The pop of culture, catwalk catfights, vintage yard sales, why sidekicks kick more ass than side, and which masked hero is changing the face of the music industry.
By Maria Popova
Superheroes ooze all kinds of super. Between the powers and the flashy outfits, they’ve brought a touch of super to some of the most timeless and inspired aspects of culture — our collective imagination. Today, we take a look at the unexpected, innovative, out-of-this-world superhero-inspired art. Up, up and away!
SUPERHEROES: FASHION AND FANTASY
It wouldn’t be The Met if it didn’t probe the most complex of issues through the quirkiest of channels. This month, the ever-innovative Metropolitan Museum of Art explores hope, ideals, sexuality, notions of beauty, and our social and political realities through the Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy special exhibition.
The project strips superhero iconography of the triviality often associated with it to reveal the complex, the serious and the socially-relevant found beneath the skinsuit. It’s about fantasy and escapism, but also about so much more — it’s about metamorphosis, freedom and aspiration, notions excruciatingly relevant in our ever-increasingly boxed up, routine, utilitarian world.
The exhibition explores 8 aspects of the body as a canvas for ideas — the patriotic, the graphic, the virile, the paradoxical, the armored, the aerodynamic, the mutant and the postmodern. We dig it because it probes the very notion of popular culture — what is it about cultural elements that make them become “popular”? Could it be that same freedom, that aspiration, that promise of escapism that draws us so powerfully to certain symbolism?
That, and Catwoman is just hot stuff, period.
Speaking of superheroes and fashion, The Met and Vogue seem to be on the same page as us: the cult fashion mag’s May issue is all about superhero-inspired glam.
Gracing the cover is Gwyneth Paltrow, all futuristic and golden and Iron Womanish, shot by the legendarily provocative Steven Klein. Inside, they’ve got you covered with bodysuit-meets-Haute-Couture masterpieces from the likes of Gaultier, Armani, Dior, Galliano, and more. (Armani, in fact, actually sponsored the Met exhibition.)
And while we dig the throwback to superheros and the revival of this slightly dusty yet relentlessly imaginative part of culture, we’re a little taken aback by the clear smell of a well-coordinated marketing machine at work: Iron Man promo anyone?
Plus, curiously enough, this whole context of mild superhero violence is seeping through the ranks of the fashion world and sparking some serious catfighs: like the glossy yet vapid scuffle between the dictator of the fashion world, Vogue editor Anna Wintour, and cult innovator Giorgio Armani. Ah, the intersection of beauty and ugly.
Humph. Divas. Go figure.
VINTAGE COMIC BOOK COVERS
Ah, Flickr, what an endless library of the wonderful. It’s like a neighborhood yard sale — if you dig through the random personal crap long enough, you’re sure to walk away victoriously with some absolute gems.
This week’s gem: a collection of vintage comic book covers from around the world, and beyond.
You’ll find Italian heroes, Japanese villains, American sidekicks, and all sorts of extraterrestrials. Best of all, you’ll find your inner teenage nerd, taking a detour from your mad race to hipster world and making an indulgent rest stop in the land of dorky coolness.
Also in the mix: the original Star Trek comic book covers. Now that alone is worth more than the entire yard. And possibly the house, too.
BEST SUPERHERO SIDEKICKS
Okay, so enough with all the superhero attention. Sometimes, half the legwork comes from those trusty, make-it-happen sidekicks. After all, the spotlight only shines on a fraction of the grand stage.
Luckily, the awesome guys at Wired have done the heavy lifting and lined up the best sidekicks of all times, complete with their fairly and snarkily assessed strengths and weaknesses.
Except for Robin. Poor kid.
BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES
And speaking of Batman, here’s one of the most inspired derivative records we’ve stumbled upon in a long time. Batman: The Animated Album is a groundbreaking project by up-and-coming Philadelphia-based MC/producer Blame the Kid.
The idea: melodic and vocal samples from the cult cartoon Batman: The Animated Series cut and crafted into 18 phenomenal tracks. They take you on a compelling journey into the deeper issues of eco-terrorism, corporate exploitation, slave labor, and other social challenges lurking beneath the cartoonish technicolor surface of the story.
The album is out later this year, but you can sample some of the tracks on Blame’s blog and the album’s MySpace page. And while we’re all about bobbing our heads and tapping our feet to the mesmerizing beats, we find Blame’s broader mission even more compelling: like all of his previous albums, Blame is making the Batman album a free download, taking an empowered stance against the antiquated corporate shackles of the current music industry business model.
And that’s a tune we’ve been singing for quite some time.
UPDATE: Batman: The Animated Album is out and free to download here.
Published May 21, 2008