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Saturday Night with the Fashion Police

A couple of weeks ago, I did a column about comics fans and the suspension of disbelief, and how a willingness to ‘just go with it’ is a prerequisite for enjoying a superhero story in the first place.

But that doesn’t mean fans accept just anything. For example, there’s this conversation, from a bunch of us sitting around at a campground barbecue a few years ago in San Diego. The group included several working writers, a couple of graphic designers, and one who actually went on to become a moderately famous fashion writer. This is the actual conversation, to the best of my recollection… but I omitted the names because I don’t want anyone to hold this against any of us.

*

“Okay, somebody explain this to me. Why does Batman even have a cape? What good is it?”

“Because without it he wouldn’t look like a giant bat. That’s the whole point. Bruce sees the bat, he dresses up like a bat. ‘Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly, lot— I shall become a BAT!’ You know that.”

“But he’s not dressed like a bat. He’s dressed like a pro wrestler with pointy ears.”

Masked wrestler, vampire bat. Be honest-- which one looks more like Batman?

“So what? You want him to add the snout and the fur and all of that? They did that in the Stan Lee Just Imagine book. That was by Joe Kubert, who’s a frigging comics genius, and it still looked bad.”

“Kubert rules.”

“Of course he rules. That’s not the point. The point is that dressing up like an actual bat with the fur and everything is so dumb that Joe fucking Kubert couldn’t make it work. It’s not practical.”

Say what you want about JUST IMAGINE, but you gotta give it up for Lee and Kubert nailing Batman's masked-wrestler vibe right out of the gate.

“Seriously? Not practical? That’s what you’re going with?”

“I dunno, what were we arguing about?”

“Capes!! I’m trying to tell you that it’s dumb for Batman to wear a cape! It doesn’t make any sense!”

“You’re wrong, it is practical.”

Much snorting. “No WAY is that cape practical. It’s, like, thirty feet wide.”

“Depends who’s drawing it.”

“Batman’s cape gets bigger every year. Look at Adams back in the 70s and then look at what Breyfogle is doing now. Breyfogle’s is like he tied a goddamn yacht sail around his neck.”

“No, really, it is practical! He uses it to hide, he uses it as a sort of half-assed glider. It’s functional, not fashion. He uses the cape the same as the belt and all the gimmicks, it’s part of his arsenal. Case closed.”

See? Scary AND practical!

“I think he’s got you there. If he’s actually using it…”

“First of all, the whole gliding thing is crap, all right? I actually had a Bat cape when I was a kid and the first thing I tried was gliding and it’s bullshit. Went down like a rock.”

Oh, this is not going to end well AT ALL....

“Oh, so you’re the guy. All those years of parents being freaked out… It’s your fault we got stuck with H.E.R.B.I.E. the Robot in the Fantastic Four cartoon instead of the Torch. All those years of protesting kids couldn’t be that dumb and it turns out they could. Thanks a lot, shithead.”

“Hey, it’s not like I tried to set myself on FIRE. It was just jumping off a fence.”

“Somebody should set that shirt on fire.”

“What? I paid a lot for this shirt! It’s very fashionable!”

“Dude, you were robbed. It’s an orange Hawaiian shirt.”

“Not even real orange. That’s, like, Tang orange.”

“Shut up about my shirt, damn it!”

“Getting back to the point, if you get right down to it, most superhero costumes are ridiculous. When superheroes were getting started back in the 1930s the costumes were usually modeled after circus acrobats. Back then circus entertainers had the same kind of glamor that TV and movie people do now.”

If superhero fashion is not your thing... well, you can blame these guys.

“Yeah, and now we’re stuck with it. I guess we should be grateful those guys didn’t try to incorporate the feathers and sequins too.”

“But the cape thing is the part I don’t get. Even the 1930s circus people knew to take the damn capes off before they went swinging on trapezes or whatever. It’s totally in the way. I defy anyone to actually pull off actual kung fu moves with a giant Bat cape flapping around behind him.”

“You know who’s worse than Batman? Nightwing. This is the kid that Batman trained and his first solo outfit is completely screwing up his peripheral vision with that collar. It’s like the cone the vet puts on your dog’s collar to keep him from licking at the surgical scar.”

There IS a certain similarity.

“Maybe Nightwing was worried he might try to lick himself.”

“Maybe DICK was worried about licking DICK!”

“You guys did not just go there.”

“They totally did.”

“Jesus, Wertham was right about comics fans after all.”

“Nightwing’s collar isn’t so bad. Mister Miracle’s collar, though, is heinous.”

The real miracle of Mister Miracle is that his cape never gets caught on anything... and that he can still see around that collar well enough to navigate his aero-discs.

“Oh, God. Mister Miracle’s costume hurts my eyes. It’s the worst costume ever.”

“This from the guy in the Tang shirt.”

“Shut up about my shirt!”

“No, seriously, you want to see a dog-cone collar, you want Doctor Strange as rendered by Gene Colan. The way he drew the Cloak of Levitation, that collar looks like it weighs fifteen pounds and it completely cuts off his vision. It HAS to levitate or Dr. Strange couldn’t even stand up with that thing around his neck.”

Possibly the record for biggest superhero dog-cone collar.

“I’ll tell you how you solve the cape problem with Batman. You do the Batman Beyond thing, with the retractable glider things.”

Batcape problem SOLVED!

“Armpit wings are even worse than capes.”

“What, you tried to fly with those too? Did you just have a death wish when you were little?”

“Armpit wings are stupid!”

“Nightwing did armpit wings too, right?”

“Nightwing’s history is a history of every fashion crime ever committed in comics. Dog-cone collar, armpit wings, mullet, ponytail…”

You know what Nightwing apparently NEVER sees in front of him? A MIRROR!

“Say what you want about Dick Grayson, but he’d never be caught dead in that shirt.”

“You guys, this shirt is the latest thing in east coast fashion circles!”

“Yeah, because some designer in New York thought, ‘What’s missing from my line? Hawaiian shirts covered in Tang.’ ”

“Armpit wings can work. Banshee looks okay.”

“Seriously? BANSHEE? If you want to talk about a costume that’s just fugly… and also, if he uses them to fly he can’t move, he has to keep his arms spread out like a kite. A really ugly green-and-yellow kite.”

They're not actually wincing at the noise. It's the outfit.

“Don’t forget the bright orange hair with the bouffant flip. Worst-dressed hero ever.”

“He has to keep his arms spread out? Really? Because he moves in mid-air all the time, he has dogfights.”

Silence for a moment as all consider this.

“I dunno. I mean, he moves, but the arms are spread out…”

Not even the movie version could clear this up for us, sadly.

“I don’t get how he can fly AND talk. I don’t know about the dogfight part but I know he screams and talks at the same time.”

“It’s his mutation. Maybe he has two throats.”

“All Claremont’s characters have two throats, it’s why they’re so chatty.”

“Oooooo, Claremont BURN!”

“I don’t think modern comics artists have any grasp of fashion or design at all. If they did we’d never get outfits like Jericho or Gambit or any of the other hideousness we’ve had in the last twenty years. The X-Men movie had it right. Lose the costumes.”

“Yeah, but you know what they didn’t lose?”

“The lame love triangle?”

“Capes! Storm had a cape, Magneto had a cape…”

They ROCKED those capes, too.

“He’s got you there. Again.”

“I don’t even know why I try to argue with you guys. Like comics fans have any fashion sense at all.”

“I know enough not to wear a cape to a fistfight. I’d get my ass kicked.”

“If you wore the Bat cape you could use it to lurk in the shadows. Then you’d be safe.”

“Yeah, because the bad guys will be all, ‘Where’d he go? All I can see is that lump in the corner covered in blue satin!'”

“The Bat cape is black now.”

“Fine, black satin.”

All I know is that I'd get MY ass kicked no matter which one I was wearing.

“Look, be realistic. I’d get my ass kicked no matter what. So would you guys. Because we’re out-of-shape comics geeks. The cape thing is just part of the suspension of disbelief. You just have to go with it. Besides, they look cool.”

“I’m in shape. I go to the gym.”

“You HAVE to stay in shape, wearing shirts like that. I’m surprised no bullies assaulted you on the way here.”

“Shut UP about my shirt!”

“Never mind the capes. You know what really gets to me? Wonder Woman and that goddamn star-spangled swimsuit.”

“Now that is a completely stupid costume.”

“Oh, don’t get me started on Wonder Woman…”

But it was too late. We had already gotten started. And so it went, long into the night.

*

I don’t miss going to the San Diego Con. I sure miss the beachside barbecue fanboy wrangles, though.

See you next week.

35 Comments

I like the Captain America-as-Nomad story where he tries a cape for one issue, trips on it once, then discards it.

I also think that a cape is ludicrous for a hand to hand fighter. It’s ok for someone like Doctor Strange who hangs back away from the melee and casts spells. However, there’s an issue of Ghost Rider from the early 80s where he starts strangling Doctor Strange with his cape. As a guy who has experience with jiujitsu, I often wonder why this doesn’t happen in comics more often. You’d think people would be getting strangled with their capes left and right.

I asked my friend once why don’t the criminals just grab Batman’s cape. He gave me the best response I could imagine, “dude, do you really want to be the guy who grabs Batman’s cape?”

As for superhero costumes in general, there are some practical ones. Anything that doesn’t have a cape, or weird headgear (like Batman’s bat ears or wolverines mask), and adequately protects its wearer is practical. Spider-Man’s costume (minus the underarm webbing that is impractical), the FF uniform, and the Punisher’s skull shirt.

I meant to say that Spidey’s outfit, the FF uniform, and the Punisher’s outfit are practical superhero costumes. The Punisher doesn’t really wear a costume, but he does wear an emblem, which I guess is meant to strike fear in his enemies just like the Batsuit.

Me, I think they have capes because it’s too hard to draw all the backgrounds all the time.

I liked the idea for this column, but I hated the made-up conversation that went along with it. It just feels contrived.

I hated the made-up conversation…

This is what I get for not scanning the photos of everyone all beered up and gesturing wildly at one another as the argument ramps up. Serves me right for being a nice guy.

Like it or not as you please, but I didn’t make it up. The CBR parties we used to have at SDCC had many silly conversations, but they did really happen. I edit, and I may misremember bits of them, but the gist of it I will vouch for as truth.

Colour schemes of FF and Punisher are not the best ones though, white emblems on dark background is effectively wearing bullseye on your chest. For FF it doesn’t really matter (the stealthy member becomes invisible, the others are not bothered by bullets or getting noticed is something that happens to them anyway) but for Punisher…

Mister Miracle’s costume is one of my all time favorites. I’d give him a pass since it’s supposed to be a circus costume anyway.

It’s very hard to pull off that color combination, but Kirby really made it work (for me at least).

As Edna Mode said it: “No Cape !”

Oh, man. I almost spit out the bite of apple I was chewing on when I saw the comparison of those big super-hero collars to dog cones. So true!
(Also, just as an aside, I really enjoyed most of the Just Imagine stories.)
By the way, Greg, keep the installments of that campground conversation coming – it’s hilarious. Reminds me of so many similar conversations I’d participated in since from college onward, covering such deeply intellectual topics like Star Trek, the Brady Bunch, Scooby Doo, etc. How many snippets have you (publicly) recounted so far? I remember one from a few years back having to do with the Spectre. Were there any more? Did you post a complete version elsewhere?

Can we at least get a photo of the awful shirt?

I require DNA samples before I will believe your blatant lies, Greg!

In Amazing Heroes#119 in 1987 (two years before the Michael Keaton film), Max Allan Collins had an interview. He said the following:

“I’m afraid what I’m running smack up into is the old Batman TV show controversy: the old business about, Gee that was a TV show that made fun of Batman and made fun of comic books, so we have to show people that Batman and comic books are serious and they’re adult and accordingly all the fun goes out of it. There was a reason why that TV show was played for laughs and that is when you put actual human beings in those costumes and act out those stories, it looks stupid. They betray their juvenile roots”.

Collins did not consider, it would appear, that toyline tie-ins would trump other considerations. Ever wonder why, once Schumacher got the “keys to the car”, that even B & R had multiple costumes in the same film? We have reached the point where film and TV protagonists who do not wear outlandish costumes (the Lone Ranger, the Green Hornet, Joe Friday, the Shadow, the Spirit and to a lesser degree Zorro) have ended up marginalized in recent decades with atrocious films, films that had mediocre to wretched films box office wise in recent years.

I would not be the one to tell Etrigan his cape looks stupid.

I require DNA samples before I will believe your blatant lies, Greg!

This from the guy that got drunk-dialed from the 2005 party. That was to resolve the argument over whether Brian was real or some sock-puppet house identity we had created at CBR. I think it was Bib who said, “I’ve got his number, let’s call him!” Which is how Brian got rousted at God-knows-what East Coast time so a bunch of CBR regulars could say hi to him (and verify his existence) as the cell phone got passed around.

I still think you’re all just devious cyber-clones of Travis Pelkie (he said he’d pay me to say that; let’s see if the drillrod actually keeps his end of the deal)

You guys are trying way too hard here. Is there an older superhero joke than the stupid costumes? Keep beating your dead horse, maybe throw in some homophobic Batman jokes to break it up, no one has ever heard those.

Costumes and multipe costumes of course serve merchandising better. Children tend to desire different shapes, colors, etc.

I dunno, back in the day when me and my friends collected Batman: The Animated Series toys, they had Batmen of all different colors, with all sorts of gliders and missile launchers and scuba gear. But we didn’t want any of those. No, the holy grail was standard, default, gray-and-black Batman. And you couldn’t find it ANYWHERE. Of course, you needed some kind of Batman to punch the Penguin, so we all had some kind of neon striped gimmicky Batman. But we were always bitter about it.

I’ve been to one of these cookouts. The conversation was not only spot on, but I was able to match some of the lines to actual people.

Many a lampshade has been hung on the details of superhero fashion. I remember Batman explaining that his yellow emblem is intentionally a target that he has heavily reinforced and he uses his cape to distract his opponents when they are firing on him, although I don’t remember which writers were responsible for the explanations. I wouldn’t mind if Batman broke the fourth wall and explained that he wears what he wears because he’s the Goddam Batman, although Frank Miller seems to have lost interest in the character and it’s more a Deadpool move anyway.

MarkBlack, if you think Greg’s conversation was contrived, I wonder if you’ve been a comic book fan very long, or if you’ve been hanging out with comic book fans for very long. I believe that Greg may not have transcribed such a conversation verbatim, but I’ll bet I could overhear a similar conversation in any of my regular haunts with little prompting. I’m not calling out your comic book fanboyness, I’m just saying Greg’s experience easily fits in my perspective.

This from the guy that got drunk-dialed from the 2005 party. That was to resolve the argument over whether Brian was real or some sock-puppet house identity we had created at CBR. I think it was Bib who said, “I’ve got his number, let’s call him!” Which is how Brian got rousted at God-knows-what East Coast time so a bunch of CBR regulars could say hi to him (and verify his existence) as the cell phone got passed around.

Clearly more of your lies! As if there was a real person named “Bib.”

finaly nice to know there are others who think nightwings out fits are the true fashion sins and banshee must really truely have two throats to be able to not only talk with out shattering the ear drums of every one but also that cape. though the only thing wrong with wonder womans out fit is she is just asking for a ticket for indicent exposure.

How many snippets have you (publicly) recounted so far? I remember one from a few years back having to do with the Spectre. Were there any more? Did you post a complete version elsewhere?

Here and here. It’s not one conversation… (“Third Rail” is more of a mashup of SEVERAL conversations over the years) but most of these are drawn from my memories from the Saturday night CBR barbecues that our friends the MacQuarries would host during Comic-Con in San Diego, for those of us that wanted to get away from the craziness of the hall and in particular, the masquerade. This was an annual event from 1999 to around 2005. Julie was with me for the last two; ’04 was actually sort of a honeymoon trip for us, and also Brandon (artist on Comic Critics) actually proposed to his wife Nicole at one. They were great fun and though I have no interest in attending the gigantic event that the San Diego Comic-Con has become, I miss the CBR barbecues. I keep nagging those folks to come see us at the Emerald City Show, but that’s a different vibe; we still have a CBR dinner on Saturday night that Kurt Mitchell kind of masterminds for us, but for Julie and me that’s a working show and we’re pretty wiped out. Also, we’re a decade older and we just don’t have the stamina to stay up all night arguing about DC canon the way we used to. Still, it’s kind of in that ballpark.

As for why I write up one every so often, usually it’s because something triggers a memory. This time it’s because the fashion writer got a book deal and the book is going to be illustrated by one of the artists that was also at that gathering, and I thought, “Damn, we’ve come a long way since the night we were all bellowing about superhero fashion and Hal Jordan and revenge sex.” The memory of THAT was too funny not to share, but I only did the fashion part because the other topics would be libelous were I to try and reproduce them verbatim.

That’s usually the problem. I’d love to write up the one where one of our number advanced the theory that working in comics made you mentally ill and then we took turns producing example after example that the group then ruled on, but there’s NO WAY that’s not libel. But if you know anything about comics professionals and the history of comic books in America I daresay you can imagine how it went.

“I remember Batman explaining that his yellow emblem is intentionally a target that he has heavily reinforced”

joshschr,

this is from Frank Miller’s ‘The Dark Knight’.

The dialog in this column sounds like children arguing. Not even adolescent. I waded through it because I agree that capes are unrealistic. I don’t believe super-hero comics should be realistic. Super-hero comics should be fantastic. I read super-hero comics for mind-boggling fantasy, not realism. A good artist can draw capes in such a way to add drama and emotion, so I like capes (Neal Adams-size, though, not Breyfogle-trip-over-yourself size).

Enjoyed your photos and scans, Greg! Especially the boy jumping off the roof, and the dog-cone which some of these super-hero collars truly resemble.

I agree with the comment that Mr. Miracle’s costume is one of the ugliest costumes ever designed. It ranks (pun intended) right down there with Firestorm and the current Blue Beetle. These three costumes turn me off so bad, I refuse to read any comic with them in it. My “suspension of belief” breaks down when I see horrible costume designs.

Historically, capes and cloaks served as protection. From cold, from rain, and occasionally from attack. The bulk of a heavy cloak make knowing where to stab or punch difficult, and also acted as soft armor. Gentlemen who were attacked while wearing lighter cloaks would draw knife or sword with strong hand while quickly whipping the cloak/cape around their off forearm to use for blocking.

Batman, huddled on a roof in the cold, pouring rain, can use his cape as both concealment and protection from the elements.

Of course, any costumed character who wears a cape should have the sense to attach it with snaps or some such.

Wait, what am I paying you to say, Becca? Because you left out the “stunningly handsome” part of the description of the hivemind notated as “Travis Pelkie”.

I’ll have to write you an IOU.

And again, drillrod was my nickname in college.

But this was a fun little column. I remembered the one about tugging on Superman’s cape, too.

I’d say mullet Nightwing is better than mullet Superman, but both are trumped by mullet Lou Reed, who put out the New York and Magic and Loss albums in that era. Totally awesome.

At these rates, you can’t always expect accurate quotes, Travis…

And I can’t believe I didn’t think about this earlier, but the person in the awful orange shirt is the fashion writer, isn’t it? It’s that irony that the kids all love.

Here’s the thing about the Edna Mode ‘No Capes’ thing.
If she’s such a bloody fashion guru… if she can invent bulletproof cloth… or cloth that can turn invisible… why hasn’t she mastered the concept of the ‘snap-release clasp’?

Capes are awesome.
The Shadow knows.

And I can’t believe I didn’t think about this earlier, but the person in the awful orange shirt is the fashion writer, isn’t it? It’s that irony that the kids all love.

To this day he insists it was very chic and we are all just Philistines. But once the Tang comparison was made, none of us could see anything else.

That explains why fashion magazine layouts are so weird. And why glamourpuss’s satire of same isn’t all that weird.

I still maintain that cloaks are practical things. I think I proved my point when I curled up in mine and slept it in it. :p Also, there are European sword fighting styles that actually rely on a cloak or cape, partially as a distracting element.

People whining that the conversation couldn’t have actually happened or doesn’t sound adult enough clearly do not have enough fun in their lives. I so miss Camp CBR and Weenie Roast. The ECCC dinner is nice, but it’s almost impossible to hear anyone more than two seats away.

As both Former US Navy EOD and a Renaissance Faire/Pirate stage show performer (started as a rennie then joined the Navy) I feel equally informed enough to comment on the cape and Punisher/Bat emblem debate. As far as the Bright Punisher/Bat emblem goes, in the Navy we were taught during night ops to never clip your flashlight to your Kevlar (helmet) and instead clip it center mass in front of your ceramic chest plate because the enemy will aim at the brightest point of a dark target. As for the cloak/cape debate, in renaissance era Spanish style épée combat using a rapier and offhand weapon (be it a main-gauche or some other parrying dagger) or a buckler/boss/targe, a cloak or cape was often used to conceal an attack or the drawing of a weapon, not to mention as soft protection from slashing weapons (often small link chain-mail was sown into cloaks as hidden protection over vital areas. Also in some fighting styles lead weights were sown into the bottom hem of capes/cloaks to be used as a weapon in itself.

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