Gutter Talk: Writing Myself Into the Perfect Superhero Jacket

Six panels of vintage horror comics. The center says GUTTER TALK

Gutter Talk – art by Viv Le

In the 90s, probably in some godforsaken board room, it was decided it was too confusing for comic book characters to not have anywhere to put their stuff. After all, even Spider-Woman must have keys! Characters received redesigns adding superfluous pouches and bandoliers to create the illusion of ample storage. The cargo pantification of superhero costuming. No one ever used these pockets; they were as decorative as a cake topper or the warning on cigarette packages. But they were nonetheless everywhere. A pocket for everything, for everything a pocket.

In lieu of pockets, many idols of the superhero set were given an obvious answer to the conundrum of where to keep all their shit: jackets.

If you were an Avenger or an X-Man in the 1990s, you simply had to have a jacket. Jackets by the barrel full in two distinct flavors: cropped bombers with the sleeves rolled up just a little and long dusters like the one worn by Gambit, the card-throwing thief from the swamps of Louisiana. Where pockets and pouches were wildly unnecessary, jackets served another purpose entirely. They allowed a hero to cultivate a vibe.

A jacket is fashion as a statement, a decision making a thousand announcements. You can have a perfect outfit, and the right jacket will bring it to stratospheric heights — and the outfit can be damaged beyond repair with the wrong jacket. I was enthralled with this developing fashion trend as I slowly entered my teen years and started to ask myself hard questions about what I wanted to say when I dressed myself.

I didn’t know much from fashion because I couldn’t really let myself know too much about it. If I was seen as a boy in the 1990s and was also seen reading fashion magazines there would be questions, and those questions would lead to violence, and I was afraid of both of those things. But comic books held fashion deep in the ink of every page, and I searched every cross-hatched panel for inspiration.

I wanted to make comics. I have never admitted this to anyone or even said it out loud to more than five people until just now. I loved the form, and I yearned to be part of it. I would spend hours upon hours tracing comic characters in an effort to instill in my hands some kind of muscle memory, something that might allow me to learn to draw like the books I was reading. And then I could make my own comics.

Maybe I could write myself into the pages and disappear.

I would trace the outline of a character and then design new outfits for them, pencil crayons carefully coloring in the spandex of their uniforms as I crafted elaborate backstories and painful memories that drove their quest for justice.

I gave them all jackets.

I loved a bomber jacket because it felt playful, confident. A bomber isn’t trying to hide everything you wish to keep from prying eyes like a full-length duster is. Rogue, the vaguely southern mutant whose power is to steal others powers with the mere touch of skin, was defined by her bomber. Underneath, it was a green and yellow unitard that screamed “everyone gets the one outfit”, but the addition of the jacket made it wholly new. Unique and beautiful with a little what’s-her-secret.

It was one of those moments where I had to question if I wanted to be with her or be her. Rogue and Gambit, the longtime will-they-won’t-they of the X Men, were diametrically opposed in jacket and gender. All the boys wanted to be Gambit, swarthy and roguish with a hint of an accent you can tell is really overwrought. But I, in contrast, loved that little bomber jacket. I wanted to be Rogue, or at least draw an analogue to her and create myself new in the image I penciled and colored on the pages of a sketch book I hid from everyone.

Over time, I realized that the false superheroes I was creating, the ones that were traces of my favorites given new outfits and hairstyles, needed civilian identities. I traced human forms with no spandex and less muscle mass but different outfit decisions. Women wearing high-waisted slacks and a v-neck blouse for an afternoon run to the grocery store between crime fights. Little lesbian crime fighters running their little errands.

Comic books appealed to me because I wanted to be able to escape into a life I was worried would always elude me. I wanted to be able to draw my perfect form, create for her a life that she was strong and powerful but had little errands and shit to do — and goddamn it where do I put my keys when I have to go and crime fight?

You put those keys in the pocket of a perfect bomber jacket.


Gutter Talk is a biweekly series by Niko Stratis that looks at comic books from a queer and trans perspective.


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Niko Stratis

Niko Stratis is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in outlets like SPIN, Bitch, Xtra, Catapult and more. Her work primarily focuses on culture, the 1990s, queer/trans topics and as often as possible where all those ideas intersect. 

She wrote that piece about Jackass that you liked and also the Gin Blossoms one. 

She is also the creator and host of V/A Club, a podcast about movie soundtracks.

Niko lives in downtown Toronto with her fiancé and their dog and 2 cats. She is a cancer.

Niko has written 41 articles for us.

9 Comments

  1. Niko!! THIS. PART.!!! “Comic books appealed to me because I wanted to be able to escape into a life I was worried would always elude me. I wanted to be able to draw my perfect form, create for her a life that she was strong and powerful but had little errands and shit to do…” So damn good.

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