We live in a time of awesome spiderman costume. The rise and rise of cosplay culture, the emergence of comic artists with a savvy understanding of fashion, along with the slow diversification that’s making heroes palatable to a broader audience, have got all led to a costuming culture with increased to provide than capes and pants.
Superhero costumes have invariably been an asset to the industry, because iconography helps establish character and make up a brand. But the price of costumes in reaching audiences and reinventing characters appears to be recognized now as never before, leading to the growth of artist-designers like Jamie McKelvie and Kris Anka, who don’t even have to be over a particular book to become called directly into make-across the characters. This is a great leap forward in understanding just what an effective costume can perform – as well as the special skills required to make it happen.
Moon Knight had been a mess of the character before his 2014 revival in the hands of Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire. Contradictory efforts by multiple creative teams to obtain the character’s core only served to layer junk upon junk. Moon Knight was intended to be complex; he became cluttered.
Ellis, Shalvey and Bellaire streamlined him down and gave him a clearly defined new role – the hero who protects travellers during the night – along with a fresh look; a natty white suit. Both elements helped pull Moon Knight out of the mire of Marvel’s many failed faux-Batmen making him his own man the very first time.
Moon Knight’s new costume simultaneously underlines his insanity – his old white suit was never the sane approach to fight crime, and today it’s an actual white suit – and exerts his outer calm, his cool lunar placidity. It gives him authority. It makes him scary. And it also makes him normally the one superhero detective who dresses something similar to a detective, which feels like a statement of purpose.
The suit is just not Moon Knight’s only costume – in their six issues, the creative team also showed us a crazy bone outfit for fighting the occult and a more traditional but still refreshed handle his old cape-and-cowl look. Both costumes look wonderful and make perfect sense to the character – these aren’t Stealth Strike Scuba Assault Batman action figure costumes. But when there’s any sense on the planet, it’s the white suit that can become Moon Knight’s new default. It redefines him. It gives him a new place that is certainly uniquely his own in the town of heroes.
Great costumes can provide just this sort of redemption. Shatterstar, a joke of a character with his mullet and opera cloak, was suddenly credible because of a redesign (as well as a fresh haircut) thanks to Valentine De Landro and David Yardin. Jamie McKelvie’s Captain Marvel design – arguably the most apparent trigger for that current “golden age” of phoenix costume – was all about re-positioning Carol Danvers as one of Marvel’s premier heroes. The tailored military look drew a line between her present-day “top gun” persona and the old, victimized, drunken Carol, who appeared to prefer editing magazines to flying planes.
It’s tough to imagine that even Batman group editor Mark Doyle truly understood just what he was tapping into as he handed Batgirl over to the latest creative team of Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr, with Stewart and Tarr collaborating around the character’s fresh look. I’m sure Doyle expected great things, although the torrent of fan-art that emerged inside the 24-hours pursuing the reveal of Batgirl’s new costume was unprecedented. Such was the mania that cosplayers almost immediately bought out the world’s availability of Drench Wellington yellow rubber Doc Marten boots.
What actually transpired with Batgirl was the spark of the movement located in large part on the smart new costume that spoke to Barbara Gordon’s character, intelligence, style, and set in everyday life. This design looked less just like a Batman cast-off, plus more like something a young woman makes for herself to craft her own identity beneath the bat-cowl.
Sure, there were critics. Fans whose philosophy on from high-heeled shoes to strapless tops happens to be, “it can’t be impractical if she’s wearing it” were suddenly in revolt at the concept of a leather jacket that hid the character’s boobs. Although the thrift-store style, the snap-on cape, the zips and buckles, were all character-first design elements, and that’s how good costume design should work.
We don’t yet know how this change will translate to actual sales – we may never learn how well the book sells digitally, where a great deal of its market will probably reside – but the kind of word-of-mouth and on-line interaction generated through this costume redesign is hugely valuable into a publisher.
A good costume gets an audience excited by telling them what to prepare for. Cliff Chiang’s undertake Wonder Woman played up her warrior strength and her status as both mythic figure and iconic hero. Jamie McKelvie’s costume for that new Ms. Marvel respected her youth and heritage instead of pandering to a traditional crowd.
And it works in reverse. Harley Quinn’s New 52 design clearly steered the type in a different direction in the ones fans expected, and sent a signal to readers as unambiguous as being the one sent by Tarr and Stewart’s Batgirl.
Here’s an announcement I never imagined I’d make: I want Marvel to create Gwen Stacy back from your dead. And it’s all because of costume.
Marvel’s upcoming Spider-Verse event brings together Spider-Men and Spider-Women from multiple alternative realities, including many that readers have observed before and some new ones developed for the event. One of them can be a Gwen Stacy Spider-Woman, created by Robbi Rodriguez – and Spider-Gwen wears a few things i think can be my personal favorite superhero costume in years.
The Spider-Gwen costume does a lot of things with remarkable economy. It plays beautifully of your iconic style of the highest superhero costume ever conceived, Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man costume. It strikes a contemporary tone together with the hood and also the neon Chucks – however with sufficient restraint that I don’t think it would look dated in years to come. It creates shapes and breaks up space in a way that’s going to look powerful on the page. And it immediately evokes character. I haven’t even read Spider-Gwen’s first Spider-Verse appearance, and I currently have feelings of a difficult, haunted, edgy young woman. I’ll eat a set of neon Chucks if that’s not who she actually is.
Gwen Stacy is supposed to stay dead. As grotesque since it is when women are killed away and off to further the stories of male heroes, the death of Gwen Stacy feels too important to Spider-Man’s development to get undone. Yet I love this costume a lot that, prior to the Spider-Gwen issue of Side of Spider-Verse originates out, I know I want Gwen back and kicking ass in this costume.
(I will be happy with an ongoing that is set in Gwen’s alt universe. Heck, if the Ultimate Universe scales returning to just Miles Morales, a Miles book plus a Gwen book could be perfect complements to each other. But I don’t think that’s where Marvel is heading.)
An incredible costume inspires stories – and tells a crowd what sort of stories should be expected. Catwoman produced a new sort of sense when redesigned by Darwyn Cooke in 2004 – finally she wore the costume of the master thief, no Olympic luge rider. It causes whiplash at any time that costume appears in service to a narrative that doesn’t respect the character. The design-shifting Loki as a puckish young man in swashbuckling adventurer’s attire – one more Jamie McKelvie design – sparks very different stories to the sinewy old guy with the giant horns. Stuart Immonen’s stylish All-New X-Men harley quinn costume set the time-tossed X-Men in the present day better than any volume of exposition.
Costumes have always been important to superheroes – but perhaps much more than many editors realize. Some artists are wonderful at it, and several are… less great. Like lettering, coloring, inking, editing, or dexrpky99 art, it’s a specialized job that perhaps should be restricted to people that have the skill set to excel at it.
Thankfully the comic industry has never had such an abundance of designing talent. Jamie McKelvie, Kris Anka, Cameron Stewart, Robbi Rodriguez, Cliff Chiang, etc., are component of a generation of artists who take this career very seriously, and they also make superhero comics smarter and sharper for doing this.
And they’re not by yourself. More and more artists are showing their designer flare in addition to their grasp of contemporary style. Sites like Tumblr and DeviantArt provide fertile ground for artists to experience around with costume concepts – and the excellent Project: Rooftop curates some of the best examples. The musty superhero industry would benefit hugely from embracing the likes of Cory Walker, Mingjue Helen Chen, Dean Trippe, Corey Lewis, Becky Cloonan, Ming Doyle, Jemma Salume, Sean Murphy, Ron Wimberly, and more, to re-energize the genre for tomorrow.