Sunday 4 August 2013

The Comics Ramble: Ladies' fashions in Uncanny X-Men #9

Last week's pull was a light one and, really, the only thing I feel like discussing (possibly under the influence of finally reading Chicks Dig Comics) is how the female characters in this issue are dressed. Don't run away! There's some element of plot analysis in this, as well, I swear.

Dazzler: Agent of SHIELD
Let's deal with the elephant in the room first: in my opinion, Dazzler is absolutely rocking the high heels on that costume. High heels are, of course, the single most impractical piece of women's fashion ever invented (though the back-lacing corset comes in a close second) and usually I would be up in arms with everyone else about the bloody things.

Batgirl in heels, for instance, is one I'm dubious of. Batgirl is a leapy-about, ten-against-one, lose your balance and you're dead kind of hero whose costume comes from an otherwise very utilitarian design aesthetic. Anything about her costume that isn't instantly practical (the utility belt, the mask) is designed to make the Batman connection in the minds of criminals (the symbol, the cape).

No one has ever accused Dazzler of being practical about her costume, after all it used to include roller skates. Dazzler is a former pop star, presentation and style are big things in her design aesthetic. She's a SHIELD agent now so naturally she's wearing a shiny catsuit because you know who the most stylish female spy in history was? Emma Peel. Emma Peel's two modes were “catsuit” and “sexy mod fashions” and Dazzler's white PVC and heels sort of split the difference between the two.

Curiously, the heels serve a sort of purpose. The “point” (he said sarcastically) of high heels is to stretch the leg muscles to give them extra definition. Heels on this costume a) make Dazzler taller, significantly taller than anyone in the Medina household and, b) allow her to pose a little. In my own personal head canon that cover is Dazzler standing in front of her bedroom mirror trying on the idea of “I'm a super spy now” for size.

Because this is a real step up. Dazzler's last series (the short-lived X-Treme X-Men) thrust her into a leadership role and that clearly hasn't been forgotten. Her confrontation with Cyclops in this issue is clearly of the earnest, passive-aggressive pissing competition variety when two strong alpha personalities collide. She can't quite hold the pose until the end, though, and is reduced to a petty comeback as Cyclops swans out so she's not quite there yet but she's gained considerable confidence just to hold his stare and turn him down.

Irma Cuckoo
There's a training scene with Cyclops' new X-Men where Irma Cuckoo swans in late wearing her Grey School uniform and, quite scandalously to her sisters, she has cut her hair and died it black. The Cuckoos have always been completely identical, even homogeneous, and the last time one of them displayed individuality they tried to murder Emma Frost and joined the Brotherhood.

It should also be noted that what the other Cuckoos are wearing are X-Men uniforms from the Grant Morrison era. I don't have an extended analysis of this to make, I just loved the uniforms from the Morrison run and I'm glad to see them back. Though it is interesting that when the team goes into combat against SHIELD Eva dumps her uniform and goes back to the sleeveless top and miniskirt civvies combo she's been wearing since the series began, which is probably more “her costume” in most people's head by now than any X-uniform (the miniskirt and lack of sleeves give it a distinct silhouette even if she does appear to have no bum).

Emma Frost
This one, obviously, is not a development of issue 9 but since the new series began Emma has dropped her usual revealing white outfits for a no less revealing black one.

One of the big plots Bendis is working with is that the former-Phoenix-possessed X-Men are having trouble with their powers. In a previous issue the Cuckoos invaded Emma's mind to prove a point and discovered this fact, which Emma described as them trying to hurt and embarrass her and admitting they did. Without her powers (her psychic ones, at least) she no longer considers herself the White Queen and so no white costume. But it goes deeper than that: whilst the black costume might be as revealing as some of her previous wardrobe choices with a cleavage-revealing cut-out from waist to throat (Power Girl boob window haters, beware) she now wears an ankle-length black coat over it.

Aside from making her look like a bit of a dodgy flasher this shows us how far Emma's self-esteem has fallen. She wears a revealing costume because that's what Emma Frost does but she no longer feels confident in utilising her body as she used to. Her appearance and the effect it has on others has often been allied to her confidence and self-perception (she's the only superhero I can think of who achieved her perfect physique through cosmetic surgery). Her loss of power hasn't changed her appearance in the least, she still has it but she no longer feels the confidence to flaunt it. All of this brings us to the question:

Is Dazzler the new White Queen?
So we have Emma Frost in a crisis of confidence giving up her usual visual iconography: black costume, less revealing. At the same time we have Dazzler turn up with new confidence and leadership skills in a white catsuit with kinky boots and what I assume to be an integral flak jacket but could easily be taken for a corset.

And what is the reaction of Cyclops, Emma's ex-lover, the first time he sees this vision in white and bondage accessories? This tall blonde whose new costume so resembles his ex-girlfriend's old iconography? He offers her a place on the team. Right in front of Emma! That's nerve, that is.

No comments: