A couple of weeks ago, I did a column about comics fans and the suspension of disbelief, and how a willingness to 'just go with it' is a prerequisite for enjoying a superhero story in the first place.
But that doesn't mean fans accept just anything. For example, there's this conversation, from a bunch of us sitting around at a campground barbecue a few years ago in San Diego. The group included several working writers, a couple of graphic designers, and one who actually went on to become a moderately famous fashion writer. This is the actual conversation, to the best of my recollection... but I omitted the names because I don't want anyone to hold this against any of us.
"Okay, somebody explain this to me. Why does Batman even have a cape? What good is it?"
"Because without it he wouldn't look like a giant bat. That's the whole point. Bruce sees the bat, he dresses up like a bat. 'Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly, lot--- I shall become a BAT!' You know that."
"But he's not dressed like a bat. He's dressed like a pro wrestler with pointy ears."
[caption id="attachment_119506" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="Masked wrestler, vampire bat. Be honest-- which one looks more like Batman?"]
"So what? You want him to add the snout and the fur and all of that? They did that in the Stan Lee Just Imagine book. That was by Joe Kubert, who's a frigging comics genius, and it still looked bad."
"Of course he rules. That's not the point. The point is that dressing up like an actual bat with the fur and everything is so dumb that Joe fucking Kubert couldn't make it work. It's not practical."
"Seriously? Not practical? That's what you're going with?"
"I dunno, what were we arguing about?"
"Capes!! I'm trying to tell you that it's dumb for Batman to wear a cape! It doesn't make any sense!"
"You're wrong, it is practical."
Much snorting. "No WAY is that cape practical. It's, like, thirty feet wide."
"Depends who's drawing it."
"Batman's cape gets bigger every year. Look at Adams back in the 70s and then look at what Breyfogle is doing now. Breyfogle's is like he tied a goddamn yacht sail around his neck."
"No, really, it is practical! He uses it to hide, he uses it as a sort of half-assed glider. It's functional, not fashion. He uses the cape the same as the belt and all the gimmicks, it's part of his arsenal. Case closed."
"I think he's got you there. If he's actually using it..."
"First of all, the whole gliding thing is crap, all right? I actually had a Bat cape when I was a kid and the first thing I tried was gliding and it's bullshit. Went down like a rock."
[caption id="attachment_119518" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="Oh, this is not going to end well AT ALL...."]
"Oh, so you're the guy. All those years of parents being freaked out... It's your fault we got stuck with H.E.R.B.I.E. the Robot in the Fantastic Four cartoon instead of the Torch. All those years of protesting kids couldn't be that dumb and it turns out they could. Thanks a lot, shithead."
"Hey, it's not like I tried to set myself on FIRE. It was just jumping off a fence."
"Somebody should set that shirt on fire."
"What? I paid a lot for this shirt! It's very fashionable!"
"Dude, you were robbed. It's an orange Hawaiian shirt."
"Not even real orange. That's, like, Tang orange."
"Shut up about my shirt, damn it!"
"Getting back to the point, if you get right down to it, most superhero costumes are ridiculous. When superheroes were getting started back in the 1930s the costumes were usually modeled after circus acrobats. Back then circus entertainers had the same kind of glamor that TV and movie people do now."
[caption id="attachment_119518" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="If superhero fashion is not your thing... well, you can blame these guys."]
"Yeah, and now we're stuck with it. I guess we should be grateful those guys didn't try to incorporate the feathers and sequins too."
"But the cape thing is the part I don't get. Even the 1930s circus people knew to take the damn capes off before they went swinging on trapezes or whatever. It's totally in the way. I defy anyone to actually pull off actual kung fu moves with a giant Bat cape flapping around behind him."
"You know who's worse than Batman? Nightwing. This is the kid that Batman trained and his first solo outfit is completely screwing up his peripheral vision with that collar. It's like the cone the vet puts on your dog's collar to keep him from licking at the surgical scar."
[caption id="attachment_119518" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="There IS a certain similarity."]
"Maybe Nightwing was worried he might try to lick himself."
"Maybe DICK was worried about licking DICK!"
"You guys did not just go there."
"They totally did."
"Jesus, Wertham was right about comics fans after all."
"Nightwing's collar isn't so bad. Mister Miracle's collar, though, is heinous."
"Oh, God. Mister Miracle's costume hurts my eyes. It's the worst costume ever."
"This from the guy in the Tang shirt."
"Shut up about my shirt!"
"No, seriously, you want to see a dog-cone collar, you want Doctor Strange as rendered by Gene Colan. The way he drew the Cloak of Levitation, that collar looks like it weighs fifteen pounds and it completely cuts off his vision. It HAS to levitate or Dr. Strange couldn't even stand up with that thing around his neck."
"I'll tell you how you solve the cape problem with Batman. You do the Batman Beyond thing, with the retractable glider things."
"Armpit wings are even worse than capes."
"What, you tried to fly with those too? Did you just have a death wish when you were little?"
"Armpit wings are stupid!"
"Nightwing did armpit wings too, right?"
"Nightwing's history is a history of every fashion crime ever committed in comics. Dog-cone collar, armpit wings, mullet, ponytail..."
[caption id="attachment_119532" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="You know what Nightwing apparently NEVER sees in front of him? A MIRROR!"]
"Say what you want about Dick Grayson, but he'd never be caught dead in that shirt."
"You guys, this shirt is the latest thing in east coast fashion circles!"
"Yeah, because some designer in New York thought, 'What's missing from my line? Hawaiian shirts covered in Tang.' "
"Armpit wings can work. Banshee looks okay."
"Seriously? BANSHEE? If you want to talk about a costume that's just fugly... and also, if he uses them to fly he can't move, he has to keep his arms spread out like a kite. A really ugly green-and-yellow kite."
[caption id="attachment_119499" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="They're not actually wincing at the noise. It's the outfit."]
"Don't forget the bright orange hair with the bouffant flip. Worst-dressed hero ever."
"He has to keep his arms spread out? Really? Because he moves in mid-air all the time, he has dogfights."
Silence for a moment as all consider this.
"I dunno. I mean, he moves, but the arms are spread out..."
"I don't get how he can fly AND talk. I don't know about the dogfight part but I know he screams and talks at the same time."
"It's his mutation. Maybe he has two throats."
"All Claremont's characters have two throats, it's why they're so chatty."
"Oooooo, Claremont BURN!"
"I don't think modern comics artists have any grasp of fashion or design at all. If they did we'd never get outfits like Jericho or Gambit or any of the other hideousness we've had in the last twenty years. The X-Men movie had it right. Lose the costumes."
"Yeah, but you know what they didn't lose?"
"The lame love triangle?"
"Capes! Storm had a cape, Magneto had a cape..."
[caption id="attachment_119499" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="They ROCKED those capes, too."]
"He's got you there. Again."
"I don't even know why I try to argue with you guys. Like comics fans have any fashion sense at all."
"I know enough not to wear a cape to a fistfight. I'd get my ass kicked."
"If you wore the Bat cape you could use it to lurk in the shadows. Then you'd be safe."
"Yeah, because the bad guys will be all, 'Where'd he go? All I can see is that lump in the corner covered in blue satin!'"
"The Bat cape is black now."
"Fine, black satin."
[caption id="attachment_119518" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="All I know is that I'd get MY ass kicked no matter which one I was wearing."]
"Look, be realistic. I'd get my ass kicked no matter what. So would you guys. Because we're out-of-shape comics geeks. The cape thing is just part of the suspension of disbelief. You just have to go with it. Besides, they look cool."
"I'm in shape. I go to the gym."
"You HAVE to stay in shape, wearing shirts like that. I'm surprised no bullies assaulted you on the way here."
"Shut UP about my shirt!"
"Never mind the capes. You know what really gets to me? Wonder Woman and that goddamn star-spangled swimsuit."
"Now that is a completely stupid costume."
"Oh, don't get me started on Wonder Woman..."
But it was too late. We had already gotten started. And so it went, long into the night.
I don't miss going to the San Diego Con. I sure miss the beachside barbecue fanboy wrangles, though.
See you next week.