Asking the Tough Questions About Superheroes and Public Nudity

When I play superhero RPGs or read comics, I cannot help but wonder how it is that certain superheroes manage to stay clothed. Specifically, the ones who were extremely durable whose clothing was not. How do they avoid being frequently naked in public?

They cannot avoid fights; no fun in that. But if they’re hit—there go the clothes. If prone to turning into living flame? Clothes go up in flame. Super-cold? Cloth turns brittle when frozen. Change size? Clothing shreds. Or a teeny-tiny size-changer can slip between the weave of the cloth. Then change back to normal human and oops, no clothes.

In the old days, the Comics Code Authority guaranteed a certain level of protection from power-induced nudity. The Hulk’s pants size might go from M to XXXXXXXL but somehow his trousers always stretched enough to provide him with shorts. Similarly, Doctor Phosphorus’ skin incinerated everything it touched, despite which he somehow always had enough of his trousers left to avoid being charged with indecent exposure (well, in addition to terrorism and murder).

In some cases, characters have incredibly precise control over their abilities. The Human Torch, for example, can carry flammable objects without setting them on fire even though he himself is entirely or almost entirely enveloped in flame. Since the most common flammable object the Human Torch carries is human beings, this is for the best.

In other cases, the powers themselves can provide costumes. A Green Lantern ring can magic up a costume. Some heroes get the ability to summon their undamaged costume as a minor element of their powerset. Hellcat would be one example, as would the Creeper (unfortunately for the Creeper, said costume is ten bucks of rummage sale junk: a feather boa, boots, and a small pair of swimming trunks).

There is a special subset of superpowered characters whose powers conceal the fact they are stark naked pretty much 24/7. A case has been made for Thor and Loki’s possible nudity. Shapeshifters are particularly fond of this gambit. Chameleon Boy looks like he’s wearing clothing but since the clothes change with him, I’m pretty sure what we see is all Reep Daggle (Chameleon Boy’s actual name), not actual clothes. The Martian Manhunter likewise, although I understand there is a story in which his costume is actually a shapeshifting Martian pet (which kinda weirds me out). At least one version of the Ray has to settle for creating the illusion of clothing in lieu of the clothes his powers uncontrollable destroy. In fact, he is always stark naked.

A number of characters opt for cheap and easily replaced clothes. Iron Munro essentially opted for jeans and T-shirt. If your skin is as durable as a battleship but your clothes aren’t, just hit a discount store for a stack of two-dollar T-shirts and invest in some iron-on super-heroic logos. While affordable, it’s not a solution for the trousers issue. Maybe encourage opponents to aim high by placing a target on your chest?

Perhaps the best solution is to befriend or at least be able to hire someone who can provide a costume of the required durability. The Fantastic Four get adaptable costumes of “unstable molecules” thanks to the inventive skills of Mr. Fantastic. The Flash’s Rogues Gallery depends on the services of Central City tailor Paul Gambi. The Incredibles turn to Edna Mode. That won’t help characters who don’t know super geniuses and who cannot afford the services of a specialty tailor.

There is an obvious solution that has not been used in the comics to the best of my knowledge, which is to worm one’s way into a local amateur theatrical troupe to gain access to and exploit their costumes department. There are only two obvious drawbacks to this otherwise infallible scheme: first, one will be limited to whatever costumes they have on hand, more likely to be suitable for productions of Julius Caesar, Equus, or Oh! Calcutta! than crime punching. Second, wardrobe will react very badly to cast members stealing costumes. It might solve your costume issue at the cost of giving you your first archenemy.

In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews and the Aurora finalist Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He is a four-time finalist for the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award and is surprisingly flammable.

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