Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
It was fashion week in New York City this past week and that, plus my love of Dean Trippe’s wonderful superhero re-design website Project Rooftop had me thinking about the great hits and misses of superheroine fashion. So in honor of Fashion Week and Brian’s month of Top Fives I thought I’d do a nice light post about some of my favorite female superhero costumes…really just an excuse to post a lot of fantastic images.
I kept the list to five…but then added about a million honorable mentions…because, well, because I’m a terrible editor…the secret is out. Oooh, and if you think I could keep my big mouth shut about a few costumes I think are in desperate need of an update…you’d be wrong…they’re at the bottom (where they belong). Bwahahaha!
Onto the list!
5. Rogue. Rogue’s had some major hits and misses over the years, but a few really worked for me. My favorite is likely when Bachalo brought back the pared down green and white color scheme as well as the hood (which was also a nice nod to the film). The simplified colors, full coverage it offered, and the fact that it had an awesome hood (and we all know everything with a hood is instantly at least 5 times more awesome) make this a slam dunk for me. However, it’s true that not every artist could handle this costume as well as Bachalo. The current version is actually not terrible – it keeps the nice green and white scheme and while I could do without the giant X target on her chest, I can appreciate the attempt at creating something more iconic with the symbol prominently displayed. The boots, gloves, and extra-long tunic/shirt with pants is nice and highly functional. The fact that costume zips up has been problematic for Rogue (and many other ladies – most notably Black Widow and Catwoman) in the hands of a variety of artists (you know who you are gentleman) so that’s not great, but otherwise it’s not a bad update. It definitely beats that blue and red atrocity she wore in X-Treme X-Men – but what doesn’t?
The real problem with Rogue’s costumes – and really with most of the Marvel heroines as I went through trying to find something that spoke to me powerfully is that there aren’t many really iconic costumes for women in the Marvel Universe. At first I thought it was true with the men as well, but between Spider-Man, Wolverine, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor…yeah, the boys are pretty well covered. Ironically, one of the most iconic costumes I think the Marvel U has to offer for the ladies is Ms. Marvel (fitting considering the title I guess) but it’s not a costume I care for much. It’s been growing on me as I’ve come to like the character more…but I certainly can’t put it on a list yet.
4. Big Barda. Barda’s costume is one that would likely look ridiculous on anyone BUT Big Barda. She somehow manages to pull it off beautifully. There’s a few too many bright colors for my tastes, but she gets points for going bold. Most importantly I love that Barda’s costume functions as full body armor – complete with practical shoes. A warrior of Barda’s level shouldn’t praise fashion over function but it’s nice to see that she manages to merge the two regardless. As for the “bikini version”…I call this underwear…but whatever…at least it’s awesome looking battle underwear! You know how awesome big Barda is? She even has a my little pony version of herself. AND while we’re looking at awesome hilarious stuff – did any of you see this great Wonder Woman/Big Barda bit that Polly Guo did after the Wonder Woman “new costume controversy”? Fantastically fun.
3. Catwoman. Selina’s had a few great costumes – mostly via animation – her Batman The Animated Series costume and her sadly never used Catwoman Animated Series costume and her Gotham Girls and New Adventures of Batman (which are quite similar) costumes all stand out as particularly wonderful pared down looks that deliver. She’s also had a few terrible ones – what’s up with that purple dress as costume? Disgraceful. But her current version has got to be my favorite – functional and sexy but mostly, uber-cool – especially the sweet goggles, combat boots, and silver hardware (belt, zipper, etc.). It’s much more believable and practical for a thief to have tools with her – something that the pared down sleek looks never provided. Of course with Selina we run into the zipper problem again and its indeterminate level of unzip…but she still rates on the list. And it’s interesting to me that her costume feels pretty iconic – and always has – regardless of variations and despite the absence of a symbol of any kind. Food for thought.
2. Wonder Woman. OH THE CONTROVERSY! Yeah, but love the strapless swimsuit or hate it – it’s powerfully iconic and known all over the world instantly. And in the hands of a lesser hero maybe I’d hate it, but Diana’s been rocking this look pretty consistently in one form or another for nearly seventy years now. I will say this – I always found Wonder Woman’s costume kind of silly – until I fell in love with the character and once that happened I found it mostly awesome and suddenly felt even a little protective about it. Do I think maybe she should have some pants and straps? Sure. Do I think it’s possible to design something excellent that offers a little bit more practicality? Sure. Do I think it ruins the power of that iconic image to not have those things? No.
I do have one question though…I keep seeing people refer to Wondy’s costume as a bikini…we all know this isn’t a bikini, right?
1. Batwoman. I wrote in December that Batwoman (via Detective Comics) was the superhero book I’ve been waiting for my whole life – and no small part of that were the visuals. And no small part of the visuals was the thought, consideration, and just straight up fantastic design skill that went into designing a nearly perfect female superhero costume.
From the materials and colors to the traditional bat cape and pouches for gear, Kat’s costume feels 100% bat and yet also 100% HER. Some people don’t like the slightly pointy breasts of the costume, but it doesn’t bother me…it’s a specific look and I don’t find it distracting overall. The costume well considers the history and origin, it considers Kate’s personality and lifestyle, it considers functionality and practicality – flat thick tread boots, gloves, mask, cape, belt – it’s all been painstakingly considered…and then made iconic and inspiring at the same time. And never is it more important for something to ooze iconic than in Gotham where intimidation and awe is half the battle. I think in a world of too few truly iconic looks for superhero women, one of the ways that the Batwoman look succeeds where Wonder Woman stumbles is that it restrains itself and doesn’t go for overt sexiness. There’s this seeming need to sex things up when it comes to female superheroes and miss out on what actually works. I don’t really have a problem with Diana wearing a swimsuit – she is nearly invulnerable of course – but it just doesn’t make much sense that she’d want to wear a glorified bathing suit in her daily life. It would have been easy for the Batwoman costume to be sexed up (Huntress and her ridiculous hot pants and bare midriff? Give me Cully Hamner’s version any day!) but they restrained themselves and made something lasting and beautiful that also makes sense.
Batwoman is already inspiring some great artists to share their takes on her look – Project Rooftop has a handful of excellent ones – below are a few of my favorites from Project Rooftop and elsewhere on the web.
Renee Montoya as The Question: Another area in which creators could have tried to sex things up, but instead did the right thing and stuck with the classic look – realizing that the look of The Question was more important than what gender was inside.
Atom Eve: A costume I should hate for all its pink swimsuit impractical cape’s silliness. But I find it kind of adorable. The tiny cape, the great symbol, and the boldness for a superhero to pick an all pink costume (and to do so as a natural redhead). But it works, and I kind of love it for bucking the trend. It doesn’t hurt that the image below is by Joel Carroll who could make trashbags look adorable.
Monica Rambeau (aka Photon aka Captain Marvel): And if you think it takes balls to wear an all pink costume…then imagine what it takes to wear all white? How do you get blood and grass stains, not to mention rubble out of white? I love the simplicity in Rambeau’s costume, very pared down and functional, but effective.
Black Canary: Black Canary is down here and not up above because how much I love or hate Dinah’s costume seems entirely dependent on the artist drawing her. Marcos Martin’s tough and determined Dinah? Awesome. Cliff Chiang’s torn up fishnets Dinah? Awesome. Justice League Unlimited’s sexy pared down non-fishnets version? Awesome. A lot of others? Not so awesome.
Cass Cain’s Batgirl: A costume that perfectly fit her character both in personality and physicality. Also, scary as all get out – as a bat SHOULD be. Here’s a note Steph…the purple? Not so scary, and best left on your frankly, kind of awesome (when it was done right) Spoiler costume. While you’re at it, lose the thigh pouch. Also, have you guys seen this Joel Carroll updated Cass Cain Batgirl? I think I’d pull out the yellow for grey or something less bright, but otherwise – fantastic!
Emma Frost (Frank Quitely version): Most impractical costume ever? Sure. But it’s an X made out of FLESH?! Who is ballsy enough to do that other than Emma Frost (and apparently Frank Quitely)? I’m a pretty vocal proponent of less hypersexualization of our female characters, however I’m also a pretty vocal advocate of ‘context is everything’ and as such Emma Frost is a character that I completely believe would design and wear this costume. The same way that I don’t believe that Rogue would unzip her costume to her belly button and then run off to have a serious discussion with Cyclops about battle strategy. It’s also about context in that oversaturation is our biggest problem. I can buy Emma Frost in this Quitely look, I can buy Poison Ivy running around naked…but I can’t buy those things as easily when I’m also surrounded by thongs, thigh highs, fishnets, stilettos, boob holes, bikinis, unzipped catsuits, plunging necklines, mini-skirts and bare midriffs left right and center on every other lady as well. Context is everything people.
As a last word on this costume specifically…though it gets flack, it’s one of the more modern and “fashion forward” looks I’ve seen in comics in the last 10 years, practicality be damned.
The Ladies of DV8 – Freestyle, Copycat, Bliss, and Sublime: These looks skirt the line between regular clothes and costumes, and I kind of love that about them – they feel modern and wearable but also perfectly appropriate for being dropped onto an alien planet and becoming gods. You know…it’s good for clothes to be flexible.
Who is most in need of a costume overhaul? Who do I wish the most excellent Project Rooftop would tackle next? Oh man…the list…it’s so long! Should it be Psylocke, who, poor dear, has NEVER had a good costume and has been stuck in the same bathing suit/thong for what…nearly 20 years? Should it be Star Sapphire and her silliness that has never seemed to fit her personality…or anything else for that matter (puns!). Should it be Power Girl so she can be relieved of the oh so tired giant boob hole? What about Ayla Ranzz who desperately needs some pants?
All right, I’m going to pick one from each of the big two. For Marvel I’m going with:
Valkyrie: In part because I like Val so much and in part because it’s just hard to take her seriously with that crazy pointy breast plate. It looks ridiculous even in the hands of the best artists (case in point – Mike McKone’s recent – stunning – rendering of her below). Additionally, Chris Bachalo did a great take on her (also below) which was a slightly revised look that really rocked (although maybe it would not in a lesser artist’s hands) but even he still had trouble negotiating the pointy breastplate. The latest take – pretty cool looking cover art from Jay Anacleto (also below) for the upcoming Valkyrie one-shot – tries to do something different but fails horribly as I think it’s maybe even weirder looking than the old version. Surely there’s a way to update this look to retain it’s hardcore warrior battle aspects without looking like Valkyrie has boobs that are going to take out someone’s eye…right?
For DC I’m going to go a bit controversial:
Supergirl: Supergirl’s costume is certainly iconic thanks to the great big S symbol, and there’s nothing horribly wrong with it (well, not like poor Star Sapphire) and in Igle’s hands it’s become MUCH more appropriate…but it’s just terribly boring. And really – I want to say – tragically unhip? It looks like a cheap cheerleading uniform and our girl deserves more. It’s also wildly impractical what with its silly exposed midriff and skirt (why on earth does someone that flies want to wear a skirt?). Also? There’s just so many great versions ALREADY out there – from Project Rooftop alone we’ve got Mike Wieringo’s bold version, Dean Trippe’s modified classic version, and Ross Campbell’s badass version.
There’s also Corey Walker’s MANY versions of Supergirl – a few of which are below and most of which are a massive improvement from both a fashion AND function point of view. I’ve love to see DC take a run with one of these. If that first one was shorts instead of a skirt…I think I’d marry it.
Man…now all I wanna do is draw superheroes all day. So what do you guys think? What are some of your favorites? Least favorites?
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