s not that he lacks flaws and personality but that the real issue’s that he’s so stuck in the idealised fanboy role that it’s about time to go beyond it.

Not so much to become unrecognisable though I think if people were to turn him into a surrogate for either Red Riding Hood or arguably Dante that Barry would inevitably develop his own mind either way anyways. In the sense of what else they can do about him other than doing super speed feats. Though that would necessitate going by whatever’s logically expected in a story.

As well as having to tone down the speed feats or at least provide realistic consequences (though writers tried). Something like that he can run as fast as a van, which’s highly plausible as well as no phasing, tornadoes and the like. In fact he could easily be an escape artist if only writers let him be. (Again that would necessitate having him go where he’s logically expected to.)

Something like Caitlin’s now a werewolf and she’s about to attack him. If noboby wants Barry to kill her, he might as well con her as to allow himself to escape in time or even before that. I actually think the tendency to make him so OP might be partly because having him become an escapologist wouldn’t just necessitate writers to tone it down.

It has to be the other man

As for Marvel Comics, assuming if most people don’t read comics let alone on a frequent basis (as they have other things to do like gardening and helping their family out), it’s not always people’s fault for ignoring such things. Especially if they’re not that exposed to it often. Another’s a matter of narrative practicality.

Though I haven’t watched the film, I get the impression of choosing the thief over the scientist to be rather sensible in that it would be easier for a crook to shrink as to bypass things to get something and get away with it. Hank Pym was there in the cartoons. Another’s that some staff on the Ant-Man preferred Scott Lang more.

So it’s both practicality and somebody’s bias that mad Scott Lang the star instead.