We live in a time of awesome cosplay costumes. The rise and rise of cosplay culture, the emergence of comic artists having a savvy knowledge of fashion, as well as the slow diversification that’s making heroes palatable to a broader audience, have all contributed to a costuming culture with additional to offer you than capes and pants.
Superhero costumes have always been an asset to the business, because iconography helps establish character and make up a brand. But value of costumes in reaching audiences and reinventing characters is apparently recognized now as never before, resulting in an upswing of artist-designers like Jamie McKelvie and Kris Anka, who don’t even must be over a particular book in order to be called straight into make-within the characters. This is a great leap forward in understanding exactly what a good costume are capable of doing – as well as the special skills required to make it happen.
Moon Knight was really 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 during the night – as well as a new look; a natty white suit. Both elements helped pull Moon Knight from the mire of Marvel’s many failed faux-Batmen and make him their own man for the first time.
Moon Knight’s new costume at the same time underlines his insanity – his old white suit has never been the sane strategy to fight crime, and now it’s a real white suit – and exerts his outer calm, his cool lunar placidity. It gives him authority. It can make him scary. And it also makes him normally 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 – with their six issues, the creative team also showed us a crazy bone outfit for fighting the occult and a more traditional but nevertheless refreshed carry out his old cape-and-cowl look. Both costumes look wonderful and then make perfect sense for the character – these aren’t Stealth Strike Scuba Assault Batman action figure costumes. However if there’s any sense worldwide, it’s the white suit that can become Moon Knight’s new default. It redefines him. It gives him a fresh place which is uniquely his own in the town of heroes.
Great costumes can offer just this type of redemption. Shatterstar, a joke of your character along with his mullet and opera cloak, was suddenly credible thanks to a redesign (as well as a fresh haircut) thanks to Valentine De Landro and David Yardin. Jamie McKelvie’s Captain Marvel design – arguably the most apparent trigger for the current “golden age” of phoenix costume – was all about re-positioning Carol Danvers as one of Marvel’s premier heroes. The tailored military look drew a line between her present-day “top gun” persona and the old, victimized, drunken Carol, who seemed to prefer editing magazines to flying planes.
It’s difficult to believe that even Batman group editor Mark Doyle truly understood exactly what he was tapping into as he handed Batgirl onto the latest creative team of Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr, with Stewart and Tarr collaborating around the character’s new look. I’m sure Doyle expected great things, nevertheless the torrent of fan-art that emerged in the 24-hours following the reveal of Batgirl’s new costume was unprecedented. Such was the mania that cosplayers quickly bought out your world’s supply of Drench Wellington yellow rubber Doc Marten boots.
What actually transpired with Batgirl was the spark of your movement operating out of large part on the smart new costume that spoke to Barbara Gordon’s character, intelligence, style, and place in everyday life. This design looked less just like a Batman cast-off, and a lot more like something a young woman will make for herself to craft her very own identity under the bat-cowl.
Sure, there are critics. Fans whose philosophy on from high-heeled shoes to strapless tops is definitely, “it can’t be impractical if she’s wearing it” were suddenly in revolt at the concept 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 elements of design, and that’s how good costume design should work.
We don’t yet learn how this change will translate to actual sales – we may never understand how well the publication sells digitally, where most of its market will likely reside – but the kind of word-of-mouth and web-based interaction generated through this costume redesign is hugely valuable to a publisher.
An effective costume gets a crowd excited by telling them 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 the new Ms. Marvel respected her youth and heritage rather than pandering to your traditional crowd.
Plus it works in reverse. Harley Quinn’s New 52 design clearly steered the character inside a different direction in the ones fans expected, and sent a signal to readers as unambiguous because the one sent by Tarr and Stewart’s Batgirl.
Here’s an announcement I never thought I’d make: I want Marvel to give Gwen Stacy back from the dead. And it’s all because of a costume.
Marvel’s upcoming Spider-Verse event brings together Spider-Men and Spider-Women from multiple alternative realities, including many that readers have witnessed before as well as some new ones made for the event. And this includes is a Gwen Stacy Spider-Woman, designed by Robbi Rodriguez – and Spider-Gwen wears the things i think could be my favorite superhero costume in years.
The Spider-Gwen costume does many things with remarkable economy. It plays beautifully from the iconic form of the very best superhero costume ever conceived, Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man costume. It strikes a contemporary tone together with the hood as well as the neon Chucks – although with sufficient restraint that we don’t think it would look dated in years to come. It generates shapes and breaks up space in a way that’s going to look powerful in the page. And it also immediately evokes character. I haven’t even read Spider-Gwen’s first Spider-Verse appearance, and so i have a feeling of a tricky, haunted, edgy young woman. I’ll eat some neon Chucks if that’s not who she is.
Gwen Stacy is supposed to stay dead. As grotesque since it is when women are killed off and away to further the stories of male heroes, the death of Gwen Stacy feels too important to Spider-Man’s development to get undone. Yet I love this costume so much that, before the Spider-Gwen issue of Edge of Spider-Verse comes out, I know I want Gwen back and kicking ass in this particular costume.
(I am going to accept a continuing set in Gwen’s alt universe. Heck, in the event the Ultimate Universe scales returning to just Miles Morales, a Miles book and a Gwen book would be perfect complements to one another. But I don’t think that’s where Marvel is heading.)
A great costume inspires stories – and tells a crowd what kind of stories to expect. Catwoman made a new type of sense when redesigned by Darwyn Cooke in 2004 – finally she wore the costume of a master thief, no Olympic luge rider. It causes whiplash any moment that costume appears in company to a narrative that doesn’t respect the character. The contour-shifting Loki being a puckish young man in swashbuckling adventurer’s attire – an additional Jamie McKelvie design – sparks different stories on the sinewy old guy with the giant horns. Stuart Immonen’s stylish All-New X-Men superman costumes place the time-tossed X-Men from the modern better than any level of exposition.
Costumes have always been important to superheroes – but perhaps more so than many editors realize. Some artists are wonderful at it, and some are… less great. Like lettering, coloring, inking, editing, or dexrpky99 art, it’s a specialized job that perhaps should be reserved for individuals with the skill set to do well at it.
Thankfully the comic industry has never had such a great deal of designing talent. Jamie McKelvie, Kris Anka, Cameron Stewart, Robbi Rodriguez, Cliff Chiang, etc., are a part of a generation of artists having this career very seriously, and so they make superhero comics smarter and sharper for doing it.
And they’re not by yourself. A lot more artists are showing their designer flare along with their grasp of contemporary style. Sites like Tumblr and DeviantArt provide fertile ground for artists to try out around with costume concepts – and also the excellent Project: Rooftop curates among the best examples. The musty superhero industry would benefit hugely from turning to the likes of Cory Walker, Mingjue Helen Chen, Dean Trippe, Corey Lewis, Becky Cloonan, Ming Doyle, Jemma Salume, Sean Murphy, Ron Wimberly, and many others, to re-energize the genre for tomorrow.