Monday, March 27, 2006

New Costumes

Recently Spider-Man got a new costume. He is now a part of the Avengers and is living in their tower along with his wife and Aunt May. Tony Stark took a special interest in Peter and, when his supply of spare costumes ran out, made him a new one. The new one is red and gold (like Stark's Iron Man's armor) with scanners and armor. It even lets spidy glide for short distances.

Depending on how you count it, this is Spidy's third or fourth costume. His original costume is rather striking. It is unusual in a few ways. The back is completely different from the front. Where the front has a small black spider on red, the back had a large red spider on blue. The sleeves have red stripes along the top with webbing and he is not wearing trunks. All if the full-head mask and the under-arm webs and you have a very striking costume.

Every so often Jack Kirby's heirs revive Kirby's claim that he created Spider-Man instead of Lee and Ditko. The costume, all by itself, refutes this claim. Kirby's costumes were usually simple and either left the character's head uncovered or had a simple helmet or mask. What's more, Kirby's characters almost always had trunks, even the Silver Surfer. As the Watcher's gown grew shorter, you could see some trunks peaking out from under.

Anyway, with the exception of the under-arm webbing which most artists didn't want to draw, Spider-Man's costume stayed unchanged until the Secret Wars cross-over. This was comic's first big cross-over event and every character or group came back different in some way (or had a major change while Secret Wars was going on). In Spider-Man's case, he came back with a black and white costume (different from the one from the Spider-Man 3 still).

Of course, this turned out to be a symbiont who eventually became Venom so that didn't work out well for Peter. It worked out great for sales, though. Venom was very popular.

During the period between Peter separating from the symbiont but him returning as Venom, Peter alternated costumes between the old red and blue and a cloth version of the black and white. Once Venom made his appearance, it was back to the original suit for good.

During the clone wars, Peter lost his powers and retired. His replacement started out as a new hero, the Scarlet Spider, but switched to Spider-Man fairly quickly. His suit was based on the original but given a slightly edgier look. It also was front/back symmetric.

So, how long will the new costume last? I'm betting it will not be long, mainly because of the marketing that went into the old costume.

Not that other Marvel heros haven't changed costumes. Iron Man has gone through three major changes and lots of minor ones. His original suit was clunky and iron grey. He quickly painted it gold and a few months later replaced it with a red and gold version. This was the standard for decades. After a major plotline, he came up with a new gold and red version that has set the standard since.

Other heros' costume changes didn't last. Both Dr. Strange and the Sub-Mariner changed costumes in an effort to prevent cancellation. Neither effort succeeded and both characters went back to their classic costumes when they were revived.

Dr. Strange did switch from a plain blue to a fancy red cape back when he was in the back of Strange Tales and this change took.

Daredevil did a similar change. His original costume was outright ugly - yellow tights with black trunks and muscle shirt worn over. It probably threatened his identity since it had to have been designed by a blind man. After a dozen issues and a couple of years (many Marvel comics started as bi-monthly) he quietly changed to a black costume with red highlights. Wally Wood, the artist who designed this costume was thinking of a velvet shirt he owned. Later artists changed it to a straight red costume.

In the 1990s, in a bid to increase sales, Daredevil switched to a grey, high-tech costume. Fans hated it. The writer kept insisting that, by calling the costume "memetic" it made it cool. All the readers cared about was that the "man without fear" was now hiding in a bulletproof suit.

Henry Pym has probably changed costumes and identities more than anyone - so much so that I'm not sure what to call him. He started as Ant Man in a red and black costume. At that point, he could shrink and talk to ants. In an effort to increase sales, he was changed to Giant Man and could both shrink to ant-size and grow to 12 feet. His costume was redesigned at this time although this seemed to depend on the artist. His base costume was red with blue trunks, gloves and boots. As Ant Man, he had a couple of large circles on his chest and some stripes over his shoulders. As Giant Man, the circles were dropped, sometimes looking like suspenders and sometimes like a big black "Y". Eventually his costume was redesigned again by adding a blue over-lay to his chest and helmet. A few issues later Giant Man was cancelled and replaced with the Sub-Mariner (who was given a costume in the late 1970s to increase sales).

Pym came back a year later in the Avengers as Goliath in a yellow and blue costume. For some time he was permanently 10 feet tall. When he regained his ability to shrink and grow he switched to a red and blue version of the same costume. Even later, he changed identities completely to Yellowjacket in a yellow and black costume.

After a divorce, breakdown, disgrace, further breakdowns he became Doctor Pym - sort of a take-off of Doctor Who with an overcoat full of miniature inventions that he could make grow. Pym resumed a couple of previous identities before retiring along with the Wasp who only held one identity but, for a long time, changed costumes with every appearance.

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