Combing Through the Evolving Hairstyles of Superheroes on Screen

By David Opie on at

Ever since Samson’s biblical strength was sapped following a sneaky trim of his locks, hair has been tangled up with the superhero genre in more ways than you might think. Superman’s spit curl is surprisingly integral to maintaining his secret identity, after all, and it’s tough to imagine Wolverine without that fierce pointy mane.

But no film has embraced the power of super-charged hair quite like the latest Avengers movie. Even before it hit cinemas, plenty of die-hard fans combed through the Endgame trailers to figure out what each new hairstyle could signify. While it soon became clear that some of the changes were due to various time jumps, plenty of the new makeovers also revealed something about the hair-raising stakes Earth’s Mightiest Heroes would come to face.

Most notably of all, Hawkeye snapped even harder than Thanos after the loss of his family, transforming into Mohawkeye and sporting a brooding haircut to match the pain he felt on the inside. Black Widow’s fading dye job and Thor’s Lebowski locks also visualised the emotional fallout that each of the surviving Avengers faced following Infinity War, but it’s not all just sadness and bad hair days.

Mohawkeye

More powerful than all of the Infinity Stones combined, Captain Marvel’s defiant new quiff rocked up to the final battle of Endgame with zero fucks to give. Not only did it almost take out Thanos single-handedly, but it also rejected the hyper-sexualised look most heroines are forced to wear in favour of something far stronger and infinitely queerer too.

Although the woman once known as Vers isn’t gay in a canonical sense, the queer coding of Captain Marvel’s new haircut provides LGBTQ fans with some limited, but still much needed visibility in the MCU. Vice described Carol’s look as “major lesbian energy” and her new style in Endgame reinforces this even further.

Conventionally, shorter hair has been used to signal a move away from traditional femininity on screen – think Tank Girl or Deadpool’s Negasonic Teenage Warhead – but shorter cuts are also progressive for female superheroes in a practical sense as well.

Saving the world isn’t easy on the best of days, but for characters like Supergirl and Jessica Jones, the fight is twofold. Not only do they have to defeat the Big Bad, but they also have to contend with their own hair too, which surely gets in their face during the heat of battle. The smartest thing Thanos ever did was snapping all of the hair ties out of existence along with 50% of the population.

Negasonic Teenage Warhead

Historically, most female heroes are forced to let those distracting locks fly loose because the comics love to heighten their femininity to a sexist degree, thereby appealing more to men. Characters like Wonder Woman might kick plenty of ass, but even they fall prey to the patriarchy, and this is why actors who take on these roles often wear wigs in order to match the source material. Realistic, natural hair rarely makes the cut.

This wouldn’t be much of an issue in theory, but after all the money is spent on special effects and A-list talent, there doesn’t seem to be much left over for the wig department in most of these films. Case in point: our own wigs were snatched when Halle Berry first appeared in X-Men with that windswept calamity on her head, and plenty of other female heroes haven’t fared much better in the fake hair department either.

Halle Berry in X-Men

Medusa, Starfire, Arrow’s Black Canary… a number of fan favourites have emerged victorious from battle only to then be defeated at the hands of cheap wig makers. Worst of all was poor Kate Mara, who probably wished she’d stayed invisible the entire time once reshoots for Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four reboot begun.

Fake hair doesn’t necessarily have to be a hindrance though. In the comics, Batwoman uses crimson wigs to keep foes off guard in combat, thereby subverting their original intent in a surprisingly powerful way. Let’s just hope that The CW recognises this when Kate Kane returns to our screens later this year. We can’t be the only ones still traumatised by those flashback mullets from the early days of Arrow.

Along with Carol’s trailblazing quiff, Marvel has also moved beyond traditional depictions of hair with the cast of Black Panther too – and that’s mostly thanks to Camille Friend. Rather than play into the kind of African stereotypes that Hollywood has become known for, the film’s head stylist requested that everyone must arrive on set with their own natural hair, something which is usually unheard of in a film like this.

Friend told The Cut that she wanted audiences to leave Black Panther knowing “That black hair is versatile and it’s beautiful.” From Nakia’s loose knots and Shuri’s intricate braid to Okoye’s striking baldness, her message came through loud and clear, reminding audiences how important representation is – even when it comes to something seemingly innocuous like hair.

Black Panther

Comic book inspired hairstyles are now more diverse than ever, moving further and further away from the generic wigs and buzz cuts of yesteryear. In fact, hair is just as integral to a superhero’s identity as their powers or costume, acting as an extension of their thoughts and beliefs in ways that are often brushed aside by casual audiences. After all, it’s now impossible to think of Aquaman without his rebellious mane and Harley Quinn’s unhinged dye job says more about her state of mind than most lines of dialogue ever could.

By providing audiences with these kind of subtle insights, the hair stylists who work on our favourite characters are the real heroes, helping us to untangle multiple strands of comic book lore with a brush far mightier than any mere superpower.