This year two big Superheroines have gone through major redesigns - Batgirl and, this week, Spider-Woman. Both designs shared a similar mantra: ditch the spandex, and get practical. But are they first steps in revitalising superhero designs into something more feasible in the 21st Century?
The ethos behind Batgirl and Spider-Woman's designs are certainly very appealing ones for modern approaches to the characters: ditching the skin tight body suits and replacing them with sturdy leather jackets, practical boots, belts and cuffs. They're designs that don't just make sense for 'street level' approaches to heroes like Barbara and Jessica - costumes made from materials and gear they would have easier access to, ones that blend in a little more than a spandex onesie - but also ones that easily echo the great cosplay culture that surrounds modern comics. They're designs that are easy to emulate with real-world fashions, that fans can easily translate into a costume for conventions or Halloween or whatever. They offer the best of both worlds, outfits that are a bit more believable (because as Comic fans, despite all the weirdness that happens, we're always going to nitpick the little details like costuming logic) and repeat that mantra for practicality, while still looking costume-y enough that they work for superheroic characters. They also both happen to look great, which helps their appeal a great deal!
So is it something we should start seeing more of in comic books - for female and male heroes alike? It'd be a cool trend to see, instead of everyone running around in the spandex suits. Something a little more designed and a little more textural doesn't just make something look more interesting (although not when it's just for textures sake - see the superfluous lines all over the suits in New 52 designs as a bad example) aesthetically, and make sense from a practical angle, but is also easier to translate into the real world - and considering we're living in a world where Superheroes are also our biggest blockbuster movie stars, that kind of design approach makes sense when these characters are being considered for adaptation into live-action media like movies and TV shows. Look at Marvel's roster of movie stars, or The Arrow and Flash on TV - sure, they're still wearing body suits, but there's clasps and texture and zips and whatnot. They look like costumes that people would actually wear, instead of fancy dress outfits. These practical costumes are just a logical extension of that school of design thought, so why shouldn't we be seeing more heroes adopt a similar aesthetic?
But to approach it from another perspective, do Superhero costumes have to look realistic? I mean, not only have these spandex designs become iconic images and important parts of the characters, driven into our minds over years and years, but they also serve to make these characters stand out - they're meant to do that, both visually and in terms of being superheroes. It'd be boring if every hero tried to skew realistic and look like vaguely ordinary people - Batgirl still has her cape for example, but Jess's new digs look especially pedestrian with her glasses retracted and her jacket open as they are in Kris Anka's character sheet. They're fantastical people doing fantastical things, they should stand out, and the outlandishness of the costume is part of that. They're instantly different, instantly recognisable as such, and we're drawn to them because of it. Sure, Batgirl and Spider-Woman still have visually striking designs, but they're looks that aren't an approach that necessarily would fit every character - and if everyone did attempt it, it'd be something that would wear thin rather quickly, and potentially serve to date these aesthetics to the here and now. There's something timeless about the spandex superhero suit - after all, look at how long they've lasted us. Just because practicality is in, doesn't mean it has to go away.
Image Credit: Sara Pichelli's cover for Spectacular Spider-Gwen #2, via Twitter.
So why not aim for the best of both worlds and inject a bit of popular practicality into the time-honoured tradition of superhero spandex? Spider-Gwen, easily one of my favourite comic designs of 2014, sort of straddles this line for me. Not only does a bodysuit make sense for an agile hero like those blessed with spider-powers - the lack of physically protective clothing is balanced out by her use of spider-sense and super agility- but the addition of elements like the pumps or the mask/hood modernise the look beyond just it being a skin-tight body suit. Is it perfect? perhaps not, but it's definitely a design approach I'm a fan of when it comes for something a little different than just your average superhero suit. It doesn't go as far in terms of radicalisation akin to Batgirl or Spider-Woman's new designs - but it's a move a little bit further way from a normal suit, while still retaining that sort of potent iconic imagery that's been part of comics for years.
What do you think - are Batgirl and Spider-Woman trendsetters for a new age of superhero costuming, or do you think the spandex bodysuit that's been a part of icon designs for decades should still stay king?
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