Thursday, April 20, 2006
Look, Ma, No Mouth!
A few weeks ago, Heikki Myllari sent me a very nice e-mail posing a very interesting question: "Since her (underrated) series ended just last month, I was wondering what you thought about the old-new Batgirl, and her S&M themed costume with the stitched-shut mask?"
I sent Heikki a reply a while back, but I wanted to address Batgirl's costume in length on my blog. And I'd like to offer Heikki a hearty thank-you for sending me the above image. I had no idea the outfit was designed by Alex Maleev. I was shocked. You could've knocked me over with a feather, I tell ya! Maleev is an artist I like, except for his tendency (if I recall correctly) to use photocopied panels every now and then in talking scenes. Y'know, those bits in the comic where a person is standing there with the exact same position and expression in three or four panels straight, babbling some Claremont-speak or rambling away with some of that "Get to the freaking point or as God is my witness I'm going to stab your boring ass" Bendis-talk.
Heikki said that one retailer has remarked that his customers found Batgirl's costume offputting. It is awfully solemn and mannish. I wonder... if the comic had starred "Alessandro Cain" instead of Cassandra Cain, would the average male customer have liked the costume more? I have no problem with superheroine costumes looking intimidating, but I do think there is a disconnect between the costume and the "girl" part of her codename. I hear "Batgirl" and I'm expecting something that could be reasonably worn by Betty Cooper or Hilary Duff. So in that light, the costume is unnecessarily serious. Not to mention boring. I think restricting the yellow to that ridiculously chunky belt and a mere outline around the bat-symbol was a big mistake.
The costume really falls apart with the cowl. I have no problem with cowls that cover the entire face -- the Black Panther, the White Tiger, the Atom -- those are great. Batgirl's cowl, however, has some very conspicuous stitching around the mouth. Which is stupid. Because this stitching is nowhere in evidence on the rest of her costume. Most superhero costumes are drawn like they're painted onto the body. Even if they're drawn with wrinkles and folds and such, stitching is almost never indicated. In Batgirl's case, the stitching implied that the section of fabric covering the mouth was going to be dramatically ripped away at some point. Now, I didn't follow the "No Man's Land" books so I have no idea if that actually happened when the Huntress was wearing that costume or not. But my point is, it looks like it was meant to be impermanent, and yet it never went away. Some artists would even exaggerate the stitching's theatricality by making it huge, like Batgirl had sewn her costume using very fine thread for most of it and then switched to half-inch nylon rope for the cowl.
My big question is, why did Cassandra feel she had to hide her mouth behind that thing? What was she concealing? My guesses?
1. Seriously chapped lips
2. Subcutaneous acne
3. Receding gums
4. Light, downy mustache
7. Stank breath, y'all
8. Her tongue piercing (trust me, Batman is a hard-core douche when it comes to that kind of thing)
9. Big snapping mandibles because OH MY GOD she has the head of a giant ant!
10. Love-bite from Jason Todd
Or, y'know, somethin' like that.