Seeing as how I’ve done both the top ten for best and worst superhero costume redesigns, I feel obligated to put my money where my artistic mouth is and take a stab at fixing or updating some of these costumes. I’ll be taking a similar approach to my earlier take on Batman & Robin, where both the back story and design of each character are fair game. I’ve done five here, and chose them based on one of two criteria:
- It’s a particularly awful outfit that doesn’t fit the character, or
- It’s a solid character who just needs some updating or tweaking
I’ll list these in order of “reboot depth:”
What’s wrong: In the wake of DC’s “new 52” this felt like a no-brainer. Starfire is a decent character who’s always, in my opinion, gotten the short end of the costume stick. I get that she’s supposed to be sexually liberated and somewhat polyamorous, and that’s fine, but dressing like a John Carter’s Princess of Mars-themed stripper doesn’t cut it. Really, up until the Teen Titans cartoon she’s always been in the most awkward and impractical getups for someone fighting crime.
The Fix: I went for the simple route and took some notes from the cartoon (notably the skirt). I wanted to make sure it kept the bubbly, innocent feeling of the character while also hinting at some power (with the exposed arms here). The overall effect is meant to convey someone who’s tough, cheerful and comfortable flying around in the air.
4. Dr. Strange
What’s wrong: I love Dr. Strange, but he’s always had the worst outfits. For a guy who basically hangs out in his house in the West Village, he seems to always wear the most ostentatious getups. He’s not an alien from another planet or from some culture that would dress that way, he’s a grown man who became a wizard well into adulthood. Nothing wrong with having some style while you’re maintaining the balance of the mystic planes.
The Fix: Two parts Vincent Price, one part Christopher Lee and one part Dr. Orpheus, this Dr. Strange is still magical, but with a more coherent design direction.
3. Ms. Marvel
What’s Wrong: Simply put, I think it’s embarrassing for Marvel to showcase a prominent character like Ms. Marvel and have her wearing that outfit. It’s just so tacky, and tells us nothing about the character. Basically they just changed the colors of Jean Grey’s Phoenix costume and exposed more skin. Come on, guys.
The Fix: Since her origins are ostensibly tied with Captain Marvel, I decided to go a route that’s more along the lines of the Ultimate Marvel version of that character, where her abilities come from alien technology rather than vague space magic. The notion that she’s, for example, permanently bound with this technology that she doesn’t fully understand can make for some interesting stories. There can be some potential with this character again with just a little bit of tweaking.
2. Wonder Woman
What’s Wrong: Wonder Woman, in my opinion, is a character that’s always been on the cusp of being really neat but never quite making it like Superman or Batman. Although a feminist pop icon, her origins are too tied up with creator WIlliam Marston’s obsession with bondage. Because of this (and an all-too-frequent parade of poor or sexist writing), she’s never had a solid, progressive design. The 21st century can update this character.
The Fix: One part Thor, three parts Xena. I’d push the mythological angle further. Just as nobody thinks of Thor as “Superman with a hammer” I don’t want Wonder Woman to be “girl Superman,” as she’s sometimes seen. I’ve also tweaked her origin slightly, making her a more literal “statue come to life.” This isn’t as extreme as it seems: in regular canon, Wonder Woman’s origin was that she was formed out of clay by the queen of the Amazons, and imbued with the powers of the Greek Gods. (Note: I am well aware that Greek statues were painted, but for aesthetic & thematic reasons it doesn’t work here. She’s just an old statue, so there wouldn’t be paint.) This, I think offers more story possibilities if she’s less literally human, physically. Her personality would remain the same (nothing more fun than the perspective of an Amazon in the modern world), but we now have an added Greek layer of Pygmalion or Telos.
The costume change is mostly conservative. Because of the strong fetish associations (and overall impracticality for a fighting Amazon), I’ve removed the lasso in favor of more traditional Greek weapons. The overall effect is intended to push Wonder Woman’s core themes further while making her also stand out as more than just “the female superhero.”
What’s Wrong: Since his creation, Superman’s drifted from being a progressive champion for the common man to a patriotic middle-America boyscout who represents the establishment and traditional values. When he was developed in the 30s, Superman was very much a Depression-era hero, mostly going after villains like crooked money lenders and saving people who were being abused by the system. His superpowers came from the fact that he was from a more advanced society, and his morals too were because he was simply a brainier, more sophisticated guy. During and following WW2 and into the Cold War, though, he became an official symbol for American values in particular (it was originally “Truth and Justice,” without “the American Way”). He was now not just an alien, but an alien raised by simple Kansas farmers and his abilities had a more generic “superpower” explanation. This is all fine, really, but I think the original concept is more compelling these days.
The Fix: Two parts Martian Manhunter and Ten parts Fleischer Superman. “Superman: the Man of Tomorrow, Strange Visitor from Another World.” I really want to push that. First off, Kryptonians should actually look like aliens and not white people. Here I have Kal-El from a race of beings whose technology and biology are long since indistinguishable (Clarke-esque space gods, you know the type). They’re strange to our mortal eyes but mean well. I’d keep the “destroyed planet” origin but more heavily emphasize the “non-interference” part of Superman’s mission statement.
If you’ll remember from the 70s movie, his father Jor-El told him he was forbidden to interfere with the course of human history, but when you think about it, that’s kind of vague. What I’ve done is added a Star Trek or Uatu the Watcher kind of prime directive to all advanced species: Kal-El can’t let people know that he’s an alien, nor can he openly interact with them using advanced technology. Still, he’s a compassionate guy and wants to help, so he takes the form of “Superman” to inspire the mortals in a constructive way. Also, the notion that he can take on different forms means that the Clark Kent secret identity need not be as bad as it currently is.
The costume redesign holds to the basic themes but makes it a little more working class. The buttons at the top are meant to invoke overalls, and the sleeves are cut a little higher for someone working with their hands. I’ve removed the spandex and gone with looser fitting slacks, while keeping a short cape and boots, since he’s still an adventurer.
Overall I want to evoke a classic Superman feel while making it a little more modern in its exploration of the sci fi themes. He’s still basically the same guy: an alien from another world looking to fight injustice, but without the overt patriotism and a quirkier execution of the secret identity.
So there you have it. I’ve hope you’ve enjoyed my superhero costume trilogy!
Part 1: The Best Superhero/Villain Redesigns
Part 2: The Worst Superhero/Villain Redesigns
New or returning to Marvel comics, or have a friend who is? Here’s the Cliffs Notes on Marvel’s female-led solo titles and 15 lead female characters RIGHT NOW in August 2014:
1. Captain Marvel
WHO SHE IS: Carol Danvers is an Avenger, pilot, and all-around butt-kicking leader who can fly, has superhuman strength, and shoots energy blasts. She formerly used the alias Ms. Marvel. Carol has recently left Earth to be an “Avenger in space” traveling with the Guardians of the Galaxy.
WHERE TO FIND HER RIGHT NOW: Captain Marvel, written perfectly by the peerless Kelly Sue DeConnick, has one of the biggest and best fan followings in comics: the #CarolCorps! Carol defends displaced, marginalized people groups, and forms new friendships with other adventurers. Also check out Guardians of the Galaxy.
2. Ms. Marvel
WHO SHE IS: Kamala Khan is a New Jersey teen who is Pakistani American, Muslim, a huge Avengers fan, and who suddenly became a super-strong shapeshifter when her powers were activated, revealing that she is an Inhuman (a race in the Marvel Universe with powers).
WHERE TO FIND HER RIGHT NOW: Ms. Marvel, by writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Adrian Alphona (Runaways). It’s one of the most entertaining Marvel comics and is easily accessible for new Marvel readers, requiring zero familiarity with any other comics.
3. Black Widow
WHO SHE IS: Natasha Romanov is an Avenger, ex-KGB spy, S.H.I.E.L.D. (spy organization on the side of the good guys… usually) agent, and a deadly assassin.
WHERE TO FIND HER RIGHT NOW: Black Widow by writer Nathan Edmondson and artist Phil Noto is riveting and gorgeously illustrated. A perfect comics entry point if you’re a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you want more of her interacting with Hawkeye, Jessica Drew (Spider-Woman), and S.H.I.E.L.D., read Secret Avengers.
WHO SHE IS: Jennifer Walters is a smart, cosmopolitan lawyer who gained super-strength after a blood transfusion from her cousin, Bruce Banner, aka Hulk.
WHERE TO FIND HER RIGHT NOW: She-Hulk, written by real-life lawyer Charles Soule, gives Jen quirky adventures with an assortment of characters. She’s also in Mighty Avengers.
WHO SHE IS: Ororo Munroe is a mutant with the power to control weather. She leads the majority of X-Men as one of their main leaders. She’s been worshipped as a goddess, is the former queen of a nation, and is headmistress of the Jean Grey School.
WHERE TO FIND HER RIGHT NOW: Storm, her solo title by writer Greg Pak and artist Victor Ibanez, just started on July 23, so now is the time to start reading it. Also, she is a major character in X-Men, Amazing X-Men, and Wolverine and the X-Men.
WHO SHE IS: Known as “the world’s deadliest assassin,” Elektra is one of the most skilled martial artists in the Marvel Universe. Now with her solo title, she is finally choosing her own stories separate from her long history of working for an organization (The Hand (a ninja clan), S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra) or being the supporting cast in someone else’s story (Daredevil).
WHERE TO FIND HER RIGHT NOW: Elektra by writer Haden Blackman and artist Mike Del Mundo has some of the best art you’ll see in comics, period. She’s also in Thunderbolts with other grittier characters like Punisher and Red Hulk.
WHO SHE IS: Originally a character in the Spawn comics, Angela is now a fixture in the Marvel Universe and has recently traveled with the Guardians of the Galaxy. She is a fierce warrior with a severe, no-nonsense personality and unrivaled fighting skills. She was raised among angels and was thought to be an angel, but recently in July 2014, it’s been revealed that Angela is Thor Odinson’s sister and is Asgardian.
WHERE TO FIND HER RIGHT NOW: Thor & Loki: The Tenth Realm by Jason Aaron and Al Ewing is a miniseries concurrent with Marvel’s larger Original Sin event, but you don’t have to read any of Original Sin to understand The Tenth Realm. The miniseries reveals Angela’s secret history and connection to Asgard. In November 2014, Angela will get her own solo title: Angela: Asgard’s Assassin, by writers Kieron Gillen and Marguerite Bennett and artists Phil Jimenez and Stephanie Hans.
WHO SHE IS: Known as “The Most Dangerous Woman in the Universe,” Gamora is the adopted daughter of Thanos (a supervillain and classic Avengers foe). She is the last of her species and was raised by Thanos to be an assassin. No longer loyal to Thanos, she joined the Guardians of the Galaxy.
WHERE TO FIND HER RIGHT NOW: Guardians of the Galaxy.
9. Hawkeye (not that Hawkeye)
WHO SHE IS: Kate Bishop is a Young Avenger and the Young Avengers’ frequent field leader, the best archer on the planet (take that, Clint), the daughter of a rich, mostly absent father, and my favorite person in comics. She’s 18 or so, doesn’t care for her privileged upbringing, has hung out a lot with Clint Barton and saved his ass repeatedly, and recently left NYC for Los Angeles with Clint’s dog, Lucky.
WHERE TO FIND HER RIGHT NOW: Hawkeye, by writer Matt Fraction and artists David Aja and Annie Wu. Can we say enough good things about Annie Wu’s illustrations of Kate? No, we can’t.
WHO SHE IS: Queen of the Inhumans, a race that previously resided in a city called Attilan, but who are now dispersed after Attilan was destroyed, and many humans around the world were activated in their powers and revealed to be Inhumans. Her husband, Black Bolt, has mysteriously disappeared, leaving her to deal with the aftermath of this major change in the Inhumans’ status quo. She has psychokinetic ability to animate her hair.
WHERE TO FIND HER RIGHT NOW: Inhuman, by writer Charles Soule and artist Joe Madureira. Later this fall and going into 2015, she’ll play a major role in Marvel’s Avengers NOW! initiative.
11. Nico Minoru
WHO SHE IS: Powerful spell-casting teenage witch and wielder of the Staff of One, former Runaways leader, daughter of secretly evil parents (now deceased). Ended 2013 by surviving Avengers Arena.
WHERE TO FIND HER RIGHT NOW: Avengers Undercover, by writer Dennis Hopeless. Undercover follows the survivors of Avengers Arena. It’s one of Marvel’s few books featuring a teen cast. The survivors are now living in Bagalia, a sovereign state completely inhabited by villains. Nico and her friends masquerade as bad guys while weighing their post-traumatic future.
WHO SHE IS: Monica Rambeau is a long-time Avenger and former Avengers team leader. She can transform into pure electromagnetic energy, fly, shoot energy blasts, and move at super-speed. She previously used the aliases Pulsar and Captain Marvel.
WHERE TO FIND HER RIGHT NOW: Mighty Avengers, by writer Al Ewing and artist Greg Land. Along with Luke Cage, Falcon, She-Hulk, and other Avengers from New York City, she fights villains in a title filled with action scenes and great team dynamics.
13. (Young) Jean Grey
WHO SHE IS: One of the Original Five X-Men who has been brought from her original 1960’s-ish timeline into the Marvel present. Thus, she’s still a teen, still discovering her telepathic and telekinetic powers, and recently discovered that her abilities are more powerful and unpredictable than her adult (deceased) self’s. Jean is also a wide-eyed ingenue whom the boys fight over, of course.
WHERE TO FIND HER RIGHT NOW: All-New X-Men by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Stuart Immonen. All of ANXM’s plotlines have revolved around Jean, who attracted the attention of both the alien Shi’ar and the Future Brotherhood, an evil band of mutants who time-traveled from the future to attack her.
14. Kitty Pryde
WHO SHE IS: Long-time X-Men member, a favorite student of Professor Charles Xavier, and more recently a professor at the Jean Grey School whom students affectionately called “Professor K.” Loyal to the teenage Original Five, she left with them for Cyclops’ rival school and home. Has the ability to phase through solid objects.
WHERE TO FIND HER RIGHT NOW: All-New X-Men has featured her prominently, but her disagreements with Cyclops prompt her to show up more in Legendary Star-Lord going on adventures with Peter Quill.
15. Invisible Woman
WHO SHE IS: Sue Storm is the matriarch of Marvel’s “First Family,” the Fantastic Four. She’s a strong, resolute leader and doesn’t let anyone, least of all her impassive husband, Reed Richards, sway her decisions. She has powers of invisibility and force fields.
WHERE TO FIND HER RIGHT NOW: Fantastic Four, by writer James Robinson and artist Leonard Kirk.
loudlysilent (Draven Katayama) writes for Newsarama and Geeked Out Nation, contributes to the X-Men podcast Mutant Roundtable, and writes something non-comics related every Tuesday at loudlysilent.com. Say hi on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook.