Thursday, May 12, 2005

Armor: never cool

Web of Spider-Man #100 Marvel Comics, 1993

You know what's stupid? When super-heroes get high-tech, armored versions of their regular costumes. Even if it's only for a short time, it's still doopid. That's right, it's doopid. I'm making up words here.

Where was I? Right; stupid armor. One of the lamer trends in comics, stupid armor was a spasm of collective uncoolness that really took hold in the mid-nineties, the modern dark age of comics. For some reason, in the nineties heroes were upgrading to more "extreme" and "radical" versions of their regular costumes.

As near as I can tell, this cliche manifests itself in three ways:

1) POWERING UP The hero is "powering up" to face a certain threat or compensate for a certain weakness. Check out Spidey's gnarly armored costume above, or Captain America's hardcore battle armor, below for examples.

Captain America #440 Marvel Comics, 1995

2) DESPERATION The hero is getting a costume overhaul because sales are lagging or the character is inherently goofy and needs help badly. The new armor lasts for as long as the creative team that made it lasts, and then the next guys come in and change the hero back again. One advanatge of this approach is that it makes readers appreciate how cool, say, Classic Booster Gold was in comparison to the new Radically Rad Armored Booster Gold. Then when you switch back to the old Booster Gold, everybody's happy again.


Justice League America #87 DC Comics, 1994

"I gotta hand it to you, Ted, this new version of my armor looks pretty cool!"

Booster Gold is high. That armor is anti-cool - if it came into contact with real cool it would explode. He looks like one of those big inflatable superhero/lumberjack/gorilla ballons you see in front of car dealerships. I was around in 1994, and I remember most of it, so I can say with some certainty that Booster's armor wasn't pretty cool then, nor has it ever been pretty cool.

3) SPECIAL 50TH OR 100TH ISSUE! For some reason, big landmark issues seem to be really good times to bust out the radical new armor. The Spidey Armor above was from the 100th issue, and the Cat Armor below is from the special 50th issue of Catwoman. You can't tell from the scan, but the cover is all shiny and metallic. Can you see? Can you see why the nineties nearly killed us all? Did we need a special shiny 50th issue of Catwoman with extreme new armor?


Catwoman #50 DC Comics, 1997

The Az-Bat Armor is also a good example of celebrating a publishing landmark in the history of an enduring, iconic character by totally burying everything enduring and iconic about the character under three feet of crap. The Az-Bat thing is worthy of it's own post, so perhaps I'll refrain from any fanboy histrionics just yet.

I present to you as evidence of the suckiness of the nineties exhibit a), Az-Bat:

Batman #501 DC Comics, 1993

...and exhibit b), the infamous Daredevil armor from that run of DD that everyone pretends didn't happen:

Daredevil #332 Marvel Comcis, 1994

I think I've made my point: armor for superheroes is never cool.*

*Unless you're Iron Man or somebody like that, in which case, go nuts.


Hate Filled Poster said...

But what about the toys!!! Think of the toys man!!! How will they come up with variant figures without armor!

Nik said...

Man, you're giving me some horrible 1990s flashbacks -- the decade when I nearly gave up comix for good.

I will say that when Thor wore that big battle-armor, that was kinda cool. But only kinda.

The Spider-Armor... brrr....

Tom the Dog said...

That Daredevil run -- was that when Ann Nocenti was writing it? Because she's just AWFUL.

I can't believe I've never even seen that Spidey armor before. I guess I succeeded at avoiding lame-ass comics in the 90s better than you did. Oh, no, wait, I bought Gen 13. Never mind.

gorjus said...

Dear 1993-1997,

I hope you die. I hope you die and go to hell.

For Reals, Yo,

tomthedog, are you crazy?? Nocenti had a FAB run on DD that introduced tons of stuff that BMB is still retreading today: Typhoid Mary, uh, Bullet . . . okay, fine. But it had JRjr art and it was GOOD. And there was no armor.*

*I hope.

Mark W. Hale said...

Then when you switch back to the old Booster Gold, everybody's happy again.

Hey, juat like New Coke.

The Daredevil armor was from DG Chichester and Scott McDaniel's run on the title, if I recall. (I wrote about a couple issues here, plug plug.) Just... really bad stuff. Especially the melodramatic Fall from Grace stuff. Oyyyy.

Tom the Dog said...

Ah, yes, Chichester. As much as I don't like Ann Nocenti, he is much, much worse. MUCH worse.

G. Bob said...

I seem to recall an issue of "What If" that asked the question "what if Tony Stark made armor for all the Avengers?" I don't recall how it turned out but I imagine it ended with all the bad guys laughing at them. I would hope so at least.

layne said...

The "wings" on the Captain America armor could be handy if you needed a windshield scraper...

Bill D. said...

Hawkeye had some armor for a little while, too, in some issues of Solo Avengers (or Avengers Spotlight, or Hey Look It's Hawkeye And Some Other Chump, or whatever the hell they called that book). He picked it up after he got punked by some gang in a drive-by or something. It lasted about a minute and a half and was never seen again.

Anonymous said...

You know, the Spider-Armor was created by Terry Kavanagh. Editor. That Cap Armor? Mark Gruenwald. Editor. One of the first things Joe Quesada does when he takes over Marvel? Ends the editors freelancing. Hard not to see why.

David Campbell said...

I forgot about the Hawkeye armor! It must have been cool because it was Hawkeye, and Hawkeye is always cool. Except now, because he's DEAD! Damn you, Bendis! Damn yooooooooo!!!!

Scipio said...

I thought the suckiness of Azbats and his armor was the very point they were trying to make, subverting the trend in the genre...

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Scipio. The Az-bat armor did suck. I remember having a few issues from that time and not liking it one bit.

At least it wasn't Bruce Wayne behind that mask though... That's all I have to say.

Anonymous said...

I like how the armour allows the heros to capitalize on their talents. Spiderman, one of the most agile heros in the Marvel universe. Lets give him 80lb armour, that doesn't allow for much flex. Batman, worlds greatest detective. I know lets give him claws to be able to examine evidence that much better.

Anonymous said...

In all fairness to Batman, he never actually wore that clanking piece of garbage, did he? It was that other guy.

I just typed "In all fairness to Batman."

Anonymous said...

Hawkeye died in an explosion caused by a woman with reality warping powers. We never got a good look at the body.

Dead? Suuuuure....

jason said...

i kinda liked the Daredevil armor.

please don't hit me.

Ken Lowery said...

I gotta lay this one at the feet of DKR.

I'm not one of those kneejerk Miller bashers. I rather fucking love DKR, personally. But what did Batman do to POWER UP! in a battle against Superman?

Put on big clunky totally-appropriate-so-long-as-it's-1986 armor.

David Campbell said...

Shit, Lowery's got a point...

Anonymous said...

"Classic Booster Gold." Now there's a phrase you don't hear everyday...

Anonymous said...

Booster Gold. Don't you just love sayin' it?

And to address Mr. Bailey's point about toy variants - I seem to recall the options are:

A. Accessories.
B. Different coloured costume (ie shocking pink).
C. Wacky Elseworlds Egyptian Pirate Samurai.
D. All of the above.

Pink Samurai Net Attack Batman!

For the record, I'll say that the 90s almost made me give up comics for good. If it hadn't been for Sandman Mystery Theatre, Starman, Terminal City, and Usagi Yojimbo, I probably would have.

RobB said...

"Classic Booster Gold." Now there's a phrase you don't hear everyday...

I recently re-read my entire run of Booster Gold, all 25 issues. It doesn't hold up too bad, at the very least, as comic of its times/the 80s.

Anonymous said...

I've heard Booster Gold is the only Dan Jurgens-written comic worth reading.

Although the BG ep of Justice League Unlimited was probably the best story featuring the character ever...


RobB said...

It is light-hearted superheroics. Not ground-breaking by any means, but fun stuff nonetheless. Very 80s with the corporate themed superhero and all.

I think Jurgens is a pretty decent artist, actually.

Anonymous said...

Jurgens: decent writer/ artist, nothing more. I liked Superman vs. Aliens, and that's about it. Like most other 80s/ 90s Superman artists (not Immonen or Guice), his art is not bad, just boring.

Armor: bad trend, almost as bad as replacing established heroes with "edgy" or "extreme" versions. I know Thunderstrike has his fans, but UGH.

Adam Reck said...

I agree with Jason, that Daredevil armor is nowhere near is horrific as the others you posted. Much better than, say, his original yellow. . .

jason said...


and Dave, you missed the WORST armor of all time...Luthor's green & purple deal from Crisis.

yeah, THAT looked cool.

David Campbell said...

Okay, okay, design-wise, the Daredevil armor wasn't so bad, and he didn't have rocket boots and repulsors and shit so it probably shouldn't even have been included in the post. It was more of a different costume as opposed to a suit of armor.

And I agree, that one episode of JLU with Booster Gold was pretty much the best thing ever done with the character.

Thunderstrike... hmmm... I think I have some Thunderstrike and Thor Corps issues around here somewhere just begging to be mocked...

Anonymous said...

I actually liked Az-Bats and continued to buy the Azreal series when they spun it off. Then again at that time I also bought Youngblood and Guardians of the Galaxy.
You know I didn't use drugs in high school but you couldn't tell looking at some of my comic purchases.

DHuber said...

I seem to recall an issue of "What If" that asked the question "what if Tony Stark made armor for all the Avengers?"

That would What If? #3, first series. The ending wasn't as you described, although the Avengers who leave kind of walk away with their armor, which leaves one wondering just how early the "Armor Wars" began in that reality!

Sarah said...

While some of these armor choices are truly terrifying, have you seen what usually happens to *female* characters when they go through a similar period of "toughening up?"

I think lame armor is entirely in character for Booster Gold, anyway.

Anonymous said...

The Az-bats costume kind of evolved over time. I recall liking the early version, but the later one was dreadful.

Chris Arndt said...

To be fair, the armor that Jean Paul wore did make sense within the plot. After all, if he wasn't wearing the armor than he really would be insufficient to defeat many of the truly threatening foes that the real Batman had set himself against.

David Campbell said...

I'm with you guys on the Az-Bat armor; it was the rare case where the presence of armor wasn't gratuitous and actually made sense, and was used to illustrate the radical difference between Classic Batman and New Diet Batman. Having said that, I think the design was doopid.

thekelvingreen said...

And every member of the Avengers got snazzy toy-friendly transforming power armour in the Avengers: United They Stand cartoon/comic.

Soon, they'll be getting snazzy, toy-friendly GIANT ROBOT BATTLESUITS as part of this silly Mega Morphs thing...

Anonymous said...

C'mon, I didn't think Daredevil's armor was such a bad idea, although Warren Ellis described it as "fetishist riot cop." I liked Thor's armor, but it was like no one but Simonson could draw it right. Catwoman...goddamn, I drank a lot in the 90's, there has to be a connection.

Anonymous said...

Thor's Simonson armor was cool, but then as a Norse God he's entitled to wear some.

Anonymous said...

I dunno... the Cap armor didn't impress, but I rather liked the Web-armor, if only because it was an outgrowth of Peter's own scientific talent, rather than just, something he borrowed from Stark.

And what was up with that run of Daredevil with the armor? I only caught a little of it when it crossed over with Spider-man's storyline...

NiolK said...

It's kinda insensitive for Cap to make that comment about a guy changing his clothes to a bunch of homeless guys.

Anonymous said...

C'mon guys!

The Daredevil armored costume from the Fall From Grace storyline was WAY WAY COOL! And in case you're wondering, no, I'm not a 16-year old kid.

Give credit where it's due. Design-wise, the costume drawn by Scott McDaniel was a visual feast. Look at the amount of detail put into the costume and the Miller-inspired artwork.

Although I could see how it was a nightmare for the editorial team and future inkers/colorists. Maybe that's the reason it was scrapped.

Metz77 said...

So... this may be because I didn't read the comics...

But I like the Spidey armor.

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