We live in a time of awesome spiderman costume. The rise and rise of cosplay culture, the emergence of comic artists using a savvy understanding of fashion, along with the slow diversification that’s making heroes palatable into a broader audience, have contributed to a costuming culture with additional to offer than capes and pants.
Superhero costumes have invariably been an focal point in the market, because iconography helps establish character and make a brand. But the price of costumes in reaching audiences and reinventing characters appear to be recognized now as never before, leading to the growth of artist-designers like Jamie McKelvie and Kris Anka, who don’t even need to be on a particular book to be called directly into make-within the characters. This is a great leap forward in understanding precisely what an excellent costume are capable of doing – and the special skills required to make it happen.
Moon Knight was actually a mess of a 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 your mire of Marvel’s many failed faux-Batmen and then make him his man initially.
Moon Knight’s new costume at once underlines his insanity – his old white suit was never the sane method to fight crime, now 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 is like an announcement of purpose.
The suit is just not Moon Knight’s only costume – within their six issues, the creative team also showed us a crazy bone outfit for fighting the occult as well as a more conventional but nevertheless refreshed undertake his old cape-and-cowl look. Both costumes look good and then make perfect sense on the character – these aren’t Stealth Strike Scuba Assault Batman action figure costumes. However if there’s any sense in the world, it’s the white suit that can become Moon Knight’s new default. It redefines him. It gives him a whole new place that is certainly uniquely his own in a city of heroes.
Great costumes may offer just this kind of redemption. Shatterstar, a joke of the 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 to the current “golden age” of phoenix costume – was 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 seemed to prefer editing magazines to flying planes.
It’s challenging to believe that even Batman group editor Mark Doyle truly understood precisely what he was tapping into as he handed Batgirl to the new creative team of Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr, with Stewart and Tarr collaborating about the character’s change. I’m sure Doyle expected great things, although the torrent of fan-art that emerged inside the 24-hours after 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 a movement located in large part on the smart new costume that spoke to Barbara Gordon’s character, intelligence, style, and place in life. This design looked less such as a Batman cast-off, and more like something a young woman will make for herself to craft her own identity within the bat-cowl.
Sure, there are critics. Fans whose philosophy on everything from high-heeled shoes to strapless tops has always been, “it can’t be impractical if she’s wearing it” were suddenly in revolt at the idea of a leather jacket that hid the character’s boobs. But 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 new look will translate to actual sales – we may never recognize how well the publication sells digitally, where most of its market will probably reside – but the type of word-of-mouth and internet based interaction generated by this costume redesign is hugely valuable to some publisher.
An excellent costume gets an audience excited by letting them know what you should expect. 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 to the new Ms. Marvel respected her youth and heritage as an alternative to pandering to some traditional crowd.
And it works in reverse. Harley Quinn’s New 52 design clearly steered the type within a different direction through the ones fans expected, and sent a transmission to readers as unambiguous because 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 through the dead. And it’s all because of a 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 as well as some new ones made for the big event. One of them can be a Gwen Stacy Spider-Woman, developed by Robbi Rodriguez – and Spider-Gwen wears what I think could be the best superhero costume in years.
The Spider-Gwen costume does several things with remarkable economy. It plays beautifully from the iconic model of the very best superhero costume ever conceived, Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man costume. It strikes a contemporary tone together with the hood as well as the neon Chucks – although with sufficient restraint that we don’t think it would look dated in many years to come. It generates shapes and breaks up space in ways that’s planning to look powerful on the page. And yes it immediately evokes character. I haven’t even read Spider-Gwen’s first Spider-Verse appearance, and I already have a feeling of a tricky, haunted, edgy young woman. I’ll eat a pair of neon Chucks if that’s not who she is.
Gwen Stacy is supposed to stay dead. As grotesque as it is when women are killed off and away to further the stories of male heroes, the death of Gwen Stacy feels too crucial that you Spider-Man’s development being undone. Yet I love this costume a lot that, even before the Spider-Gwen issue of Edge of Spider-Verse arrives, I understand I want Gwen back and kicking ass in this particular costume.
(I will be satisfied with a continuing occur Gwen’s alt universe. Heck, when the Ultimate Universe scales back to just Miles Morales, a Miles book along with a Gwen book will be perfect complements to one another. Having Said That I don’t think that’s where Marvel is heading.)
An incredible costume inspires stories – and tells viewers what type of stories should be expected. Catwoman crafted a new kind of sense when redesigned by Darwyn Cooke in 2004 – finally she wore the costume of your master thief, no Olympic luge rider. It causes whiplash at any time that costume appears in service to a story 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 different stories to the sinewy old guy together with the giant horns. Stuart Immonen’s stylish All-New X-Men harley quinn costume place the time-tossed X-Men inside the current day much better than any amount of exposition.
Costumes have been crucial that you superheroes – but perhaps more so than many editors realize. Some artists are great at it, and some are… less great. Like lettering, coloring, inking, editing, or dexrpky99 art, it’s a specialized job that perhaps needs to 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 element of a generation of artists taking this task very seriously, and they also make superhero comics smarter and sharper because of it.
And they’re not the only one. More and more artists are showing their designer flare along with their grasp of contemporary style. Sites like Tumblr and DeviantArt provide fertile ground for artists to try out around with costume concepts – and the excellent Project: Rooftop curates some of the finest 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.