March 19, 2019

DIVING IN | Strong Suit — An Analysis Of Superheroes And Their Suits

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The night Captain Marvel was released, my friends and I drove to the Ithaca Mall movie theater in a car, brimming with anticipation. Though I don’t consider myself a die-hard Marvel fan, I was particularly excited to see this film—the CGI effects and female-driven storyline captivated my attention. I’m happy to say  that it lived up to its hype (don’t worry, no spoilers here!). Action-packed fight scenes, heartbreaking emotional moments, and gut-busting jokes filled the screen. The film evoked a slew of emotions: fear, elation, dread, anger, pride, hope.

Yet, the scene that was most salient for me wasn’t necessarily the most suspenseful or most poignant one. It was more subtle: Captain Marvel selecting her suit before entering battle. To me, this scene represented the character’s coming-of-age moment—one of realization, clarity, and enlightenment.

Paralleling Captain Marvel’s epiphany was my own—I realized the importance behind a hero’s costume. In almost every superhero movie, the main character undergoes a trial-and-error process with their super suit, often taking the form of a ~quirky~ and cute montage. Some movies are even built around the hero’s relationship with their suit. On a superficial level, a costume brands the character while also serving a utilitarian function for their fighting. But more than anything, a hero’s garb speaks to their character’s growth. The moment that a superhero dons their suit, it becomes a part of their personality, their identity.

By putting on a mask and wearing a suit, characters achieve a veil of anonymity. Peter Parker, Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne—each of them employ their suits as disguises, as a means to hide their identity from the public and their enemies. In some cases, the getup may even heighten their powers. The Incredibles provides a clear example: Edna Mode’s purpose in the movie (besides being our beloved, pint-sized icon) is to design super suits that complement the Incredibles’ unique powers. In this sense, a costume is conducive to the exertion of powers and can sometimes even heighten them.

Additionally, , the color scheme and design of a costume brand the hero in a specific light, providing them with their signature appearance to the public. This is best exemplified by Captain America’s image as a red, white, and blue patriot. His appearance lends a simple message of national pride and patriotism, casting the hero as a proud defender of his country.

Perhaps the most important aspect of a suit is the way it reflects the hero’s story arc throughout the movie. Often, when a hero first embarks on their journey, they undergo a phase of uncertainty—unsure of their confidence and their status as a hero. This is usually when heroes lack a fancy costume, depending on homemade ensembles or lackluster getups. In 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Miles Morales struggles with controlling his powers for the majority of the film. Whenever he fights, he relies on a makeshift costume of hoodies and everyday attire. However, in a moment of clarity before the final battle, Miles obtains the original Spiderman’s suit to wear for himself. In fact, he goes even further, spray-painting the classic suit black and tailoring it to his personality. This iconic scene captures Miles’ growth in a nutshell. Despite his initial struggles with his Spidey powers, Miles eventually matures to embrace his imperfections and flaws. His new costume represents a new Miles, separating him from his past struggles.

In each Iron Man movie, Tony Stark experiences a similar relationship with his suit.  Iron Man 3, in particular, focuses on Stark’s dependence on the suits after the first Avengers film. Unable to cope with his trauma from Loki’s attack, Stark immerses himself in developing more armored suits, believing that his life depends on their technology. However, after coming to terms with his own influence and power, Stark chooses to destroy the excess suits. This decision reflects Stark’s character development throughout the movie and demonstrates the intense dependencies that heroes can form with their costumes.

By donning their suits, heroes give physical form to their growth. These suits are more than superficial ensembles of capes and masks; they are representations of the heroes who wear them. A super suit often manifests through a hero’s growth—representing their unique pain, journey, maturation, and story.