Colour and Costuming

The ‘kittification’ trend caused me much amusement last summer, as I am sure it did for many of you. Who doesn’t love both the MCU and Hello Kitty??What was interesting was seeing how quickly, and without attribution, several of those images spread. Though heroes from other popular cinematic franchises were soon ‘kittified’ – see Gandalf  the Pink (it’s worth it!) – but no other heroines donned the pink after Black Widow (prove me wrong?). Basically, it’s just much funnier when it’s big men with muscles looking silly isn’t it? It’s just that much more incongruous to see then men in pink, with cute logos.Superhero costume colours tended to develop in primary hues, and this was in part due to the limited palette available due to printing processes. I have always quite liked that the same colour palette of primary colours, with some dramatic black and purple, served all heroes equally for a long time. (The shape of the female vs male outfits is another post entirely).

Winning the Primaries

I am obviously not the first to notice trends in the costuming colour scheme. Interestingly, the below infographic includes no breakdown in colour analysis by gender – a study I’m be keen to do when I next have a free weekend! I think it’s interesting that Marvel has a slightly wider range  of significant colours since, arguably, their roster of heroes developed slightly earlier in greater diversity, in terms of gender, race and ethnicity. (A comparison between ‘not very diverse’ and ‘really not very diverse’ has no winners). A more comprehensive edition of the infographic below does note the darkening of the colour palette of many heroes over time.

The Color Palette Of Comic Characters

They pick Batman, Daredevil and the Fantastic Four as obvious candidates on the page, and the recent film adaptations take this a step further: Superman has lost his iconic circus strongman leotard look with the red ‘underpants’, and Wolverine’s penchant for yellow lycra was openly mocked (by Cyclops no less!). Bright colours have been associated more with women than men,at least in American and European culture, since Beau Brummell and his dandies reformed high fashion at the start of the nineteenth century. To court attention based on your body and your physical appeal is considered a woman’s prerogative still. The original superhero outfits echoed the tights and leotards of the circus performer or wrestler, visually linking the hero’s physical display to socially approved models of male competition. Now, however, we are stuck with anachronistic icons. Our sportswear has altered, our frame of reference requires that the superheroes choice to don a costume be explained rationally, and that the outfit be practical to their needs. Raimi’s Spiderman returned to the wrestling ring, Nolan’s Batman needs good kevlar from the science division, and no-one’s yet come up with a good excuse for Wolverine, but they keep trying. As the costumes change over time, this usually accompanies a darker and grittier approach to storytelling, aimed at increasingly adult audiences.(TW – sexual violence discussed in next para)

Why So Serious?

Aspects of adulthood that can be brought to the fore to attract a more mature readership include a greater emotional depth, an exploration of romantic and sexual aspects of character’s lives, and a greater nuance in the presentation of political and structural makeup of the fictional worlds explored. Generally, the darker tone has also been set by violence – increasingly, sexual violence. See Mark Miller’s comments on rape – as a comic creator he seems to think that it ‘just a horrible act to show someone’s a bad guy’ – levelling sexual violence with all other forms of violence, yet refusing to acknowledge the gendered nature of sex crime. The point of violent crime in comics is to demonstrate the hero’s response to it, not the victim’s, most usually. The proper place of adult culture is demonstrated by a focus on the adult male; there is a cultural alignment of ‘adult’ concerns, increased ‘realism’, and masculinity. The ‘gritty’ realism and violence are generally the preserve of male heroes, since women are mostly the dead or disempowered victims. As darker colours and tones in clothing are also culturally aligned with men and masculinity, are darker palettes and grittier stories deliberately more ‘masculine’, or just a by-product of a focus on male characters? I like dark, I’ll read gritty, and I’ll do it wearing a Hello Kitty onesie if I want to. Mashing the hyper-masculine with the hyper-feminine highlights effectively how far apart we have positioned the extremes of gender, but also brings those extremes together – demonstrating that we can be fans of both, we can all enjoy a range of cultural material and audience positions. That one is increasingly taken seriously as a cultural expression and the other denigrated as suitable only for children, is deeply troubling. This is why I say bring on Hello Kitty Avengers, Sailor Moon style transformations for Iron Man, Batman in a ballgown, and every other cutesy fan intervention. The only response to either extreme, in the end, is to giggle at its absurdities. If you think Hawkeye looks ridiculous in pink, would Sailor Moon automatically be more bad-ass in navy, camo green, and black? If you think so, I think you missed the point.

Royalty-free clipart picture of a caucasian male super hero flying with one arm forward, on a white background by Rosie Piter, COLLC0023. This image is protected by copyright law and may not be used without a license. No free use allowed.
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Royalty-free clipart picture of a caucasian male super hero flying with one arm forward, on a white background by Rosie Piter, COLLC0023. This image is protected by copyright law and may not be used without a license. No free use allowed.
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