Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Tale of the Cape

Despite all evidence to the contrary, I usually don't mind bad science in my superhero comic books. I accept that it's a medium and a genre that allows fantastic and impossible things to happen. Sure, whenever possible, the medicine and science should be as accurate as possible, but if good science gets in the way of a good story, good science can kiss my ass.*

So I really don't care WHY Superman is strong or even how strong he is, all that matters is that he IS super strong, and most people are not, and that he uses that advantage to help make the world a better place. And before you tell me how xenomorphic biology works and what that has to do with solar light in a very narrow spectrum, you first have to explain how Batman's cape works.

Here's a fairly clean image of Batman, ganked off of JL.ToonZone.Net. Note in particular how long the cape is. The bottom points of the scalloping barely hit the middle of his calves, about two feet lower than his hands, more or less. Also note how the cape just kind of falls flat. There's stiffness and support around the collar, but by the bottom is light enough to by caught playfully in the breeze.

Now, in this classic image of Batman leaping to catch his prey, notice how the formally lank cape juts out stiffly to the sides to simulate wings. Capes don't do that. Without support, the cape should follow behind, like Superman's does under the same conditions. (God bless Batman Begins for trying, for at least acknowledging that something else would be required to pull that off). Also note that the cape seems to have grown by two more feet on either side as well.

The cape grows even longer when Batman wants to stand there looking scary and menacing. Suddenly, a cape which barely hit the top of his boots completely covers his feet and can be wrapped around him like a shroud. Before you explain how Superman flies, explain how Batman, master of every martial art known to man (and martian), doesn't trip over this extra long thing every time he throws a round house kick!



The artists "cheat" the size and shape of the cape for dramatic effect, of course. Just as the writer "cheats" the science to get the dramatic story effect he's going for. And I don't mind. In fact, I appreciate it. I don't read superhero comics looking for realism. (I'm not looking for escapism either, that's something different.) I'm looking for stories about things that CANNOT happen here, and maybe SHOULD NOT happen here, and how that effects people.

And Batman would be a hell of a lot less scary if his feet were poking out the bottom of his cape.

*(The mutant gene, by the way, I consider bad science pretending to be good science, getting in the way of a good story).


Brandon Bragg said...

I find stuff like this to be endlessly fascinating.

You should do a whole week on Superhero design theory, or something.

Steven said...

First, it would feel a little like treading on Blockade Boy's bailiwick, and I don't know that I could keep up a whole week...

but I do have one more post...

Eudaimo said...

Maybe it's "Memory Cloth"? ;)

Anonymous said...

That's not a cape! It's Plastic Man!