That one-of-a-kind costume is common to many a superhero’s wardrobe. In Spider-Man (2002), the spidey suit hides Peter Parker’s identity and visually separates Parker’s human persona from his superhumanity. Unlike Spiderman, however, Tony Stark in the summer blockbuster hits Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man 2 (2010) doesn’t have any physical abilities like super-stickiness or super-strength that set him apart from the crowd. He’s merely smart enough and rich enough to create a really cool costume that happens to be one of the most highly effective weapons on the planet. This armor offers something other than concealment, especially since Stark’s identity as Iron Man is public knowledge; it functions as a technological interface that enables his body to do and see more effectively. It is the costume itself, the hyper-personalized piece of hi-tech hardware, which elevates Stark to superhero status.
In Green Lantern that will be released this Friday, Hal Jordan finds a magical ring that bestows him otherworldly powers he must use to protect the planet from alien invaders (and Peter Sarsgaard). Jordan’s transformation from an ordinary guy into a superhero is more supernatural than Stark’s, and his costume takes the technological interface one step further. He becomes a new type of screen that transports the body into a digitally-enhanced alien dimension. To demonstrate its power in the trailer, there is a brief glimpse of the ring amplifying Jordan’s punch by visually extending his fist. As a final teaser, while wearing underclothes, Jordan flexes his muscles and the light source at his chest spreads over his body to become the glowing green lantern attire. In these two instances, the costume works like a screen. The ring enables the body to do things, to go places, that it couldn’t otherwise. The screen suit allows him to experience the world on a completely different plane, expanding his awareness into the bigger universe of which he would be otherwise ignorant. But, unlike a projection screen that physically separates the audience from the onscreen spectacle, the superhero is entirely submersed within it.
Both the Iron Man series and Green Lantern make claims about the potential of the interface as the superheroes become, quite literally, encased within them. The special effects-driven summer blockbusters of the past decade offer a productive arena where newfound connections between the body and technology are currently being explored.