We live currently of awesome superhero costumes. The increase and rise of cosplay culture, the emergence of comic artists having a savvy comprehension of fashion, and also the slow diversification that’s making heroes palatable to a broader audience, have got all contributed to a costuming culture with additional to offer you than capes and pants.
Superhero costumes have been an focal point in the marketplace, because iconography helps establish character and create a brand. But the price of costumes in reaching audiences and reinventing characters appear to be recognized now as never before, leading to the increase of artist-designers like Jamie McKelvie and Kris Anka, who don’t even must be with a particular book to become called directly into make-within the characters. This can be a great leap forward in understanding precisely what a great costume can do – and also the special skills required to get it done.
Moon Knight had been 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 through the night – along with a fresh look; a natty white suit. Both elements helped pull Moon Knight out from the mire of Marvel’s many failed faux-Batmen making him his man for the first time.
Moon Knight’s new costume at the same time underlines his insanity – his old white suit was never the sane way to fight crime, now it’s an actual white suit – and exerts his outer calm, his cool lunar placidity. It gives him authority. This makes him scary. And it also makes him the main 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 – in their six issues, the creative team also showed us a crazy bone outfit for fighting the occult and a classical yet still refreshed take on his old cape-and-cowl look. Both costumes look wonderful and make perfect sense for 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 which will become Moon Knight’s new default. It redefines him. It gives him a new place which is uniquely his very own within a town of heroes.
Great costumes can offer just this type of redemption. Shatterstar, a joke of your character along with his mullet and opera cloak, was suddenly credible thanks to a redesign (and 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 phoenix costume – was exactly about 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 believe that even Batman group editor Mark Doyle truly understood precisely what he was tapping into when he handed Batgirl onto the new creative team of Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr, with Stewart and Tarr collaborating in the character’s new look. I’m sure Doyle expected great things, but the torrent of fan-art that emerged within the 24-hours using the reveal of Batgirl’s new costume was unprecedented. Such was the mania that cosplayers quickly bought out your world’s supply of Drench Wellington yellow rubber Doc Marten boots.
What actually transpired with Batgirl was the spark of the movement operating out of large part over a smart new costume that spoke to Barbara Gordon’s character, intelligence, style, and put in everyday life. This design looked less such as a Batman cast-off, plus more like something a young woman will make for herself to craft her very own identity under the bat-cowl.
Sure, there was critics. Fans whose philosophy on anything 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 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 understand how this new look will translate to actual sales – we may never learn how well it sells digitally, where a great deal of its market will probably reside – but the sort of word-of-mouth and online interaction generated from this costume redesign is hugely valuable to a publisher.
An excellent costume gets an audience excited by telling them what you should expect. 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 to the 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 through the ones fans expected, and sent a transmission to readers as unambiguous as the one sent by Tarr and Stewart’s Batgirl.
Here’s a statement I never thought I’d make: I want Marvel to bring Gwen Stacy back from the dead. And it’s all due to a costume.
Marvel’s upcoming Spider-Verse event brings together Spider-Men and Spider-Women from multiple alternative realities, including many that readers have experienced before plus some brand new ones created for the big event. One of them is a Gwen Stacy Spider-Woman, produced by Robbi Rodriguez – and Spider-Gwen wears the things i think may be the best superhero costume in years.
The Spider-Gwen costume does many things with remarkable economy. It plays beautifully of your iconic model of the highest superhero costume ever conceived, Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man costume. It strikes a contemporary tone using the hood and also the neon Chucks – though with sufficient restraint i don’t think it is going to look dated in many years to come. It produces shapes and breaks up space in such a way that’s likely 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 that i curently have feelings of a tricky, haunted, edgy young woman. I’ll eat some neon Chucks if that’s not who she is.
Gwen Stacy is meant to stay dead. As grotesque because 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 enjoy this costume a lot that, before the Spider-Gwen issue of Side of Spider-Verse arrives, I know I want Gwen back and kicking ass within this costume.
(I will be happy with a continuous that is set in Gwen’s alt universe. Heck, when the Ultimate Universe scales back to just Miles Morales, a Miles book along with a Gwen book would be perfect complements to one another. But I don’t think that’s where Marvel is heading.)
A fantastic costume inspires stories – and tells viewers what kind of stories to expect. Catwoman made a new sort of sense when redesigned by Darwyn Cooke in 2004 – finally she wore the costume of your master thief, not an Olympic luge rider. It causes whiplash whenever that costume appears in service to a tale that doesn’t respect the character. The shape-shifting Loki being a puckish young man in swashbuckling adventurer’s attire – one more Jamie McKelvie design – sparks totally different stories for the sinewy old guy with the giant horns. Stuart Immonen’s stylish All-New X-Men superman costumes place the time-tossed X-Men inside the current day much better than any quantity of exposition.
Costumes have been important to superheroes – but perhaps much more than many editors realize. Some artists are great at it, and a few are… less great. Like lettering, coloring, inking, editing, or dexrpky99 art, it’s a specialized job that perhaps must be restricted to those that have the skill set to do well 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 a part of a generation of artists taking this career very seriously, and so they make superhero comics smarter and sharper for doing this.
And they’re one of many. A growing number of 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 play around with costume concepts – along with the excellent Project: Rooftop curates some of the finest examples. The musty superhero industry would benefit hugely from switching to 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.