Hero stuff requires sensible shoes

Listening to: Fred Hersch Trio.

Batgirl has gotten a redesign that’s causing a stir among us brainy girls who’d follow Josh Whedon like Deadheads, if only he’d go on tour. In fact, as Rob Bricken writes, “Batgirl’s new uniform may be the best damn superheroine outfit ever.”

What’s the brouhaha all about? Friend Susan, mother of a young Libby, who can often be found rocking a cape, says it best: “The new Batgirl re-design involves combat boots instead of stilettos, a real leather jacket that’s not an excuse for a ridiculous bosom, a sensible snap-off cape, and the herione’s move to the artsy part of Gotham so she can pursue grad school. This comic is mom-approved.”

Based on the MTV.com interview with new Batgirl team Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr, it sounds as though Batgirl is going a bit “That Girl.” (“Flirt!” “Fun!” “Fashion!”) Which takes me out of her teen demographic. But it’s great to see a female superhero wearing something other than spandex and a bustier. Because, seriously, who can fight crime in a bustier?

I’ve been thinking a lot about superhero kits lately, because the costume matters. It both establishes and hides identity. And it helps set the tone for the story. One thing I love about the more recent incarnations of Batman is that the costume veers into the grotesque (especially the mask), helping to make him downright scary. Like V. Another favorite.

But the costume is also important for protection. Especially for a superhero without superpowers. If my Diana is going to wander the streets, looking for a fight, she needs to do it in clothes that allow her to move but are tight-fitting enough that they don’t allow a pursuer to grab hold of her. They also need to keep her relatively safe — ideally, stop a bullet. That veers a little too far into Ironman’s bought-and-built superpowers, but the clothes certainly need to protect against scrapes, cuts, slaps, and other one-step-above-basic possible injuries.

My first idea, when I started assembling Diana’s outfit, was a Kevlar motorcycle jacket. But Kevlar clothing is bulky, heavy and not suited to a character who slips in and out of the shadows. So I’ve settled on black fitted leather, with stretch fabric at the seams. It can’t stop a bullet, nor would it prevent a deliberate stabbing, but leather would allow Diana to use her arms to block a knife in a fight. And because she kicks, she needs a lot of flexibility at the hips, knees, underarms, shoulders and waist.

Shoes remains puzzle. Stilettos are out, certainly. And combat boots are heavy, not really agile. Diana runs, climbs, leaps and kicks. So she needs a structured, reinforced shoe that enables her to move. I’m still looking for the right thing — suggestions?

Finally, the mask. There are a lot of good reasons for the full-head Batman style. In the comics, the women superheroes always have flowing manes, but for a “real life” superhero, like Diana, this is dangerous. Again, she can’t have anything loose that someone could grab and hold, use to trap her. But I want Diana’s eyes to show clearly. And she needs to be able to talk. It is her eyes and her voice (as well as her ability to appear, seemingly, out of nowhere) that make her frightening to the men she confronts.

But what about the cape? Ah, the cape. The accessory that, when I was a child, made me feel powerful. For a crime fighter on the mean streets of Seattle, though, a cape can be grabbed, get caught on a fire escape, tear and leave traces behind. So (*sad sigh*) no cape for Diana.

Putting on a costume and fighting crime

Listening to: Chick Corea. Miles Davis. Kind of Blue.

I had dinner Friday night with my friend, Anne, whom I hadn’t seen in more than a year. She’s a long-time member of the Seattle Police Force, and I took the opportunity to tell her a bit about my new book and ask a few questions about how the Seattle Police work.

When I explained to her why I was writing about a superhero, I told her about Phoenix Jones and the question I needed to answer: What would bring a person to the point at which he/she would put on a costume, go into the the most dangerous areas of Seattle, and confront dangerous criminals?

“That’s what we do,” she told me.

It’s not the same thing, I quickly responded. She and Phoenix Jones were planets apart. But she insisted that, yes, it was the same thing. So I had to stop for a few seconds and think about it. And I could see, yeah. Okay, yeah. Uniform. Pursuing criminals. Putting yourself in harm’s way.

So I see it. And I like the parallels, but I would still argue that it’s not the same. What my friend has always said is that she became a cop to help people. That’s why she goes to work every day. I’m not convinced, though, that every real life superhero puts on a cape because he/she wants to help people. There’s something else driving them.

That’s what I told my friend, “You do it to help people, and the by-product is heroism. A lot of these people in capes do it for heroism, and sometimes the by-product is that they help people.”

It was a fortuitous discussion, because I could see a scene forming between my two main characters. One is Mallory, a captain with the Seattle police, and the other is Beth, a mother of two whom he suspects of being “Diana,” a figure in black leather who prowls the streets at night, protecting women.

This is what Mallory tries to explain to her. Why they’re different and why what she’s doing is so dangerous. He fights crime because he wants to make the city a better place for the people who live there. She fights because she wants justice. But Mallory doesn’t expect justice. That’s something else he would want her to understand, that there isn’t any justice. The criminals she’s chasing are bad guys, animals, who will never have their reckoning. They are never going to stare into their dark hearts and see the error of their ways. And if they can’t come to terms with their crimes, they will never be truly punished, and without punishment, there is no justice.

So Beth is risking her life for nothing. That’s how Mallory sees it.

This conversation happens well into the story. After Mallory has evolved from pursuing Beth as a vigilante to pursuing her to protect her. The confrontation would happen in the hospital. Diana has gotten hurt in a street fight; Beth has had a bad fall. Bruises, sprains, maybe a few stitches. Injuries that would take her to the emergency room. That’s where Mallory finds her and tells her she has to stop.

Interesting idea to play with, though. Policeman as superhero. I’m going to keep that in mind as I develop Mallory. Especially because the story opens in medias res, with him in the foreground. Diana has been on the street for a few weeks. He’s heard rumors of her, but she’s a phantom. An irritant more than priority for Mallory. With Diana in the background, I can work with superhero tropes to shape Mallory. Because he’s definitely heroic, just as heroic as Diana, but the media celebrate her and treat what Mallory is trying to do as routine.

Who is Mallory with the badge and who is he without? Who is his alter ego? What aspects of his personality does he hide from his family but come out on the job?