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Friday, April 3, 2009


Not long ago, the world of comics lost one of its very best and most inventive artists: the man who designed the “new” X-Men, Dave Cockrum.
When the original class of X-Men disbanded in 1975, to be replaced with an all-new, international team, the artist on board was Cockrum, who created one of the most beautifully designed groups of heroes ever seen in comic books. For the X-Men, Cockrum created the looks of four brand-new characters, Storm from Africa, Nightcrawler from Germany, Colossus from Russia, and the Apache Indian Thunderbird.
I immediately grew to love and admire Cockrum’s design sense, which has been a lasting influence on my own work. He brought a style and panache, and dare I say it, a sense of fashion, to the ensembles of super-heroes that I don’t think anyone after him has ever truly matched. I especially loved what he did with his female characters. His “masterpiece” heroines were Storm, Phoenix (who had originally been Marvel Girl), and Ms. Marvel.The designs for these three were variations on a particular set of themes: Long gloves, hip boots with high heels, and sashes at the waist. (No one before Cockrum, to the best of my knowledge, had ever done heroines with waist sashes instead of belts.) His great innovation with Storm was her combination poncho/cape, which, when she was in flight or when she cut loose with her powers, would billow and float out into the shape of butterfly wings. She was incredible to look at. They all were! Most artists these days don’t really do that cape justice. To see the way that cape ought to look, you have to look at Cockrum’s own work or that or John Byrne or George Perez.
It’s been argued that these ensembles were a bit sexist, especially where the boots are concerned. It’s a predilection of straight men, including straight male comic book artists, to like to see women in high-heeled shoes and boots. This is, of course, highly impractical. A real woman in high heels who routinely did the kinds of things that super-heroines are called upon to do would surely put herself in traction or worse. I get that, especially since Marvel Comics coined the idea of super-heroes as real people in a real world. These days, when people draw the Storm, Phoenix, and Ms. Marvel ensembles that Cockrum created, there is a tendency to leave off the heels. (Well, George Perez still gives Ms. Marvel her heels. But George is like that, always respecting the details and the integrity of the design.) The women’s boots on these characters today tend to be flats. And I respect the reasons for this. But you know...they don’t look right. Leaving off the heels of these particular designs leaves them looking somehow...unfinished, incomplete.I consider myself a feminist sympathizer (if you’re a gay man and don’t sympathize with feminism, they’ll suspend or revoke your card, ha-ha), but in my opinion the Cockrum designs for these three characters ought to be an exception to enlightenment. If you really want these costumes to look the way they ought to look on the characters, you’ve got to give them the heels. Check out the shots of them, by both Cockrum and Byrne, accompanying this post and see if I’m right. I think I am!


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