We live in a time of awesome spiderman costume. An upswing and rise of cosplay culture, the emergence of comic artists having a savvy knowledge of fashion, along with the slow diversification that’s making heroes palatable to your broader audience, have got all led to a costuming culture with more to offer than capes and pants.
Superhero costumes have been an asset to the marketplace, because iconography helps establish character and make a brand. But value of costumes in reaching audiences and reinventing characters seems to be recognized now as never before, ultimately causing the rise of artist-designers like Jamie McKelvie and Kris Anka, who don’t even must be on a particular book to become called directly into make-across the characters. This is a great leap forward in understanding precisely what an excellent costume is capable of doing – and also the special skills required to accomplish it.
Moon Knight was 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 meant 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 – as well as a new 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 for the first time.
Moon Knight’s new costume at once underlines his insanity – his old white suit was never the sane strategy to fight crime, now it’s a real white suit – and exerts his outer calm, his cool lunar placidity. It gives him authority. It makes him scary. Plus it makes him usually the one superhero detective who dresses something such as a detective, which seems like an announcement of purpose.
The suit will not be Moon Knight’s only costume – within their six issues, the creative team also showed us a crazy bone outfit for fighting the occult and a classical but nevertheless refreshed carry out his old cape-and-cowl look. Both costumes look good to make perfect sense on the character – these aren’t Stealth Strike Scuba Assault Batman action figure costumes. But when there’s any sense on earth, it’s the white suit that can become Moon Knight’s new default. It redefines him. It gives him a fresh place that may be uniquely his own in a town of heroes.
Great costumes can provide just this sort of redemption. Shatterstar, a joke of a character along with his mullet and opera cloak, was suddenly credible due to a redesign (plus a fresh haircut) courtesy of Valentine De Landro and David Yardin. Jamie McKelvie’s Captain Marvel design – arguably the most obvious trigger to the current “golden age” of d.va costumes – was information on re-positioning Carol Danvers among Marvel’s premier heroes. The tailored military look drew a line between her present-day “top gun” persona and also the old, victimized, drunken Carol, who seemed to prefer editing magazines to flying planes.
It’s difficult to imagine that even Batman group editor Mark Doyle truly understood just what he was tapping into when he handed Batgirl onto the brand new 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, but the torrent of fan-art that emerged within the 24-hours following the reveal of Batgirl’s new costume was unprecedented. Such was the mania that cosplayers quickly bought out of the world’s source of Drench Wellington yellow rubber Doc Marten boots.
What went down with Batgirl was the spark of your movement based in large part over a 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, plus more like something a young woman makes for herself to craft her identity underneath the bat-cowl.
Sure, there were critics. Fans whose philosophy on anything 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 thought of a leather jacket that hid the character’s boobs. However 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 understand how well the ebook sells digitally, where much of its market will likely reside – but the kind of word-of-mouth and online interaction generated by this costume redesign is hugely valuable into a publisher.
An effective costume gets viewers excited by letting them know what to anticipate. Cliff Chiang’s handle 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 as an alternative to pandering into a traditional crowd.
And yes it works in reverse. Harley Quinn’s New 52 design clearly steered the character in the different direction in the ones fans expected, and sent a signal 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 take Gwen Stacy back through the dead. And it’s all as a result of costume.
Marvel’s upcoming Spider-Verse event brings together Spider-Men and Spider-Women from multiple alternative realities, including many that readers have witnessed before plus some new ones made for the event. One of them is actually a Gwen Stacy Spider-Woman, produced by Robbi Rodriguez – and Spider-Gwen wears what I think can be the most popular superhero costume in years.
The Spider-Gwen costume does lots of things with remarkable economy. It plays beautifully in the iconic model of the highest 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 – however with sufficient restraint i don’t think it can look dated in years to come. It creates shapes and breaks up space in ways that’s likely to look powerful on the page. And it also immediately evokes character. I haven’t even read Spider-Gwen’s first Spider-Verse appearance, and i also currently have a sense of a tricky, haunted, edgy young woman. I’ll eat a couple of neon Chucks if that’s not who she actually is.
Gwen Stacy is meant to stay dead. As grotesque since it is when women are killed off to further the stories of male heroes, the death of Gwen Stacy feels too vital that you Spider-Man’s development to become undone. Yet I really like this costume a great deal that, just before the Spider-Gwen issue of Side of Spider-Verse arrives, I understand I want Gwen back and kicking ass in this costume.
(I will settle for an ongoing occur Gwen’s alt universe. Heck, in the event the Ultimate Universe scales to just Miles Morales, a Miles book and a Gwen book would be perfect complements to one another. However I don’t think that’s where Marvel is heading.)
An excellent costume inspires stories – and tells an audience what sort of stories should be expected. Catwoman crafted a new type of sense when redesigned by Darwyn Cooke in 2004 – finally she wore the costume of any master thief, not an Olympic luge rider. It causes whiplash any time that costume appears in service to a story that doesn’t respect the character. The form-shifting Loki as being a puckish young man in swashbuckling adventurer’s attire – yet another Jamie McKelvie design – sparks very different stories to the sinewy old guy together with the giant horns. Stuart Immonen’s stylish All-New X-Men deadpool costume put the time-tossed X-Men inside the present-day much better than any volume of exposition.
Costumes have always been important to superheroes – but perhaps more so than many editors realize. Some artists are wonderful 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 those that have the skill set to excel at it.
Thankfully the comic industry has never had such a great deal of designing talent. Jamie McKelvie, Kris Anka, Cameron Stewart, Robbi Rodriguez, Cliff Chiang, etc., are component of a generation of artists having this task very seriously, and they make superhero comics smarter and sharper for doing this.
And they’re not alone. 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 experience around with costume concepts – and also the excellent Project: Rooftop curates some of the best examples. The musty superhero industry would benefit hugely from looking at the likes of Cory Walker, Mingjue Helen Chen, Dean Trippe, Corey Lewis, Becky Cloonan, Ming Doyle, Jemma Salume, Sean Murphy, Ron Wimberly, and many others, to re-energize the genre for tomorrow.