Superhero Fashion: The Mask Makes the Hero

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Sometimes, Superhero fashion hides behind a mask that makes the hero. Today we’re going to explore the extraordinary power of the Superhero mask through the Amazing Spider-Man. Spidey is one of the most famous masked Superheroes. As a teen, his need to hide his real identity comes as a must. However, what type of powers does the mask give to its wearer? Superheroes create their identities through their fashions, very much like we do on a daily basis. We use to add some extras to our fashion with makeup as to appear more appealing or trying to fulfill a certain role. Costumes and the makeup that might accompany them are associated with certain roles, and as such, they are accompanied by a set of rules that we all know but that aren’t written anywhere. People expect from us a certain behavior depending on the dress that we wear. Thus, there is a direct relationship between the dress and behavior. If so, can someone modify their behavior by adding a certain item to their closet? Let’s take a look at the Amazing Spider-Man when he tries to save a child from dying burned in a car.



Spidey attempts to save the kid in full dress. The child acts in horror first, till Spidey takes off the mask. When the car is about to fall in flames, Spidey asks the kid to put on the mask and to climb inside the car where he is located so that he can save him. It is the mask the sole item that empowers the boy to do something heroic: he climbs despite being terrified. Spidey and the kid know that wearing the mask creates a set of expectations from the wearer. In this case: being a hero. The mask allows doing certain activities that a normal being would not be able to do without it.

But, wait! The first reaction to Spidey was more screaming. The kid wasn’t thrilled by a full-dressed jumping guy. True. Traditionally masks have been seen as devices for evil, but also for good. Criminals use masks so that they’re not recognized for their evil actions. Moreover, humans tend to get nervous when they’re unable to recognize faces. In this light, there is no wonder that the kid screamed louder. However, masks are also devices for magic: they have extra powers. In tribes, masks are used by shamans to become the other and so they can call upon ancestors, gods, and magic. Under this light, the mask allows you to do beyond what’s human. And this is the case of masked Superheroes like Spidey.

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So, the Superhero mask creates high-rated expectations: first, whoever wears the mask is thought to be a Superhero and can do supernatural things and incredible heroics. And, second, people recognize masked Superheroes by their masks. In essence, the mask becomes the face of the Superhero. And in turn, the mask ask from the wearer: responsibility! Whoever wears the Superhero mask has the responsibility to act heroically.

The mask along the suit allows the Superhero to engage in activities that wouldn’t be allowed otherwise. Think about Spidey going up from one building to the next flying around. Would you let teenagers like him engage in the same activities if dressed in jeans? Not really.

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Super-villains are obsessed with taking off the mask from the face of the Superhero. Unmasking the superhero is to reduce him to a mortal status. Said in other words, losing the mask makes of you an ordinary guy without any powers. Super-villains understand the sheer amount of power that the mask provides. Like the shaman who uses the mask to talk with the otherworld, masked Superheroes use the mask to be otherworldly. Hence, everyone will try to unmask them and make them mortals.

However, not all Super-villains wish to unmask their nemesis. The Joker is not interested at all in unmasking the Batman. In fact, he believes that there is no fun in confronting the weakling behind the mask. Batman is so as long as Batman wears the mask. To deprive him of the mask would mean to make him powerless, and thus, an unworthy opponent for the Joker.

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Masks conceal identities and allow their wearers to act in certain ways. Most masked Superheroes try to appeal by using not-so-fearful masks. However, there is one that calls evil from every part of his suit: Daredevil! Daredevil is dressed like a devil, and the mask includes horns. It’s not that he will engage in committing devilish acts, but to put demons away. Think about Halloween: the idea is to dress like evil to cast it away. And so, Daredevil dresses like a devil to cast it away. In this case, mask and dress act like the ritual of a shaman that might engage in a weird dance and wear a scary mask to cast away all evil.

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Masks conceal identities, and allow their wearers evil and heroic acts. The Superhero mask is limiting in the sense that traps the wearer into its web of heroics and supernatural expectations, but it’s also freeing the wearer of social conventions and allowing him to act as the other and engage in acts that otherwise would be impossible.

For some Superheroes the mask is a choice, for others a must to conceal their identities. In any case, one thing is sure: masked Superheroes risk to be misinterpreted every time they put the mask on. Will they be good? Or evil?

If you found a masked Superhero in front of you, what would you do? Snap a pic or start crying out loud?

Want to read more? Try reading: The Superhero Costume : Identity and Disguise in Fact and Fiction.

Also, find more interesting info here:

About pepi

A Geek Girl interested in Geek Anthropology, comic books, books, Superheroes and discovering all about pop culture.

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  • Desiree

    Great and interesting post. Yes villains are forever obsessed with taking the mask off the heroes. If I saw a masked hero in front of me I’m not entirely sure what I would do. Unfortunately due to being a woman, and having certain fears I maybe be hesitant and defensive. But then again it may depend on the setting.

    • Thank you! 🙂 Well, I guess that we can get frightened depending on how spooky the suit might be, and the mask… but yeah, I’ll be like you: depending on the setting.

  • Danielle Knapp

    Interesting and very good points! Villains really do love unmasking, but we also love to unmask our bad guys – makes me think of Scooby Doo and how they’d always take the mask off 🙂

    • Ahahaha OMG Scooby Doo! Yup, most villains go into unmasking heroes, except one: the Joker isn’t interested in taking th mask off Batman. He wants the Batman. If he unmasks him, then it’s not fun anymore xDDDDD I guess, the Joker is different. :p