Writing for The New Yorker, Michael Chabon ponders the importance of the superhero costume and its transformative properties:
A public amnesia, an avowed lack of history, is the standard pretense of the costumed superhero. From the point of view of the man or woman or child in the street, gaping up at the sky and skyscrapers, the appearance of a new hero over Metropolis or New York or Astro City is always a matter of perfect astonishment. There have been no portents or warnings, and afterward one never learns anything new or gains any explanations.The story of a superhero’s origin must be kept secret, occulted as rigorously from public knowledge as the alter ego, as if it were a source of shame. Superman conceals, archived in the Fortress of Solitude and accessible only to him, not only his own history—the facts and tokens of his birth and arrival on Earth, of his Smallville childhood, of his exploits and adventures—but the history of his Kryptonian family and, indeed, of his entire race. Batman similarly hides his story and its proofs in the trophy chambers of the Batcave.
In theory, the costume forms part of the strategy of concealment. But in fact the superhero’s costume often functions as a kind of magic screen onto which the repressed narrative may be projected. No matter how well he or she hides its traces, the secret narrative of transformation, of rebirth, is given up by the costume. Sometimes this secret is betrayed through the allusion of style or form: Robin’s gaudy uniform hints at the murder of his circus-acrobat parents, Iron Man’s at the flawed heart that requires a life-support device, which is the primary function of his armor.
You may want to grab a cup of coffee first: It’s a lengthy essay.