Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Readers' Write (16): True or False: Classic comic book costumes would not be accepted by today's movie audiences?


While Karen and Doug are on vacation, our readers are setting the day's topic of conversation.  For our "True or False?" posts, the first commenter can pose a statement.  Of course, it should be somewhat controversial, and you of course do not have to believe the statement yourself.  The goal here is to stimulate some lively conversation.  In the past we've had conversations such as - "Rock is dead." and "Fantastic Four is the World's Greatest Comic Magazine."

Thanks for keeping things moving during our break!

Today William posits, True or False: classic comic book costumes would not be accepted by today's movie audiences?

39 comments:

William said...

TRUE or FALSE - classic comic book costumes would not be accepted by today's movie audiences?

Anonymous said...

True. However, the toys and comics associated with the movies should still be the classic costumes.

Humanbelly said...

Oh yes, absolutely true. Heck, this might even not be quite controversial-enough a question (or maybe it's a "gimme" to improve our overall score? Padding the exam??).

They're just two very different visual mediums, and designs that look unquestionably terrific when frozen in stylized art on a flat page often look just. . . silly (there's no other way to put it) when they're put on live human beings in motion. That's one of the first things that strikes me with those earlier Captain America films-- and the point is very cleverly made in the recent film when "Publicity" Steve is touring around in that "Classic" Cap costume. The sense of it being a side-show performer's outfit or WWE get-up is very, very hard to get past, which makes the perceptual transition of it being heroic attire an even tougher row to hoe. The costumes in the Tick live-action series were perfectly (and consciously) designed to be consistent w/ comic book heroes, and that made its own wonderful satiric statement about the genre.

Remember all the fuss about the dark leather/vinyl-based outfits in the first X-Men film? That really was a solid choice. In live-action, the designer simply cannot get past the primacy of function over form. This is why the current Thor's garb pretty much works for me. It looks like something a guy would go out and fight a troll in and not worry too much about getting it ripped.

Helmets w/ wings? Ridiculous liability in any crowd. Huge flowing capes? Good grief, I'm sure a few of us here have donned capes at some point or another-- if you're gonna fight in a cape, you might as well surrender on the spot and save everyone the property damage. They get caught on EVERYTHING, they wrap around feet, arms, legs, face, etc, etc.
ANY ornamental gauntlets, boot-tops, shoulder-gear, or headpieces? It just never reads well on a real person, and it comes across as an obvious liability in a conflict to even the most casual of observers. . .

HB

William said...

My own answer to the above question is FALSE.

I've heard the argument from directors like Bryan Singer, Chris Nolan, Zack Snyder, and others that the costumes that characters like Batman, and the X-Men wear in the comics are too stupid looking to translate to the big screen. And thus today's "discriminating" movie goer wouldn't accept them - and as a result wouldn't go see a superhero movie in which the characters wore the iconic costumes they are most closely identified with.

I say bull$@#%! To me this sounds like an excuse for certain directors to change the look of classic characters to suit their OWN tastes. (Not the tastes of the general public). For example, one of the most successful film franchises of the 70's & 80's was "Superman". And in those classic films, Superman wore an exact version of his comic book costume. Now, you may say, "But that was the 30 years ago. People today are more sophisticated and demand more realism in their entertainment." Again I'd say bull$@#%! The very concept of characters like Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, and The X-Men are not based in realism in any way. (Neither are movies like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Avatar), but people flock to those movies in droves.

But the Hollywood people still continue to disrespect the source material and assume that nobody would go see a Batman movie if he wore his classic comic book costume. And I say "How do they know?" They've never tried it even once. Not in one of the 7 Batman films has Batman ever worn anything that even came close to his comic look. Why not?? Now they've gone and changed Superman as well. I think it is beyond arrogant that these people would change the look one of the most iconic and successful characters in entertainment history, just because THEY decided that it wasn't "realistic" enough. Like that monstrosity they came up with for "Man of Steel" was so cool or something. That was one of the most absurd looking costumes I've ever seen (in or out of the comics). It looked like a ballet unitard made out of recycled basketballs.

IMO, Hollywood isn't giving the public enough credit. I mean, everyone on Earth knows what Superman, Batman and Spider-Man are supposed to look like. But the movie makers continue to tell us all that we wouldn't like to see them looking like we've always known them. To suggest that people wouldn't go see a comic accurate movie is insulting. (It's like telling people that they are too stupid to know what they actually like). I think the opposite has been proven to be true. In the comic book movies where the characters look most like their comic book counterparts the movies have done as well, or even better than when their look and/or persona is radically altered for the screen. For example the recent "Avengers" film is a perfect example. Of any comic movie so far, the characters looked (and acted) the most like they do in the comics, and it was the most profitable superhero movie ever. And the old Spider-Man films are another example. Some of the most successful movies of all time, and Spider-Man actually looked like Spider-Man. In fact the biggest complaint I heard about the first Spider-Man movie was that the Green Goblin looked nothing like he did the comics. In the upcoming "ASM 2" movie Spidey is going to look more like himself than ever. So, we'll see if people stay away. Anyway, sorry for the long rant, but this is something that really irks me.

david_b said...

"..NO CAPES.. NO CAPES..", as Edna Mode would yell in 'Incredibles'.

FALSE. It's been a mixed response to say the least. Most fans didn't like the dark leather but movie producers didn't have guts to roll out classic outfits in fear of cartoony ridicule. I agree with HB to an extent, but the feedback I've heard is classic costumes were MUCH appreciated for added fun by both fans and non-fans alike IF they were done well.

The early cheap Cap films..? Nahh, terrible.

The first Ironman and Spiderman films..? They were on the other end of the spectrum, being both awesome and pretty spot-on.

I thought the Flash television series was a very valiant attempt, but they used film smarts to compromise..: Use the bright red outfit concept, but shoot primarliy night scenes, allowing much more control over lighting and shadows, which worked well for a post-Burton 'Batman' superhero approach. Same for Dick Tracy, which kept the retro smokey streetlamp, neon style.

Keep classic outfits, at least a nod to 'em somewhere in the movie, and only use them for merchandising. Most 'movie-outfit' characters don't sell very well to older collectors for a reason. First off, it automatically 'dates' them, second if the movie sucks, no one will buy 'em.

Sooo, if they're filmed well, yes classic outfits.

Matt Celis said...

False. How can we gauge what would be accepted when filmmakers haven't tried it, though? Can't think of any super hero movies where the costumes weren't messed with since Chris Reeve. It's more an issue of filmmakers feeling comics are for kids, therefore we must change them to prove we're serious, mature adults. It' the Miller-Moore Law of Unintended Consequences.

Karen said...

I think it really depends on the costume. Some look pretty good on the screen, like Iron Man or Spider-Man, but some aren't quite as convincing, at least in the ways they've been presented so far. I've yet to see a convincing Hawkman. I think wings are just difficult to pull off. Maybe that's an instance where CGI might help.

I'll tell you one thing: I'd like to see Batman in a suit that looked more like the traditional comics look, and not some guy covered in tire-tread.

Paul said...

I agree with Karen that it depends on the costume. But, there are some fan-made films out there (check out You Tube) that put this question to the test with often pretty effective results. Batman, in particular, looks darn good in Batman: Dead End,a fan-film.

david_b said...

Matt had a great point on Superman. As you know, in the late '80s, early '90s movie makers were so hip on leather outifts.., it partially marks/dates the genre or timeframe the movie's made in, such as the LIS movie.

Batman '66 (both TV show and movie..) had a superb use of the 'new look'. Granted due to the show's comedy-campy elements, by association the costuming didn't age well for a decade or two, and was ill-used by moviemakers to support their non-camp attire suggestions. But I firmly believe Burton's Batman rectified most of that lingering shadow.

Certainly the old-style Buster Crabbe 'Flash Gordon' outfits didn't fare all that well until Star Wars came out and they all looked cool again.

Much agreed on Batman:Dead End. That's an awesome point on using the could be outlandish outfits with the right lighting effects, as I mentioned regarding 'The Flash'.

Edo Bosnar said...

Just as I read Karen's comment ("some guy covered in tire tread" - *snort*), I thought of that Batman fan film, but I see Paul beat me to the punch. That, together with the Reeve Superman films, pushes me toward a "false" response to this question.

And although in general I tend to agree with HB's point about all superhero costumes looking rather outlandish in real life - well, to echo a point I think Matt has made before, the whole premise of superheroes is outlandish, so why shouldn't their attire underscore that fact?

MattComix said...

False but in true in two respects, those who don't think much of the genre to begin with and comic fandom itself because of it's own overblown inferiority complex.

That is what feeds the need to over-compensate for the inherent fantasy of these characters in live-action with tons of armor, leather, visible seams or Smallville jackets. Yes some folks in Hollywood are embarrassed of superheroes, but sadly so are a lot of fans who feel that "realism" is the holy grail to their hobby (and by extension themselves) being taken "seriously". ..and you know I get not wanting to hear the umpteenth nananana joke every time you try to talk to someone about Batman but come on.

Look at Amazing Spider-Man 2. If there is actual thought and craft put into the use of the classic designs, audiences will go with it. Granted the movie isn't out yet but even from those who aren't looking forward to it I've seen nothing but positive response to the suit. Yeah it ain't John Romita or Alex Ross but I'll be damn if Spidey doesn't look like Spidey

I would love to see the same design philosophy applied to other live action superhero costumes where the classic look is embraced but is brought to life through good creativity and judgement on design and materials used. Screw the "make it real" approach, go for "bring it to life."

mr. oyola said...

I say true (conditionally).

For me the biggest problem are not the costumes themselves (necessarily), but the masks - the masks look stupid.

Something like Iron Man works b/c you can have the "inside the helmet" shot with instruments in the like. The one good thing about about the last Spider-Man movie is that they have him remove his mask enough that you could see his face and he could emote (plus, having a full face mask on all the time must be uncomfortable and gross). Captain America looks terrible with his helmet mask.

So, I don't know if they'd be accepted, but in many cases they are better without them.

William said...

There are definitely some exceptions to rule. Some superhero costumes would definitely not translate to film. Wolverine's classic yellow suit is a good example. I don't think they could have made that look good no matter what. But they could have at least given a nod to the comics. For example they could have had Wolverine sporting the look he had when he first got his own book. Which was a sleeveless black tee with black pants, boots and motorcycle gloves. That would have been cool, and would have kept in line with both the comics and the style of the film. As it is, the closest thing the X-Men movies ever get comic accurate is Magneto's helmet.

MattComix said...

Ugh. I hate the movies having the characters masks removed gratuitously to show the actors face. In no other genre of movies do I see this kind of hand-wringing. Nobody asks Vader to remove his helmet or Worf to take his forehead off so we can see more of what Michael Dorn really looks like.

Many superhero characters wear masks. That's part of the deal. Their identities are supposed to be secret AND ideally they look cool but Hollywood for all t's vaunted effects magic has rarely been arsed to try and make them look cool on screen and when they do even then they get coy about them.

If we're going to fret over showing the actors face we might as well forget the entire notion of live action superhero movies altogether. Or fantasy or even theater. From now on nothing but films of people in sensible clothes having coffee and talking about their feelings.

William said...

There is a series of videos on YouTube called "Super Power Beat Down" which pits characters like Batman, Wolverine, and Deadpool against each other in movie quality fight scenes. And for the most part, they use very comic accurate costumes (including Wolverine's yellow look, complete with mask), and they look totally awesome. It just further proves that it can be done, and that Hollywood directors just don't really bother trying. Either because they don't actually like comics, or they just don't care.

Here are the links to three of the better videos. So you can decide for yourselves.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3wDj7bYve0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAg2m5UlBYw

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UuKQ3Oc97Wk

Humanbelly said...

Ha! Wow, I am delighted to have been so incorrect in my assessment of this topic, even as I stand unshakably on the other side of the issue from most of my esteemed colleagues, here!

Karen's point is definitely well-taken-- it does depend on the costume design. Spidey has looked just fine to me in all of his films, so has Iron Man, and those uniforms have been largely true to their roots. Am I remembering that Green Lantern looked pretty good, too?

However, there's a fairly strong tone of proprietership coming through in the replies so far, and the question really isn't about "us", so to speak-- it's about "today's movie audiences". Sure, we're a part of that audience-- but the reality is that we middle-aged comic book afficianados are a very, very small portion of that audience. Designs that we hold dear carry little or no weight at all with the broader movie-going public, and much more primary consideration must be given to making the characters accessible and quickly relatable to that public. Thus, we tend to lose masks whenever possible so that we can see faces (a huge, but completely successful, concession made for the Tick, once again). And design decisions do have to be made w/ a nod toward utility and practicality, because we're much directly involved with the character in the moment, and as soon as an audience member steps back to ask "why on earth is Colussus wearing flare-topped thigh-boots??" or "what the heck are those wings on his helmet FOR??" they're out of the moment, and the silliness factor can all-too-easily take hold.

I actually think, William, that the Avengers film may support my point of view a bit more. Thor's look is markedly different from his classic outfit, as is Hawkeye's. Cap's is also still markedly different from what we think of as "classic" Cap. BW,of course, can't miss w/ her classic jump-suit, and the Hulk is, heh, in raggedy pants. I.M. remains I.M. What carries it is, as you mentioned, the characters all act and sound like themselves (well, except for Clint), and are still easy to visually identify.

Believe me, I bow to no one in my love for classic superhero costumes (heck, I was miffed at Cyke's upgraded headgear in New X-men #94). I'm the guy who unlocks all of the classic costumes and plays them in all of the video games. But I do get that there is a hurdle to making them visually acceptable to an uninitiated young movie-going public.

Hoo-boy--- I'm boiling some blood out there, aren't I?

HB

mr. oyola said...

You can have scenes where the hero takes the mask off, but keeps his identity. For example, when Spidey is in the sewer waiting for the Lizard in the ASM movie, he removes his mask for a little while. I had not problem with that. Who was there to see him? Now, if only he had not put his name on his camera!

Worf is a terrible example. Make-up and face prosthetic still allow for facial expressions to be seen and the mouth to move thus cuing empathy.

Darth Vader is an even worse example. 1) The cold emotionless robotic face of his get-up reinforces his characterization, 2) He is a villain and not the character we are to connect with - if most of the movie was from his POV instead of the rebels his mask might be a problem. 3) One of the scenes that really helps to establish his character is in Empire when we see the back of his unmasked head for a second - allowing us to see his humanity w/o giving away what afflicts him. The unmasked portion matters.

MattComix said...

@mr.oyola. Peter taking his mask off in the sewer is not what I'm thinking of when I say "gratuitously". I'm thinking more when he's chasing the Lizard around the school and he's carrying his mask in his hand. Or in Avengers when when one of the aliens pulls caps mask off. That alien has no reason or motivation to want to reveal Caps face. In Thor the helmet is established for a split second before it disappears never to be seen again. If Thor though it was worth wearing into battle before, why not later?

The reason I used Vader and Worf is more towards the idea of seeing the actors face. Worf is not less of character because Dorn's face is hidden under make-up. Vader is not less of a character because you only hear his voice.

Garett said...

Thanks for the links, William! Wolverine looks great here in his yellow costume. I want a full film like these Beatdowns.

Doug said...

Put me in the camp of fans who do get tired of our heroes maskless in the films -- as said above, seemingly for the sole point of showing the actors faces. C'mon -- your agent should have told you what you were signing up for!

Loki looks pretty doggone awesome when he's wearing any of his headgear, but for some reason Thor not wearing his helmet hasn't bothered me as much as Cap or Spidey (which I detest their unmaskings). By the way, wasn't the Thor suit we're seeing in the films being used in the comics just prior to the films' release? I don't believe the Thor suit is movie-specific. But I could be wrong.

Am I imagining a scene in the latest Wolverine film (which I did not see -- referencing a pic I saw on the Internet) where he opens an attache' and the yellow/blue togs are inside? Or was that maybe a bonus scene on the blu-ray?

The Spider-Man costumes in the Raimi films did not bother me, but then I think I've grown more tolerant simply because we've been made to deal with all of these Hollywood adjustments. Honestly, the costume in ASM2 took me aback the first time I saw it. But it's funny how several of our commenters are harping on the authenticity of the new Spidey suit when Electro couldn't be further from the comics (and Rhino looks like an erector set gone wild).

Fun conversation today -- good job, William!

Doug

Matt Celis said...

The best translations to screen remain Adam West, Lynda Carter, Lou Ferrigno, and Chris Reeve.

Doug said...

I'll go 3 out of 4 with you, Matt. But I really did like the CGI Hulk in the Avengers flick. Of the three recent Hulk appearances on film, the latest was the best-looking.

And I don't know that Adam West is my favorite movie Batman, but I am moving more in that direction all the time. I always surprise myself with how much more I'm growing to like (and I liked it initially) the first Burton film with Michael Keaton. If Keaton had been 6'2" or so, he'd have really been convincing.

Personally, I think they should stop making Superman films. The only two they really need were made over 30 years ago.

Doug

Edo Bosnar said...

Doug, I'm totally with you on Superman. And I know I've said it before, but I still think the first Burton film is the best Batman movie.

mr. oyola said...

I have two things unrelated to the topic at hand, if you'll forgive me, but there is no other way to share it with the group (maybe we need messageboards to go along with the blog? ;))

Anyway,

1) This awesome art sale of canvas art comic cover recreations. I wish I could afford it right and that my wife would let me put one up in the living room. http://www.woot.com/plus/marvel-comic-book-canvas-art

2) A link to the Marvel Guide to Collecting Comics I rediscovered in an ASM from 1982, which could be its own topic on here, I think. I guess being in the Bronze Age, it does not mention the Bronze Age when talking about the eras of comics: http://we-are-in-it.tumblr.com/post/74838326932/a-sixteen-page-bonus-insert-marvels-guide-to#notes

Doug said...

See, Osvaldo, it's cool things like those that I stumble across and then I accuse myself of violating vacation protocol!

Thanks for sharing both of those. And if any of our readers would like to gift me one of those canvases (any of them, really... I would not be picky), I would sure appreciate it. The Loki one is very cool!

Doug

Matt Celis said...

C'mon, you know you love Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.

Doug said...

Matt, I do believe you've just inspired a "Who's the Worst..." post. Look for it some time in February.

Doug

MattComix said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MattComix said...

@Doug. That's part of why ASM2 is such on odd beast already though Electro is a particular case IMO. Rhino is just odd because Hollywood has spent a lot of time and tech on rendering organic material yet the Rhino suit was deemed impossible so we get a Home Depot mecha instead? As for Green Goblin I don't even know WTF. Dafoe's costume I was able to roll with so long as he was selling it as menacing. When they started havng him being wacky and they lifted the eye covering was the moment it disintegrated.

@Matt Celis. I'm with you on Chris Reeve 100%. A little less so on the others. I'm with Doug on the Avengers Hulk but I gotta love Lou. Lynda's World War II suit feels somehow more dead on than her (then) modern era one.

With Adam West while I'm not a fan of Frank Miller I always found Dave Mazuchelli's Year One art interesting just for the fact that it was a glimpse as to what the West suit would have looked like if they hadn't been doing a camp show.

Humanbelly said...

Wow, and so many great tangents spawning from all of this-!

1) Can't quite get on board w/ any filmed Batman costume, I'm afraid. I prefer the classic grey/black-- but the tights. Ugh. Truly, even when I was 6/7 years old the costume wasn't looking right in "real life" to me. Perhaps the issue is me?

2) Ha! Forgot how good those Super Power Beat Downs looked, and what fun they can be! Nope, Wolvie's costume still looked quite silly to me, I'm afraid-- but it was unquestionably a great costume.

3) HBSon & I have just recently watched 3 of the 4 first Batman films (have to go back and watch BATMAN FOREVER), and we enthusiastically agree that BATMAN & ROBIN was one of the most aggressively bad movies we've seen in a long, long time. Bad. Just. . . Bad, bad, bad. Full of itself. . . and bad. However, we both thought BATMAN RETURNS was a considerable improvement over the first film, with a particularly (and surprisingly) moving performance by Michelle Pfeiffer.

But geeze, the AWFUL costumes at the end of B&R (well, the beginning, too). . . I dunno, I still feel like The Batman has yet to be fully and effectively realized regardless of the TV/film iteration. . .

HB

Matt Celis said...

How 'bout Electrawoman and Dynagirl?

Anonymous said...

I vote FALSE. By and large, modern movie audiences would accept any super hero in a costume. It's a given, if you're a super hero, you were a costume. When movie makers put characters into certain outfits/costumes, that's when you start seeing homages to the informed/comic reading audience. When the "S" symbol showed up in Smallville. Cap's shield in Iron Man. The helmet in Thor. Hulk's purple pants in The Avengers, etc etc etc and so on and so on.

I don't know how this point fits into today's topic but I'll throw it out for any and all interested.

Doug made reference to Wonder Woman's costume, which to me is what Lynda Carter wore during her three seasons. The first, on ABC, was set during WWII. When the show moved to CBS, the network wanted it updated to save on costs and a more modern (and revealing costume) for Wonder Woman. I've seen a documentary on stunt women in Hollywood and Jeannie Epper, who was Lynda's stunt double the whole show run, talks about how there was no way to pad the costume so bruises were going to happen and they did.

Which brings me to my point (boy did that take a while), in some of the movies, especially the Dark Knight one, Batman was going to by a more physical character, so the costume had to be padded to protect both him and the stunt men. That's how we got the battle armor he wears. That's how we get the costumes that some of the actors wears. To allow for protection and padding. In the first Amazing Spider-man movie, the have the kitchen scene where Peter comes in bruised from his fight and he tells Aunt May he fell off his skateboard. His costume, though awesome looking to us, should leave him bruised. It's mainly clothe. Heck, it's not even "unstable molecules"!

The Prowler (wearing a cape and suffering the scorn it entails).

Anonymous said...

Like Karen, I'm gonna say that it depends on the costume - Spidey and Superman translate easily to the big screen because traditional colours like red and blue look good in a live action setting. Batman with a few tweaks also transfers well.

Some other costumes like Wolverine's classic yellow costume (or most others with yellow as a primary colour) probably wouldn't translate as well. His darker brown and tan one would look better on the big screen.


- Mike 'colour uncoordinated' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Anonymous said...

I'm kinda glad they retired the wearing of the underwear-outside-of-the-tights. Superheroes don't have to dress like circus strongmen from some old-timey circus in the early 1900's.
But they can't abolish capes! Capes are like cowbell! You've gotta have capes!
Karen, that line about tire-tread made my root-beer come out of my nose!

Doug said...

I just watched William's link to the Wolverine vs. Predator video.

1. The Wolverine costume proves to me that it would work on film. I had no problem at all with the blue and yellow. What's not to like. Agreed, however, that the general public might prefer the brown/dark brown suit. I've always been partial to the original color scheme.

2. The cosplay girls toward the beginning of the clip, in the Ms. Marvel and Power Girl (holy...) costumes prove that cloth works on film. Tire tred, indeed.

Doug

Karen said...

Speaking of costumes in movies, have you all seen Empire Magazine's covers featuring the characters from the upcoming X-Men movie, Days of Future Past? It's the usual collection of black on black for the most part, although Magneto gets some purple, and Mystique and Beast both are blue. Still, would it kill them to toss in some red on Colossus' outfit, or have Iceman iced-up?

You can see them here: http://www.empireonline.com/xmen/default.asp

Edo Bosnar said...

Karen, thanks for the link. And yeah, I agree, all black on black (or grey) and oh, so dark and grim and coooool (or rather, keeeewl) + shirtless Hugh Jackman.

For the longest time during my initial comic-reading days as a preteen and then teen, the X-men were my favorites by a long shot, but now it's just the opposite: I can't get excited by any of the X-movies.

Matt Celis said...

Not impressed by their performances, but I can't complain about Jessica Alba and Scarlett Johansson in skintights.

Mr. Preece said...

I have to say TRUE. I could make a long argument of this, but to keep it simple: ink drawings with simple flat colors just don't translate that well to live action images. This also works in reverse. The real world is very, very hard to translate into black ink lines and flat colors. BUT... when you do translate the real world into comic art, THEN the costumes "match" the real world visually and therefore are believable. To get buy-in from non-comic readers, these two things have to match better than they have in past movies.

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