If you ever read comics, you may have noticed that something about the costume design must be messed with by the time the characters are reimagined in live action. Early adaptations such as the Christopher Reeve Superman showed just how odd these things looked when pulled into the real world. From stylistic tweaks (Like Man of Steel’s symbol) to complete overhauls (see the X-Men 2000 movie) what happens on the pages of the comic books rarely translates into something that actually looks good in real life, causing more modern designers to step in and readjust. What is it about our icons of hope and justice that makes for a gruesome looking outfit exactly?
The artists are the first (and last) people to point the finger at here. These guys (and they were primarily guys) designed the costumes we have all come to know and loathe. On the page however just like on virtual fashion platforms clothes can appear very different. Take materials for example, other than metal many costumes seem to be made from the same one size fits all fabric. This matte look, perfect fit crypto-cotton looks perfectly normal against the backdrop of similar clad 2D folk, when they are no longer made of ink they no longer look anywhere near as impressive. Punches, kicks, throws and all manner of actions are executed in these garments with very little movement from the fabric giving a false photo finish every time.
Real Bodies Aren’t the Same
One thing many females notice quickly is that comic book proportions and body types are not very generalised, though this goes for guys too (abs drawn on in sharpie is a common workaround). The super skin-tight stuff mixed with bulky accessories like utility belts and helmets make for a real odd mix that often looks as uncomfortable as it is to wear (even dedicated cosplayers need a rest). Actors in movies have regularly had to make changes to their bodies to fit the look of the outfits even though it is often the design that really needs a good makeover.
Unlike dressing a model for the catwalk, comic book artists don’t have to think about how costumes would work in a real-world environment. Other than the occasional piece of armour, these outfits serve little function for the wearers other than parading their brand and (in many cases barely) covering their shame. Take for example Batman’s head turning problems from the films, without trying these works of art on you can never know how good or awful they are to wear. Many modern items of clothing take comfort over style, just look at the rise of yoga pants in very non-yoga places.
Eye Popping Appeal
The real thoughts behind making a memorable costume are focused on creating something that stands out. With everything else vying for your attention on comic pages the hero’s costume must pop and be recognisable enough that you know who they are when they appear next. This is often the opposite of many real-world outfits, garish colours, bold symbols and pointy angles aren’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea, nor do they always look good when overdone. Subtlety is boring in comics but is regularly necessary in real life, power girl would do best not turning up to an office job interview in her usual garb. Superman on the other hand should never have left his bathroom.