Wednesday, April 26, 2006

One Size Fits Small


Ah, the X-Men school uniform: the Yugo of superhero costumes! Plain, ill-fitting, and offered with your choice of alarmingly pointy mask or skull-pinching cowl, the standard X-Men uniform can instantly frumpify any hero! Even fruit-striped babe Marionette, noseless faux-Klingon Acroyear, pistachio-skinned Tourette's sufferer Bug, fairyland hottie Fireflyte, ass-kicking lump o' carrotcake dough Huntarr, and... well, Commander Rann was kind of a pill to start with, so he doesn't really count.

The above panel can be found in "The X-Men And The Micronauts" #2 (February, 1984), written by Chris Claremont and Bill Mantlo with pencils by Butch Guice and inks by Bob Wiacek and Kelley Jones. Remember when Guice used to draw like that? Kinda chunkier, with a lot more bounce and verve, and not so stiffly realistic and dependant on photo reference? *sigh* I miss Chunk-style Guice. I mean, I can understand if he doesn't want to draw like that anymore, but I don't find his current style to be an improvement. The characters look rigid and awkward and a bit splintery, like they're constructed out of something that at any second could snap apart and embed itself in my eye. And the faces are usually dour and glum and lifeless, like the people are all posing for a passport photo that never gets taken. Bleh. Come back to us, Chunk-style!

Anyway, this comic has a crazy amount of mental/spiritual possession going on -- even for a Claremont book! The Micronauts are mentally enslaved by that Entity guy, and the Entity guy has taken over Professor X, plus the issue starts with one of Claremont's patented nightmare sequences, in which Bug gets transformed against his will into an actual bug and Marionette is made to dance around like an actual marionette. It's so obvious; why didn't anybody think of that before? Oh yeah. Because it's obvious. Effing Claremont. (Get well soon! My thoughts and prayers go out to you! Just don't ever write any more comics, ever, ever again, okay? Thanks.) But here's the cherry on Claremont's Infinitely Rehashed Plot Sundae:

karza kitty

Baron Karza in Kitty Pryde's body. I know what you're thinkin'. And it means you're going straight to Hell. See you there!

This is from Kitty's "Ariel" phase, between her "Sprite" and "Shadowcat" identities. I remembered it as being somewhat unattractive. Imagine my astonishment to reread this comic after twenty-odd years and to discover that it is, in fact, a complete eyesore. The fit: baggy. The color scheme: lime and cantaloupe. And the facepaint! Ye gods! Thank God Kitty was on a team that went out on missions instead of doing on-the-spot emergency work like Spider-Man. ("Somebody help! The 1st National Bank is being robbed!" "This sounds like a job for... Ariel! In about half an hour, which should allow me to find a women's bathroom that doesn't have a huge line in front of the door and to get my face made up just exactly right... y'know what, better make that forty-five minutes... everybody just stay where they are, alrighty? I'll see you again in about forty-five minutes... or maybe an hour. Just to be safe.")

And now, a Valentine's Day message from Hannibal Lecter.



Anonymous said...

Is that face paint? I guess it wouldn't be much more efficient if they were adhesive appliques.

I actually like the X-student uniform from a cheesily dated fashion standpoint, though I find it works better in black and yellow. Although the buccaneer boots and flared gloves have to go--not everyone is Captain America.

This is about as good as I think the concept has ever looked (not that there aren't other problems with the variants from that series).

I think mostly I just like the idea of superhero teams with identical suits, although it doesn't always work and usually makes for boring imagery unless the people themselves are odd to make up for it (see Doom Patrol and F). Ultimately, it comes down to the Green Lanterns--endless bizarre lifeforms all wearing more or less the same outfit. I can't put my finger on why it speaks to me--go figure.

Steven said...

One of the reasons uniforms work for me, in comics and real life, is the idea of a real team.

When it's a bunch of different characters wearing wildly different and clashing outfits, it sometimes feel like amateur hour. Uniforms, from baseball players to police officers to clergy members to superhero teams, says that these people are part of something that's real, professional, and bigger than themselves. And the more eclectic and visually contrasting they are outside of their uniforms, the more powerful the unifying effect.

So the different costumes look works for your big name teams (Avengers, JLA), where the whole point is that they are disperate people coming together. But if your team is connected by anything stronger than that (a common cause or origin), then uniforms is really the way to go.

The reason the X-Men uniforms don't work is because of the mask and cowl, really. Without distinctive hair and faces, it gets really boring really quick. Not as much a problem with the original five, whose mutations made their silhouettes unique, but could you tell the difference between Rouge and Jean Grey if they wore the same clothes?

Anonymous said...

Calling Acroyear a "faux Klingon" isn't quite fair, since he and his people were doing the Proud Warrior Race Guy thing back when Klingons still had smooth foreheads and Communists metaphors.

Oddly, I think that Acroyear might actaully be one of the first manifestations of that particular trope, predating Worf, D'Argo, Teal'c, and the rest by a decade or two.

He's even played by a black guy....

Jeremy Rizza said...

Chawunky and Steven: I like the idea of superhero uniforms as much as the next guy; I just don't like these superhero uniforms. And I think Steven hit the nail on the head: the cowls and masks are really what sinks them -- although they were already "taking on water," if you ask me. I think what they need is an eye-catching logo on the chest instead of that boring little "X" belt buckle.

Athelind: Excellent point. I guess I should call Worf a faux-Acroyear. But then, I wasn't trying for "fair"; I was trying for "funny." (Just like I know Bug doesn't have Tourette's.) But I guess I hosed myself on that score too. Oh, well. I'll just try again tomorrow. Seeya then!

Anonymous said...

Well, I still chuckled at the Claremontish enthralling and mindswappin'...body & soul! Body & soul!

Don't get me wrong about the X-Men costumes--they're pretty bleh. Yellow is rarely my choice of color in most events. Steven's point about the cowl goes to part of what I think makes the New Mutants version work moderately better.

The new book whose pic I linked to has problems with the costume designs: X-logos all over the place--shoulders, the small of the back (?), etc. But one version has a nifty little 50-cent-piece-sized logo on the left breast which I think looked spiffy.

But perhaps I'm overthinking it now. Bottom line: FF's and GL's are design classics. X-Men not so much.

Anonymous said...

And I utterly forgot to say--

Steven, as regards your comment on team uniforms: Well-said!

Anonymous said...

And yet, in spite of Kitty's (admittedly hideous) Ariel outfit, it's still light years ahead of this monstrosity right here: You can say whatever you darn well please about her fruit-colored uniform, but you gotta admit, compared to that, it's actually an improvement as far as it goes.

Anonymous said...

Any comment I may have made on that scene crowdedhouse posted has evaporated, in the face of Kitty's apparent utter nonchalance about being chucked over a third story ledge. Her train of thought is broken only by noticing who's catching her.

Ms. Pryde's a natural!