Why Are Superhero Shows And Movies Ashamed Of Using Costumes?
I want you to look at this picture of Riddler from The Batman and answer a question for me …
… If Riddler’s costume didn’t have that question mark on it, would you know that it was him? Be honest. Without that one symbol, I could tell you that this was actually Bane before he Hulks out on his Venom steroid, and you could totally see it. Christ, I could tell you that the character was a gender-bent Poison Ivy and it would still kinda make sense because that’s how generic that costume is. Yes, I KNOW that they’re going for a Zodiac Killer look, but they could have had that AND made Riddler look a bit more iconic. This literally took me 2 minutes to make in GIMP. I, appropriately, call it Business Gimp:
The reason this bothers me so much is that the classic Riddler “costume” is literally just a green suit. Still, even that’s apparently too unrealistic for the gritty world of The Batman, a very serious story about a man dressing up as a bat to scare criminals. This is part of a larger trend of superhero stories being ashamed of using costumes for a lot of its characters, especially the Marvel TV shows.
Look, no one here is arguing for Hawkeye to don his purple Wolverine mask with the giant H on his forehead, mainly because it’d mislead people into thinking that Red Dwarf was part of the MCU. But what about Netflix’s Daredevil? It made sense for the character to start out in his prototype, makeshift black costume, which is taken from Daredevil: The Man Without Fear #4 and #5. Later, double-D does get his devil suit, and all seems well. Until Season 3, when he loses it, going back to the goth-gym getup. Why? That suit was barely a costume. It was (very dark) red body armor and a helmet with “horns” that were so tiny, they looked like his headwear sprouted a pair of glass-cutter nipples.
Netflix’s Punisher in his solo series was even worse, wearing his iconic chest skull even less frequently than that itchy Christmas sweater you got from your grandma. You know, the one with “I’ll go down on you like the Titanic” written on it. At least you have a good reason for keeping it stashed in the closet. The Punisher’s entire “costume” is literally just body armor, leather, and that skull. It’s really another Riddler situation here. The comic book source is so simplistic and easy to transplant AS IS into live-action that not doing so makes you wonder if the people making these shows/movies even like comics.
And, yes, it matters because when you’re on some level ashamed of your work, it always shows. Not saying that THAT is why Iron Fist is the worst-reviewed Netflix Marvel show, but, damn, they actually kept the part where the main character has magic powers granted to him by an actual dragon, yet still refused to give Danny a yellow bandana mask …? It’s like agreeing to try electro-bondage watersports in the bedroom but drawing the line at doing it on Star Wars sheets.
Marvel has actually been getting better with superhero costumes, finally promoting Wanda from a red coat to a more comic-booky Scarlet Witch getup. But there are still so many superhero properties out there that think a blazer or a coat roughly the same color as the original character’s look counts as a superhero costume. And the weird thing is that NO ONE IS ASKING FOR IT. Gritty realism worked for Batman Begins, but we’ve moved past that. It’s okay to dress up your heroes and villains in silly, colorful costumes while making their stories adult and dramatic. In fact, the dissonance between the two can be really fun to explore on-screen. FFS, one of the most heartbreakingly tragic superpowered characters of the last few years was POLKA-DOT MAN from The Suicide Squad.
So listen up, Hollywood. From now on, whenever you get the urge to scrap a comic book costume in favor of something more “realistic,” I want you to look at POLKA-DOT MAN, slap yourself, and then go back to the drawing board with way more colored pencils.
Follow Cezary on Twitter.
Top Image: Warner Bros. Pictures