Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Costume Changes

According to news reports, Wonder Woman is getting a completely new costume and origin.

I can't say that I care for the new costume. It would be fine for an entirely new character but it isn't Wonder Woman. In fact, it is barely a costume, more like distinctive street-wear like some of the X-Men sport. I am also slightly offended by the need to "globalize" her by getting her out of the American Flag.

Realistically, the new costume will just be a phase. In a couple of years she will be back to her blue and red tights. DC has way too much invested in her iconic look to permanently switch her.

Still, this gives me an excuse to go over other costume changes.

Wonder Woman's own costume has changed over the years. In her first few appearances she had a skirt instead of satin shorts. In the early 1980s, DC's lawyers were concerned that they could not trademark the eagle on her chest so it was quietly swapped out for twin "W"s. During the late 1960s, Wonder Woman changed completely. She lost her powers and learned martial arts. She started sporting a series of cat suits inspired by Emma Peel from the TV show The Avengers. Obviously, she switched back after a few years.

In general, once a hero becomes established, his costume changes very little. the really big heroes may change their outfits for a while but they always seem to go back to the original. Spider-Man has changed his costume twice (not counting the clone's costume). Both times have been part of a long-term plot arch which ended with him back in his original red and blue costume. Superman never changed costumes for more than an issue or so. Batman added a yellow circle to his chest and experimented with an all-black outfit but keeps going back to the blue and gray original.

Heroes who have not become established can get away with a costume change. Daredevil's original yellow and black outfit looked like it was designed by a blind man and was swapped for his red outfit pretty fast. I've already written about Iron Man's changes.

Captain Marvel started out in a white uniform with green helmet and accents. He got a new red and black uniform just in time to be canceled for a while but kept it when his strip returned.

Team heroes are more likely to change their look. The Fantastic Four started without costumes (prompting Marvel's first fan mail). By the third issue they were given uniforms. they kept these until the mid-1970s when the Torch switched to a red uniform. They switched back to the original blue uniforms in the 1980s followed by a darker version with white accents.

There was a general move away from team uniforms around 1970. The X-Men started with identical uniforms but were given individual costumes later.

Several members of the Legion of Superheroes got new costumes during the 1970s and again in the 1980s. Long-standing solo DC characters sometimes changed their costume after joining the JLA. Black Canary and the Elongated Man are a couple of examples.

Sometimes a character's costume changes slowly over time. Spider-Man started out with webbing between his arms and his torso. Later artists abandoned this but it has been brought back a few times. Daredevil's red tights started out black with red highlights (artist Wally Wood was thinking of velvet when he designed the look). Later artists switched to straight red.

Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch's costumes stayed recognizable over the years but Quicksilver's went from green to blue. The Scarlet Witch started out in a modest body stocking with loose bodice, long boots and gloves, and a headpiece that only left her face and the top of her head exposed. As time went on, her bodice became much tighter, shwing a lot of cleavage. Her body stocking became sheer and her headpiece became a hair band.

Like her male counterpart, Ms Marvel changed her costume. He original one was based on Captain Marvel's second costume but with bare legs and stomach. The artists quickly grew tired of drawing the stomach cut-out. After resolving a split-identity issue, she changed to a tight black number with a belt/sash.

Marvel often tried to boost sales with a costume change. Besides Captain Marvel and Ms Marvel, they tried this with Doctor Strange in the late 1960s. Strange was given a skin-tight costume with a full-head mask. It didn't work. Fans hated the new look. The book was canceled a few issues later. When it was brought back, Strange reverted to his original costume. 

The Wasp probably holds the record for the most number of costume changes. During the 1970s she seldom appeared twice in the same outfit. Her ex-husband did her one better, changing identities as well as costumes. At various times he was Ant Man, Giant Man, Goliath, Yellow Jacket, and simply Doctor Pymm. He had at least eight distinct costumes to go with these various identifies.

Muscle-men like the Hulk, the Thing, and Conan the Barbarian have changed outfits several times without altering their over-all look.

In her first strip, She-Hulk didn't dress for her change and usually wore something ragged. After joining the Avengers she settled on a swim-suit-style outfit. She temporarily joined the FF and used an abbreviated version of the FF's dark blue uniform.

Luke Cage and Iron Fist had very 1970s costumes when they were introduced. When the characters were revived they got different looks.

Super Girl changed costumes numerous times. She started out with a mini-dress version of Superman's costume. After graduating from back-up strip to having her own comic book, she got a series of more stylish costumes. This was back to something like the original except with a red skirt when the character was killed.

Supergirl was revived as a new character but with the previous costume. Eventually she vanished leaving an empowered human alter-ego who improved a costume based on a cut-off tee-shirt and a mini-skirt. The bare mid-rift looks continued into the next incarnation.

Wonder Man started out as a one-shot in a garish costume in the 1960s. He was brought back from the dead in the 1970s and swapped his costume for a red safari jacket. In the 1990s he got his own book and a new costume featuring a big "W".

For the most part, Thor followed the rule that costume changes were part of a long-term plot arc and reverted back to his original when the arc ended. At one point in the 1980s his face was injured and he grew a beard to cover the scars. Injuries mounted and he ended up in full-body armor. In the 1900s he lost his powers and spent a short time running around shirtless. In the last few years his costume has been reworked but still suggests the original.

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