So Long Spandex, but Thanks for Stretching Yourself So Thick

I’ve been an avid comics lover for most of my life. Back in the day I was more drawn to the artwork of Jim Aparo, Norm Breyfogle and Dick Giordano (various Batman titles), and eventually Jim Lee (WildC.A.T.S.) and Todd McFarlane (Spawn) to my all-time favorite Scott McDaniel (Nightwing). Nowadays, I’m more attracted to the writing than the art, some of my favorite stories being penned by the likes of Grant Morrison (All Star Superman), Jeph Loeb (Batman: The Long Halloween) and Scott Snyder (American Vampire, Batman: Gates of Gotham). At one point back when I’d started going to college, I thought I’d outgrown superheroes altogether, but thankfully it was only a brief hiatus; after a trip to Los Angeles and seeing a surplus of gigantic comic book shops (something Jersey had been running low on), I launched myself back into the world of comics with Loeb and Lee’s truly awesome Batman series Hush.

One of my favorite Jim Lee images from Batman: Hush.

Since then, I’ve only really kept up with DC Comics, and though I missed out on a few major events like Final Crisis and Blackest Night due to the financial constraints commonly associated with keeping up-to-speed with the world’s greatest superheroes, I try to keep a keen eye on what’s ahead by frequenting websites like Geeks of Doom and Gotham Spoilers. But I was happy that I finally had a hobby again, one that was (a little) cheaper than making short films. In short, I was happy. My inner child was licking away innocently at his soft-serve vanilla ice cream.

And then I read Justice League #1, the launch pad for DC’s controversial “New 52” campaign in which they’re “starting over from #1” on their entire line of titles. It was as though my inner child had been abducted. And me? Well, page after page of Justice League #1, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that the comic book heroes I’d grown up with were officially dead and gone.

Okay, so it’s not that serious. I know they’re not gone for good. They’re simply evolving, stretching their ripped and rock solid legs into tomorrow. I get that. I do. But what the heck happened to all the spandex––a staple of superherodom since its inception?

And what the hell kinds of costumes are these?!

No further comment.

Like many of us, I grew up during a time when superheroes wore spandex stretching around their bulked up bodies, their brightly colored underwear on the outside and which matched the color of their boots which stretched up to the knees and maintained the absolute mystery of how they ever managed to stay up. There’s a certain element childishness to a superhero who wears such an zany outfit out in public, it’s true, but there’s also an element of self-assurance, too. Superman, for instance, would never need to wear suit made of Kevlar or thin metal or whatever his new costume is made of; the guy chews bullets like they were Bubbalicious!

The Superman I grew up with is a Boy Scout and a Republican, not some wannabe hipster with a cocky attitude (as in Action Comics #1). And the Batman I grew up with is dark and brooding and doesn’t smile (that’s what Robin’s for––but don’t even get me started on Damian Wayne taking up the mantle of my all-time favorite character; I only hope DC’s planning on pulling a “Jason Todd” on this one!) not this rational human being who’d rather begin celebrating his parents’ wedding anniversary instead of laying two roses down on the crime ridden alley where they were killed and the Dark Knight was born (as in Batman and Robin #1).

I know, I know. Like the Pearl Jam song says “It’s evolution, baby!” I get it. I really do. But my inner little guy’s still crying ‘cause the ice cream I just bought him is melting in the lamp light on the sidewalk where Martha and Thomas Wayne were murdered.

I don't know...if Bruce can get over that, his Bat-Days are numbered!

The new costumes are one pet peeve of mine. The other aspect of DC’s New 52 I’m not at all happy with is how young some of my favorite heroes look. Granted, time and age are magically suspended in the world between the panels and speech bubbles, but honestly, this new Superman looks more like Superboy and seems to act just as childish and cocky from the little I’ve gathered so far from the last page of Justice League #1 and throughout Action Comics #1. I’m most worried about Nightwing #1––any titles featuring former Boy Wonder Dick Grayson has always been a favorite comic of mine. But I do take solace in the fact that DC seems to be keeping the Batman family and its history (somewhat) in tact and only marginally altered. We’ll see about that in a couple days.

The red Nightwing emblem (and matching eyes) make me uncomfortable.

Now, despite my initial disdain for these first couple of weeks of new number ones, I’m definitely intrigued by what’s going on (hence the reason I’m actually spending money on a few of these 52 titles that seem most interesting to me), especially where costumes are concerned. In fact, in a brief stint with nonfiction writing, I wrote a proposal and about eighty pages of a book called Darkening Knights about the various Boy Wonders and the many changes to their costumes through the years since Detective Comics #38 introduced Robin in 1940.

That said, I have a great appreciation for superheroes and their costumes as extensions of who they are, and while these new streamlined costumes are not as hokey as their spandex counterparts, they are too “real world” for me. I mean, Robin’s original costume was a bit outlandish, true, but even when it was redesigned in the ‘90s for Tim Drake to fill Dick’s pixies, it still retained a major elements that kept the integrity of the original model in tact without the addition of what seems to be shiny plates of sheet metal for added protection in the battlefield (though DC did upgrade Robin’s footwear from pixie boots to jika-tabi style boots (more practical, I think).

By far my favorite Robin costume of them all.

I suppose it’s just a changing of the guard of sorts. I mean, it’s no secret that comic book stores today are filled with more adults in suits than children wearing red capes with a Sharpie “S” drawn on them; so it seems that DC Comics is perhaps trying to rescue the comic “book” industry from extinction––I mean, if you’re a kid these days, why read comics when you can see your favorite heroes like (gulp!) Green Lantern or Captain America on the big screen, and in 3-D to boot? And yes, I feel like an old fogey (there, I said it!) for writing this, but what’s a guy like me supposed to do, spend the remainder of his days hunched over the $1 boxes at St. Mark’s Comics? I suppose so.

Or I guess I simply have to buy into it all. And I will (at least for certain titles) because everyone needs a little super in his or her life, after all.

OMAC, one of the "b-heroes" whose first issue gave me enjoyment.

On a positive note, I’m very excited to continue reading OMAC; the first issue was a fun one indeed. Swamp Thing #1 is superbly written by Scott Snyder. Batwing and Batwoman are series I plan to follow for a bit, as well, and I’m also looking forward to Justice League Dark and Aquaman. (Based on this list of titles, it seems I’ll be opting for the b-side superheroes from now on.) But I will also give a the first issue of Teen Titans a chance just because Robin, Superboy, Kid Flash and the gang have given me hours of reading pleasure in the past.

Ahhh! There’s my inner kid standing next to Bruce Wayne and licking happily away at a brand new ice creat cone, anxious to get his hands on a copy of Batman #1 and get it signed by his favorite writer this Wednesday.

I guess it is true what this guy who works at The Joker’s Child in Fairlawn said to me in a brief conversation about the New 52: “We comic fans, we’re a hopeful bunch.”

Yes, we are. But I wonder if Marvel’s superheroes still sport their spandex…!

*          *          *

So…what are YOUR thoughts on DC Comics and their “New 52” line? What titles should I add to my list of must reads?

5 thoughts on “So Long Spandex, but Thanks for Stretching Yourself So Thick

  1. You know I’m not a comic book reader therefore I have no comments about this topic but I just want to tell you that I wish that I could write my thoughts down as rich-in-picture as you do.

    “But my inner little guy’s still crying ‘cause the ice cream I just bought him is melting in the lamp light on the sidewalk where Martha and Thomas Wayne were murdered.”

    Wow. If I had to write about Batman moving on from his parent’s death, I would’ve written it just like that…”Batman’s over his parent’s death.”

    1. Awww…thanks, Babe! I just put it down the way I feel it and hope that it moves others to notice not only what I’m saying, but how it gets said. It means a whole lot more to me when you take notice of the “how” in my writing, and not just the “what”.

      In everything I write or shoot, the poet always has to leave a mark 🙂

  2. Great post John!

    Not being up on the latest developments I had no idea that DC was launching this latest campaign and I am definitely curious to check some of these out! I too am a fan of the Dark Night, the old Grant Morrison/Dave McKean Arkham Asylum is one of my all time favorites, I just can’t get enough of those illustrations. I was just down at Forbidden Planet about a month ago with Zack where we purchased (amongst other things) Batman Chronicles Volume 3 containing a bunch of the old strips from the 40’s. The language is incredible and I can’t think of a better way to introduce my son to this amazing world. He’s even learned the difference between DC and Marvel, not that I had anything to do with that!

    Keep the excellent work coming, lots of fun to read!

    1. Thanks a bunch, Matt — I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for reading. Ahhhh yes! ARKHAM ASYLUM is indeed Grant Morrison at his best (before he started confusing people as a career, of course!) Not much a fan of his writing nowadays, sadly. I definitely think this “New 52” is going to be a great way to get young kids like Zack into reading comics, and for me, anything that gets a kid to read these days amidst all the other media at their disposal these days is a good thing.

      Speaking of Grant Morrison: Have you read ALL STAR SUPERMAN? I think that is by far his greatest story ever told…and I’m not much of a Supes fan, truth be told. I highly recommend it 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close