200803040249Michael Chabon goes on for pages and pages about superhero costumes in The New Yorker’s new Style issue:

Now the time has come to propose, or confront, a fundamental truth: like the being who wears it, the superhero costume is, by definition, an impossible object. It cannot exist.

One may easily find suggestive evidence for this assertion at any large comic-book convention by studying the spectacle of the brave and bold convention attendees, those members of the general comics-fan public who show up in costume and go shpatziring around the ballrooms and exhibition halls dressed as Wolverine, say, or the Joker’s main squeeze, Harley Quinn. Without exception, even the most splendid of these getups is at best a disappointment. Every seam, every cobweb strand of duct-tape gum, every laddered fish-net stocking or visible ridge of underpants elastic—every stray mark, pulled thread, speck of dust—acts to spoil what is instantly revealed to have been, all along, an illusion.


  1. This joker should have gone to a big/recent con. At San Diego last year the best costumes were insanely professional, better than say, Spamalot on Broadway. Gee the New Yorker is a terrible rag these days.

  2. I’ve got to check this out later. I want to see if he comments on the “underpants on the outside” look.

  3. I agree with Chabon that most super-hero costumes are impractical — most of us knew this decades ago. However, I agree with John Tebbel about the quality of the costumes. The appearance of your costume depends on how much time and money you invest, and if you have a professional assemble it.

    You can tell the “real” costumers from the people who just “threw it together” a few days before the show. I think it’s safe to assume that most super-heroes put invest a great deal of time into their outfits. Take the “original” Spider-Man costume from the first movie, when he challenges Bonesaw McGraw, as compared to the real costume that Peter dons later in the film.

  4. What the hell was “pretentious” about that essay?

    Dude namechecks more obscure seventies marvel characters than an Essential Defenders.

    God forbid a literary magazine dips its toes into our niche of the woods.

  5. I’m sure if you told the editors of the New Yorker 10 years ago that they’d ever have a Pulitzer-prize winning author wax lyrical for four pages about the implausibility of superheroes’ costumes in their magazine, I’m sure they’d have laughed you on to the streets.

    I like the future.

  6. I love this article, but I wonder if it left some of the regular uninformed readers of the New Yorker scratching their heads? Poor Garrison Keillor must’ve been thinking: “What the…?”


  7. I’ve seen some pretty impressive convention costumes that in no way shattered illusions for me (numerous fan-worn power girls, jokers, robins, and a ted kord blue beetle come to mind) but this is a pretty awesome little article all the same. It’s always amused me how things like wolverine’s mask and harley quinn’s hood couldn’t REALLY exist the way they do on paper in real life, but it’s part of the fun.

  8. i went to a con dressed as my favorite non-genre comic book character

    no one noticed :(

    i wish people would stop associating nerds in garish get-ups with comics