"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Comic Books, Film
As ridiculous as it is to compare superhero comic books to the real world, there is one area in which I can’t help but do so, and that is in the ways in which nudity is treated. Within the logic of superhero universes, the implications of and reactions to nudity are radically different to our own. It is generally acknowledged that revealing clothing and near-nudity is one of the ways in which women can be objectified, i.e. turned into objects of desire instead of complex, human adults. However, in writing about the nudity of some of my favorite superheroes, I began to see another way which nudity can be used; as a signifier of power and outsider status. Continue Reading »
It’s Christmas Eve and if you’re reading this, then you’re looking for a distraction and you’ve found it! Print out and make these superhero-themed snowflakes, they will keep your loved ones busy for at least an hour. Just like last year, each one is based on a different hero, this time we’ve got; Captain Marvel, The Flash, Spider-Man, Phoenix, and Wolverine.
Last week I went to see the opening of an exhibition of William Wray’s paintings. Having a passing acquaintance with his wild cartoon style I wasn’t sure what to expect, and the last thing I anticipated was a deeply touching commentary on the human condition through the medium of the California landscape and popular American superheroes.
William Wray’s paints portraits of superheroes in the context of the real world. They are heartbreakingly human, depicted in simple moments looking lost, alone, and bone-tired. Whether slouched in a corner or simply walking down a dilapidated street, Wray’s superheroes are anything but super, their bright suits standing out garishly against the faded colors of their surroundings. His perverse sense of humor and affection for the subject matter allows Wray to depict this pathos without it becoming unbearable to look at, it is as if he has taken the sting out of the reality he is forcing us to acknowledge. Continue Reading »
With Tony Stark doing a “I AM IRON MAN” all over the place, it’s hard to remember a time when a threat to reveal a secret identity could be the entire plot of a comic book. Nowadays no one seems to want to deal with secret identities, maybe it’s too implausible (sure, because otherwise super powered heroes are everywhere, *ahem*), or unfashionable as reality shows and social networks blur the line between public and private lives. On some level there is seems to be assumption that fame is desirable for everyone, even if the cost is a person’s privacy (or in the case of a superhero; the safety of loved ones).
Whatever the reason, the secret identity aspect of superheroes just isn’t a very big deal right now, but the superhero secret identity is a powerful metaphor on many levels, and one which ought to become an important device again soon. Primarily, the secret identity is an excellent metaphor for our own dual lives on and offline. There is increasing interest in reserving our privacy as we lose more and more of it to voluntarily to social networks, to (hopefully benign) NSA information mining, and to smart phone location-sharing. Moving on from these obvious correlations between online privacy and a secret identity, it is also a potent metaphor for the way a large proportion of people deal with an “invisible” long-term disease, like mental illnesses or chronic pain management. Continue Reading »
Since it’s Christmas (whether celebrating it or not) I thought I’d forego my usual Wednesday column for something to do instead. So here are five snowflake templates to print and cut out, each based on a different superhero; Batman, Storm (I used her old headdress, who knows if she’s still wearing that), Iron Man (both the old circular chest reactor and the triangular one incorporated), Wonder Woman, and the Punisher (I wanted to make the knives serrated, but my paper was too thick and it was too fiddly).
It is miserable disappointment for me to have to admit that a person who hates sports but loves superhero movies thoroughly enjoyed the superhuman heroism of 42, and was disinterested in the sound and fury of Iron Man 3… But this is probably all my own fault; if I hadn’t seen 42 in the same week as Iron Man 3, maybe it wouldn’t have seemed like such a featherweight.
20 minutes ago I walked out of Iron Man 3, a film about some really great looking middle-aged people and some roboty suit things (and yes, I do know who and what Iron Man is. I read the comic books and I like the character, but that is what I took away from the film). A couple of my favorite actors where in the movie, as well as one of my favorite stunt-women. The explosions were terrific and there were effects. People were yawning a lot when they left, much like Bruce Banner at the end of the film, no one seemed particularly interested or excited. I guess they thought that was all they could expect from a comic book movie. As Aldrich Killian aptly said in the film; “Ever since the guy with the hammer fell out of the sky, subtlety kind of went out the window.”
The basic superhero touchstones, the ones that stick around for decades, aren’t really very complicated. Over time, various individual writers and artists come along to imbue them with contemporary characteristics for a short time, but because none of these things are set in stone they just do not stick, because they aren’t part of the DNA of the character. There is always space for the next writer to take things in another direction and for the reader to subject our own ideas upon the character and make him or her our own. Continue Reading »
Last week I bought the book Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, a retrospective of his most iconic and radical designs. One particular quote gave substance to my own feelings about his work, and really really spoke to his emphasized, supeheroic fashion aesthetic.
“I want to empower women. I want people to be afraid of the women I dress.”
“When you see a woman wearing McQueen, there’s a certain hardness to the clothes that makes her look powerful. It kind of fends people off.”
“It’s almost like putting armor on a woman. It’s a very psychological way of dressing.” Continue Reading »
Most superheroes are depicted standing so tall and straight that they almost arch their backs backwards. Meanwhile we sit at desks all day, curled up with almost the opposite posture, yet we are so engaged by these images. Are we trying to tell ourselves something?
How surprising to find that the London Fashion Week was awash with strong, solid blocks of color. Deeply reminiscent of the superheroic comic book coloring of previous decades, I had to embrace this trend.
Popular, successful comic book creators are often accused of being unsuccessful unless they make books for Marvel or DC, but these books are rarely the most lauded. Despite what some readers of the CBR Top 100 Comic Books of 2010 might think, mainstream acceptance of beautifully crafted comic books doesn’t translate to equivalent breakthroughs in the quality of superhero comic books.
As a Londoner born and bred, and a San Franciscan for the last 14 years, at times I’m acutely aware of the differences between the two cities. Of particular interest are the cultural and environmental differences between America and Britain. After a long absence, a few days ago I arrived back on British soil. Immediately I was struck by the preponderance of Victorian architecture, something I’d forgotten about in the intervening years. London is a city deeply shaped by the industrial era Victorians, their desire for permanence, and their long view of city planning. While this is certainly apparent in the various stone and brick buildings, (both noble and humble) which provide a cornerstone for a lot of London streets, it is even more obvious in the mundane street architecture which is scattered everywhere. Continue Reading »
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