Comic book artists make strange shoe designers. Some of them don’t really draw feet, others perch their heroes on tiny 6″ stilettos and assume they’ll be able to fight. Decades ago when I first began reading American superhero comics, the footwear fascinated me. Too young to be wearing anything but the most basic, functional kid-shoes, I loved the thigh-highs, the swashbuckling boots, the slouchy ankle boots, and all manner of footwear that was still out of my reach. As I’ve aged it has become less of an item of desire and more of curiosity as I witness cosplayers at conventions trying to duplicate their favorite heroes, footwear and all. Here is a list of ten of of my favorite boots in comic books, with no films included (I wanted to look more at the work of the artists and their take on specific shoe designs).
1. John Byrne’s STORM go-go boots
The boots which first impressed me where Storm’s, back in the 1980’s. Thigh high with the elaborate cut-outs, they had a kind of ’70’s go-go look that I loved. Impractical on one level (how do they stay up) and practical on another (it’s better than having naked legs in a storm), they don’t just look good, they make her very revealing costume somewhat less revealing. More than half disco-fabulous, these look great in a fight. Those kitten heels wouldn’t be my choice, but it was Byrne’s standard heel at that time and he makes it work.
2. Mike McMahon’s JUDGE DREDD ribbed boots
The crazy thing about these boots is that ribbed toe cap. Well, I say that, but the scale and the bright green is pretty insane, but that ribbed toe cap is what always gets me. It reminds me of a classic Adidas Superstar (or shell toe) sneaker. I used to have calf-high green boots, they weren’t as clunky as these but they had just as much impact. There’s something fantastically stompy and exaggerated about them in conjunction with those huge knee pads that makes the Judge’s costume that much more grounded. He’s one of the skinniest men in comic books, with the largest boots in contrast with his little legs. It’s a great silhouette.
3. Darwyn Cooke’s CATWOMAN ankle boots
Over the years I’ve enjoyed all the incarnations of Catwoman, but Cooke gave her the most covetable costume. This is definitely the first time I’d seen Catwoman in practical, sturdy shoes she could work in. There’s still a heel, enough to give the foot support if she’s running fast, and that sole has serious grip to it, which probably comes in very handy with all the cat-burgling. The crazy thing about Cooke is that he’s still using his sassy, 1950’s style, but her shoes are completely contemporary and they sweep the costume out of the realm of fetish and into a more utilitarian style.
4. Adi Granov’s Iron Man boots
Ever since I read Iron Man Extremis (by Warren Ellis with art by Granov) I’ve loved Granov’s take on Iron Man. The overall shape of this, the silhouette is like someone wearing long, boot-cut jeans over giant boots, there’s a smooth, continuous line from leg to foot. It emphasizes the jet-functionality of the boot. Granov’s perspective of the Iron Man armor is well-known because of his work designing for the movies, the benefit of this is that he’s had to decide how the armor actually accommodates a live human body which has in turn strengthened the design.
5. George Perez’ elegant Wonder Woman boots
This is one of my favorite incarnations of Wonder Woman and her costume, there’s something deeply unsexy about her semi-nudity (in a good way). Perez had this knack for making her look strong without making her look aggressive and her simple, sporty, flat-soled boots are part of this. Light and agile, these boots are made for Wonder Woman to live in and look good doing it. If you look at the way he draws the top of the foot, you can tell that this is a well constructed heel, not entirely flat.The red boot with the white stripe was always pretty slick, but taking away any heel perfects them and takes them out of the 60’s.
6. Jack Kirby’s Captain America pirate boots
Maybe it was my early love of pirate movies, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Captain America’s calf-high, fold-over boots. They root him in the era he was created for and add a swashbuckling mood to his costume. Captain America could so easily be a dour sort of a hero, so earnest and well-meaning that he could be dull, but how can a man in bright red pirate boots be dull? Kirby’s often drew feet a little larger than other artists and with these cuffed boots encasing his calves, Captain America has that much more gravitas than his fellow superheroes.
7. Kirby (and Bruce Timm’s) Barda pixie boots
This delicate, black, leather footwear is the creation of Kirby, who depicted Barda wearing this outfit when she was out of uniform. Bruce Timm’s take on the costume emphasize the delicacy of the boots even more and they provide a contrast to her muscular physique. They’re almost ballet slippers and the sharp little wings on the front, cinched together by a white circle, give them that dynamic, otherworldly look. While this might seem like an odd choice to wear when out of costume, Barda is practically invulnerable so protecting her feet for everyday tasks probably isn’t a factor.
8. Amanda Conner’s Supergirl boots
Chunky, red, knee-high boots with a heavily textured, thick sole. I’ve never seen Amanda Conner get it wrong with shoes for any character, every detail is plausible and wearable, maybe because she’s aware of what it feels like to wear a woman’s boot. Conner’s Wednesday Comics version of Supergirl was my favorite version of the hero because she had so much fun and seemed like more of a young girl than she’d been portrayed as in years. The oversized boot emphasized her small stature and disproportionate strength, giving her a solid base to stand on and rooting her to the earth even in flight.
9. Flash (Jay Garrick’s) winged boots
From a design standpoint this is an obvious homage to the winged messenger Mercury, but the fact is that these aren’t just roman sandals, these are the slouchiest little 1980’s-style ankle boots (and so ahead of his time! These were designed four decades earlier than the era when these would finally become current). Red boots with perfect, little golden wings and a solid sole for good traction when running, they might not be as useful as a good pair of sneakers, but in an era when the only sneakers available would have been lightweight tennis shoes these were a practical creation as well as a stylish one.
10. Brian Bolland’s take on Zatanna’s new boots
As you can see on the right Zatanna (in her current costume, not the Justice League Dark one), is usually depicted wearing a simple court shoe. A high heeled, slip on shoe might be fine for stage wear, but it isn’t too realistic a contender for a fighting superhero. That’s why I was so happy to see her in these very high, flat, thick soled boots (on the left of the image on the right). They provide her legs with some protection (without changing her costume and putting her in pants) and the thick flat sole is a far more useable one for a superhero.