By Andrew J. Adams
I enjoy reading comic fans’ lists of their favorite characters or favorite comic book covers. Such features have inspired me to write my own compilation: a list of favorite comic book character costumes. For this list, my opinion is based exclusively on the character’s look, not necessarily he or she being a favorite character. Also, I organized them in theme-based groups, because comparing a complex, dazzling design to an understated yet elegant design is like comparing apples to oranges. With these criteria, we have a nice fruit salad of apples, oranges, grapes, and a few pineapple bits for variety. Below is my top twelve, with an over-all winner in each category.
#12 “Something Extra” winner: Spider-Man
Not only does his costume look sharp, traditional or black, but in the hands of the right artist, the interpretation can be quite versatile. Take the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #28, where the red & blue is reversed to black and the webbing is drawn in red. Or one of the many covers where he doesn’t appear, but his image does. Issue #72, with the Shocker blasting his spider-spotlight, is my favorite example. (And the cover of #188 combines both of these elements.) And let’s hear it for his cool-costumed villains: Electro, Mysterio, Shocker, Prowler, and the Beetle (2nd costume) are my favorites.
#11 “Sharp Dressed Men” winner: Sandman (original version)
These are the heroes who look dapper in tuxedos, such as National’s Zatara; or suits, such as Centaur’s The Clock; or even evening gowns, such as Timely’s Blonde Phantom. Nothing says cool in a James Bondinan way than the ability to kick-ass in evening wear and walk away looking immaculate, save for a crooked tie. However, my first runner-up would be The Spirit, due to the very opposite. He often gets mussed up and his suit battered and shredded. The realism adds a “street cred” type of cool (and makes the character even hotter). But first place would have to go to the bizarre combination of a suit, trench coat, and WWI-era gasmask as worn by the original Sandman. Suave yet creepy!
#10 “Love a Man in a Uniform” winner: The Blackhawks
Military fatigues are worn by real-life heroes, so why shouldn’t comic-book heroes wear them as well? From privates to generals, with Sgts. Rock and Fury somewhere in between, military uniforms blur the line between the war and super hero genres. I have a soft spot for aviation uniforms, notably DC’s fastidious Enemy Ace, Fawcett’s ragamuffin Phantom Eagle, and Hillman’s colorful Airboy and Sky Wolf. Despite that, my first runner-up has a distinctly army-issued look: DC’s Duchess from the late-‘80s Suicide Squad. She had long black hair and wore a black headband, olive drab t-shirt, camouflage pants, black boots, and a snarl, and she rocked the look! But gaze towards the skies for my favorite: the Blackhawk’s original, delicious black leather gear. It combined the functionality of a military uniform with the slickness of a super hero outfit.I hesitated to include these last two categories since these characters wear, essentially, regular clothes as a costumes. But regular clothing can often be a costume, as the great Bob Mackie himself pointed out When asked by Vicki Lawrence (on her old talk show) about his creations for Carol Burnett’s program and for Cher to wear at the Academy Awards, he explained, “Those are costumes. Don’t confuse them with fashion.”
#9 “Shirting the Issue” winner: Green Lantern (original version)
Who can resist the allure of a voluminous pirate shirt? Not me! From DC’s Firestorm and Firebrand II to Quality’s Red Bee and Jester, they are to walk the plank for! First runner-up is Fascination, a member of the Special Executive and the Technet from Marvel’s Capt. Britain. With golden skin and long green hair, she wears a red headdress with black trim that matches her collar and her wrist-to-elbow length bracelets. Her chest and arms are draped in a luxurious, shimmering, puffy, white blouse, but her look is minimalist from her waist down: a red shadow-form that fades to white. Very surreal. But in this category the original Green Lantern cut the most striking figure – lush purple cape, billowy red tunic, always cute mask, and oddball Grecian leg straps on his boots. I had a billowy shirt in my late-teens/early 20’s that I used to call my “Green Lantern shirt” just because it was slightly poofy like his. It wasn’t even green – but it was the same purple as his cape!
#8 “The Delight is in the Details” winner: Doctor Strange
I respect intricate costumes, especially when they are effective. Doc combined elements of a cape with really cool trim, weird gloves, a slightly puffy tunic, and some fierce bling. Plus, he is more mature and often shown with graying temples, which is nice for variety. Other favorites include DC’s Silver Swan (from Wonder Woman vol.2, #15-#16) and short-termed New Teen Titan Kole, but first runner-up goes to the Walter Simonson redesign of Manhunter (Detective Comics #437-#443). This combined his original red-and-blues with a pseudo-samurai look, including a white vest with exaggerated shoulders that Alexis Carrington would envy. The costume had a cute way of hiding weapons in plain site, like the black throwing stars on his vest and the brace-like things around his lower legs that held daggers.
#7 “Spoiled for Choice” winner: Marvel’s Oracle (Imperial Guard)
This category is the largest, almost anything created by Dave Cockrum From the Legion of Super-Heroes to the X-Men, and especially the Shi’ar Imperial Guard members, most are cool. His designs are fluid and organic, yet still look perfect in hi-tech sci-fi settings. They are also vividly colorful, ranging from the whimsical look of Phantom Girl’s white to the regal look of Storm’s gold-trimmed black, and the rainbow array found between. First runner-up would be Polaris’s second costume, which boasts a lattice-work design incorporated in a brooding plum and black color scheme. But I chose Oracle as favorite because of her distinctive pastel colors, the cut of her gloves and boots, and her delightful sash.
#6 “Compare and Contrast” winner: Guardian
The rounder edges of the human body usually don’t take to a design with pointy corners. That is, until John Byrne designed Alpha Flight. The angles of the maple leaf on Guardian, the starburst on Aurora and Northstar, the headdress and cape fringe of Snowbird, and the pattern over Shaman’s chest and Talisman’s chest and hips… all as breathtaking as an arctic breeze.
#5 “I Love Purple” winner: Hawkeye
It may seem frivolous to select a color as a category, but it’s not often you find a hero in purple, so I take special note when I see one. And purple is my favorite color. Hawkeye’s costume borrows elements from Captain America’s, I especially love the fold-over boots, and combines them in a style all his own. Especially pre-’83 when his arms were more exposed. I name DC’s Huntress’s original costume 1st runner-up, followed by Daredevil villain Mr. Fear’s ‘80s costume, and Nightside of the Imperial Guard.
#4 “Keep it Simple” winner: Moon Knight.
So little detail, yet it says so much… especially when he has the right artist to include all the shadings of blue and shadow over the shininess of white and silver. Moon Knight’s costume takes top position, followed by DC’s Wildcat and the traditional costumes of Marvel’s Black Panther and Daredevil arerunners up.
Plus, all you need is a bed sheet over your shoulders to pretend you are Moon Knight. Just be sure you have your window shade down, as my brother informed me. I was only 14. I didn’t think of it! Of course, I made the same mistake five years later while home alone dancing to “You Gotta Have a Gimmick” and I realize my 80-year-old neighbor’s chair was exactly level to our living room window…and in it he sat, in tee-shirt and shorts, watching his TV At least, I hope that was all he was watching!)
#3 “Something Pretty for the Waist” winner: Ms. Marvel (2nd costume)
First runner-up is Phoenix and the winner Ms. Marvel. Those sashes are so shimmery and drapey… exquisite! I just want to touch it! Though she wears no sash, I’ll mention the Monica Rambeau version of Capt. Marvel here because whatever her costume is made of, the top resembles a full-body version of the above mentioned sashes. Runner-ups include Quality’s Kid Eternity and Marvel’s Iron Fist.
#2 “Psychedelia” winner: Marionette (Micronauts)
Those groovy stripes! The wild eye shadow! What’s not to love? Also in this category are Black Orchid, Halo’s 1st costume, Looker’s so-horrible-it’s-wonderful concoction, and Elektra’s mish-mosh of red strips and exposed flesh. But 1st runner-up must be Slipper Booty’s ghost disguise from the Brenda Starr comic strip circa 1980.
Since that character is obscure, I’ll provide a mini-bio from memory: Debuting in the strip circa 1978, Slipper Booty was the stage name of a troubled young transvestite who hated Brenda. I believe he was her stepson. In his act, he was a Donna Summers-like disco queen. He somehow tried to hurt her and was sent to prison or institutionalized. However, a few years later, Brenda and family moved to a new house where they were menaced by a female ghost who looked like an afro-ed, candy cane-colored version of Marionette. The exact design was a red heart surrounded by a larger white heart surrounded by a larger red heart and so forth over the entire body. The ghost was Slipper Booty in disguise, which I guessed months before the big reveal.And while on the topic of psychedelia, a shout-out to my favorite non-comic book cartoon costumes/designs: the people and monsters from the animated movie
“The Yellow Submarine,” created by Heinz Edelmann. Genius!
#1 “Body as Canvass” winner: Aquaman (camouflage blue)
Beautiful! This breaks the rule that a costume must be a combo of shirt, pants, boots, gloves, etc. And ever since I saw Ann-Margret’s “The Swinger” on TV at the age of, like, five, I was amused by the idea of body painting. I didn’t understand the film, but it looked fun to roll around on a canvas while people threw buckets of paint at you. My favorite costumes are not ones that look painted on, but rather ones where the human body is the canvas and the artist respects and incorporates that form in the costume design. Runners-up include DC’s Firehawk (2nd costume), followed by Marvel villain Eel (2nd costume), and First’s Badger’s camouflage costume.
Editor’s note: This piece was originally posted several years ago and is republished after formatting problems were fixed.