Friday, February 17, 2006

What's Wrong With This Picture?

I understand the concept of "artistic license" as it applies to super-characters. Like how Michael Golden would draw the collar of Doctor Strange's cloak with big curlicues, or how when Al Milgrom drew "The New Mutants" every female character had hair down to her waist, or how Juan Bobillo can be counted on to redesign the costume of pretty much every super-hero who guest-stars in the current "She-Hulk" book (and I kind of love him for that). But as a time-traveler, I also understand the concept of "anachronism." And Chris Weston's depictions of the Golden Age Sandman's and Stripesy's costumes in "Star Spangled Comics" #1 (May, 1999) caused my suspension of disbelief to snap like a cheap rubberband and hit me in the face. Hard.


I'm referring to the cut of their underpants -- worn over their costumes, natch, in true Golden Age hero fashion. The problem? They're speedos. Banana hammocks. Plum smugglers. Lunch sacks. They're very "potbellied Frenchman on holiday at Coney Island" but they're not very appropriate to the era. Not for super-hero costumes, anyway. I suppose the provocatively-cut undergarments do help to showcase the Sandman's and Stripesy's gargantuan junk. At least Weston got something right! He draws the Star-Spangled Kid and Sandy the Golden Boy the same way. I'd show those panels but it might not be considered "work safe." So just trust me on that one. In a nutshell (haw!) the story is titled "A Terrifying Hour!" but I would have called it "Prominent Packages On Parade." Catchy, no?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Clothes Make The Menace: The Best Costume Of All Time

hornet 1
This has been my number one favorite costume ever since I saw it back in the summer of 1980, in "Spider-Woman" #31. And as you can see, it's been a big influence on my work.

hornet 2
Why do I love the Hornet's costume?
1. The color scheme: purple and orange. Eye-catching and weird. But it works. I still don't see this combination used very often in super-costumes. Of course, I had to use it for one of my own costumes.
2. Depending on what the colorist felt like doing in a particular panel, it had an Aquaman neckline. Show off those hunky shoulders, Hornet!
3. None of that "underpants on top of spandex" business.
4. The arrow motif. Striking but not too busy. It also works as a subtle tie-in to the similarly winged Janet "The Wasp" Van Dyne. Janet loved using arrows on her own costumes back then. And just like the Hornet, she made sure that every single arrow on her costume pointed directly at her crotch! I believe that's called "playing to your strengths."

The Hornet was really Scotty McDowell, a criminologist who was temporarily mutated and hypnotized into becoming a bad guy by one of Spider-Woman's enemies. This was especially hard on Spider-Woman given that he was the only member of her supporting cast. He was back to normal by the end of issue #32 and disappeared completely from "Spider-Woman" (and from comics in general) not long after. It's a real shame, too, since he had one kick-ass costume.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Nation's Capitol Unprepared For Latest Outbreak Of Bird Floozy

Swan Rant

'Cause she lives in Washington DC, y'see, and she's dressed like... well, hell YES, it was a long, convoluted set-up for a lame pun. So? You wanna fight about it?

I think we just found the Black Condor a girlfriend! Not that he's into that. But let's move on. In your time period, when sexless nerds want to gape at statuesque, lingerie-clad females with feathers on their backs, they just Google images from the Victoria's Secret "Angel" collection. In 1982, they had to read "Wonder Woman" #288. The gal with the loquacious brain and the vivacious everything else is the Pre-Crisis Silver Swan, or as I like to think of her, "the good one." Whereas the two Post-Crisis versions were, respectively, a victim of domestic abuse with zero personality, and a mindless assassin (with bad hair), this Silver Swan knew exactly what she wanted and how to get it. What she wanted was to stay beautiful forever. And to get it, all she had to do was fulfill her deal with the god Mars and kill Wonder Woman. Like Poison Ivy, she was irresistible to men, and like Killer Frost, she was a vicious man-hater. And she had a great costume. The paradox is that individually, none of the parts really work -- the Scarlet Witch-style headdress, the puffy sleeves with attached cape, the lacy collar -- but dad-blast it if it doesn't look swell all put together! Well played, Swan. Well played.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Vigilantism... On Ice!


Holy cats, that is one pissed-off competitive figure skater!

Naw, I'm kiddin'. Actually, it's the Golden Age hero, Firebrand. Like the Red Bee, Hydroman, and Neon the Unknown, Firebrand firmly believed that Gauzy Baggy Shirt = Terror. How girly was Firebrand's costume? It was so girly that in the 1980's, when his sister took over his codename and superhero job, she could wear pretty much the exact same outfit and make it look like it was designed especially for her. Except her version showed less cleavage.

I suppose Firebrand was going for a Zorro-type thing with this ensemble but it just doesn't work. Maybe if he'd taken it the whole nine yards, with a flat-brimmed hat and and an embroidered coat and a sword or a whip and maybe a horse or something... but even then? It's pink. It's freaking pink. There are plenty of colors he could have chosen which are manlier than pink, like seafoam green and robin's egg blue and canary yellow. Hell, even magenta or dusty rose! Or coral! That's manly. But no. He went with pink, and pink simply does not impart menace to the criminal mind. I just don't know what he was thinking. Let's see... Firebrand was from the Bored Millionaire school of superheroing, where he had unlimited resources and no superpowers. So, he was kind of like Batman, but without the angst. And as inspiration, instead of a bat flying through his open window, it was... what? A flamingo? A marshmallow Peep? A bottle of Pepto-Bismol?

Then there's the whole kerchief mask thing. Lord knows, I loves me some kerchief masks. I've used those twice so far in my designs. But the difference is mine didn't have pleats. Pleats are fussy, and they don't usually translate well to line drawings. As you can see, the pleats conspire with the red color to make Firebrand look less like "swashbuckling daredevil" and more like "Dumb Donald from 'Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.'"

He sure looks pissed off, though. I'm guessing he finally looked in a mirror.

Monday, February 13, 2006

After the Fugpocalypse

Remember how fun the clothing was in the 1970's version of the Apocalypse? Before "The Matrix," or "Mad Max," or "The Day After Tomorrow" or even just "The Day After?" Sure, civilization had crumbled, but everyone got to wear kooky, colorful costumes made of the shiniest synthetic fabrics ever dreamed up by a bong-addled DuPont engineer! Yeah, there'd be the ruins of some modern landmark over there in the distance, but you didn't care! You'd just unzip your groovy velveteen jumpsuit a few more centimeters, run your hands through your feathered hair, and pretend you were merely on an extended camping trip! Of course, there was always some mind-bendingly existential bummer to deal with. But you sure as hell looked good doing it!

The gentleman with the schoolmarm bun -- er, make that "samurai-influenced hairstyle" is M'shulla from "Amazing Adventures" #39 (Marvel Comics, November 1976). Even though the Martians have destroyed everything and he's fighting for survival in the middle of the Okefenokee Swamp, he still takes the time to glue a bindhi to his forehead and starch the astoundingly wide fringe on his shoulders. In fact, he seems to have way too much time to starch them, because they're sticking straight outward like a porcupine's quills. Maybe they're not part of the costume at all, but his shoulders' natural defense mechanism. When you see M'shulla's shoulder flaps quiver, it means he's agitated! Take a few steps back and mellow out!

His pal Killraven -- that's him horning in on M'shulla's closeup in the second panel -- has an outfit that's also Very Seventies, what with the disco headband -- er, make that "princely circlet." But I like that one, so I won't dog on it today.

Hostile Blogover

Hey, kids! You've probably noticed the ridiculous lag time between posts. Well, that nonsense is going to stop right now. I sat Jeremy down and gave him a good talking-to. He said he didn't have time to publish my posts on his blog because he had an unexpected couple of weeks at work where he was logging twelve-hour days, and also he had a paying freelance job doing artwork like this:
wiggly canoe
Which looks okay, I guess, but I don't know why he likes drawing stuff like that. I mean, where are the bulging muscles? The billowing capes? Feh! Feh, I say to you now. Anyhow, I strong-armed the little guy into giving me his Blogger password, plus full use of his scanner and his comic book collection. Turns out it didn't take much -- I just lowered my voice another octave and gave him a couple of rabbit punches and a Dutch rub.

So now you can expect much more frequent posting. The mega-posts with the two costume designs and the massive backstory will still only come once a month or so, but between them will be lots of little posts about costumes I like and ones I hate -- with scans! Plus, I'll show you some costume challenges I set for myself -- like the Gender Reassignment Challenge, where I take a really girly outfit like the Black Canary's fishnets-and-bustier number or Saturn Girl's classic pink bikini, and I re-imagine them for a male superhero. The difficulty comes in keeping as many elements from the original outfit as possible while still making them look butch. Just wait'll you see "the Scarlet Warlock." And "Mister Marvel!" Male-to-female? I dunno. That might be too easy. But there's also the "Good-to-Evil" and the "Evil-to-Good" challenges, where I design villainous versions of heroes' outfits and heroic versions of villains' outfits. And the challenges where I take era-specific costumes and redesign them for a different period. Like Silver Age versions of 90's Image characters, or Funk-a-delic 70's versions of the stodgiest Golden Agers. It'll be great!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Shawl That Heaven Allows: The Black Condor

What's his deal:
Viva la plot contrivance! When Richard Grey Jr. was a baby, his parents took him with them on an archeological dig in one of the numerous remote locations in Mongolia. (Fun fact: remote locations account for 93% of that enchanting land!) Marauding bandits wiped out the entire expedition, save for Baby Richard. The infant was left alone in the desert and would have died of starvation and/or exposure, had he not been adopted by a flock of giant birds. You heard me. These mysterious black condors -- which may be related to the genuinely Mongolian "black vulture" or "steppe condor" or perhaps the author just yanked them out of his ass -- somehow managed to raise Richard to adulthood without killing him. In fact, Richard taught himself to fly just by watching the condors do it. You heard me. Later accounts of Richard's story threw in a radioactive meteorite to make this part of the story more plausible. No, seriously.

Richard didn't encounter another human being until he was a full-grown man. Did I mention he was in a remote part of Mongolia? This fellow, a hermit (remote!) taught Richard to talk and act like an actual person. The hermit pointed out that most people don't possess the power of flight. He suggested that Richard could use this ability to help Mankind. Upon the hermit's death, Richard returned to America. His timing was perfect! It just so happened that Richard was an exact double of a freshly murdered senator named Thomas Wright. Senator Wright's death was so recent, in fact, that Richard was easily able to steal the man's identity without anybody noticing -- not even Wright's fiancee! Ew.

During the few hours of the day that Richard wasn't practicing politics in an office to which nobody had elected him, and when he wasn't busy macking on a dead man's unsuspecting girlfriend, he found time to slip on a ridiculous costume and fight crime. He armed himself with a "black ray" gun that could both stun his enemies and make that Iron Maiden poster in your bedroom look totally groovy, man. Oh, and he didn't wear a mask. I think you all know my opinion on superheroes with secret identities and no masks, so let's just move along, shall we? (Grinds teeth furiously)

Richard/Thomas/The Black Condor battled evil during the 1940's, mainly, and then in the 70's he wound up on "Earth-X" where the Nazis had won WW2. Good one, jerk. A second Black Condor got his own comic in the 1990's and Richard guest-starred as a ghost, sort of watching over the new guy. And now the new guy's dead, too. Stick to your day job, Richard.

First appearance: Crack Comics #1 (May, 1940).

Original Black Condor
Crimes against fashion:
Hot pants! The sash with the meaningless diamond symbol on it! But mostly the goofy shawl-cape-thing with the attached cuffs. Criminals don't see you as a threat when you're dressed like a Ziegfeld Girl.

Our meeting:
I had just finished infiltrating a committee meeting on Capitol Hill, where I'd slipped a rider onto a tax bill, declaring that the first Tuesday of every other month should henceforth be known as "Blockade Boy Day." (It has the same frequency as my blog entries! Ha ha! Heh... sigh. Things will get better soon, I promise.) I spied a man atop the Senate steps holding the corners of his trench coat in each hand. He sprinted down the steps, causing the fabric to billow outward like a cape, and making flapping motions with his arms. I knew it could only be Richard "Thomas (The Black Condor) Wright" Grey Jr. I chased him down and confronted him. He was surprised I knew his real identity but I explained I was from the future, plus how he didn't wear a mask and also the whole trench coat deal. "What trench coat deal?" he sputtered, looking genuinely confused. His fingers nervously played with the ends of his coat. "Flap... flap, flap," he whispered, avoiding my gaze. I asked him to stop doing that but he repeated that he didn't understand my meaning. Luckily, he was interested in seeing some costume designs, so we met again that night at a very nice French restaurant. Richard requested a table "wherever there are curtains." While we talked, Richard constantly toyed with the draperies, and I constantly slapped his hands away from them.

My presentation:
new condor 1
For the first design, I made your costume more bird-like than what you've got now, because what you've got now is frankly horrible. I didn't want to make it look exactly like a bird costume, because that would have been goofy instead of weird and intimidating. Still, I wanted to suggest a bird. So there are big yellow lenses on the cowl, layered feather shapes on the torso and shoulders, ribbing on the cape and legs that gives the impression of feathers and scales, respectively. Hey, quit that. Okay. There's a cutout on the stomach to show off your killer abs, and that shape is repeated on the backs of the gloves. And I think this look works better with shorter, spikier hair. Stop it, I said! Okay, next design...

new condor 2
When I think of the name "Black Condor," I don't just think of birds. I think of a highwayman or a pirate... brigands, outlaws, high adventure on land and sea! I'd love to see you take your superhero act in this direction. So, this is an 18th Century style pirate's costume made of various dark fabrics, with a bright crimson sash around the waist for a spot of color. The mask is-- hey, quit it! The mask is a kerchief that ties in the back. You could top it with a three-sided hat, if you want. For the wings, I figure I could swipe a pair from a guy named Hawkman. He lives in another dimension, so he'd never think to look for them here. I'll paint 'em black and they'll be perfect. HEY! What did I just tell you about the drapes? Now, the facial hair... I suppose I could rig up some kind of crepe hair and spirit gum deal for the beard, but the whole effect would be ruined if a bad guy yanked it off you in the middle of a fight. You'd be a laughing stock! So, I think it would be best if you'd just grow an actual beard. The bonus is you'd look all professorial and smart in your civilian life, so it'd be doing double duty. And people would never connect the bearded Black Condor and the bearded Senator Wright because of the Condor's long hair. Now, that part would be fake -- a wig, basically, that's built into the kerchief. In the future, this same technology will be used in baseball caps that folks order from novelty catalogs. Yes, it's a startling new world in 1993. For the "black ray" gun, you just duplicate the mechanism and put in two flintlock pistols. It's too cool, am I right? I mean, just imagine this badass motherfucker swooping down at you in the middle of the -- STOP PLAYING WITH THE CURTAINS, GOD DAMN IT!

Richard's response:
Try as I might, I couldn't convince him to wear the pirate costume. (Barnacles!) But he liked the first idea I had, so we scheduled a fitting at his hotel suite.

Well, the minute he had the cape on, he started playing with the damned thing. Once again, I had to slap his hands away. "What if you sew the ends of the cape to the gloves?" he suggested, innocently.

"No," I explained, "because that would look stupid. As I've told you about a dozen times before."

"Oh." He stared at the floor for a while, biting his lips. His head jerked back up, his eyes alight with a new hope. "It's okay if I hold onto the cape while I'm flying, though, right? After all, it is my costume!"

I dismissed that idea, Richard pouted some more, and I continued to work on the outfit. "Flap, flap," Richard whispered to himself. "Flap." I kept shushing him and slapping his hands away from the cape for another ten minutes or so.

Finally I had to put my foot down. "Richard," I said sternly, "you are not going to wear this costume unless you first accompany me to a notary public and sign a legal and binding document promising you won't hold the cape like that or by any method attach it to any part of your hands or wrists. In fact, I may even require you to get a post-hypnotic suggestion to that effect."

"But why?" he demanded. "Why can't I attach my cape to my wrists?"

I was ready to scream. "Because, you fucking crackpot, YOU ARE NOT A GOD DAMN BIRD!"

He flew at me -- literally -- and we brawled, pounding the everloving shit out of each other and destroying most of the hotel suite. The bout ended when he located his "black ray" gun and fired it at me, point blank. I turned into a nice, shiny steel wall and reflected the beam back at him, rendering him unconscious. Bruised and bloodied, I stripped the incomplete costume off him and slipped out the window before the hotel detective could get to me.

The upshot: the Black Condor wore his dopey old costume for the rest of his natural life, and I can't visit his dimension again without him tracking me down and pooping on my car.