Another commentary on a superhero costume, this time inspired by this story about an early concept model for the cinematic Black Panther:
While I think it’s still a step from greatness, I really liked the Black Panther suit in Captain America: Civil War. The figure of a modern hero is clearly cut, but you can easily imagine how this could evolve in an isolated techno-tribal culture from earlier more primal iterations.
T’Challa’s mask/helmet is pretty great, with a perfectly elegant stylization of cat ears. The profile with its high nose dropping to a blank mouth area is straight from the comics. I also like that we can see how the whole thing functions; how he breathes, how it fits together, without any of those functional elements driving the design away from the simplicity of the classic outfit from the comics. This works as fighting gear and as symbolic garb.
The only real problem is too much over-worked silver detailing- a point I’ll keep coming back to and expand on.
As well-done as the ears on the movie suit are, though, I’d also really like to see the back-swept ears from the new comic. It distinguishes BP’s profile from Batman’s, and is a much more accurate reference to a cat about to take care of business.
I’ve always loved the stark austerity of the monochrome black uniform. Even though they’re adapted directly from my favorite run of Black Panther (Priest’s, check it out), I could really do without the “tooth & claw” inspired neck and gauntlet pieces. It was too on the nose for me in the comics, and it’s little better here. The retractable claws are surprisingly credible, though; each given it’s own sleek housing that runs along the back of T’Challa’s gloved fingers.
All the silver details were too obvious and too busy for my taste, but I especially wish they’d stayed away from distinguishing the edges of gloves and boots quite as much as they did, because that emphasises that this is a costume, while a nearly unbroken monochrome better catches the sleek lethality of the character’s namesake.
While I was initially concerned that this suit would be too bulky, it somehow avoids that problem as well as the related danger of becoming a sculpted muscle-suit. It must be insanely form-fitting, because Boseman’s figure is far from willowy. I doubt the film-makers needed to pad him out to get the requisite silhouette. Instead, they allowed a distinctive style of movement to communicate the character’s graceful athleticism, while the suit’s second-skin tailoring reveals the sheer power of the figure within it. Much like the other major new character design of the film, this costume takes a big step towards realizing on film the spandex designs originally dreamed up by kids quickly coloring in what amounted to figure sketches.
The interwoven texture is my favorite part. It hearkens back to native motifs of so many African cultures, while modernizing the aesthetic. That idea was a perfect cultural reference because it clearly spoke a certain language without offensively “doing an impression” of that language. I can buy it as an approach to construction and decoration developed by an African nation that’s never suffered the degradation of culture that flows inevitably from conquest and colonialism.
And here we get into how I think this could become a truly great and unique costume of the genre. Instead of moulding a woven pattern into rubber, I wish they’d actually weave some textile so that the different strips could move slightly independently. Superhero costumers keep looking for ways to differentiate characters and bring texture to simple designs that look great on the page but fall flat in 3D under realistic lighting. This would be a great way to do that.
This piece was done with recycled bike tires, but you get the idea:
Maybe they should get Sandy Chillewich on as an advisor, because she’s made a career, a company, and a million imitators from her innovative weaving of synthetic materials that infer tradition while looking thoroughly modern.
Such textures read as genuinely different from the stamped rubber sheet, and might be more comfortable for Boseman, too. When he said that the suit was almost unwearable for the heat it trapped, he was backed up by cast-mates who agreed that their own heavy rubber suits weren’t half as torturous as his.
Springing from this idea is my hope for his further appearances, what I think could take the costume to the next level for Black Panther’s solo film. The MCU designers should take a look at how Wakandan technology works in the new comic series. I’d like to see fewer silver accent pieces, and more accentuating the weave itself by judiciously threading silver through the fabric in subtle patterns, and then explaining why and how it works.
Look at the way Stelfreeze shows how the vibranium weave channels force:
Imagine that as a subtle CG effect rippling through the suit’s woven fibers as Black Panther runs, jumps, and fights; a silver shimmer that varies with the force absorbed or released. When he runs, there’s a slight wave up from the soles of his feet with each footfall- you might not even notice it. It’d look like the reflective highlights on a real panther’s silky coat. But when he vaults off a six story building, a silver tide washes up his whole body as he lands. They could show how he blows a steel door of its hinges with a gentle gesture, because the audience will see the kinetic energy’s line of travel. When he really lets loose, the VXF folks can let loose, too:
Subtlety is key, here, though. Black Panther’s sleekness and mystery is best expressed when he’s almost nothing but a silhouette. The makers of Civil War did a great job on this suit, but lacked the courage to let the design rest on a certain stoic simplicity that’s always been such a great strength of the Black Panther.