Dec 19 2011
B. Mac likes to pick on Robin in 9 Easy-to-Fix Problems with Superhero Design. I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a Robin fan, so let’s take a closer look at the Boy Wonder himself to see what went wrong and how effective changes to a character’s costume can create an entirely new visual story of a character.
Artists have changed Robin’s visual aesthetics many times over the years and few characters needed the changes as badly as he did. By comparing two different costumes, one of his early ones from the 1940s, to his appearance in the recent Young Justice cartoon, we can see that no character is beyond redemption with some changes to his costume. Both designs are of the same hero, using some of the same costume elements; however each costume tells a very different story about the character.
Classic Robin Costume Elements
Pretend that you have never seen Robin before and look at this image of his classic look from the early days of the character’s conception.
- Muscular body
- Bright green, red, and yellow color scheme
- Bland figure 8 mask
- No pants
- Elf boots
- Fluttering cape
What Went Wrong with Robin?
This combination of visual elements turns Robin into a visual train wreck. His muscular body brings forth a highly masculine appearance, yet the bright green, red, and yellow, which are all equally prominent in his outfit, have a very childish, nursery rhyme appeal to them. Is he a man with super strength who can go toe to toe with Superman, or is he a child playing in the backyard? It’s difficult to tell with this image.
His mask lacks defining shape, hindering any real means of expression on his face and looks more like an afterthought than an element woven into the construction of his costume. An absence of pants adds further confusion by bringing too much focus to his legs and giving the impression that he’s an Olympic swimmer, rather than a superhero. His elf-esque boots look unrestrained and ready to flop off at any moment, while the cape fluttering behind him has a bolder look than Robin himself. Robin looks so confused that it’s unclear whether he’s going to enter a strong man contest, play with some action figures, go for a swim, make toys for Santa Claus, or get sucked away by his cape.
New Robin Costume Elements
Now compare that to a new redesign for Robin’s look from the Young Justice cartoon.
- Athletic body
- Dark red and black dominant colors with yellow accent
- Face-shaping eye mask
- Functional looking boots and accessories
- Dormant cape
What Changes Made Robin Look Different?
You’ll notice that this Robin keeps some of the same elements and seems to have a more cartoonish shape, yet the tone creates a more serious appearance. So, what happened? First, Robin’s body shape has changed. He has an athletic, slender appearance that gives him the look of an agile gymnast, rather than that of a bodybuilder. Robin keeps the red color scheme, but darkening the shade makes a world of difference and black replaces the green, which meshes with the red, rather than creating conflict. All of which consolidates his age and abilities. He’s a teenager. He doesn’t have super strength and he’s probably pretty nimble.
The eye mask has been reshaped to frame and fit Robin’s face. Notice the use of pointed edges on the bottom, which encourage eye movement to the rest of the face. The white parts of the eyes also compose a larger portion of the mask, giving him a more expressive face. His skin-tight pants draw no attention to his legs and his boots have a secure and realistic appearance. Tiny details to his accessories, like the addition of small pouches to his belt and cosmetic changes to his gloves, all combine together to give his costume a functional look. His cape no longer pulls attention away from the rest of the costume and resigns itself to a supportive role in his outfit.
This illustration of change shows that a hero can present a much different image to people by reconstructing the visuals of his costume. Remember that a hero is the conduit through which the story is told and your audience needs to get pulled into the message of the story in a glance. Using a distracting costume can confuse your audience about your hero before they’ve given your character a chance, but by reshaping the outfit to fit the story you want to tell, even a mess like Robin can be changed!
This article is by Ryan Heuer of BuySuperheroCostumes.com, a place where men and women can find great superhero costumes, from Robin to Rorschach.