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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

Why is Lady Gaga wearing a mask? Or, more importantly, why is Lady Gaga wearing ONLY a mask? “Masked nudity.” That’s like an oxymoron, right? Since this is an ad for the perfume “Fame,” I’m tempted to read the image metaphorically:

“Fame is being naked and masked at the same time.”

Or, “Fame is tiny little men crawling over my body as I gaze off indifferently.”

The ad currently appears on a Times Square billboard, so all those little men are life-sized, and Ms. Gaga gargantuan. Perhaps super-genius Henry Pym (AKA Ant-Man/Giant-Man) helped in the perfume lab. Either way, photographer Steven Klein has a thing for superheroes.

As apparently does Kobe Bryant, AKA The Black Mamba. The Lakers star donned his own mask after breaking his nose in an All-Star game earlier this year. He tried a transparent one first, but it kept fogging up, so he switched to the caped crusader look the following game. It didn’t affect his performance one way or the other, which might be why the uber-player auctioned it off at benefit for the homeless a few weeks later. The mask pulled in $67,100. That’s one way of using your powers for good.

Image analysis: “Fame means having to look stupid.”

If Bryant’s comic book apparel was donned for medical reasons, the swine flu has him beat. Medical face masks are an international hit, with or without Joker mouth accessorizing. Heath Ledger looked a lot scarier in his, but the swine flu is real.

Image analysis: “I’m not laughing on the inside.”

If the swine flu doesn’t frighten you, Paris fashion will. Belgian designer Martin Margiela premiered this exciting new, um, look last July. Margiela is apparently a big fan of the obscure Marvel supervillain team The Headman, particularly evil scientist Thursday Rubinstein who replaced her head with a faceless orb of organic circuitry. Hulk called her “Gumball-Head Lady.”

Image analysis: “They’re paying us money to wear this stuff.”

An even less appealing fashion trend. Would you believe this is beachware? They call the hood a “facekini,” and it and the full bodysuit are all about tan prevention. Pasty white is the color of privilege in China. Only day laborers sport tans.

Image analysis: “Maybe Lady Gaga should try it.”

And just when you thought a woman couldn’t look good in a balaklava, along comes Pussy Riot to save the day. The Russian punk band was arrested after staging an anti-government protest video in an Orthodox Church last February. And if you don’t know they were sentenced to two years in a penal colony, you really need to be reading more on the web than superhero blogs. As the Guerrilla Girls wrote in support: “The world needs more feminist masked avengers.”

Image analysis: “Putin is an asshole.”

But the number one example of superhero wear used for a superheroic purpose goes to the people of Syria. The masks are no fashion statement. Like Zorro, these freedom fighters are hiding their identities from the tyrannical government they’re dedicated to tearing down.

Image analysis: “Why haven’t NATO and the Arab League teamed-up to take out Bashar al-Assad yet?”

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