The Top 10 Coolest Superhero Costumes
An undeniably enormous factor in the success or failure of any new superhero is the look. With comic books being the extremely visual medium that they are, a flashy and memorable costume is often just as, if not more important than any of the powers, pathos or personality exhibited by a fledgling new hero. I've seen several online lists of the worst superhero outfits of all time, from the living encyclopedia Scott Tipton's to the slightly less informed but equally hilarious Something Awful's, but as far as I know there isn't a ranking of the coolest. I aim to rectify that situation.
A word now on "coolness." As admittedly one of the most un-hip human beings to ever shuffle across this mortal coil, I'm probably the last person who should be talking about what is "cool" or not. Thankfully, however, when it comes to superheroes, the definition of cool is flipped upside down. Cool isn't wearing jeans with holes in them or a pre-faded pink shirt. Comic book style rewards the gaudy and grotesque, with bright colors and off-kilter designs that would land someone in a mental institution if worn in everyday life. "Loud", "cheesy", "unrealistic" and "corny" are words often used to describe superhero costumes. I prefer the term "classic", myself.
This is not going to be a list of "greatest" costumes. Superman and Batman do not appear within this page. This is by no way an indication that their outfits are any less than the seminal, mold-setting threads that they are. Without Superman there would be no superheroes at all, let alone superhero costumes, and Batman's cape and cowl defined the brooding, tormented dark hero look that is so prevalent throughout the genre. Unfortunately, these uniforms are so iconic, so ingrained in our society's hearts and minds, that they have long since left "cool" behind and entered the realm of
Honorable Mentions: Firestorm, John Byrne's navy and white Fantastic Four, Mr. Miracle, the Question, Dr. Strange, Daredevil
10. Wolverine (Astonishing X-Men)
Debuting in 1974, the adamantium-enhanced mutant Wolverine was initially bedecked in a bizarre yellow costume, complete with blue trunks and whiskers(!) painted on his facemask. Upon joining the X-Men, artists Dave Cockrum and John Byrne refined the outfit into a much more appealing design, although it seemed overly cheerful for the deranged berserker who wore it. Eventually, an orange and brown uniform was introduced which, although it fit the character much better, didn't have the same "pop" that the classic one did. After a few years, artists began to switch back and forth between the two, a matter of personal and editorial preference.
Shortly after the release and surprise success of the first X-Men film, in which the X-Men were portraying wearing stiff, awkward, Matrix-inspired black leather costumes, the editors of the comic book decided to follow suit. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely designed a new set of school uniforms for their groundbreaking New X-Men series, which while not as bland and boring as the movie outfits, were still a far cry from the unique and colorful costumes that X-Men fans had grown accustomed to. After Morrison's excellent 40+ issue run came to an end, Marvel almost immediately began to retcon away every innovation and storyline from the last three years. Morrison has always been very hit and miss for me, but the sheer amount of ideas and creativity he exhibits have made me a fan. One of the only elements from his tenure I was glad to see nixed were the clunky leather uniforms.
By 2004, the character was no longer the irredeemable, irresponsible wildman he was when he first began. He had mellowed somewhat, in part due to experience, but mostly due to his popularity. Marvel couldn't have a murdering psychopath as one of their flagship characters, so for better or for worse, the Wolverine was tamed. A return to the much-maligned "yellow spandex", as it was derisively referred to in the first movie, was in order, but not without a redesign. Artist John Cassaday took the tired old look and revamped it for the new millennium, without sacrificing any of the original elements that made it memorable in the first place. Gone were the corny blue trunks and the big black floppy boot flares. Two stripes of blue traveled down the sides of the uniform, terminating around the knees and eliminating the need for the unsightly "underwear on the outside." Yellow indentations occupy the spaces once inhabited by black slash-like stripes. Every piece of the costume has been pared down and streamlined into an excellent and memorable look for one of the most recognizable characters in the industry.
9. Kid Flash
When Wally West first appeared as Kid Flash, the faithful sidekick and nephew of DC's scarlet speedster the Flash, he was outfitted in an exact copy of his mentor's costume. Smaller, yes, but otherwise identical. As some artists had a tendency to drawn children and teens with the same build and shape as adults, it often became difficult to tell him apart from the Flash himself, unless they were standing next to each other. Eventually, Wally received his own distinctive outfit. It was worth the wait.
After toiling away wearing a second-rate rip-off for so many years, Kid Flash burst back onto the scene in one of the best-designed costumes ever. The red legs and yellow boots pay tribute to the design of his namesake, while the yellow torso and red gloves give the young hero an identity of his very own. Topped off with a new mask which left his red hair exposed, complimenting the yellow perfectly, that even when Wally West fulfilled the promise and took the mantle of the Flash himself, the outfit would eventually live on with Bart Allen (pictured), who dumped the so-so name and costume of "Impulse" and is currently speeding through the DC universe as the new Kid Flash.*
*There is currently a lot of confusion and status shifting when it comes to Bart, as a result of Infinite Crisis. I haven't really kept up on DC, so I'm not really aware of what's been going on with him. Last I knew, he was Kid Flash, so that's what I'm going to stick with.
8. Iron Man (Mark VIII Armor)
It's almost a given that any list of comics "best dressed" has to include at least one of Iron Man's many armors. The question isn't "should Iron Man be on this list" but rather "how many times" and "which one should we use." There are so many classics to from with to choose, from Jack Kirby's original grey (and later golden) avenger, to the Steve Ditko designed red and gold classic, or even the modern, more mech inspired affairs. For my money, the coolest by far is the 1980's Mark VIII armor, which is arguably second only to the classic in terms of fame.
By now you may have noticed a pattern to my critiques, a common element which has shown up in the last two choices on the list, that of stripping away what doesn't work and getting to the bare essentials. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Iron Man redesign of the 1980s. Arriving on the heels of the ugly-as-sin "Silver Centurion" armor, the Mark VIII eliminates all of the clunky and unnecessary embellishments that had accumulated over the years. The hip discs, belt line and chest details have all gone by the wayside, leaving an elegant, simple design that is still unmistakably recognizable as
7. Classic X-Men
No matter what your opinion is on the various incarnations of the X-Men over the years, one thing is for certain: They've never looked cooler than when Stan and Jack were at the wheel. In those days, the X-Men were a team. First, foremost and above all else, they had to function as a well-oiled machine in order to survive. In those days, there were no Wolverines or Storms to steal the spotlight and hog all the glory. In their early year, the "strangest superheroes of all" needed to live, train, learn and battle as a single unit. Their classic "school uniforms" helped lend a sense of unity to the group, and they looked damn snazzy as well.
Kirby, at his best, worked from two different philosophies when it came to designing costumes. Sometimes he would go completely off-the-wall, giving us such intricate and bizarre creations as Galactus or Mr. Miracle. Other times, the King would take a more simplistic approach, which resulted in the utilitarian but no way less classic Fantastic Four uniforms. The original X-Men were obviously a result of the latter method. The workmanlike but eyecatching X-Men uniforms are the standard upon which all super-team costumes should be based. Even to this day elements of the original outfits are still prevalent in the current X-costumes, from Cyclops' cowl to Kitty Pryde's extremely familiar yellow and navy getup. Great designs never die. They, like the mutants they adorn, continue to evolve.
6. Green Lantern
When I first began this article, I was worried it would seem like an exclusively "Coolest Marvel Costumes" list. While, as an unapologetic Marvel Zombie, I would seem slightly biased towards the House of Ideas, even a True Believer such as myself would have to admit that the Distinguished Competition has come up with a few knockouts of its own.
(The preceding sentence has been brought to you by a lifetime of brainwashing at the hands of Stan Lee. Excelsior!)
Seriously, though, even if it means handing in my M.M.M.S. membership card, I will concede that there are plenty of DC costumes that are damn cool themselves. Firestorm... Kirby's New Gods... Hell, I even have this strange affinity towards Dr. Mid-Nite's outfit for some strange reason. I can't say that this entry is my favorite DC costume of all, as that honor belongs to one slightly higher up on the list (although, to be fair, that one did start out as a Charlton Comics character), but the fact is that costumes do not come much cooler than Gil Kane's 1965 revamp of the Green Lantern.
The original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, was decked out in a... flamboyant green red and purple affair that, while certainly not without merit, still didn't quite jive with DC's new sci-fi slant. Along with the Flash, the concept of the Green Lantern would undergo a complete makeover, from concept to costume. A drastic change from the standard "trunks, boots, chest symbol and cape" archetype, the new Green Lantern outfit was actually a uniform, worn in various incarnations by hundreds of beings across the universe. A streamlined green leotard with black circular accents around the shoulders, worn over an understated black bodysuit and topped off with a simple logo on the chest, the revamped Green Lantern costume helped jumpstart the Silver Age and defined a new direction for both DC and the entire comic book industry.
Ah, the (often) late Jean Grey. From your humble beginnings as Marvel Girl to your rambunctious Dark Phoenix days, you'll always be in my eyes the most attractive woman in comics, and no moreso than while wearing your original
Naturally, the film version of the
A.) The most alluring (in my opinion) female superhero costume of all is the one that reveals the least amount of skin, and
B.) Emma Frost ain't got squat on Jean Grey.
If you would have told me that Image Comics, of all places, would give birth to one of the top three coolest superhero costumes ever, I'd have thought you were full of it. Image? The company founded by Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld? I was expecting a mess of gratuitous crosshatching, nonsensical anatomy, and superfluous pouches, belts and guns out the wazoo. What I found instead was one of the best-looking costumes showcased in the best new comic I've ever had the pleasure of reading.
Robert Kirkman and Corey Walker have given us the best-written superhero story in a long time. In both spirit and tone, Invincible is closer to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's legendary Spider-Man run than anything Marvel has printed in the last ten years. Exciting, witty and. most of all, fun, Invincible also boasts one of the sharpest looking super-suits on the today. The Corey Walker designed costume, with it's unusual but striking yellow, black and blue color scheme, also incorporates a lowercase letter "i", standing for both Image Comics and Invincible. The "i" however, isn't encapsulated inside your standard chest symbol, but rather ingeniously suggested by the use of shapes and colors within the suit itself. Like the book itself, Invincible's costume is modern, sleek and smart. For my money, Invincible is the best new superhero, from both an aesthetic and character standpoint, created within the last ten years.
3. Black Bolt
Now, I know what you're thinking. Black Bolt? Black Bolt? As in... King of the Inhumans Black Bolt? You put Black Bolt higher than the Green Lantern?! You bet your sweet bippy I did. Black Bolt is pure Kirby, designed by an artistic genius at his creative peak. Pretty much any character/villain from the 102 issue Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four run would make a solid addition to this list. The Inhumans, in particular, are especially well-designed. Medusa, Crystal, Karnak, Lockjaw... Interesting characters, all, but none are quite as cool-looking as their reigning king, Black Bolt.
Just look at him! He just looks so... cool. Observe how the bolts on his chest run downward to seamlessly create the diamond at his waist, or how a simple line around each thigh helps break up the monotony and give the illusion of shorts. Top it off with a killer pair of silver wings, and you've got a look that just can't be beat.
The real reason I ranked ol' Blackagar so highly was to illustrate just how subjective lists like these can be. Black Bolt is a personal favorite of mine, but I'm sure many, many others would disagree. That's perfectly fine. Everyone has their own list, and their own reasons. Heck, I'm sure that at least one person out there would rank giant disco-collar Nightwing or anyone from X-Force higher than, say, Daredevil. As the late Mark Gruenwald once said, every character is someone's favorite. I'm sure this extends to costumes as well.
2. Blue Beetle (Ted Kord)
I'm not going to even pretend to be semi-apologetic about this one, like I was with Black Bolt. Ted Kord's Blue Beetle was one of the most dynamic, striking costumes of all time. Yet another Ditko design, the most eye-catching element of this outfit is the color scheme. Superhero costumes have traditionally consisted of sharply contrasting colors. Red and blue, black and grey, blue and white, and so on. The original golden age Blue Beetle wore red trunks over a plain blue chainmail getup. Ditko threw this completely out the window and decked his new hero in a cyan and cerulean combination of colors that were complimentary, not discordant, to each other.
Perhaps the most recognizable interpretation of this character was the chunky, bumbling JLI version. Say what you will about the characterization, which I personally loved, but it's hard to argue with Kevin Maguire's take on the costume. Refining the angular, Spidey-like goggles into circular lenses, Maguire also thickened and sharpened the black embellishments of the costume into sharp, square angles. I would even venture to say that Maguire drew the costume better than Ditko himself, and coming from a Ditko freak like myself, that's almost blasphemy. Ted Kord would wear this optimized costume right up until his completely unnecessary demise, a sore subject for me, and one that has already been sufficiently torn to pieces by the majority of comic book fandom.
Speaking of Ditko designs, it's impossible to mention the man's incredible work without giving props to his greatest creation of all. I'm talking, of course, about the amazing...
I'm so tempted to just write "'nuff said" and leave it at that. Every single stitch of this costume just screams "cool." Almost every concept Ditko innovated in this design are still being ripped off every day. From the angular, opaque eyes to the way the gloves, shoulders and chest and all integrated in one smooth, flowing pattern, Spider-Man broke the mold when it came to coolness. I've read that Ditko always tried to design his costumes so that, even if a panel only displayed an arm or a leg, it would still be instantly recognizable. This is most evident in Spidey's case. With but a glimpse of the distinctive red webbing pattern that has been driving inkers mad since 1962, we are immediately aware that Spider-Man is on the scene.
Spider-Man's costume is unique in that it was designed within the story to be cool, at least in the eyes of its creator. Peter Parker needed to whip up a flashy costume for his big debut on the Ed Sullivan Show, and the end result really looks like something a 17-year-old nerd would sew together in his aunt's basement. Pete threw together some blue and red tights, spiderwebs attached at the armpits (!), a big corny spider on the back and a mask that left his face completely covered (presumably to hide the ravages of acne that are all too common during those awkward years), and somehow ended up with perhaps the second most recognizable superhero costume in history.
And yet, the powers-that-be are always attempting to change things. First was the black symbiote suit which, for better or worse, gave the world Venom. Some less famous but more putrid examples include the hideous "Silver Spider" armor, the wretched Scarlet Spider hoodie, Ben Reilly's decidedly "meh" revamp, and of course, "Iron Spidey," a truly ugly red and gold affair that is currently among that many factors rendering the current Spider-Man books unreadable. Inevitably, though, the classics persevere and things have a way of returning to the way they should be. We may still have to deal with organic webshooters and Sins Past for a while, but it's a safe bet that Spidey will be back to his red-and-blues before too long.
So, there you have it. One man's opinion on the coolest superhero costumes of all time. The mere fact that I was able to write so damn much about colorful spandex is a testament to the importance a costume can have on a character's impact. Again, this is only my opinion, and since everyone is entitled to one, I would love to hear yours. Leave a comment or e-mail me with your thoughts, your own lists, and your inevitable hate mail for leaving out Batman.