Some of the Best Superhero Costumes and Why They Are So Cool

I am a casual sports fan but a die-hard nerd. So, while watching a few games this past week (Go Kings, go!), I noticed the change in jersey designs of some of the teams across various sports. I really began to think about the things I liked and did not like and why they irked me so much, or why they were so cool. Of course, my mind naturally wandered away from sports and back to its normal domain of nerdom and I thought, “which superhero has the best costume? And why?”

Sports teams bank much of their public identity on their merch and the “persona of the costume,” so to speak. In the arena of sport, the uniform really doesn’t do much aside from rally the fans for support and differentiate the players. But in an art-heavy industry like comics, TV, and movies, getting the look to match the character is a key element in that character’s likability and ultimately, success! The costume is as much a part of the hero as the superpowers and personality.

I understand that taste and are is subjective but these are, I think, the best superhero costumes! It may be because of the colors, the pattern, the best representation of the hero, or simply that it looks really damn cool! So without further ado, let’s begin!

#6 FLASHscreen-shot-2016-11-10-at-11-19-21-pm

Flash is a classic hero with a classic look. I love this costume because it epitomizes what it is to be a comic book superhero. It’s not fancy or over-complicated, has bold colors, simple designs and symbols, and retains some of that comic book fun. Bright red and yellow just convey speed and set a great backdrop for the classic lightning bolt symbol. Yes, it is a little bit silly looking with the lighting bolt ears and the mouth and eye cutouts, but that’s what makes it fun! Lastly, and most importantly, it fits exactly what Flash is – fast!

#5 CAPTAIN MARVEL (new, female)

Captain_Marvel_MARVEL Comics

Captain Marvel has undergone a few looks but I have to say that the new look for female Captain Marvel is absolutely badass. The design is reminiscent of the classic superhero looks of Superman and Captain America while still having some new interesting features. Specifically, the gloves and sash across the waist do a good job to put some functionality and substitute for the classic cape look, while still being bold and a bit needlessly showy. The star nova design in the chest adds just enough to Captain Marvel’s presence and complements her superpowers well.

As for the colors – deep blue, red, and gold simply look great, especially broken up the way they are across her physique. On that note, this costume lets Captain Marvel look extremely powerful and never needlessly over-exposes her feminine features. It strikes a great balance of power, kickass, and female.

#4 IRON MAN

ironmans1

Iron Man is constantly undergoing changes to his look but the base concept hasremained the same – have a really cool suit of powered armor. The red armor plates, the gold, and the glowing chest just give this sense of speed, high-tech gadgetry, and indestructibility that makes Iron Man one of the coolest superheroes out there. As boring as it is to say, it’s pretty hard to not find Iron Man really damn cool. I mean, who doesn’t want an Iron Man suit?

The one downside to his look is the fact that you cannot see his face. It remains stoic and robotic. This is fitting for the high-tech nature of the hero, but it can take away from his personality, which, as we all know, Tony Stark has an abundance of!

#3 CAPTAIN AMERICAcptamerica

I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of Captain America. However, it is hard to deny that his look is timeless, classic, and probably epitomizes his persona better than any other hero. Sure his costume is a little cheesy and overdone with the patriotism but isn’t that kind of the point? Captain America isn’t just a hero, he is a symbol. He is American pride and heroics personified and his suit lends itself perfectly.

The fact that Cap uses a shield as his “weapon” (yeah I know he uses guns too but hush) perfectly lends itself to his personality. He is about unity, protection, and being a guardian of the helpless and a champion of justice, not vengeance. Overall the ensemble just screams AMERICA as loud and as proud as it can. It’s in your face and it knows it and it’s not afraid… how very American… for better or for worse.

#2 SPIDER-MAN

spider_man

Spider-Man’s costume has a lot going on, but that’s what makes it so great. It looks like the type of thing that a high-schooler would make if they were to come up with a superhero… which just so happens to be perfect! Spider-Man has the right blend of colors, symbols, and character identity which has pushed Spidey’s costume to be among the best.

Again, red and blue just make a really great combo, especially when combined with dark black lines and white accent features. The placement of blue along the legs and arms separates Spider Man from the likes of other red costumes like those from Flash, Daredevil, and Deadpool, which is important in forging his identity and unique look. He gets the effect of having gloves and boots ala many classic heroes but still has a sleek agile silhouette.

Spidey’s mask is another great selling point on his character. It makes him look much more sinister than he really is by excluding his natural mouth and eyes and adding the steep triangular eyes. We know Peter Parker is a fun teenager but when he dons the mask his identity is simply Spider Man.

Most importantly though, is the webbing across his entire suit. This feature puts Spider Man among the top coolest costumes ever simply because it is so immediately recognizable. You could take a screenshot of almost anywhere on Spidey’s costume and be able to to identify it as him with 100% certainty. As for creating an identity on the page, that can’t be beat.

#1 BATMAN & BATMAN BEYOND

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Classic Batman is one of those superheroes that just nails it on every level. He’s got the superhero essentials pack: cape, cowl, the utility belt, the chest symbol, and the undies on the outside – and I’ll be damned if he doesn’t look kickass!

Batman is one of those characters that has no superpowers so he has to make up for it in other ways. I think this is why Batman’s costume is so key to his success. He could go for a practical and functional look and essentially just be a vigilante ninja. But a hero is more than his actions. He is a symbol, and his costume helps him accomplish this. His classic outfit epitomizes what it is to be the Dark Knight. He is scary and heroic. He is also dark and brooding. He is a savior to the people of Gotham.

Now, this brings up the Batman Beyond version of his suit which, to me, is probably the coolest superhero look of all time. It cranks up the Dark Knight identity to eleven. He almost looks villainous with his pure black outfit, blood red cape, and red chest symbol. This suit is simple, sexy, and terrifying.

In the show, Terry McGinnins dons the new Batsuit and takes up the mantle as Batman. This little change in personality and physique adds to the effect of the costume, changing Batman’s look from a jacked up old-school bruiser to a sleek, young, and stealthy hero ready to dispense justice throughout the streets of Gotham.

The final good word to say about this version is that it hearkens and respects the original. It keeps the “superhero essentials” and updates them to create something truly badass.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Black Bolt
Black Bolt just looks super damn cool. However, he has gone under the radar by many comic book fans. It may just be a little bit too old-school Jack Kirby for audiences at the moment. Not that that’s a bad thing, he just doesn’t have that POW! in your face identity that some others do.

Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman is about as classic as you can get. However, again, she falls into that old-school look. The boots, the star undies, and the headband. It’s recognizable for sure, but just a little too silly.

Wolverine
Wolverine is always hit or miss. Similar to the other honorable mentions his costume is just a little bit silly. The biggest flaw I find with it is that it seems a little too out-there for someone with a personality like Logan’s. I see the crazy wild appeal of it, with exposed bulging muscles and bestial stripes, but deep down, I don’t think Logan would really wear something like that. As one of my personal favorite superheroes it’s hard so say, but despite the iconic imagery of his look, it is just not quite right for Wolverine.

21 Comments

  1. M-Wolverine

    The Flash is right on. Part of it shows that no matter how many versions of him they have the costume stays relatively the same (Except the movie..ugh). I’ll let out my dark secret though…..I’ve always thought the Reverse Flash looked better. I know he wasn’t eligible for “best superhero costumes” (which of course means you need to do another list next week….) but if I was going to buy a logo T-shirt, it’d be Professor Zoom’s.

    Hmmm, I’m not sure that’s even the best female Captain Marvel look. I’d go with the Monica Rambeau version over that. It’s just too busy. It’s a homage to a costume that wasn’t that great. I’d say her Ms. Marvel look was better, if a bit dated.

    Which Iron Man is your favorite though? Probably because it’s how I first remember reading him, but it has to be a helmet version with the horns for me.

    Captain America really doesn’t need to be changed, which is why the comics trying to reflect the movie more (rather than the other way around) is maddening. The movies can’t figure out that the only reason he looks a bit silly on the screen is because they refuse to do what they removed because they thought it was too silly – the wings. They don’t realize that without them it just gives him the Egghead look. You don’t need full on little feathers, but the wing design should have some bas relief or be bumps under the paint not too different from the Daredevil look, just to the sides and less pointy.

    Batman IS great (and I love that you point out the need to break up the look with the trunks), but I think I’d give it to Spidey because he may be the only character who could have made the list twice. Because the B&W costumes could make anybody’s top list, and they still had to do away with it because the original is just that good. Of course, they didn’t completely discard it, but there was a lot of debate on which costume he should use back then, and what other “new” costume has a hero ever gotten that hasn’t had fans 100% wanting to go back to the original version?

    I like the Black Bolt off the board pick. Wonder Woman just seems to have had too many changes and tweaks to her costume over the years to be as iconic. And as much as I am partial to my Wolverines in maize and blue, Logan should always be in the brown. Wolverines are brown. Brown can at least be kinda stealthy.

    Back in the day as a kid I’m sure I had a list of best costumes. But without going to the list well I’ll add one popular and one not so popular but basically the same genre: the Punisher and Vigilante. The Punisher isn’t much of a costume nowadays, but even in his more super hero centric days the white gloves and boots, while impractical, are a stunning look. And Vigilante has a striking costume, as shown back in the day when his covers were often the best on the racks.

    1. John Trumbull

      The movie Captain America costumes drive me NUTS. Too busy, too baggy, too many pouches… Hollywood overthink at its worst. And when people try to defend it by saying, “Well, that’s what it would have looked like if it was designed in the 40s!”, that’s when the vein in my temple starts to throb. Captain America’s costume was ACTUALLY DESIGNED IN THE 40s, people. And Joe Simon and Jack Kirby generally knew what they were doing.

      The best Cap costume that Chris Evans has ever had was the one he wore during the USO scenes in THE FIRST AVENGER. Even when they were going out of their way to try to make the costume look cheesy, it still POPPED off the screen in a way none the other ones ever have.

      1. M-Wolverine

        Yeah, they tried to make it look cheesy, but sctually did the opposite and showed why it WOULD work, not wouldn’t. That, with some better materials, and they were good to go. The fact that he did his first superheroing in that outfit with a helmet and everyone in the trailers didn’t discern it from his other costumes showed it worked just fine.

  2. Le Messor

    So, the take-home is, you like red. 🙂

    “Black Bolt just looks super damn cool. However, he has gone under the radar by many comic book fans. It may just be a little bit too old-school Jack Kirby for audiences at the moment.”

    Is that relevant, though, to how good his costume is (or is not)?

    If we’re talking about best costumes, I’d expect popularity of character to be a pretty small factor. Not non-existent; I’d say that costume influences popularity (how popular would Batman be, for example, if he just wore a business suit, a fedora, and a domino?), but there are obscure characters with great costumes.

    I was going to suggest Alpha Flight (Byrne’s version) before I saw that line (then again, I would) : the costumes are iconic, instantly recognisable, and have that subtle star motif that ties the entire team together in a subliminal way. (The way most of the New Warriors have their gang colours.)

    “The star nova design… compliments her superpowers well.”
    /grammar nazi/ Unless you’re saying the star nova comes up to her and says ‘Wow, CM, your powers are amazing,’ I think you meant ‘complements’.

    1. Spencer Keane

      Ha, I thought the same thing. I guess red is just a striking color! I mean, there are plenty of characters that have awesome costumes that don’t have red. Just so happens that the “best” couple all incorporate red somehow.

      Lol, yes you are correct about the “compliments.” I wrote this at 1:00am last night. Edited. Thank you.

  3. Alaric

    For some reason, Iron Man’s classic ’70s (or late ’60s-early ’80s, really) armor has always been one of my favorite superhero looks. There’s just something so dynamic about it- even now, any time I see that suit in action in some old comic I can’t help smiling. I know a lot of people disagree with me, though.

  4. Edo Bosnar

    To me, it’s interesting that the two I would give top rankings, Spider-man and Iron Man, were both designed by Steve Ditko, and they remain among the most iconic super-hero costumes to this day. I think people often forget or overlook what a knack Ditko had for creating awesome super-hero (and villain) outfits: besides Spidey and IM, there’s also Dr. Strange, Clea, Nightmare, Blue Beetle, the two original Captain Atom costumes, the Question, Hawk and Dove, Shade the Changing Man, Kraven the Hunter, Green Goblin, Mysterio…

    1. John Trumbull

      Ditko is an AMAZING costume designer. Spider-Man’s costume hasn’t been improved upon for over 50 years. And Kraven and Mysterio? C’mon. Those are some GREAT-looking characters!

      Mysterio really looks much cooler with the criss-crossed wavy lines that Ditko drew, rather than the plain crosshatch pattern that Romita simplified it into.

      A similar thing happened to the Vulture. His feather texturing just became simple stripes, and he lost his tail feathers in his second appearance, IIRC.

      1. Pol Rua

        Steve Ditko is an absolute MASTER designer. Seriously, take almost any of his signature characters and describe them in words… they sound like they should be GHASTLY.

        – a bald, skinny octogenarian with a hooked nose, dressed in a ribbed green body stocking with a pale green fur collar and glider wings, for instance –

        And yet, in Ditko’s hands, it comes out looking spectacular! Mysterio, Kraven the Hunter, The Creeper, Doctor Strange… the list goes on and on. Truly a master.

  5. Captain America’s costume is great when it’s done right. Joe Rubenstein used to ink the shirt in a style that emulated Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant work; he made it look like chain mail, and it looked fantastic. Jack Kirby always made the pants have a lot of wrinkles and folds, indicating that they were a heavy fabric like canvas or denim, not tights, and he made the gloves and boots look like leather. When the textures and materials are right, it looks as it should. That late ’90s fad of making his shirt look like it was made of nickels, I hated that.

    1. M-Wolverine

      You know though, considering how Kirby originally drew it, it could be argued that the scale mail look of the 90’s was more accurate than the chain mail look. If you look at early Captain America, and after his arrival, it’s usually drawn as a half circle not a full circle.

      http://www.herogohome.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/CaptainAmericaDebutSplash.jpg

      http://www.littlestuffedbull.com/images/comics/capvscroc/capvscroc5.jpg

      https://cdn.pastemagazine.com/www/blogs/lists/1captainamericafinal.jpg

      But those are definitely some textured pants.

  6. Filament

    Ditko was the master of creating costumes. I will never understand how DC could have gone away from the Ditko costume.

    The original Kid Flash costume deserves on the list, maybe at the top.

    There was an old Avengers issue (2nd part of the first Swordsman story) and Wally Wood filled in for inks over Don Heck pencils. He drew Cap’s costume much like it was originally created. The stripes on were on front and the star in back was too big for stripes on the back. There were no briefs over top of his pants. The chain mail was there. For some reason I keep thinking there were seams down the pant legs and he had more of a helmut on his head, but maybe I’m remembering that from another time Wood did the inks. Anyhow, I thought it looked cool as a kid, more like a combat outfit.

  7. Jeff Nettleton

    For me, the best costume of any superhero: The Black Terror. A jolly roger come to life. That did ore to sell his comics than any of the interiors (until Jerry Robinson and Mort Meskin drew him).

    Other favorites: Neal Adams blue costume for the Angel. Nice sleek lines, good color combination, worked better than the red version, for me.

    Alex Ross’ Red Robin costume, for Dick Grayson. It spoke to his heritage with Batman and his past as Robin.

    Mister Miracle: loud, brash, flamboyant; everything it should be.

    Manhunter-Walt Simonson’s design, for the revived Paul Kirk was unique, stylish and dynamic.

    Manhunter-Doug Rice’s design for Mark Shaw was also unique, yet spoke to the past history of Paul Kirk, the Manhunters, and, yet, made Shaw his own man. I talked to Rice about it; much of the inspiration came from the Japanese hero shows, particularly Kamen Rider.

    The Rocketeer-It says 1930s, pulp, adventure, art deco and imagination unbound.

  8. Pol Rua

    The sash in the Carol Danvers Captain Marvel costume bugs me. The rest of the outfit is so streamlined. It has the feel of a stylized flight suit. Unfortunately, this is undermined by the sash. Everything else is aerodynamic. It’s an inverted triangle…You draw everything in at the top, and into the chest insignia, and then down along the lines of the costume, which is very plain, and all with a leather-like texture (again, like a flight suit).
    And then you have this sash. This weird cloth frippery that breaks the line of dynamism AND the texture. Also, it means you have TWO focal points – the waist and the chest logo – dividing the viewer’s attention.

    As impractical as it seems (and while I’m fine with practicality as a quality that should be considered in superhero costume design, but I believe that coolness should trump it), I’d recommend a scarf. It says ‘aviator’and does all the great things that capes do for flying, dynamic characters in a static medium (increasing/enhancing movement), plus, it means that all the focus is again on the face and upper torso. Plus, it hearkens back to her original costume, which I’m still (sans belly window) a bit of a fan of.

    I suspect I may think about stuff like this too much, but I suspect I’d hardly be alone in this company.

    1. Le Messor

      “does all the great things that capes do for flying, dynamic characters in a static medium (increasing/enhancing movement)”

      Thank you! In all my years of collecting, I’d seriously never realised that until now.

      “I suspect I may think about stuff like this too much, but I suspect I’d hardly be alone in this company.”

      Not in the Atomic Junk Shop, you’re not.

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