Superhero fashion can let you inspire fear through anthrozoomorphism, that’s becoming a beast. Some Superheroes, like Batman, base their wardrobes on animals that inspire fear. Granted that a bat might not seem really strong, but it does inspire fear, especially if it appears in the night and surrounded by shadows. Hybrid animal-human figures have been around us throughout our history. Just think about the ancient Egyptian Gods and you’ll find a great pool of therianthropes and half human half beast creatures. This cocktail of human and beast can be terrifying for us as humans, especially if we think of ourselves as the top of the pyramid on earth. On one hand we think of human-beast being as Gods, but on the other we see them as a curse and terrifying. So, why would anyone like to be a beast? Someone who wants to inspire respect and fear. Establishing associations between the features of animals and how humans perceive their personalities, some Superheroes have nailed it when designing their wardrobe. Though predators might be the most logical choice when thinking about what animal to become, some Superheroes have chosen psychological fear and thus, lesser animals to make their enemies scared to death. [Think about bats and spiders here.]
Let’s take Batman as an example of Superhero that chooses a particular animal and bases his super fashion on it.
Bruce Wayne chooses a bat to inspire fear on Supervillains. However, not everyone might find bats as terrifying. He chose “a creature of the night, black, terrible” (Batman #1, 1940) because he was afraid of them as a kid. He chooses the bat because it’s an animal that inspires psychological fear: bats are fear-provoking creatures that will most likely be more scared of you than you of them! Our minds find bats terrifying because we associate them with the night, with the devil and with vampires. The tiny blood-suckers make little terrifying sounds when they’re around. By the time you can face one, you’re shitless about the mere thought of finding one. Hence, the power of the bat is to inspire fear before it arrives.
So, were those the only reasons why artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger created Bruce Wayne’s Batman fashion in that way? They might have been inspired by fancy-dress costumes from the Victorian era. I suppose they used this for Halloween.
It’s unclear if Bob Kane saw this picture and got inspired by it. However, it’s stagerring the amount of detail that both share: the bat-hat, the bat-insignia on the chest, the bat-cape… Although some people argue that in fact there is a connection, other think that the bat-outfit came up into Kane’s mind because humans are wired to see the bat-outfit in that way. If we take a look closer, and if we put ourselves in the minds of a Shaman, where would you put the bat-head? Exactly! On top of the head. Wings would be attached to the arms creating a cape, and maybe we would attach another bat as insignia. (Not very fashionable, to be honest.)
So, a tribal version of the Bat-outfit would be quite rudimentary, but it would essentially have those traits: a bat-hat (dead bat head), bat-wings (tons of wings trying to mimic those of a bat attached), and a bat-insignia on the chest (another happy dead animal goes there). Grim, I know. But Shamans would use these parts of the animals as tokens to take their power in and do their magic.
In the same way, Shamans would channel the energy of the animal to create magic, Superheroes that base their wardrobe on animals, like Batman, channel the animalistic powers of them through their outfits. They don’t wear dead animals on, but they do appropriate elements from the animal to make it work. And that’s why Batman’s outfit is so minimalistic: he wants to inspire fear psychologically stressing that it’s a creature of the night.
Batman appears out of nowhere, from the middle of the darkest parts of the night, like the shadow of a gigantic bat that will haunt you forever. In reducing the outfit to it’s essential parts channeling the animal, Batman is sending a strong message to the subconscious mind of the Supervillains: sheer amounts of fear. The pose, the silhouette of Batman, is, therefore, terrifying! Simplified shapes allow messages to be communicated quickly, like signs and logos. So, the shape and shadow of Batman, as simple as it is, is incredibly powerful. Batman’s super fashion works because it’s simplified in the right measure and has the right balance to do what its purpose dictates: frighten people shitless.
However, not all Superheroes do as our grumpy and dark Batman does: some are not simple, and many are just based on behavioral characteristics of the animal, not in visual ones. Think about Spiderman. His outfit does not look like a spider. Granted that he does have the insignia, and part of his outfit has a web pattern on it. However, what makes of Spiderman a spider is his behavior more than the symbols that point out his connection to spiders. In the case of Spidey, the spider is a motif. Spidey doesn’t act like a Shaman and does not try to channel an arachnid spirit. He is not reduced to his animalistic self like Batman is. The only connection that Spidey has with the spider are his abilities, and not his personality. However, when Batman is the Batman, he is the bat, the animal!
So, what’s in for Bruce when he dresses as the Batman? When performing an animal identity, Bruce doesn’t need to conform to human norms that would restrict him otherwise and not let him attain his primary purpose: deal with the Supervillains. Batman can forget he is human so that he can become a savage. He can be ruthless and do it without compromising his human self. To inspire super fear on others he also uses tactics from the bat. Some animals cheat their preys by appearing larger than they are. So does Batman with his cape. The cape is enormous, and he uses it playing with shadows. Hence, when he appears before the Supervillains, he looks larger than he is, stronger than he is, and more spooky than he really is.
By dressing like an animal, Batman narrows his world: now he just exists to catch his prey, Supervillains. When Bruce dresses as the Batman, he is the beast, the predator, the blood-sucker spooky bat that goes out and about at night to hunt for food. Batman is more than just an animal; he’s also a human, the Batman (notice the hybrid name too). In doing so, he is more than human, and thus, he can inspire more fear than just the dull animal.
The Batman outfit also sets Batman as the freaking other, literally. “Freak performers” exists to define humanity through contrast. (Example of the freak performer: the Cat Man). By dressing as Batman, Bruce reinforces his humanity by contrast of Batman’s animality. While the Superhero might be an animal, the civilian Bruce is a human. In essence, the Batman outfit allows Bruce to do things that he wouldn’t be able to do due to social restraints as well as moral ones. In splitting into two identities, one human and one animal, he finds freedom enough to be the light Bruce and the dark Batman at the same time.
If you could choose an animal to inspire fear, what animal would you choose? What elements would your outfit have?
Want to read more? Try reading: The Superhero Costume : Identity and Disguise in Fact and Fiction.
Also, find more interesting info here:
- Geek Fashion: We Love Fine Marvel Superheroes.
- Lessons on Geek Anthropology: When Superhero Fashion Makes You Feel Super.
- Comics THORsday: Comics, Women and Fashion. Spider Gwen and Silk.
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