the most implausible thing about superhero movies is that these guys make their own suits, like seriously those toxic chemicals did NOT give you the ability to sew stretch knits, do you even own a serger
I feel like there’s this little secret place in the middle of some seedy New York business neighborhood, back room, doesn’t even have a sign on the door, but within three days of using their powers in public or starting a pattern of vigilanteism, every budding superhero or supervillain gets discreetly handed a scrap of paper with that address written on it.
Inside there’s this little tea table with three chairs, woodstove, minifridge, work table, sewing machines, bolts and bolts of stretch fabrics and maybe some kevlar, and two middle-aged women with matching wedding rings and sketchbooks.
And they invite you to sit down, and give you tea and cookies, and start making sketches of what you want your costume to look like, and you get measured, and told to come back in a week, and there’s your costume, waiting for you.
The first one is free. They tell you the price of subsequent ones, and it’s based on what you can afford. You have no idea how they found out about your financial situation. You try it on, and it fits perfectly, and you have no idea how they managed that without measuring you a whole lot more thoroughly than they did.
They ask you to pose for a picture with them. For their album, they say. The camera is old, big, the sort film camera artists hunt down at antique stores and pay thousands for, and they come pose on either side of you and one of them clicks the camera remotely by way of one of those squeeze-things on a cable that you’ve seen depicted from olden times. That one (the tall one, you think, though she isn’t really, thin and reminiscent of a Greek marble statue) pulls the glass plate from the camera and scurries off to the basement, while the other one (shorter, round, all smiles, her shiny black hair pulled up into a bun) brings out a photo album to show you their work.
Inside it is … everyone. Superheroes. Supervillains. Household names and people you don’t recognize. She flips through pages at random, telling you little bits about the guy in the purple spangly costume, the lady in red and black, the mysterious cloaked figure whose mask reveals one eye. As she pages back, the costumes start looking really convincingly retro, and her descriptions start having references to the Space Race, the Depression, the Great War.
The other lady comes up, holding your picture. You’re sort of surprised to find it’s in color, and then you realize all the others were, too, even the earliest ones. There you are, and you look like a superhero. You look down at yourself, and feel like a superhero. You stand up straighter, and the costume suddenly fits a tiny bit better, and they both smile proudly.
The next time you come in, it’s because the person who’s probably going to be your nemesis has shredded your costume. You bring the agreed-upon price, and you bake cupcakes to share with them. There’s a third woman there, and you don’t recognize her, but the way she moves is familiar somehow, and the air seems to sparkle around her, on the edge of frost or the edge of flame. She’s carrying a wrapped brown paper package in her arms, and she smiles at you and moves to depart. You offer her a cupcake for the road.
The two seamstresses go into transports of delight over the cupcakes. You drink tea, and eat cookies and a piece of a pie someone brought around yesterday. They examine your costume and suggest a layer of kevlar around the shoulders and torso, since you’re facing off with someone who uses claws.
They ask you how the costume has worked, contemplate small design changes, make sketches. They tell you a story about their second wedding that has you falling off the chair in tears, laughing so hard your stomach hurts. They were married in 1906, they say, twice. They took turns being the man. They joke about how two one-ring ceremonies make one two-ring ceremony, and figure that they each had one wedding because it only counted when they were the bride.
They point you at three pictures on the wall. A short round man with an impressive beard grins next to a taller, white-gowned goddess; a thin man in top hat and tails looks adoringly down at a round and beaming bride; two women, in their wedding dresses, clasp each other close and smile dazzlingly at the camera. The other two pictures show the sanctuaries of different churches; this one was clearly taken in this room.
There’s a card next to what’s left of the pie. Elaborate silver curlicues on white, and it originally said “Happy 10th Anniversary,” only someone has taken a Sharpie and shoehorned in an extra 1, so it says “Happy 110th.” The tall one follows your gaze, tells you, morning wedding and evening wedding, same day. She picks up the card and sets it upright; you can see the name signed inside: Magneto.
You notice that scattered on their paperwork desk are many more envelopes and cards, and are glad you decided to bring the cupcakes.
When you pick up your costume the next time, it’s wrapped up in paper and string. You don’t need to try it on; there’s no way it won’t be perfect. You drink tea, eat candies like your grandmother used to make when you were small, talk about your nights out superheroing and your nemesis and your calculus homework and how today’s economy compares with the later years of the Depression.
When you leave, you meet a man in the alleyway. He’s big, and he radiates danger, but his eyes shift from you to the package in your arms, and he nods slightly and moves past you. You’re not the slightest bit surprised when he goes into the same door you came out of.
The next time you visit, there’s nothing wrong with your costume but you think it might be wise to have a spare. And also, you want to thank them for the kevlar. You bring artisan sodas, the kind you buy in glass bottles, and they give you stir fry, cooked on the wood-burning stove in a wok that looks a century old.
There’s no way they could possibly know that your day job cut your hours, but they give you a discount that suits you perfectly. Halfway through dinner, a cinderblock of a man comes in the door, and the shorter lady brings up an antique-looking bottle of liquor to pour into his tea. You catch a whiff and it makes your eyes water. The tall one sees your face, and grins, and says, Prohibition.
You’re not sure whether the liquor is that old, or whether they’ve got a still down in the basement with their photography darkroom. Either seems completely plausible. The four of you have a rousing conversation about the merits of various beverages over dinner, and then you leave him to do business with the seamstresses.
It’s almost a year later, and you’re on your fifth costume, when you see the gangly teenager chase off a trio of would-be purse-snatchers with a grace of movement that can only be called superhuman.
You take pen and paper from one of your multitude of convenient hidden pockets, and scribble down an address. With your own power and the advantage of practice, it’s easy to catch up with her, and the work of an instant to slip the paper into her hand.
A week or so later, you’re drinking tea and comparing Supreme Court Justices past and present when she comes into the shop, and her brow furrows a bit, like she remembers you but can’t figure out from where. The ladies welcome her, and you push the tray of cookies towards her and head out the door.
In the alleyway you meet that same giant menacing man you’ve seen once before. He’s got a bouquet of flowers in one hand, the banner saying Happy Anniversary, and a brown paper bag in the other.
You nod to him, and he offers you a cupcake.