No Capes!

Here's an interesting piece by Michael Chabon in the New Yorker, ruminating on the nature and purpose of superhero costumes. And, as Saggypants Spidey here ably demonstrates, in real life, superhero costumes are beyond impractical. They're ludicrous, absurd, and the idea that anyone - possessed of abilities far beyond those of mortal men or not - would venture forth to fight evil wearing such a thing is simply ridiculous. There's a reason why Bryan Singer put his X-Men in black leather (complete with sarcastic, "What would you prefer? Yellow spandex?" joke) and why Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan both put Batman in hi-tech body armor and Joel Shumacher put him in rubber fetishwear. As Chabon points out, Adam West looked every inch the campy joke he was supposed to be in a fairly close approximation of Batman's actual comics costume. And, as both The Incredibles' Edna Mode and Watchmen's Nite Owl pointedly observe, capes, the classic symbol of the superhero costume, are just entirely impractical.

And yet, for all that, superhero costumes are such great fun, and such a part of the superhero experience, that you never really think about how absurd and impractical they are outside of parodies and deconstructionist stuff like the aforementioned The Incredibles and Watchmen. Nolan's Batman Begins gave the Caped Crusader a semi-practical reason to wear his cape - as you might recall, it serves him as a kind of glider as he leaps across the rooftops of Gotham City - but above all, Batman just wouldn't look right without his cape. It became kind of a "thing" for John Byrne and his successors on the Superman books in the late '80s and early '90s to have Superman's cape be blown off in explosions and destroyed in fights - and it was always a little jarring in such scenes to see Superman without his cape.

Wonder Woman, Catwoman, Black Canary and a host of others engage in their various feats of derring-do shod in high-heeled boots, often depicted as four- or five-inch stilettos. Even as a kid, that struck me as odd and made me think of those cheesy Easy Spirit shoe commercials from the '80s that showed women playing basketball in heels. In every horror or action movie ever made that features a foot chase, The Girl slows her escape from the Villain because she has to pause to remove her high-heeled shoes - and yet Wonder Woman is out there kicking ass in the kind of boots I've only ever seen in real life for sale at stores catering to strippers and drag queens on Hollywood Boulevard and Haight Street.

And speaking of footwear, years of tradition dictate that, of course, Clark Kent is always wearing his Superman outfit underneath his mild-mannered everyday clothes. I've always wondered - what does he do with the boots? Take a look at Brandon Routh's boots from Superman Returns. Those are some pretty hefty boots! You're not exactly going to slip a pair of Florsheim wingtips on over those things. You're not going to fold them up and slip them in your pocket. So maybe nobody ever notices that Clark Kent is wearing bright red boots with his off-the-rack JC Penney suits when he goes to work at the Daily Planet.

There's a great scene in Mark Waid and Barry Kitson's criminally-underrated "Justice League: Year One" miniseries where, after a fight, the Flash lectures Black Canary on the impracticality of her high-heeled boots. "Not a very practical feature for a battle suit," says Flash. "You don't say," replies Canary, grabbing hold of one of his head-wing earpieces and giving it a twist. The final panel, a reaction shot of the Flash with his entire cowl twisted around in front of his face, is absolutely priceless.

So many absurdities - and yet no one ever questions or even really thinks about them. They fall into that, "Well, let's just accept it and move on" category alongside Clark Kent's glasses-as-impenetrable-disguise. It's all part of the appeal.