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Six by 6 | The six best superhero costume redesigns of all time

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One of the most symbolic moments of Superman is when he changes from his guise as Clark Kent to become the Man of Steel. The idea that the wearing of a costume imbues some kind of unquantifiable power is a key part of what makes superhero comics work; otherwise, they’d just be adventurers and action heroes.

But speaking of change, changes in superhero costumes have become as much a part of the comics as the heroes themselves. From Superman’s early days with his golden emblem to the modern “S” today and on through to other years (including Batman’s countless wardrobe changes), the design of a superhero isn’t static and a redesign has proved, many times, to be just the thing to make a character work.

In this week’s “Six by 6,” I pinpoint six of the most dynamic and powerful redesigns in superhero comics. Redesigns that saved a character from obscurity, put them in a new light or simply simplified what was already there.

Catwoman

2001’s Catwoman redesign by Darwyn Cooke: For most of the 1990s, Catwoman was synonymous with cheesecake artist Jim Balent, who did a epic six-year run on the character’s series. But after Balent’s departure in 1999 and the series’ end with 2001’s Catwoman #94, that era was over for Selina Kyle. But better times were to come for Selina. Artist Darwyn Cooke and writer Ed Brubaker took over the character, first in a series of back-ups for Detective Comics and then in their own series in late 2001. Where Balent’s design focused on her sometimes-frazzled long hair, high heels and a purple panther-like onesie, Cooke’s Catwoman played up the character’s thieving roots with goggles, a simple zip-up catsuit and practical boots.

Daredevil

1964’s Daredevil redesign by Wally Wood: Jack Kirby is king when it comes to his number of memorable superhero designs that have stood the test of time, but I can’t help but say that his yellow-and-red outfit for Daredevil wasn’t quite what was needed. It wasn’t until Wally Wood took over the series and debuted the now-classic red rendition in Daredevil #7 that the character found himself. In some ways it was simply a recoloring of what Kirby laid down, but Wood’s decision to go all red and do the overlapping D’s proved to be just the thing to make the character stick inside the House of Ideas.

Spider-Man

1984’s Spider-Man redesign by Mike Zeck: It’s one of superhero comics’ most iconic designs despite its inherent complexity, and while ultimately it’s endured, I still have a soft spot for the mid-’80s and Peter Parker’s epic black costume. It came onstage during a dark time in Peter Parker’s life, and I argue it was great even if the growing storyline of the symbiote and Venom had never reared its head. But all together, it was a great redesign that had its roots in storytelling and caused you to rethink who Marvel’s wall-crawler really was.

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15 Comments

I agree with some of these, but the classic Flash outfit is one of my favorites on all time. And while the black costume is very iconic, it really never fit well with the friendly character of Spider-Man.

On the Green Lantern section: Hal Stewart?

Bill Everett designed the original Daredevil outfit, not Kirby.

Always thought it the change in design of Captain Marvel from Gene Colan’s to Gil Kane’s was a big step up. As was the redesign of Kirby’s Him to become Gil Kane’s Adam Warlock.

Basically, I’m a big Gil Kane nut, alright?

@ Mark

Totally agree – Kane’s Captain Marvel costume rejuvenated the character and gave Starlin the impetus to create some great storylines.

If I was going to expand this list then I would have to add the following:

1. Neal Adams Robin the Boy Wonder costume redesign. Shame they had to ruin it with subsequent redesigns.
2. George Perez’s “busy” Nightwing costume redesigned by Scott McDaniel.
3. The green Falcon costume that was replaced by the classic red and white version. They muck around with this one too.
4. Iron Man seems a pretty obvious no-brainer too (although I would like to see Silver Centurion return.)
5. George Perez’s Zatanna replaced by the current “magician” look.
6. The Jack Kirby Cyclops costume redesign – the Cockrum redesign best used by John Byrne.
7. I’m surprised that Superman isn’t on there too. Not the New 52 redesign, but the shift from the original look in his first appearance to the look prior to New 52. His classic look, underpants and all. I suppose you could add Batman too.

Cheers

The Kid Flash redesign remains one of the most striking and enduring redesigns, though some people don’t realize it is a re-design. The original KF uniform was a clone of The Flash.

Vibe’s new look is a good redesign.
The red-and-black Robin costume was good revamp.
Disco-wing to cool blue on blue Nightwing was a great revamp, especially when they cut off the ridiculous calf-length ponytail in the first issue.

I hate the black costume on Spidey or any of the other parade of variants that they have trotted out (with the exception of Ben’s Spidey costume by Mark Bagley) For one, there’s just not a damn thing wrong with his original suit. I don’t know how anybody looks at that and decides he should be in something different. In the black he might as well be a ninja version of the Punisher. Spidey’s not about being “badass” in that grimdark obsessed sense of the term, he’s a hero.

Plus there’s just something intrinsically off about a “ground level” character like Spider-Man having space laundry. ..that is trying to eat his brain.

Best superhero costume ever = The Flash.

IIRC, Spidey’s black costume wasn’t designed by Mike Zeck, it came courtesy of a fan submission; I think the fan was actually paid for his idea, and they had Rick Leonardi sketch out the final version in some concept sketches. I think Brian did a CBULR article on it….

“Aaron Poehler — March 29, 2013 at 1:51 pm — Bill Everett designed the original Daredevil outfit, not Kirby.”

Mark Evanier contends that Kirby designed it, and the cover and splash page were created based on Kirby’s concept drawings. Kirby designed the billy club, also.

I love Daredevil’s yellow and red, but I agree, the all red was better in those circumstances. Yellow is always good for throwback’s, I suppose.

I was never that big a fan of the black Spider-Man costume. In fact, for all the bile heaped upon the Clone Saga, i think the redesigned blue-n-red costume that was used during that period (and later re-purposed for Spider-Girl) is the best Spider-Man costume.

On what Earth is that Spider-Man better than Carol Danvers’ new digs? Are we saying that doesn’t count because she also changed names?

Besides, you’re missing the king of all superhero redesigns, although maybe it’s so good it doesn’t deserve to be on a list with any others. Brian Stelfreeze’s Nightwing is the best superhero re-invention in comic history.

Wolverine’s brown and tan will always be his superior look. Wish it would get new life sans the outside underpants and longer pointy mask.

Yellow and blue just don’t make sense to my understanding of the character.

How about Magneto’s new white suit?
Oh wait, that goes on the worst redesign list.

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