With the unveiling of the latest live-action incarnation of the Maid of Might going viral faster than a speeding bullet, SUPERMANIA leaps ‘once upon a time-warp’ to compare Super-Fashions thru the ages.
While the new small-screen ensemble leans heavily to the modern trend of muted, almost blacked out colours (influenced by, and therefore canon with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel) its interesting to observe that the basic format of the suit has transcended any excessive studio revisionism and still echoes the movie version years later.
Emerging from a decade where the Superhero costume in live action was considered passé and decidedly uncool (pioneered by the producers of Smallville and their ‘no flights, no tights’ rule) its refreshing have the source material embraced fully once again.
Indeed, given the creative freedom afforded to other recent DC Comics adaptations like Arrow and The Flash with their ultra-modern twist the fact the mini-skirt and even the classic ‘S’ shield survived intact signifies a welcome return to classic comic iconography.
The translation of a comic-book costume to screen is traditionally subject to infinitesimal changes as designer Emma Porteous discovered in creating Helen Slater’s look for Supergirl in 1984. Literally adapting the style seen in the comics of the era, early versions of the costume (as seen in the Making of Supergirl) had the young actress screentest in a baggy suit resplendent with red headband. Successive fittings would eventually realise a feminine version of the Superman costume worn by Christopher Reeve (even utilizing his production-used capes) with the subtle additions of yellow waistband and a two-tone skirt in place of red shorts.
In 2011 The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis was host to a multitude of screenused treasures in their ‘Incredible Costumes from Film & TV’ exhibition, where an original Supergirl costume (on loan from the Azerian collection) was paired with one of Lynda Carter’s surviving season 2 costumes from Wonder Woman (top pic). Exclusive images courtesy of their flickr album permit detailed inspection of the costume as it was prepared for display confirming the fabric used was indeed the same ‘Bridal weight spandex’ from the Superman series and that the capes were trimmed considerably (second pic).
As the boots were not present to complete the outfit its notable that the tights actually had boot-esque stockings attached to be worn beneath them in exactly the same design with the yellow trim. Construction-wise the suit retains the same patterns as the Superman costume with the exception of the chest shield, which in this instance is so small the complex method of inserting the negative shapes gave way to simply stitching the ‘S’ directly onto the yellow background.
With the new show debuting this year and rumours of Helen Slater making an appearance it seems the Supergirl fairytale is set to continue for years to come…
Another fascinating exhibit featured in the recent ‘Superheroes’ display at Indianapolis Children’s Hospital is this cape pertaining to be screen-used wardrobe from Superman: The Movie. Keen eyes will perhaps notice something strange about this particular piece in regard to the proportions and conclude that the distance between the shield and the hem appears short.
While it would be easy, then, to dismiss this as mere replica two things lead me to believe it is not and that its history may be even more colourful.
Firstly, thanks to SuperFan James Sawyer’s clear photography it becomes apparent in higher resolution the weave in both shield applique and cape body fabric are a match to other screen-used wardrobe and secondly, according to James there were slits in either side of the cape at waist level, the purpose of which he was unsure of.
All of which leads me to speculate that this probably started life as a Christopher Reeve worn ‘flying’ cape that had survived the original ’78-’83 trilogy only to have a quarter of its length hacked off for use in Supergirl, and in all probablility, SuperBoy.
As we know, all production-made Superman capes were catagorized for use by their state of degradation. Therefore what would start as a ‘Hero’ or ‘Walking’ cape would wind up being used as ‘Effects’ or ‘Stunt’ capes depending on their condition throughout filming. We also know they were maintained on-set and in many instances ‘remade’ to enure their longevity. This process was used throughout the Superman series and clearly later on in Supergirl where surviving examples were adjusted as noted above…
Many thanks to James for use of his pics and bringing this great discovery to my attention..!
Select pages from one of a clutch of tie-in publications (see listing on 2nd pic down) by Grosset & Dunlap, this competently illustrated ultra-kitsch Supergirl cut-out paper doll book was a blatant cash-in on the young female demographic.
Though not as outrageously targeted to the young female market as the trading card set, this bizarre collectable nonetheless remains the only opportunity the world will ever have to see what style shorts Marc McClure’s Jimmy Olsen wears…
Though lacking a merchandising campaign on the scale of her cousin, Touchstone Pictures adaptation of the Maid of Might still yielded some global treasures. From the top, UK Poster magazine by London Editions, Japanese program book, (unusually presented in landscape format but featuring customary outstanding imagery) UK Exhibitors Campaign Book and last but not least, the Storybook based on the film.
In retrospect, with all the creative elements (not to mention budget) in place it seems mystifying now quite why the picture itself failed so dramatically. Many seem to attribute it to a hurriedly rewritten script excising the appearance of Superman as Christopher Reeve infamously rejected the project last-minute. As those early Super-team drafts to my knowledge have never been published I’m reticent to place the blame solely there though undoubtedly it would have been an entirely different experience (not to mention a cinematic first).
Director Jeannot Szwarc was quoted as saying “I don’t think it was a failure, It just wasn’t what people were expecting” neatly evading responsibility for flat direction whilst simultaneously making it the audience problem. In truth, Supergirl did bear more similarity to other fantasy epics of the time such as Krull and The Dark Crystal rather than her Super-namesake due to the inclusion of magic as a plot device intended to emulate The Wizard of Oz but poorly realised. Even the stunning flying effects (by the original Superman unit, perfecting their techniques) and a memorable score by Jerry Goldsmith (finally joining the Super-team having narrowly missed out previous entries) can’t save the flimsy story and a sweet but inexperienced lead actress from being gobbled up by scenery. That being said, such is its cult appeal I must recommend the Anchor Bay DVD release featuring an extended cut as, if you’ve yet to see it, you’ve really not seen Supergirl at all…
Further selections from the Superman novel back-catalogue include possibly the finest of them all – from top – ‘The Making Of Superman: The Movie’ by David Michael Petrou is a disarmingly honest account of the largest and most expensive production of its day. Aside from the thorough coverage of everything from casting to Special Effects, Petrou manages also to convey the sheer excitement and magic of bringing the Man of Steel to life.
Despite its fun tagline ‘Once upon a time-warp’ the novelization of Supergirl by Norma Fox Mazer is standard Movie Tie-In fare built almost word for word around the screenplay by David Odell (made even less appealing by its lack of picture gallery in the centre!)
Before its shoe-in as the novelization of Superman: The Movie (offered among the glut of other glossy offerings from Warner Books) Elliot S! Maggin’s origin story ‘Last Son of Krypton’ was first published by Arrow in 1978. As the events depicted within (although well-executed) bear little resemblance to the final film the comic-book style cover was far more appropriate.
Lastly, the ‘Man of Steel’ by Andrew Helfer was released in 1983 under the banner of the popular ‘Super Powers’ toy line by Kenner. This ‘which way’ book (where the reader has the option to choose the story’s outcome as he reads) was popular in the ’80’s and is written in the style of pure comic-book fodder…