SUPERHEROES UNMASKED (and the fanboys who love them) PART 1


Whenever books or plays are adapted to film, something gets modified along the way.  To exist in another medium, things have to change.  It’s the nature of the beast.  Otherwise a 1,000 page Stephen King novel would turn into a 10-hour movie.  Same rule applies to comic books, the new Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. being just the latest example.

Even the most faithful adaptation will most likely concede to one comic book staple that doesn’t translate well to live-action — superhero masks.  Ditch them and you risk alienating the core fanbase (“How come Thor never wears his helmet?!”).  Keep them and non-comics fans may complain (“I paid 12 bucks to see Andrew Garfield’s face, not a mask covering it!”).

What’s a costume designer to do in such a pinch?  Many things have been attempted over the years.  Some good.  Some bad.  Some downright ugly.

The joke about filmgoers wanting to see Andrew’s face rather than a webhead mask is steeped in truth.  Would you want to pay a major star a fortune to hide his pearly whites and granite jaw?  Neither do the studios, as evident by one-sheets such as The Avengers where no one dons a mask, not even Chris “Attack of the 50 Foot Super Soldier” Evans.  This poster design evolved from Evans and Downey Jr. sporting masks, to only Evans, to no one.  There’s no business like show business.

How much a hero or villain’s mask is modified in cinema depends upon what category the comic book version falls into.


Super cousins

Supergirl & Superman


Joker.  Black Widow.  Dr. Manhattan.  Dr. Strange.  Characters like these are a studio’s dream.  Their investments are right up there on the silver screen, fully exposed for all to see.  This is partly why there have been so many film and T.V. versions of Superman over the decades.  Particularly ones pitting him against Lex and Zod.  With faces visible, we can relate to the actor at all times, not just during the hero’s secret identify phase.

Also, the wardrobe department saves money, i.e. less costume to create, which may or may not make Edna Mode’s day, darrrrling.


The Incredibles

The Incredibles


These are domino masks the likes of which are worn by Robin, Riddler, Ozymandias, and anyone with Green as a first name (Lantern, Arrow, Hornet). These gravity-defying masks make one wonder how they don’t fall off the character’s face.  Does the Spirit use spirit gum?  Studios don’t care as long as most of the actor’s facial features remain visible.





Batgirl and the Flash favor this fashion style.  Daredevil’s eyes may not be visible — appropriate for a blind hero — but his mask still qualifies.  With this choice, the chin is the thing.  It’s all about the chin.  Keaton, Kilmer, Clooney, Bale, and Affleck all have one thing in common — award-worthy jawbones.

Some halfers make it to the cinema intact like Captain America’s.  Some — like Wolverine and Havok — aren’t even attempted (good call on Havok).  Hawkeye’s purple halfer was replaced by purple sunglasses.  The Marvel brass must’ve realized only Cyclops or Bono could make shades work because Jeremy Renner never wears them outside of promo pics.







Spawn.  Rocketeer.  War Machine.  Dr. Fate.  Characters like these are a studio’s nightmare.  It’s why Steel’s full metal mask was converted to a half helmet and why Julian McMahon barely wears his Dr. Doom headgear in the Fantastic Four twofer (not that their originals would’ve made their respective flicks any better).

If the old adage is true about eyes being windows to the soul, then actors must despise the Spider-Man mask.  At least Batman has eye slits to work with.  All Tobey McGuire and Nicholas Hammond (Google him) can do to convey tingling Spider-Senses is tilt their head from side to side.  That’s good for the R.C.A. Victor dog.  Not so good for your friendly neighborhood wall-crawler.


So those are the categories of comic book facial facades (“mask” can only be used so many times) that producers have to deal with.  Now let’s see how they deal.


UP NEXT: Superheroes Unmasked Part 2



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3 Responses to “SUPERHEROES UNMASKED (and the fanboys who love them) PART 1”

  1. […] than today to follow-up on Superheroes Unmasked Part 1.  Haven’t read that P-Booth yet?  Click here and then click […]

  2. Jennifer Smith says:

    Interesting and fun! Good article!

  3. […] NEXT THURSDAY:  Superheroes unmasked (whether fanboys like it or […]

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