One month ago, Marvel revealed artist Kris Anka’s redesign for Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew, whose costume had been nearly unchanged since her first appearance in 1977.
The new design, which debuts in March’s Spider-Woman #5, emphasizes Jessica’s return to her street-level detective roots. Anka, one of Marvel’s most prolific go-to costume designers, created a slick, stylish and subdued look that drew immediate comparisons to Jamie McKelvie’s 2012 Captain Marvel jumpsuit as well as Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr’s recent Batgirl of Burnside makeover. All three designs balance the practical with the tactical, and seem (along with Robbi Rodriguez’s Spider-Gwen hoodie) tailor-made for cosplayers.
But Jessica was hardly the only character in need of a new wardrobe. For every one of these recent redesign successes, Marvel and DC have introduced a handful of cringeworthy costumes that have already overstayed their welcome. Let’s take a look…
(Art by Brett Booth)
Many DC fans feel that the Teen Titans got hit particularly hard in 2011’s New 52 reboot with a ‘90s spin that ran counter to the hip #youth potential of starting the team over from scratch. Nowhere is this squandered promise more evident than in Red Robin’s costume.
Prior to the reboot, Tim Drake gave up arguably the best Robin outfit ever for a clunky name change and a hand-me-down Kingdom Come suit. The New 52 replaced that costume with a pair of giant wings, multiple crisscrossing chest straps, and gaudy logo shoulder pauldrons. He looks bad enough next to his fellow Titans, but stacked alongside the rest of the Bat-family, Drake comes off as the embarrassing younger brother trying way too hard to look cool.
Elder Bat-wards Dick Grayson and Jason Todd have both had decent Robin outfits retconned into their New 52 histories. Pass one of those suits along to Tim before he starts building a nest above my garage.
All-New Captain America
(Art by Carlos Pacheco)
Speaking of birds, Carlos Pacheco’s new Captain America togs are leaning more dodo than eagle so far, as the busy design tries too hard to mash up Sam Wilson’s former identity as the Falcon with his current role as the new Captain.
Cap costumes have seen a trend of over-complication ever since Chris Evans brought his steaming pecs to the big screen, to the extent that Steve Roger’s last comic outfit could have passed for an especially patriotic Call of Duty character skin. Sam isn’t quite as weighed down by buckles, straps, laces and pads, but his chest and shoulders are still too cluttered. The iconic chest star also doesn’t read as well in competition with extra white space when compared to Bucky’s somber, mostly-black suit when he assumed the Captain’s mantle. Worst of all, though, is the severe angle of the mask’s forehead: Captain America has Angry Bird eyebrows.
This costume needs the kind of improvement that Marvel can do subtly without admitting it stumbled out the gate. Simplify the over-designed chest and consider reintroducing the forehead A-that-doesn’t-stand-for-France, and this costume could be a worthy complement to the shield.
(Art by Mike McKone)
Michael Bluth’s judgmental refrain of “Her?” in reference to his son’s bland girlfriend, Ann Veal, provides one of the most popular running jokes in Arrested Development. If Ann were a teenage Cree superheroine on the Justice League United roster, she’d probably wear this mayonegg of an outfit that Equinox has been sporting since her debut.
Miiyahbin Marten, created by Jeff Lemire and Mike McKone after Lemire did personal research among the Canadian Cree population, could have been DC’s answer to Kamala Khan: a young, female superhero from a community traditionally underrepresented in mainstream comics, with strong ties to her version of Earth’s mightiest heroes.
Instead, she’s just…there, looking more like a space nurse than a teen superheroine. Miiyahbin should take a cue from Kamala: get a logo. It does wonders for bland fields of color.
(Art by Kaare Andrews)
Halfway through the last decade, Danny Rand and his frequent partner Luke Cake quietly traded in infamously-dated outfits for understated affairs that better fit the modern Marvel Universe. For Luke, that meant ditching his tiara for casual street-wear, while Danny had his ‘70s martial arts exploitation look subtly tweaked by artist David Aja.
Luke has more or less stuck to his fashion guns, but Danny did a stint in a white-and-gold outfit (can you imagine the blood stains?) before backsliding closer to his original jumpsuit in the artificially distressed pages of his current solo series by writer/artist Kaare Andrews.
The towering collar and itty bitty slippers work fine for Andrews’ Tarantino fever-dream flashbacks, but with Iron Fist’s live-action Netflix solo series inching closer, he deserves a more contemporary costume. Danny’s the perfect candidate for an overhaul by someone like Kris Anka, who could produce a practical, ready-for-real-life suit that still acknowledges the character’s lovably retro original look.
(Art by David Finch)
With the important legal battle Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice debuting next year and her own solo film not far behind, everyone’s favorite Amazon is another character who needs a visual boost to prepare for her primetime debut.
Artist Cliff Chiang defined the New 52 Wonder Woman for over three years with his bold, deceptively simple line work; her red, blue, and silver swimsuit fit well among the much creepier Greek pantheon imagined by writer Brian Azzarello. With Princess Diana’s exploits now handled by artists more closely aligned with the DC house style, Wonder Woman’s mute color scheme and simple outfit get lost in the crowd.
Comic Diana should take a cue from actress Gal Gadot — or, better yet, Jaimie Alexander as Sif in the Thor films – and invest in a battle skirt to strengthen and define her silhouette. While she’s at it, she should also ditch the quiet silver accents and return to the more vibrant gold or bronze flourishes of past looks.
(Art by Chris Bachalo)
Death, accelerated aging, demonic possession and trips to Hell and back left Illyana Rasputin a bit of an unfeeling sociopath, which meant her standard-issue New Mutants outfit, accented with mystical armor, fit her well; she just didn’t seem like one to care about fashion.
But when the Marvel Now! relaunch of Uncanny X-Men moved the team to the Great White North of Canada, Magik adopted a skimpy outfit complete with ornamental head prongs and an oversized sword that would make most anime characters blush.
The Uncanny roster isn’t one to embrace bright colors, but it’d be nice to see some gold or yellow work its way back into Magik’s ensemble, especially as she rebuilds her friendship with perpetual ray of sunshine, Kitty Pryde. Covering a bit more skin would also help distinguish her from her chilly teammate Emma Frost (and protect against frostbite).
The Flash Family
(Art by Brett Booth)
The New 52 took a lot of criticism for complicating costumes with superfluous seams and accent lines. Some traces of this fad have faded with time: Cyborg slimmed down, Batman artists have skipped some of the extra doodads on the suit, and Geoff Johns and John Romita, Jr. are soon premiering a new Superman outfit.
The Flash hasn’t been so lucky. His classic zig-zag lightning bolts look great as visual speed indicators when they’re limited to Barry’s head and feet, but they make the Scarlet Speedster look more like a bad spark plug when they’re spread across every part of his body.
Barry’s costume problems are nothing compared to Wally West’s woes, though. Instead of sticking the re-imagined black preteen Wally with the garish silver suit we’ve seen so far, DC should embrace the yellow and red traditionally associated with the Flash legacy (especially since the Bart Allen iteration of Kid Flash was revealed to be some sort of future criminal imposter and promptly shuffled off to overcomplicated-character limbo).
(Art by Jesus Saiz)
Depending on who was drawing her pre-52 exploits, it wasn’t uncommon for Black Canary to fight crime in high heels and a thong. While it’s admirable that her 2011 redesign made that more difficult to portray, it did so by saddling her with a G.I. Joe ninja-superhero attire that fit neither the increased emphasis on her paramilitary past nor her contemporary street-level exploits.
Dinah’s all-over fishnet webbing and bizarrely complicated boots also suffered next to generally solid new looks from her Birds of Prey castmates, although that book lies fallen among many that have perished to low sales since the reboot.
More recently, Black Canary has played a sort of tough, older sister to Barbara Gordon in Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr’s stylish Batgirl reboot. Stewart and Tarr haven’t yet portrayed Dinah in costume, but with any luck, she’ll soon get a simplified new look from the fashion-conscious pair.