Monday, August 6, 2012
How'd they shove all that into so little Spandex?
Spandex, you know I love it. You can't read comics and not have a fondness for the stuff. In Romance, as in comics, your hero has to dress the part. Before we get into the Romance side of this, let's examine the dress code for heroes and heroines in the comic world.
Heroes typically are dressed in as skin tight an outfit as they can manage. Superman, Batman, and Spidey have the abs hugging costumes. Notice this definition did not extent to the crotch area, but comic readers have been saved from the sight of groinal definition, otherwise we'd have all gone blind a long time ago. Not sure why early comic artists felt the need to define everything under the threat of future latex appliances but they did. Then, you have the heroes with the uniforms that more or less go with what they do. DC's Green Arrow has the Robin Hood thing going on. Marvel's archer, Hawkeye has the same outfit only in purple. I smell copyright infringement but since DC let it slide, so did I. Another Marvel case of where did that purple come from is the Hulk. But torn purple pants isn't really a costume as much as it's a pathetic fashion statement. Iron Man has a tin can. Captain America the American flag. Yet, everyone knows them immediately because the costumes are ingrained in our American consciousness. I could go on and on, but it's time to move on.
Sexist! That's the first thing that pops into your head when you think about the female side of the super powered coin. And, basically you're right. Comics are geared toward a male readership. While boys, teenagers, dorky college men, and guys want their super heroes to be all manly and ripped, they want their super heroines as skimpily clad as possible. It's been that way since the beginning. I'm not going to lie. I fall smack dab into that category of male chauvinist pig, but seriously how can Wonder Woman fight crime without her goodies popping out? Depending on who's drawing her, sometimes you wonder why she fights it at all. If you threw me out there battling some super villain with nothing but a speedo on, I'd be too busy hiding behind the bushes to do anything. Wonder Woman isn't the only victim of this travesty. She Hulk probably suffers the most. She can't go through an issue without most of her wardrobe ending up on the wrong side of ripped to all get out. But, by far the worst case happens in the X-Men. It's like you have to sign an agreement to automatically dress like either a stripper or a dom just to get membership rights. I bet you wouldn't see Wolverine going for that crap. Though many of you would probably like to see Hugh Jackman wearing something from the leather thong Spring line. But, sadly for you the answer is no.
Honestly, you'd think that in this modern age where female writers and artists are breathing new life into these characters that would change, but it's happened slowly. Men are still the target audience. While the stories present a stronger, more self assured heroine, the costumes still scream stripper. I would apologize for this fact, but since I don't write comics, I can only apologize for keeping the comic companies in business.
Now, romance. Again, the outfit defines the hero. If we went by the covers instead of content, romance novels do the same things to men that comics do to women. I'm sorry but when I courted -- really dated term there -- my wife, not once did I pick her up in a big fluffy white shirt opened to the waist with my abs on display for the whole world to see. I didn't for two very important reasons. She would have laughed me out the door. Two, my abs are well hidden under a layer of year round winter fat, and nobody really wants to be forced to see that. Guys know as well as I do that as soon the words 'I do' are spoken by both parties we can safely unsuck-in that gut, and we do.
Romance novels on the other hand operate under a different set of rules. The hero must be dressed in one of three ways. The first is the above Fabio look. This usually only applies to Historicals, certain contemporary novels and the odd buckskin western. Yet, you know instantly who the hero is because he's the manly one not dressed in black with his man goodies on display for all to see.
Number two is the Fonzi look. Skin tight denim jeans. White or black t-shirt as ab hugging as the jeans. Optional leather jacket or battered duster. The last applies more to Vampires or wizards on the loose. 'Shit-kickers' or bulky boots complete the look. I'll freely admit that I like this look and have used it often. Why? Because, I grew up wanting to be the Fonz, James Dean and Marlon Brando. Why? Because, they looked deadly cool and got the girl. Apparently, by the enduring fascination with all three, women must love the look and the men behind it. In a Romance novel, if you see a brooding man stomping down a dark street, or sitting across the bar, that's the GUY! You know it. The heroine knows it. So the cliché works and is set firmly in place.
The last look? I like to call it the James Bond. Your hero comes walking into the room dressed in a tux with an aloof glare you know instantly what you've got. He could be wearing a suit or anything trending at the moment. The second your heroine sees him there's sparks. I'm not sure why. Because when I see this guy, I'm wondering if he's more worried about the stock market than romance. Maybe that's why women who read Romance go for him. You can tell he's a good provider, but otherwise he seems boring to me, at least. The whole workaholic thing kind of slips to the back burner. I'm not big on contemporary romance, so can't comment too much on how that all works, but it does. Nuff said.
I guess what I'm getting at is you have to know where you stand when it comes to heroes and heroines. I mean I seriously doubt if your Vampire hero showed up wearing a white button up shirt with a pocket protector, there'd be any romantic interest going on. Same goes for a businessman wearing something a Hell's Angel wouldn't be caught dead in. We as writers and readers are slaves to our preconceived notions of what our characters should look like.
If that's the case how can we, as writers, overcome the stereotypes to make the characters interesting and not so clichéd? That's where skill comes in. We have to strive to bring to life the person alive inside the stereotype. Sure, the hero might dress like James Dean, but can we make them as human as James Dean made himself in Rebel Without a Cause? He was that jacket, but once you got past the bad boy persona, he had his weaknesses. He was flawed and sensitive. Most importantly, he wanted someone to love him. That is the heart of romance. You have to create a character who is strong yet inside is human enough to make you care about him.
Whereas in comics the costume defines who the character is. Romance takes the costume and allows the person inside to overwrite the image to make a character who he or she is. That takes skill and isn't as easy as it sounds. Next time you read either a comic or a romance, ask yourself, if I didn't see the outside first would I have stuck around to see what else was going on? Would I have delved beneath the spandex to find out if the man or woman inside the costume is worth the time I'm taking to finish this book? I hope the answer is yes, because just because he's dressed like a red and blue spider that doesn't mean you should break out the fly swatter, even if he is a man ho.
Next week we examine the Heroine in a blog I like to call, Stop looking at those while I'm kicking your butt. You can check it out and part two of this series over at my other blog, The Morgan Diaries.