Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Starch-enemies

It’s high time to talk about collars.

When the New 52 began about three years ago, there was a lot of hype from DC and corresponding kerfuffle from fandom.  Editorial changes and alternations of the characters backstories, settings, and casts were a concern, but those were considered routine.  As discussed before, readers are used to that sort of thing.  But changes in…costumes?!  That’s a different thing entirely!


DC was pretty clearly desperate to fight the ‘crimefighting in underwear’ look, which generally meant:
getting rid of outer-underpants;
adding collars to any shirts without cowls; 
and GELs (Gratuitous Etching Lines)  And, yes, the gratuitous etching lines are... a bit much.


God bless the genius of Yale Stewart.

Fact is, as most comic book readers (should) know, early superhero costumes are based on the outfits of circus performers.  And by imitation, the costume design for later heroes followed suit (so to speak).  While maintaining a clean and classic look is good, there's something to be said for updating ones wardrobe at least once a century (particularly since the circus is no longer the cultural touchstone it used to be).

Everyone knows the GELs are kind of silly and don't matter much. 

Losing the outer-shorts is really noticeable only on Batman and Superman (and Batman already ditched them before the redesign).
That leaves... the collars.

To which I say... GOOD! At last!


Yes, you heard me; I not only don't mind the collars, I wholeheartedly approve and am thankful for them.  Why?


Because decent, classy men wear collars, and I want my heroes to be decent, classy men.  


Let's confine this analysis to DC's six most iconic male heroes (since the rest aren't likely to cause any costume-based heartache in fandom).  Batman and Flash are off the table because they wear cowls and are thus collar-immune.


This leaves:

Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)
Superman
Aquaman
The Martian Manhunter.

Hal's costume has always covered his neck



Not his head.  Just his neck.

So in his case it's really a question of adding a collar so much as replacing his green dickie-unitard (dickie-tard?) mock-turtle thing with a proper swan collar.  



"GOD, my Adam's apple is beautiful!"

I can't imagine anyone not thinking this is an improvement. Anyone who doesn't probably wears lots of turtlenecks, which means his opinion can be discounted.


Superman costume was very open-necked in the Golden Age, in the manner of a circus performer




"I"ll have to use my power of super-lightning-farting!"

In the Silver Age, when it was all much more about being 'super' than being 'man', Kal's sexy sexy collarbone was covered up.



Sometimes there just aren't any cats-in-trees that need saving.


But without a collar it's still essentially just a long-sleeve tee shirt. Which is an adolescent or lower-class thing to do ones work (or super-work) in. Heck, you might as well just have Superman wear jeans and a tee shirt to do his thing.



Not that that isn't really, really hot, mind you.

Clark Kent has always been sort of a 'working man's hero'.  He grew up on a farm, isn't wealthy, has a job that serves as the springboard for much of his adventuring.


Still... he's an adult, and one in a white-collar job.  You may not think that has anything to do with what his alter ego of Superman should wear.  But the fact is, most modern readers don't want their heroes to have the air of independent vigilantes like they had in the Golden Age, when the average man felt particularly powerless and wanted someone to identify with. Nowadays, people taking the law into their own hands is more the kind of thing we FEAR;  we perceive it more as a threat to society than as a short-cut around bureaucracy. 


Therefore, we want our heroes to have an air of professionalism (something I wrote about in my article in Teenagers from the Future, by the way). They are not wildcards in a normal world, they are professional superheroes in a world where Superheroing is a Real Thing That People Do.  We don't want them swearing, or killing people, or making childish quips mid-battle, or any of the things that adolescents thing of as "badass".  We want them to approach their work as soldiers and police do: as a solemn responsibility to do an often unpleasant and potentially violent job for the protection of society using only the appropriate amount of force.  On average, readers aren't adolescents who want to feel empowered, they are adults (or children) who want to feel safe.


So now Superman and Green Lantern have military-style collars to give them that air of professionalism.  So too Aquaman (although in his case, I think his original collarbone-baring shirt has more to do with traditional sea-workers shirts than with circus performer outfits).



Not that that isn't really, really hot, mind you.

Personally, I like my superheroes to look like they care enough about what they do to dress properly for it.  Not like they just threw on tee shirt.


I mean, jeez; even ODDMAN wears a TIE.



I think he and the Batman of Zur-enn-arrh shop together.

P.S.  The Martian Manhunter has been giving nip for way too long.  ANY shirt is any improvement.



13 comments:

SallyP said...

I don't mind the collars nearly so much as I do all of the faux armor and odd lines. Superman's suit really NEEDS that extra touch of red, in my opinion.

Batman can probably get away with it, you would expect a mortal man to wear some sort of armor. Hal can make up anything that he wants, considering his uniform is made from the ring anyway.

But why mess with the Flash? So...so classic.

John said...

I can see the point, but to me, the problem is that it's just a collar, stapled to the same old circus tights, and they look a lot more like popped polo shirt collars than dress shirt collars. Yes, they were probably inspired by Civil War jackets, but that's no more relevant than circuses.

Maybe if it looked more like a modern "tactical" outfit or just shirt and slacks, it'd work. But as it stands, it just brings to mind the hip pouches and bandoliers of the '90s.

I'm also not sure that Seriousness(TM) is the way to go. That's been part of the problem since Watchmen, the fear that Comic Books Are Not Taken Seriously and "Mature Readers" titles that are anything but. It's Marv Wolfman ranting in the early '80s (there's a GL letter column in particular) that DC needs a better sense of what's "canon," which doesn't include all those not-serious non-hero characters like Binky, but in pictures.

Plus, what will Odd Man wear, now that collars are no longer "odd"? I mean, that throws the entire DCU off-kilter! Wearing a tie without a collar is uncomfortable, after all, not odd.

Joshua Roots said...

Dress for success if you ask me. Heck, Clark wears a SUIT for his "off-hours" outfit!

Anonymous said...

Super-Mathematics is the discipline of getting your math wrong, but because you possess the powers of a god, nobody dares correct you.

My opinion? I miss Superman's red underpants because they break up all the blue nicely. I miss the underpants on Batman because sometimes his current costume looks like a grey jumpsuit with a cape. Basically, the classic costumes were good looks that stood the test of time, even if we no longer recognize the circusy origins.

The GELs do not please me, except where they appear to be actual seams.

As for the collars, I think the big problem with them is that they're symbolic of the Jim Lee approach: take a good costume, make it busier, but don't really add anything creative. So the collars aren't a problem themselves, they're just the commonality that people can point to most easily when finding fault with Lee.

Note that I'm not objecting to changing costumes; I like the changes to Hal's costume from "Rebirth", such as the green part that points at his crotch at all times (because really, if you were Hal and you were returning to life, wouldn't that be the first thing you changed?). Actually I love the versatility of the basic Green Lantern outfit; the basic green / black / white scheme allows for all kinds of variation and creators have come up with some really good costumes. Also, Simon Baz's.

Nathan Hall said...

You know who had a great collar?

Vibe.

(We were all thinking it)

Murray said...

With all the wild and interesting variations of the icon costumes we saw in Elseworld stories, these choices are a real snooze.

Putting the particular design elements aside, the other irksome feature is that they all look the same. I haven't read the New 52. Did all the heroes literally go to the same tailor? A rather uninspired and unimaginative tailor? Obviously, the reboot brains should have picked a half-dozen A-List artists, given each one a hero and sent them off to whip up some designs in total isolation.

Diabolu Frank said...

"P.S. The Martian Manhunter has been giving nip for way too long. ANY shirt is any improvement."

You're not wrong. I was just talking to a podcaster last week about J'onn J'onzz's nipples, and there's so many other subjects I'd rather address. If there's one single thing I miss about the old Martian Manhunter costume, it's that it had so much more collar. Don't super-heroes dress pervy enough without the DC Pantheon uniformly adopting clerical collars?

Scipio said...

Those of you who raise the issue of 'unexpected uniformity" among the new costumes (that all these heroes decide to have the same collars and GELs)...

are quite correct.

It's the one thing about it all that really gives me pause.

Anonymous said...

First, GELs must go. They're just hideous. Except on Hal; he makes anything look good.

That said, Superman's collar may make him look decent and classy, but he no longer looks like he's planning to engage in heavy physical activity. The t-shirt look conveyed, to me, that this guy was expecting to work up a sweat. It also gave his cape something to attach to; now it just floats out there, looking vaguely lost. If you're going to give him a collar, make it part of the cape.

Aquaman also looks like someone yanked him from his desk and threw him in the swimming pool. I don't wear a shirt and pants in the ocean; Namor much more effectively conveyed "I'm from the ocean" with his green trunks. If we're going to give Aquaman a collar, get rid of the shirt and pants and let him borrow wardrobe from the Sea Devils. And lose the boots.

-- Jack of Spades

Anonymous said...

Power Girl eventually got her classic costume back (perhsps, with clergical collar, of course).

Maybe there is even hope for Harley Quinn.

Yes, Yale Stewart is a gift to us all.

Anonymous said...

Reading Scipio's concern from a few posts back (having concerns).

Think back to the history of the Flash. If there can be a tailor for super-villains then can there not, certainly, be one for super-heroes as well?

Geoff Johns could certainly work him into a story or two.

Nathan Hall said...

Marvel definitely has a costume designer for superheroes. He shows up when Speedball makes his conversion to penance. He even helps the kid into his new spiked suit.

Nathan Hall said...

And, of course, don't forget this lovable character! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M68ndaZSKa8