Last week I went into some depth exploring the fan-made costume designs that are featured on the web site “Project: Rooftop.” Through a look at fans’ redesigns of Spider-Man, Superman, Wonder Woman and Captain America, I was able to narrow down what costume choices work best to make the characters feel more true and realistic with respect to the fictional universe they inhabit (Marvel characters looking more street-level and homemade, while DC characters looked best as living representations of classical gods).
Fortunately for us, DC has been releasing the designs for their upcoming Earth 2 and Worlds’ Finest series, featuring a slew of new costumes. The designs that have been released show what Superman, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batman and Robin will look like on the DCU’s new alternate Earth. Regardless of where a reader stands on whether or not a universe that was just rebooted and streamlined needs to re-introduce the concept of alternate Earths again, the new designs give us a chance to see how close professional artists can get to realistic costume choices. We’ve seen the fans do it, now let’s give the pros their moment.
We’ll begin with the Earth 2 Superman, as illustrated by the illustrious Jim Lee, who also contributed many of the redesigns for the DC’s New 52 reboot (the recently released Supergirl Earth 2 design is very similar to this one, so we’ll just focus on Supes instead of going over the same critique twice). Right off the bat I’m inclined to say that it does certain things right that the New 52 version just didn’t pull off as well. Gone are the hectic, inelegant lines or plates or whatever that pervaded the New 52 outfit. Superman’s collar is off the neck rather than being that strange Mandarin collar that Lee gave everyone in the JLA, and his shield has grown drastically.
Both of these features are in step with how Supes’ costume usually works best; low collar and big shield. In this one Lee is going for broke by letting the shield swallow Supes’ whole upper body and flow into the cape, which is very similar to various alternative designs that I have seen around the web, such as this one, allegedly used as concept art for a Superman film by McG. The costume also sticks with the current no-undies mandate that DC has toward Supes’ ensemble, but adds a touch of yellow on the otherwise red belt to balance the design.
In my last column, I posited that the Superman costume I found best suited the character was one that not only gave him a mythological, Herculean quality, but also proudly displayed his heritage as the latest of a long line of enlightened Sun God savior-heroes. This costume doesn’t necessarily do that as blatantly, but with the brighter pallet and the larger S, which gives way to brighter, warmer colors, this is definitely a more solar-inspired Superman. Lee seems to be driving that point home with the glare on the shield and in the warm sunset colors of the background.
The other approach that fans take to make Superman’s costume more believable is to give it a cold, alien, or at least regal look to it. After all, his costume is often intended to be the formal garb of a majestic alien race, right? In my opinion, this costume is at least better at accomplishing this than the New 52 design, which just makes Superman look like a living action figure. The Earth 2 design still doesn’t go all the way with a costume that is convincingly more alien than conventional superhero, but it is certainly moving in that direction. It’s alien enough that it says “this isn’t our world’s Superman,” and that’s really the point.
Lee’s Earth 2 Wonder Woman costume can also be said to be at least better than the last one he did. Back in 2010, Lee redesigned Wondy for a reboot to her series and left her with ‘90s-ish jacket, black leather pants, garish gauntlets and a glorified wife beater for a top. When the New 52 arrived, Wonder Woman was back in a more traditional-looking outfit with a few upgrades to the old design, namely black and silver replacing the blue bits and gold bits respectively. This looks fine, but I still always had trouble seeing this as the outfit a warrior princess would use.
Her new Earth 2 design, on the other hand, is decidedly more battle-ready. With one arm’s bracelet growing into a full sleeve of armor, her tiara becoming headgear and her eagle insignia looking more avian than before, this is a Wonder Woman that is built for war. Her top looks to be more plated than it was previously and her bikini bottom is now an armored skirt, which was the version of her outfit’s bottom that I always preferred. The addition of a sword also ties into her being more of a warrior. I also like that the design retains the star-spangled design cues of the earlier WWII-era Wondy, but uses it in a way that makes it seem like more of a coincidence than a flat out homage to the flag. All in all, I find this to be a solid design as far as being true to the character and making her feel more like a warrior.
The final redesign we’ll look at is a twofer, and is that of the Dynamic Duo, Batman and Robin. I have to say that I’m not really a fan of this alternate Batman design by Lee. It’s just too much. It’s like, do you like the spikes on Batman’s gloves? We’re gonna put those all the way up his arm. Think Batman’s utility belt is cool? Well now he’s got holsters coming off of it. How about his Bat emblem? We all like that, right? Well, you’d better, because now it’s added throughout the design like the search-and-find in a Highlight’s magazine. (Never mind the comment someone on Bleeding Cool left about this design saying that without the cape and spikes he’s basically Daredevil. I checked the design again after reading it and now I can’t un-see Bat-Devil.)
It’s all just a bit much. I personally didn’t think Lee’s New 52 Batman was that bad, except for those six weird lines that branch off of the wings of the Bat emblem on is chest. Batman’s costume doesn’t need a lot of thematic flourishes. He’s a regular guy. His outfit is like a magic trick and usually works best either when you can see all the armor and gizmos that perpetuate his illusion of being an invulnerable, supernatural urban myth, or when you can’t see those elements and he is just a freaky living shadow. But this extra stuff is just useless crap. None of it makes sense. He looks like he’s loading himself down with all this nonsense. I just can’t buy it.
The Earth 2 Robin design by Kevin Maguire, on the other hand, has me pretty psyched. Robin is one of my all-time favorite characters, and I’m always excited to see new costume designs, especially ones for a female Robin (best not to think too much about why that is, I’d like to keep that door shut for now). This design contains all my favorite elements of Robin’s costumes. I dig the laces on the shoes, the green pants, the stylized tunic “laces” and the collared black-and-yellow cape. New elements, such as the red mask, the centered R-logo (which makes more sense with the perpetually centered yellow tunic laces, and I’m surprised no one’s thought of that before) and the armor on her shoulder all fit in quite naturally. I’m even pleased with the things that didn’t work on Lee’s Batman costume, namely the holsters and the R-logo knee pads, since they work more for the character and don’t feel excessive in this design like they did for Bats’ costume. Compared to the current Robin’s costume, which uses a lot of seams and laces and detachable pieces and gives the overall impression of being made out of street clothes, I can’t say that Maguire’s design is necessarily the most realistic that Robin has looked in a while, but it is pretty freaking sweet.
As I’ve said before, looking at costumes from the perspective of whether or not they’re realistic is a lot of fun, but is only one possible lens with which to view these creations. In my opinion it’s important to always consider, if not what makes a character look more ground in reality, at least what makes a character more aware of their own nature. This is why I prefer Superman as a Sun God and Robin as either a circus acrobat or a street kid. Sometimes artists choose to go with a design that seems to be over-the-top and kitschy, which can work if the story is meant to be delivered with a satirical slant, but I’m not sure if that’s what this new Earth 2 is trying to do. For the purposes of this column, I’d have to say that I wouldn’t mind seeing someone else take over DC’s costume designs for a while. I like Jim Lee a lot, but think his strengths lie more in storytelling than in costume design. Perhaps DC can take on one of the talented artists from last week’s look at “Project: Rooftop?” Surely that would shake things up.
Either way, I’m ready for them to give Superman his undies back.