Friday, November 17, 2006

The Hollow Supermen

bbhead100906 In "Secret Origins" #46 (December, 1989) the Justice League's costumes are appropriated by invisible aliens.


This is during the post-Crisis, pre-Infinite Crisis era when Black Canary had taken Wonder Woman's place on the team's founding roster, by the way. Thank God that miscarriage of justice has been rectified, huh? Kidding. I actually don't give a rat's ass! Psyche! Although I did like the notion of the League being started entirely by second-stringers, and Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman (a.k.a. the Cool Table) only bothering to join after the team had garnered some name recognition. It was a little more like real life. Ah, well.


The team rounds up the renegade costumes in one of Green Lantern's force bubbles, although if you ask me a couple of drycleaning bags would have worked just as well. And thankfully, the League members all have duplicate costumes to wear. Except for Aquaman. "This was the best I could manage," he sheepishly explains. He'll use the same excuse during his One Big Metal Shoulderpad phase. Although if you ask me, he looks better in just the trunks! (And I'm apparently not the only one thinking that; check out Barry's line of sight in that panel.) And I'm having a little trouble believing that Black Canary has duplicate wigs just laying around her house. Who is she, Eva Gabor?

As it turns out, the aliens are benevolent (but of course, since this is a Grant Morrison story, and I'm sure if he could have shoehorned in the American Military-Industrial Complex as the actual villain I'm sure he would have) and at the end everyone learns a nice lesson about not jumping to conclusions, and the League would never have another battle based on a misunderstanding ever, ever again. (What?! Why are you looking at me like that?) But the main thing I learned is that some of those costumes are more interesting than the heroes wearing them! Here's my personal tally:

  • Martian Manhunter: wildly uneven characterization ranging from boring standard superhero to boring J.M. DeMatteis hippie pacifist to boring Kelsey Grammar rip-off in the Bwah-Ha-Ha League to boring angst-ridden nearly-omnipotent Mopee stand-in in the Ostrander series to his currently boring 10-years-too-late badass personality. His costume: regulation superhero trunks 'n' boots, plus a red X-shaped harness, a cape with a high stiff collar, and a belt buckle shaped like a delicious French pastry. Advantage: costume.
  • Black Canary: flower-sellin' gal with a butch brunette haircut who whores it up with a sexpot costume and her loudmouth Commie boyfriend. But she does know karate and she drives a chopper. Her costume: bustier with built-in panties, fishnets, high-heeled boots, teeny toreador jacket, velvet choker, and a gorgeous blonde wig (or two, apparently). Advantage: this is a tough one, but I'm going to have to give it to the costume, mainly because it's never blown Green Arrow.
  • The Barry Allen Flash: are you kidding me? Advantage: costume. That said, I wish it had died with Barry. And no, changing up the lightning-belt doesn't count.
  • Green Lantern: Jerky commitment-phobe racist murderer with a thing for teenage girls. His costume: for a while, it was the standard in super-garb. Classic lines, especially once the green part extended over the shoulders. Plus the chest logo is graphically clean and easy to comprehend. Advantage: in an upset, Green Lantern. I mean, sure, he's a terrible human being. But you must admit that he is interesting!
  • Aquaman: again, a victim of inconsistent characterization but the prevailing one seems to be "standoffish monarch" which is way too Sub-Mariner for my tastes. His costume: shirt handcrafted from the skins of a thousand goldfish, trunkless green tights with built-in calf-fins, matching green gloves, and a logo-themed belt buckle. Advantage: aw, how can I say "no" to those broad shoulders? The costume, of course! I've based my entire design career around its neckline! How could I let it down now, in its time of need?

Your turn! Are there any other heroes out there with costumes that are more engaging than they are? Or vice-versa? Tell me about them!


Anonymous said...

The Fantastic Four have always been my definition of costumes inversely proportional to the interest of the characters. Matching blue jumpsuits with big "4"s on them may make a lot of sense in terms of utility, but fashion plates they ain't.

Interesting costume, nothing character? Azreal, original design. I've always liked Quesada's design style, and the combination of hood and flaming swords had good contrasts of light and dark. But the character himself remained a cypher until his death.

Anonymous said...

Isn't Martian Manhunter's costume a semi-sentient being? To me, it's weirder that he would have two of those than that Canary would have a spare wig. Though I don't know...maybe J'onn breeds those costume things or something.

I've always liked MM's outfit, though it's the sort of thing that would be unbelievably kinky on a woman, so I'm not sure why it never struck me as being even slightly so on him.

Jon the Intergalactic Gladiator said...

It's a little too easy to pick on this guy but Dr. Druid has an awful outfit. A red union suit with a cape is not what a super hero should be wearing. Fortunately, he's a dopey hero so the question if it's the costume or the man is a wash.

And what's the deal with Plastic Man's outfit? What's up with thos shorty shorts, man?

Anonymous said...

Captain Mar-Vell: Similar lines to Green Lantern's costume, all primary colors with red and blue dominating and the yellow starburst symbol on his chest, and those nifty energy bracelet-thingies. Cool outfit. The guy himself? BOR-ING. I don't care if he died of cancer and it was moving and every Marvel hero who was popular in the 1970s was at his bedside when he died. He had NO PERSONALITY WHATSOEVER. His spin-offs, Ms. Marvel and Quasar, were much more interesting.

Stingray: Sweet costume. Just totally sweet. Nice red-and-white combination, an arrow-symbol on his mask that he also sees out of, and that cool wings/cape thing that looks like a manta. Rad costume. The guy himself? Marvel's never bothered to give the guy a personality. Marvel, how can you NOT use a character who looks so cool?

Ringer: always thought this bad guy had a neat costume, but the guy himself is a total joke.

Wraith, Vakume, Enforcer: totally rockin' costumes, yet all totally dead, and inexplicably have not come back. How can the grave contain ones who look so RAD, I ask?

ULTIMATUM: the leader of this terrorist group with the huge unwieldy acronym for an name, Flag-Smasher, is one sinister-lookin' dude, even if he does look like Space Ghost with red eyes and a mace. And his ideaology makes him pretty interesting. But his men! They rock white berets, goggles, white ski masks, white jackets, boots and gloves, with black pants and Uzis. They're the Marvel Universe's coolest-looking henchmen, beating out those Big Bird-colored bucket-headed AIM clowns and those boring green-jumpsuited Sweat Shop tools by LIGHT YEARS. But being henchmen, they get totally stomped every time they show up. Such cool costumes wasted on characters so useless. A shame!

The Looter/Meteor Man-a great Steve Ditko design. His mask is so cool it inspired Alice Cooper's stage makeup, no lie. A nice white and purple color combo, not easy to pull off, but he does it well. But the dude himself? A TOTAL TOOL. Probably the most extremely inversed costume/personality ratio in the whole Spider-Man rogue's gallery.

Sunfire-one of my most favorite superhero costumes of all time. No, not that hideous Whilce Portacio-designed getup with the enormous metal shoulder pads with 100-meter long ponytail. I'm talking the flame-masked, rising-sun outfit. Dude LOOKED like a solar-powered nuclear Japanese hero. But he has always been this boorish, sexist, overbearing, incompetent clod, and look where he's ended up. No legs, powers stolen by Rogue, now a Horseman of Apocalypse, and you know being one of THOSE never turns out well.

Serpent Society-for the most part, these guys and gals have the market cornered on serpent-themed-costume coolness. But the problem is they keep getting their butts handed to them by Captain America, or in some cases, EACH OTHER. Get your act together, already, snake-dudes!

Overrider-obscure Captain America and Wolverine enemy. Rocked a sweet look. But Marvel only used the dude once and let him slip into obscurity. Whatchu smokin' Marvel? You need some tight technology-controlling, nuclear-powered-mutant-son having, Tess-One using bad guys. This guy could have made one heck of an Iron Man villain. Comics are full of missed opportunities (Cue Hall and Oates, baby!).

Senyaka-one of those blasted Acolytes who managed to stand out based on look alone. Too bad he was a total goober.

Anonymous said...

How embarrasing to get your butt handed to you by your own costume. Green Lantern, I can understand, because he's kind of a tool. Dude can't so much as get up in the morning without knocking himself out somehow, so it only makes sense that his own clothes can take him. But a butt-kicking martial artist like Black Canary getting taken down to Chinatown by her own ensemble? How sad. Now, her 1980s "Flashdance" costume with the headband...THAT costume, she could have beat up. And Martian Manhunter...dude, you're as powerful as Superman. I know you can't hold down your own series, but come on, man! All those dead Martians are watching you from the Martian afterlife and weeping spectral tears.

Bully said...

One of these days we're going to have a story in which we find out all those dead Martians wore sensible shirts and pants, occasionally a nice jacket and tie, in their everyday life around Mars.

SUPERMAN: Wow, they actually all dressed quite normally.
HAWKGIRL: Quite attractively fashionable, of course.
WONDER WOMAN: They've even taken into account how fabrics look against green skin!
FLASH: So what's up with the little bitty swim trunks and suspenders, J'onn?
BATMAN: What's that, J'onn? We didn't quite hear you.
MARTIAN MANHUNTER: Look...look, I just like the way it feels, okay?!?

Jeremy Rizza said...

Excellent points, everybody. And Bully? That was freakin' brilliant.