This book features garments by well-known fashion designers which are informed by themes which are also prevalent in depictions of comic-book superheroes. I was attracted to this book because of the fashion, and not primarily because of the link to superheroes. However I used to be a big graphic novel/comic book reader, so I had some background in the mythology behind the designs. This was the part of the book that I found disappointing, and why it does not get 5 stars.
Firstly, the book is physically very attractive. The front and back covers are pressed metal, backed with heavy card. The spine is also heavy card, with cloth hinges, so the book easily opens completly flat. The card is over 1/8th of an inch thick (4mm) and so the book is very heavy, and isn't as full of pages as I originally thought when I picked it up. All the pages are super-glossy with what feels like a plastic coating, and this works very well with the theme of the book. The image quality is fantastic. The photos have a hyper-real quality, and are an excellent size. The pages of images are set out like panels of a comic book.
The book starts with an essay by Michael Chabon which intersperses personal reflections of his childhood experiences with superheroes with a discussion of different aspects of secretiveness that are the essence of superheroes, such as "the secret anxiety of origin". This includes an anlysis of why fan reproductions of costumes are so unsatisfying.
The rest of the book is divided into eight sections, each which looks at one aspect of the superhero as an entity. Each section has a short text essay (2 pages), examples of original superhero graphic art and costume PR shots from superhero TV shows and films (1, 2 or 3 pages), and then photos of the garments that explore this particular aspect (8 to 12 pages).
The sections are;
The Graphic Body (Superman, Spiderman, clothes using bright colours, superhero logos and comic-book imagery)
The Patriotic Body (Captain America, Wonder Woman, clothes using the Stars and Stripes)
The Virile Body (the Hulk, She-Hulk, the Thing, clothes with inbuilt padded muscles or that otherwise engage with masculinity)
The Paradoxical Body (Catwoman, and clothes based on latex/patent leather/bondage gear)
The Armoured Body (Batman, Iron Man, and clothes featuring metal/armour)
The Aerodynamic Body (the Flash, and performance sportswear like the Speedo Fastskin)
The Mutant Body (X-Men, and clothes that distort or camoflage the body)
The Postmodern Body (the Punisher, Ghost Rider, and clothes that reflect death/flames/cyber-punk)
Almost all the clothes are from the 1990s and 2000s, with just a couple from the late 1980s, and one image from 1973. The complete list of designers whose work is inluded: Rudi Gernreich, As Four, Thierry Mugler, Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Walter Van Beirendonck, Hussein Chalayan, Atair Aerospace Inc, Speedo, Rei Kawakubo for Speedo, Nike, Eiko Ishioka for Descente, Jean Paul Gaultier, Gareth Pugh, Pierre Cardin, Nicolas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga, Dolce & Gabbana, Gianni Versace, John Galliano for Dior, Bernhard Willhelm, Naoki Takizawa for Issey Miyake, Viktor & Rolf, Catherine Malandrino, Jeremy Scott, Julien MacDonald, Giorgio Armani, Jun Takahashi, J.J. Hudson for Noki, Rosella Jardini for Maschino, and Jean-Charles de Castelbanc. You can see this is quite a range, and it covers a good broad swathe of contemporary fashion.
The clothes have been selected to relate well to each piece of text, and they are thought-provoking. Many photos have been taken from runway shows, and there is a mix of full-length shots and details. In places I found it irritating that the same image had been cropped and repeated, so that the actual garment was reprinted the same size. Although this does reinforce the look of a comic, it adds nothing to the information the reader gets from the page (for example the bustier on page 52 and 53, or the Pierre Cardin metal pants on page 104).
The part I found disappointing was the images of superheroes. The original comic images seemed poorly chosen. There seemed to be few of the calibre of graphic images that made me fall in love with the medium when I was a child. I assume this is for copyright reasons, but for me it was a let-down (I found Batman particularly disappointing in this respect, although there was room to give an image to each of the TV/movie incarnations of Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, and Christian Bale, who gets two!)
Overall I would recommend this book to anyone interested in contemporary fashion, but not for anyone thinking about buying it primarily because they are comic book fans. As a bonus, although it's not actually a coffee table book, it is so beautiful this will be one I will definitely leave out for guests to discover.