We live currently of awesome cosplay costumes. An upswing and rise of cosplay culture, the emergence of comic artists having a savvy knowledge of fashion, and also the slow diversification that’s making heroes palatable to some broader audience, have got all contributed to a costuming culture with additional to offer than capes and pants.
Superhero costumes have always been an focal point in the industry, because iconography helps establish character and create a brand. But value of costumes in reaching audiences and reinventing characters is apparently recognized now as never before, resulting in the increase of artist-designers like Jamie McKelvie and Kris Anka, who don’t even should be on a particular book to become called straight into make-on the characters. It is a great leap forward in understanding exactly what a good costume can perform – and also the special skills required to make it happen.
Moon Knight was actually a mess of any character before his 2014 revival in the hands of Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire. Contradictory efforts by multiple creative teams to find the character’s core only served to layer junk upon junk. Moon Knight was intended 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 at nighttime – plus a fresh look; a natty white suit. Both elements helped pull Moon Knight from the mire of Marvel’s many failed faux-Batmen making him his man the very first time.
Moon Knight’s new costume at the same time underlines his insanity – his old white suit has never been the sane approach to fight crime, now it’s a genuine white suit – and exerts his outer calm, his cool lunar placidity. It gives him authority. It makes him scary. And yes it makes him the one superhero detective who dresses such as a detective, which feels like a statement of purpose.
The suit is just not Moon Knight’s only costume – within their six issues, the creative team also showed us a crazy bone outfit for fighting the occult and a more traditional yet still refreshed handle his old cape-and-cowl look. Both costumes look good making perfect sense to the character – these aren’t Stealth Strike Scuba Assault Batman action figure costumes. However, if there’s any sense on earth, it’s the white suit that will become Moon Knight’s new default. It redefines him. It gives him a new place which is uniquely his within a town of heroes.
Great costumes can offer just this type of redemption. Shatterstar, a joke of a character along with his mullet and opera cloak, was suddenly credible thanks to a redesign (plus a fresh haircut) courtesy of Valentine De Landro and David Yardin. Jamie McKelvie’s Captain Marvel design – arguably the obvious trigger to the current “golden age” of phoenix costume – was all about re-positioning Carol Danvers among Marvel’s premier heroes. The tailored military look drew a line between her present-day “top gun” persona along with the old, victimized, drunken Carol, who seemed to prefer editing magazines to flying planes.
It’s difficult to suppose that even Batman group editor Mark Doyle truly understood just 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 on the character’s fresh look. I’m sure Doyle expected great things, nevertheless the torrent of fan-art that emerged in the 24-hours using the reveal of Batgirl’s new costume was unprecedented. Such was the mania that cosplayers almost immediately bought out the world’s supply of Drench Wellington yellow rubber Doc Marten boots.
What actually transpired with Batgirl was the spark of a movement situated in large part on the smart new costume that spoke to Barbara Gordon’s character, intelligence, style, and place in life. This design looked less such as a Batman cast-off, plus more like something a young woman would make for herself to craft her identity within the bat-cowl.
Sure, there were critics. Fans whose philosophy on anything from high-heeled shoes to strapless tops has always been, “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 recognize how this change will translate to actual sales – we may never know how well the publication sells digitally, where much of its market is likely to reside – but the sort of word-of-mouth and internet based interaction generated by this costume redesign is hugely valuable into a publisher.
An effective costume gets a crowd excited by letting them know 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 for that new Ms. Marvel respected her youth and heritage rather than pandering into a traditional crowd.
And it also works in reverse. Harley Quinn’s New 52 design clearly steered the type in the different direction in the ones fans expected, and sent a signal to readers as unambiguous as being the one sent by Tarr and Stewart’s Batgirl.
Here’s a statement I never imagined I’d make: I want Marvel to give Gwen Stacy back from your dead. And it’s all because of costume.
Marvel’s upcoming Spider-Verse event brings together Spider-Men and Spider-Women from multiple alternative realities, including many that readers have observed before as well as some new ones developed for the case. And this includes can be a Gwen Stacy Spider-Woman, produced by Robbi Rodriguez – and Spider-Gwen wears things i think might be my favorite superhero costume in years.
The Spider-Gwen costume does lots of things with remarkable economy. It plays beautifully of the iconic style of the very best superhero costume ever conceived, Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man costume. It strikes a contemporary tone together with the hood along with the neon Chucks – however with sufficient restraint that we don’t think it would look dated in many years to come. It produces shapes and breaks up space in such a way that’s gonna look powerful about the page. Plus it immediately evokes character. I haven’t even read Spider-Gwen’s first Spider-Verse appearance, and I have a sense of a tough, haunted, edgy young woman. I’ll eat a set of neon Chucks if that’s not who she is.
Gwen Stacy is meant to stay dead. As grotesque since it is when women are killed away and off to further the stories of male heroes, the death of Gwen Stacy feels too crucial that you Spider-Man’s development to get undone. Yet I love this costume a lot that, just before the Spider-Gwen issue of Edge of Spider-Verse is released, I am aware I want Gwen back and kicking ass in this costume.
(I will be satisfied with an ongoing set in Gwen’s alt universe. Heck, in the event the Ultimate Universe scales straight back to just Miles Morales, a Miles book and a Gwen book could be perfect complements to one another. Having Said That I don’t think that’s where Marvel is heading.)
An excellent costume inspires stories – and tells a crowd what sort of stories can be expected. Catwoman made a new type 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 at any time that costume appears in company to a story that doesn’t respect the character. The form-shifting Loki like a puckish young man in swashbuckling adventurer’s attire – yet another Jamie McKelvie design – sparks completely different stories towards the sinewy old guy with the giant horns. Stuart Immonen’s stylish All-New X-Men deadpool costume place the time-tossed X-Men from the current day better than any quantity of exposition.
Costumes have invariably been important to superheroes – but perhaps much more than many editors realize. Some artists are excellent at it, and some are… less great. Like lettering, coloring, inking, editing, or dexrpky99 art, it’s a specialized job that perhaps should be restricted to people 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 part of a generation of artists taking this task very seriously, plus they make superhero comics smarter and sharper because of it.
And they’re one of many. A growing number of artists are showing their designer flare and their grasp of contemporary style. Sites like Tumblr and DeviantArt provide fertile ground for artists to perform around with costume concepts – as well as the excellent Project: Rooftop curates the best examples. The musty superhero industry would benefit hugely from embracing the likes of Cory Walker, Mingjue Helen Chen, Dean Trippe, Corey Lewis, Becky Cloonan, Ming Doyle, Jemma Salume, Sean Murphy, Ron Wimberly, and much more, to re-energize the genre for tomorrow.