Marvel Alternate Costumes- Spider-Men Featured

If you can find any of my old comic book reviews — and I urge you not to — you will find that, like many, I struggle to discuss art with any kind of skill. Despite this, however, one thing I have always loved and been game to discuss is costumes. I enjoy considering the looks of superheroes and supervillains, discussing if they work or not and why. Costumes can offer us insight into characters’ mindsets, recent changes, or goals. And sometimes, it is just fun to simply appreciate the aesthetics.

One of my favorite areas of study in this arena concerns costumes that were short-lived, reviled or quickly forgotten. Bonus if they were all three. Below you’ll find several examples of such looks from Marvel Comics superheroes. We have armor — oh boy, do we have armor — for characters who should not wear armor. You’ll find color schemes that make no sense for the character. There are costumes that existed for but the briefest moment and have never returned.

Come with me to the runaway as I explain why I like them, liked them, and/or think we might want to give them another shot. Please, though, no flash photography.

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Black Widow: The Grey Costume

Marvel Alternate Costumes- Black Widow
Natasha pops a collar in her grey costume because she knows a nice popped collar is always in. (Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

When Al Milgrom put Black Widow in grey, it felt like a counterintuitive choice, certainly. The spider her alias comes from is not grey. The color of her alias also happens not to be grey. And yet, the choice to put Natasha in grey was made.

The thing is, though, the costume is legit good. It is sleek for a character for whom sleekness is essential. It also manages to look good. Most costumes that are predominantly a single color from collar to toe need a belt or other splash of color near the waist to break things up a bit. Natasha’s costume accomplishes a rare feat here. I also quite love the hourglass logo placement being off-center. So many logos end up in the middle of the chest or on the belt buckle; Natasha’s stands out as different.

Finally, the giant spider on the back. I confess I could take it or leave it. But, again, it is unique. For one, it is quite large. For another, it both feels detailed enough to be completely unique from any other spider logos and yet still simple enough to be easily and accurately recreated by any number of artists with vastly different styles.

Daredevil: The Armored Costume

Marvel Alternate Costumes- Upside Down DD
The Man Without Fear, Daredevil himself, shows off the versatility of his armored costume. Good for night time meetups and mid-air stretches! (Courtesy of Marvel Comics.)

I warned you some of these would be controversial, didn’t I?

The thing about the Scott McDaniel created armored costume is that no one is wrong to say “it doesn’t feel like Daredevil” or “the red suit is better.” I acknowledge both criticisms and pretty much agree. But that doesn’t actually make it a bad costume.

For one, the costume’s purpose was, in part, to feel different — to be a bit unsettlingly off — for ol’ Hornhead. During “Fall From Grace,” Matt found himself in the midst of a crisis. In order to survive, he faked his death and re-christened himself Jack Batlin. Living as a con artist, acting as though he could see, and growing increasingly brutal and cynical, the change in his presentation to the world reflected his inner turmoil.

From a design standpoint, I confess I think this costume looks cool. Despite the chaotic collision of multiple colors, they seem to work together. It should be noted it seems as though a definitive choice was never made about what the dominant color of the costume is. Some colorists made it black, others navy, others still grey. The success of the armored costume did vary with that choice: black the most successful choice and grey, in my opinion, the least.

The armored costume also maintained the most distinctive elements of the Daredevil look. Even though it was very different, it still immediately evoked “The Man without Fear.” Lose the horns or the double DD on the chest — also off-center like Natasha’s — and I would likely feel far less charitable towards it.

Dr. Strange: The Darkhold Costume

Marvel Alternate Costumes- Dr. Strange
The Darkhold look comes complete with some chunky green bling to drive the baddies wild with jealousy. (Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

I know that, eventually, a storyline revealed this to be something more complicated than an alternate costume. I also know I recall almost nothing about that story save this look came to be known as “Paradox.”

Essentially creator Melvin Rubi modified the “superhero” version of the Dr. Strange costume, smartly taking it farther. The problem with the earlier “superhero” version was that it was virtually the same suit Dr. Strange always had — same design, same coloring — except that they slapped a kind of generic blue mask on Strange’s mug.

Here, however, the suit still evokes the mystical doc’s look, but dims the colors and puts some real effort in the mask. Additionally, the mask’s look tied into a lot of the iconography occurring in several of the mystical books of that moment: GHOST RIDER, MORBIUS, THE DARKHOLD REDEEMERS. By matching the general design sense of the time, Rubi hinted that this costume change carried deeper implications.

The Doctor of the time had grown increasingly remote and distant from people, allies included. The muted colors and evocative mask reflected this. In function, it felt like Dr. Strange was slipping away from the larger world right before the reader’s eyes. Him giving up his role or using it for personal gain felt very real because the costume emphasized how much less we knew about him now than ever before.

Firestar: The Leather Jacket and Yellow Visor Costume

Marvel Alternate Costumes- Firestar Second try
Firestar is sporting the kind of costume that will leave you screaming…in delight! (Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

First, it must be noted that creator Darick Robertson paired this costume with a leather jacket. It was the fashion of the time; that time being the early 90s. I have…mixed feelings about it.

However, the bodysuit, gloves, boots, and, yes, sunglasses/visor I am for. This came about almost as a surprise to me because I remember thinking it was a garish look back when the costume debuted. Either my taste has gotten better or worse. I’m sure better…yeah…definitely.

Let me start by defending those yellow shades. I know lots of people hate the sunglasses instead of a mask look. Myself, I’m generally more pro it. The glasses are functional. Firestar gives off microwave radiation that ignites the air around her so her eyes would constantly be adjusting to bright flashes of flame. The visor would limit the shock and distraction of that.

As for the rest? I like the color combination. I am a sucker for pirate boots. It does not sexualize Firestar in the way her next costume, with its deep V, would. Lastly, until recently, her most well-known, nearly all yellow costume just looked terrible colored on the page.

Invisible Woman: Redesigned Four/ “Heroes Return” Costume

Marvel Alternate Costumes- Invisible Woman
Unstable molecules? More like fashionable ones! You’ll agree when Invisible Woman reappears in this costume. (Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

About a year after the Fantastic Four returned to the main universe from the Heroes Reborn universe, they had the largest tweak to their costumes since, well, before they left for the Reborn universe. Invisible Woman, however, had been consistently changing her uniform since the days she was known as Invisible Girl. Sometimes those changes were fine, if minor, as when she dropped the long sleeves. At other times, they were severe and ill-advised. See the cut out 4 “swimsuit” costume if you have not yet had encountered one of the most stunningly poor costume changes in comic history.

Artist Salvador Larocca’s change, however, I really liked for her. The white redesigned “4” against a field of dark blue, white, and classic Fantastic Four blue rarely made an impact on the other three. Johnny being on fire tended to obscure it. The Thing went shirtless most of the time, as is his wont. Lastly, Mr. Fantastic’s powers shifted, stretched, and shrunk the four, interfering with the look.

Sue, however, presented the image as intended and it looked cool. A subtle update that respected the original look but felt more of the time period the book existed in.

Some critiques exist on the internet that argue that the costume made her look a bit chestier. It’s a fair point, but I think that is more a matter of the artist than the suit design.

Iron Man: Model 42 Armored Costume

Marvel Alternate Costumes- Iron Man
Iron Man strikes a pose in a uniquely colored costume sure to turn heads and break jaws. (Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

I’m a sucker for palette swapped Iron Man costumes. But, you may find yourself saying at this moment, “Iron Man has tons of armors that look very ‘Iron Man’ but in different colors.”

This is true.

Now, sensing you might have me on the ropes, you may attempt to finish me off with a “So why choose this one of all armors, Tim?”

Aha! Now you have fallen for my trap!

Of all the other armors, I cannot remember one time Iron Man tried to make this combination of colors work: a duller yellow, a black that sometimes took on a brown hue in some lights/colorists’ hands, and almost no red except at from the circles at his joints and on his chest. This costume, from artist Carlo Pagulayan, just completely works for me. The layout of the colors, how different the colors make the otherwise incredibly traditional Iron Man design feel.

Your criticism that Iron Man has other cool armors I could have chosen is not wrong. This one, however, was his main armor for an incredibly brief time before being immediately forgotten. So it felt like the absolute right choice for this list.

Jean Grey: The Revolution Costume

Marvel Alternate Costumes- Jean Grey
Jean Grey’s red-and-yellow costume screams, “You say you want a revolution!” and then she gives you that evolution. (Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

Jean Grey is another character with a lot of different costumes that often look very similar to other versions of her costume. This is not her best red-and-yellow costume, for sure. That, of course, would be her Dark Phoenix look.

Adam Kubert, however, crafted a red-and-yellow look that managed to be different enough from the classic Phoenix look while still evoking it. I like the style of the large yellow bird that connects with the yellow in other portions of the costume. I also appreciate that this is clearly a heroic costume. The Dark Phoenix suit will always code as villainous no matter how far we get away from that event. This red-and-yellow one, however, has no such baggage. The yellow even seems aware of the being the case as it is a brighter, shinier shade.

I could take or leave the head sock, but, boy oh boy, do mutants love head socks.

Once again, like with Iron Man, a big reason this costume makes the list is how quickly it came and went and how easily forgotten it is. I’d argue this is an even better look for her than Iron Man’s armor is for him. What makes the armor cool is how different it is. This look feels like it was built to last; to be different but also honoring the character’s past look.

Jessica Jones: The Knightress Costume

Marvel Alternate Costumes- Knightress Unshadowed
Jessica Jones shows us her semi-dark side in the Knightress costume. We’d have to wait for the leather jacket to see her go really dark. (Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

When we think “Jessica Jones,” we tend to think of her in street clothes or, if told to describe her superhero era, the white, blue, and purple Jewel costume. Knightress tends to get lost in the mix. Even when she recounts her past superhero life in ALIAS #25-26 and PULSE #14, Jessica only touches on Knightress and is clearly dismissive of it. However, I’d argue that dismissiveness is all about her attitude and approach at the time. The costume should be considered innocent of all charges.

Given what she had gone through, I think Jones’s conclusion that Jewel no longer fit her makes perfect sense. Even now, her rocking that costume would seem bizarre, inappropriate, or a joke depending on context.

The Michael Gaydos created Knightress costume, though? It still has juice in it. For one, the mask evokes other classic Marvel costumes like Jean Grey’s Marvel Girl. The point of Knightress was that Jones was trend-chasing, motivated by her feeling that she was out of step with the superhero community. Thus, using a throwback mask while trying to be up to date is a nice nod to her tendency to be just off. The sash feels like a nod to her good friend Carol Danvers’ Ms. Marvel look. Lastly, the colors in that configuration are unusual for Marvel characters, thus making it a unique look

I don’t think Jessica should wear it again, of course. But I love the idea of a new hero taking on the look and name for their own use.

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Namor: The Savage Spikes Costume

Marvel Alternate Costumes- Namor
Namor invites you to count the skulls in his armored costume. (Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

A huge part of my affection for this look undoubtedly should be owed to the fact that the artist I most associate it with is armor creator Jae Lee. I love Jae Lee’s work, even this earlier, not as good era.

The spikes — in contrast to Firestar’s glasses — serve zero practical purposes. Swimming in armor should never be considered an option unless one literally has no other choice. Please keep that in mind as we enter the summer here in the Western Hemisphere above the equator.

However, for Namor, it makes total sense. Namor during this period was angry — even angrier than usual — and wildly violent. It is entirely consistent with the Submariner’s history for him to go totally overboard and don spiked armor — while wearing the green scale speedo — to make a point.

What really makes the armor extra, though, is that when you look closely at it, you realize those are not just black swirls on yellow. There are stylized skulls hidden throughout it! SKULLS! Namor does not know how to go halfway on anything.

I should admit, I have no use for the Submariner’s hair design during this time. Give me the tight fade or the ponytail or give me death! Ok, well don’t give me death but you get me, yes?

Spider-Man- The “No One Dies” Armored Costume

Marvel Alternate Costumes- Spidey
Spider-Man shatters the glass with this hot armored costume look. (Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

Of all of Spider-Man’s alternate looks, this may be my favorite. Seriously. Favorite ever.

I am normally not a fan of the stories in which Spider-Man gets so mad he stops joking. See the 90s stories where he repeatedly called himself “The Spider.”

This story, however, worked. Reeling from another bout of “too many deaths,” Spidey finds himself about to face a villain, Massacre, whose whole shtick boils down to “shooting guns a lot.” Angry and subconsciously looking for an excuse to go brutal, the Webhead eschews his usual agility focused approach and decides to go full bull in a china shop.

The Marcos Martin designed armor reflects this perfectly. For one, it is as scary a Spider-Man costume as you’ll find. The incredibly narrow eyes, colored a dull yellow, the grey-on-black color scheme, and how the helmet limits the Webslinger’s facial movements makes him look dangerous. Plus, if he needs to lean back on his agility, this armor, unlike previous iterations, allows him to still move like Spider-Man.

Beyond reflecting the mission, the design itself is just excellent. I love the yellow piping throughout; it adds a dynamic bright line which emphasizes how dark the rest of the suit is. The way the armor looks as it moves in and out of the light and the ways the webs break up the design to reveal why Spider-Man can still move fluidly are also both functionally and aesthetically appealing.

Unlike other costumes that Spider-Man would wear during this era — the Sonic suit, another set of armor, the Superior Spider-Man look — this one seems to have been quickly forgotten. That’s a real shame.

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Vision- The Spectral Iteration Costume

Marvel Alternate Costumes- Vision
Vision is never afraid to wear white after Labor Day because, damn, look how good he looks. (Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

This is an example of a look wonderfully invoking a character’s era. Even as I hate the version of the character it evokes, I still have to appreciate the look.

When John Byrne began writing Vision, he had a real problem with the idea of a feeling robot. To paraphrase the possibly apocryphal but largely accepted quote, he thought the relationship between Wanda and Vision was like a woman “making sweet love” (Byrne used a different, more colorful expression) to a toaster. Vision, however, had made great advances towards acting human. Too many advances to make Byrne’s belief accurate to the comics at that moment. Still, Byrne wanted his unfeeling robot. Thus came “Vision Quest” in AVENGERS WEST COAST with the synthezoid suffering a terrible injury and losing his capacity to feel. With that loss, the color metaphorically drained from Vision’s life: figuratively and literally.

Again, hate the character choice, but there is no question that the look eerily reflected Vision’s new reality.

Plus, to make a wild prediction, I think we might see a version of this look in the next AVENGERS film. Unfounded guess, but I’m putting my marker down now.

War Machine: Iron Man Model 39 Costume

Marvel Alternate Costumes- War Machine
War Machine gets those deep knee bend in while wearing this circuitry inspired costume. (Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

“Another Iron Man armor,” you exclaim. Don’t pretend you didn’t. I heard you.

But actually, this armor by Salvador Larocca was worn by Jim “Rhodey” Rhodes so I consider it an alternate version of a War Machine costume. My list, my rules, folks. Live with it.

In any case, previous attempts to change War Machine’s costume involved either incredibly minor adjustments within the existing black-and-grey armor or a hideous alien costume design. The former was so small as to be essentially the same armor. The latter was a mistake that we must never ever repeat. Ever.

This look, though, cracks the code. Very different in a visually appealing way and yet still distinctly Stark-derived armor. The disconcerting look of the glowing half gold mask amongst all the black is an excellent choice for War Machine. He would be intimidating now just on the basis of his mug, nevermind his tactical payload.

Give the costume some massive guns on it, and I’d support this being Rhodes current look no question. Heck, without the guns I would too, but I get he needs them for that true War Machine-vibe.

Wasp: UNCANNY AVENGERS Dress Costume

Marvel Alternate Costumes- Wasp
Wasp DRESSES (get it!) for superhero success in this stunner costume. (Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

One of Wasp’s things is that she changes her costume constantly. This is not an overstatement. I’m hard-pressed to identify anyone in Marvel history who can come close to the number of costumes she’s used in her time as a hero. Only Iron Man comes close, I think.

Therefore, her history is littered with costumes used once or twice And I think we can all agree that most of them were, well, terrible. Additionally, the gold and black number from the naughty aughties is her best look, far and away.

This Pepe Larraz number, which uses the same color scheme, is a nice compromise, though. The colors, again, work excellently for the character and evoke that best costume.

However, it is also a dress, a unique feature of many of Wasp’s costume. As a fashion designer, Wasp often created costumes that were one step removed from what could be worn to a club opening. This meant that more than any other hero for Marvel, she frequently fought crimes in dresses and skirts. This outfit nods to that history as well.

So the costume looks good, evokes the colors of her best costume, and does not ignore her fashion design career. She only wore it for about a cup of coffee beginning in UNCANNY AVENGERS #10 and was gone by the end of the series. So while Jan almost never looks backwards with her costume choices, maybe she should give this one another shot.

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More Costumes to Love

Obviously, this list does not approach all the Marvel heroes costumes sported that should have been praised more in their time or remembered more clearly today. If you have any thoughts as to what I missed, please include them in the comment section below or feel free to email them to me at timstevens@comicsverse.com.

Additionally, I’ll be back soon with similar reviews of Marvel villain costumes, DC hero costumes, and DC villain costumes. If you want to get ahead of the game or try to be an influencer, feel free to reach out to me about those costumes, too.

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