30 March 2013

Fully dressed superheroines

Artist Michael Lee Lunsford has an interesting little project: Fully Dressed Redesigns of Superheroines. This hits me right where I live for a couple of reasons.

I have been enjoying the trend of artists offering up their redesigns of familiar superheroes. (Check out Project: Rooftop and Aaron Diaz experimenting with costumes.) There's something charming in the question it makes one ask about what makes a character recognizable as “the same”. One of my favorite panels in Warren Ellis' Planetary is the one in the very first issue in which a team of heroes who are transparent nods to ’30s pulps — Doc Savage, Tarzan, The Shadow — encounter characters from a parallel universe who are meant to represent the Justice League ... but who are drawn to be as unlike the Justice League we know as possible while still being recognizable.

Plus Lunsford's project riffs on the much remarked sexism of superheroine costumes, much like a favorite blog of mine, Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor.

Lunsford notes that his project isn't motivated by those political/cultural questions, it's an artistic experiment in taking characters and redesigning them with a challenging theme. All of the character's he's chosen ordinarily have revealing costumes while his experiments don't show any skin and aren't even tight. It's a cool project. He's a good artist, and all of them are clever and beautifully executed, but it's interesting that some worked for me and some didn't.

His Elektra is not just spot-on, it's so good that I feel like his version is her real costume which we haven't seen before because artists have tarted her up.

His solution to Power Girl is even better: it's an out-and-out improvement over the original in every way, distinctive and superheroic. A home run. I confess that I like that he kept her curves; if I were editor-in-chief of DC Comics, I'd stop making huge breasts the Most Common Superpower but keep Power Girl as the one superheroine with impossible proportions.

Supergirl is also pretty great, though the gray trousers look a little out-of-place with her colors. (Maybe they should go all the way to black? Or maybe a longer skirt that hangs over her boots?)

His Wonder Woman is interesting, but I think a near miss. It's does say “Wonder Woman” to me and I really like the armor at the shoulders, but overall it's just a little too busy. I can't really blame him, though. Wonder Woman's costume design is a perennial problem. Her “swimsuit” costume is iconic but terrible; to make it work you need either Lynda Carter's præternatural poise or to hang a lampshade on the absurdity of it. Her old ’40s skirt somehow feels even sillier to me, and pants seem like a good idea in principle but I've never seen a version that sits right. I've long thought the best solution might be to play off of her Hellenic background and give her a Greek pteryges as a “skirt”. (I've also long thought that she should be Black, as Warren Ellis hinted at with his character Rite.)

Conversely, his Vampirella costume is a terrific costume ... but it just doesn't say “Vampirella” to me. I don't have much of a taste for the character, but to my mind the whole point of her is to be over-the-top exploitive; she's supposed to be running around killing monsters by throwing running chainsaws at them, dressed in something that's not only pornographic but could not stay on her body even if you used glue. (Though maybe I'm wrong about that; I was astonished to discover that Trina Robbins created her costume and objects to it having shrunk away to almost nothing.)

His Zatanna is a different kind of frustrating near miss. It's a nifty costume, and I can tell it's supposed to be her, but it just reads as Not Right to me. I think the main thing is that the tailcoat is essential; replacing it with a fuller cape seems to violate the iconography. As does losing the white tie. I don't like that Zatanna is often drawn with a silly cleavage window, but I suspect that a fully-dressed Zatanna is inherently doomed. Her classic costume really is just classic, one of the best ever, not least because unlike so many superhero costumes that in real life seem silly, or even physically impossible, actual real-life Sexy Lady Magicians have worn it to good effect. The fishnet stockings are part of the cocktail; change that, and it just ain't the same.

Psyloche's costume is recognizable — barely — but his version of it comes off as bland. Maybe trying to do a fully-dressed version of her Sexy Cyber Armor costume would have worked better than this attempt at a fully-dressed version of her Sexy Ninja costume? I dunno.

And last, his Black Canary is the only total failure. I see he's trying to play off of her motorcycle, which is a good idea, but it doesn't work for me. It barely says “Black Canary” (which is inherently tricky to achieve, since her original costume is also lacking in character) and even on its own terms it's just a little goofy.

Of course, most interesting of all is the very fact that I have these opinions in the first place. Where does that even come from?

So of course now I'm looking forward to his next project ....

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