Site icon The Nerds of Color

The Live Action Superhero Costume Problem

I’ve already written about how my love of G.I. Joe and Batman comics informed my entry into NOChood. But I’d be disingenuous if I continued to assert that comics are still my nerdiest obsession. Don’t get me wrong, my shelves are still filled with trade paperbacks and graphic novels, and my parents’ house is still full of longboxes that contain issues belonging to me and my brother. But when I think of what makes me a nerd, it isn’t really comics. Or video games. Or sci-fi/fantasy.

No, I’m really only a nerd for two things: live action adaptations of comic book superheroes and action figures. (And candidly, most of those action figures are based on those same live action adaptations. Movie Masters forever, yo!) The irony is that while I will always identify first as a DC fanboy, I’ve come to the realization that when it comes to my nerd vehicle of choice — the live action adaptation — “Make Mine Marvel!

I can’t believe I just said that, but it’s true. Maybe it’s because I just watched a 60-minute infomercial about the Marvel Cinematic Universe on ABC, but I have to admit that there’s an element of wonder in the Marvel films that just seems to be missing in DC’s live action oeuvre.  (Don’t get it twisted, though. I still think The Dark Knight is the be-all in terms of the superhero flick).

But for me, it really boils down to one thing: the costumes.

From the jump, the self-financed Marvel movies have understood that fans respond well to faithful translations from the page to screen. And in terms of aesthetics, you don’t get more faithful than Marvel Studios1.

DC, on the other hand, has always seemed to be ashamed of their own iconography. Which is ironic because Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are probably the most recognizable superheroes the world over. Definitely much more so than Iron Man, Thor, or Black Widow, at least until recently. When Smallville debuted on the WB in 2001, its motto was famously “no tights, no flights,” and it took six seasons before any kind of superhero costume found its way on the show (in the form of Green Arrow and the nascent Justice League, no less.)

But if you compare a DC movie to a Marvel one, Warner Brothers always seems to take more liberties with their superhero aesthetics than their rivals at Disney. Though there have been seven Batman films since 1989, none of the many incarnations of the Batsuits have resembled their comic book counterparts. In last year’s Man of Steel, Superman’s signature look was altered to be more “contemporary” and “cool.”

“The costume was a big deal for me, and we played around for a long time,” said Snyder. “I tried like crazy to keep the red briefs on him. Everyone else said, ‘You can’t have the briefs on him.’ I looked at probably 1,500 versions of the costumes with the briefs on.”

More than the absence of Supes’ underwear, the entire palette of the costume is dulled and muted. This has been one of the major criticisms of the DC/Warner approach to the superhero genre. Sometimes superheroes don’t have to be grim and gritty to be good.

My beloved Dark Knight trilogy is not immune either. Raymond has already discussed his issues with the liberties Nolan has taken with the character of Batman, but while I don’t agree with his points completely, I have to admit that I do feel that way about some of the Batsuit design choices in the Nolanverse. In some regards, I actually preferred the Batsuit of Batman Begins to the redesign in The Dark Knight, mostly because the new suit emphasized function over form a little too much. I mean, I’m glad Christian Bale could finally turn his head, but the patchwork armor plating doesn’t really look that great outside the shadows2.

It’s not just the movies. Revamping classic costumes and aesthetics was part of the company-wide reboot in 2011 called “The New 52.” Maybe it’s shallow, but these costume changes are one of the (many) reasons I’ve (mostly) stopped reading DC books.

Three years later, I’m still not a fan. I’m hoping this look will eventually go the way of Superman Blue and Superman Red. I have the sinking feeling that won’t happen, though.

For the last two seasons on The CW, the show Arrow has, mostly, followed in the Nolan/New 52 aesthetic, taking pains to build a gritty, realistic urban landscape for its vigilante hero to save. First season Arrow was also similar to other live action DC adaptations in that it seemed to shy away from its comic book origins; instead, eschewing the fantastic for the realistic.

This season, however, it seems that the writers behind the show have given up the ghost and fully embraced the source material. With the introduction of so many costume-clad heroes and villains — including Black Canary, Deathstroke, and the League of Assassins — tuning in to Arrow every week is starting to feel like cracking open an issue on every New Comics Wednesday. Hell, Ollie has even started sporting his signature domino mask this season!

Though the show still has its darker elements, it’s nice to see it embrace its more fantastical elements. The introduction of Barry Allen and actual super powers opens up even more possibilities that even Smallville took years to come to terms with. Still, this acknowledgement of the comic book aesthetic has once again taken a back seat. At least that seemed to be the case when the first images of Grant Gustin as The Flash (in the upcoming Arrow spinoff) appeared online.

It looks like the studio has (again) decided that what works in the comics can’t work on screen (though an entire phase of multibillion-dollar-grossing Marvel Studios flicks have proved otherwise).

  1. I’m not counting the Marvel characters that have been farmed out to other studios. That’s why Bryan Singer’s X-Men isn’t part of the equation. Though Sony’s Spidey has always been on-point. Plus, they responded to the fan backlash of the Amazing suit and put Andrew Garfield in a more recognizable one for the sequel. 
  2. All the more reason why placing the climatic fight scenes of The Dark Knight Rises in broad daylight makes absolutely no sense. Really, the further distance between me and that flick, the less I like it. 
Exit mobile version