Superhero costumes, explained by Michael Chabon

Superman_lSomewhere, William Shawn, John Hersey, and Rachel Carson are spinning in their graves, but I was delighted to read in the New Yorker this essay about superhero costumes, written by a guy who knows a thing or two about the topic, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay author Michael Chabon. Chabon’s thesis is that the superhero costume is an impossible paradox, one that reveals the musculature of the body it means to disguise, advertises the secret history (the hero’s origin story) it means to conceal, and divulges the secret it’s designed to hide: that this flamboyant hero is someone with a secret identity that needs protecting, lest the hero’s enemies find it out and use it against the hero. Also, don’t tell Edna Mode, but the superhero costume is literally impossible, as anyone knows who’s ever tried to wear one to a comics convention or squeezed into one on Halloween or dreamed he or she could fly like Superman just by tying a towel around his or her neck. The only places superhero costumes work is on the page and in the vivid imagination of the reader. Chabon manages to deconstruct the superhero costume without ripping it to shreds as an object of fantasy and wonder.

Tell us, PopWatchers: which comic book hero or heroine has the best costume, in terms of practicality, style, or fit? (By fit, I mean, of course, whose suit is least likely to bunch or ride up in a way that will create unsightly puckers and bulges?) And if you have superhero costume stories of your own to share, now’s the time; don’t worry, your secret identity is safe on our message boards.

addCredit(“Brandon Routh/David James”)


Comments (65 total) Add your comment
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  • Snarf

    I’ve always liked the X-men costumes (from the movies) that bein said last Halloween I dressed up as Green Arrow and worked the look if i do say so myself.

  • Anonymous

    I love Naked Lad

  • Snooks

    When I was younger, my aunt, uncle, 3 year old cousin and my family headed out to the Sandhills of Nebraska. We had a great time…that is until we actually went to the sandhills. At some park where there are a lot of rocks, my dad mentioned there would be a lot of snakes so we had to be quiet and careful. All of my seven year old body freaked out and cried/sobbed my way through the park. My 3 year old cousin? Good as gold because he had a towel (a ratty cabin towel) safety pinned to his shirt. Now 26 and 30 (respectively), my cousin and I howel laughing at the picture. He could (and would) do anything as long as you pinned anything onto his shirt.

  • Alison

    The ladies in the office and I have debated, and we think the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers have the most practical costumes for many reasons.
    -They are full spandex body suits for comfortable, aero-dynamic movement.
    -Their helmets offer full head protection, which is rare and necessary when defending the world against evil.
    -Also, the helmets would prevent the enemy from seeing the Rangers’ facial expressions keeping the enemies guessing and on their toes during battle.

  • jaime

    I think the best outfits are the X-Men outfits from all 3 movies, but when i was younger i would alway look at Batman and Supermans bulge. . .so those are hot too!!! I know with the remake of SuperMan there was controversy on what size to make his buldge. . .to be honest it seemed a bit small.

  • BrandonK

    Well, assuming that Batman has a “best of all possible worlds” suit, I’d say his is the best. If it’s armor like in the movies, that’s practical, and a number of his capes have been useful. It also does a good job of hiding who he is and frightening the bad guys. Also, if it’s made out of Kevlar or something, I doubt it rides up much.

  • Cart

    The most practical costume hands down has to be Iron Man. Practical? Of course it is. It gives to power to fly, be superstrong, shoot repulsor blasts, etc. Fit? Anyone can look good in the aromor, even if they have not spent time in the gym lately. Style? Tony Stark has revamped the armor several times over the years, changing colors, designs, features, etc. Seems like a no brainer to me.

  • Jelana

    Since you brought up Edna Mode, I’d say The Incredibles. It works for the whole family, and each has different abilities. I might have said Batman just for the utility belt, but I was reminded of Edna Mode’s cape montage.

  • Bill

    Me, I’ve always been partial to the The Flash’s costume. Sleek, able to conceal the wearer’s identity and not too over the top. The Golden Age Flash’s is even simpler, with just the red top, blue pants and silver hat with Apollo’s wings on the side. And no mask. How’d he hide his identity? By moving faster than the eye could see.
    Also, gotta agree with another one below — Green Arrow. Take the Robin Hood motif and crank it up.

  • wildecat

    Bill – did you see the episode of “The Big Bang Theory” when the four nerdy friends all dressed up as The Flash for the neighbor’s Halloween party? “This is why I said we needed a costume meeting!”
    Also – Edna Mode is THE BEST!!

  • kats

    Edna! Mode! ~ best superhero costumes ever, she thought of everything! Need to watch Jack Jack Attack again soon.

  • alison

    Good call! I LOVE that episode of the Big Bang Theory…

  • JennyP

    NOOOO! Hollywood stop with the remakes already! This is an awesome movie, perfect as is. Leave it and other classic flicks alone. Go find some books to adapt instead.

  • Anonymous

    Oops, posted in wrong area. Someone delete that please.

  • JennyP

    Oops, posted in wrong area. Someone delete that please.

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