A lot of thought and effort needs to be put into designing a superhero. The costume makes them stand out from the crowd, and gives a strong indication of who they are. When done right, you have a character who can be identified on the spot with bold visual impact. However, not every design is knocked out of the park on the first printing. Some characters needed to be sent back for revisions. Below are some extremely well designed heroes, and the costumes they burned long ago.
Wolverine's classic tiger-striped blue and yellow costume is memorable to just about anyone familiar with the X-Men. This costume premiered in Giant Size X-Men #1, Wolverine's second appearance. So what did he wear on his first outing?
This is an example of one detail making or breaking a design. The mask just doesn't have any impact. Instead of evoking whiskers, like originally intended, the lines around the mouth seem like a construction detail. To me, they've always looked like the elastic waistband from a pair of underwear.
Much like popsicles and potato chips, Wolverine's iconic mask was created completely by accident. Cover artist Gil Kane didn't properly consult his reference material, and regular artist Dave Cockrum liked the mistake so much that he kept it. Without this unintentional stroke of brilliance, Wolverine may have looked too goofy to be taken seriously and become the force he is today.
Daredevil's solid red costume keeps things simple, relying on it's outline and the bold association between red and both action and Matt Murdock's devil theme. It makes sense for a blind superhero to fashion a monochromatic costume, allowing him to use his enhanced sense of touch to worry about shape, but not factoring in an element that he cannot perceive. The billy club also is an interesting element, with multiple configurations allowing for interesting fight choreography.
So how did the defender of Hell's Kitchen dress before his redesign?
That's right, in bright yellow. Artist Wally Wood made the observation that it seemed a little off for a character billed as "The Man Without Fear" to dress in the color commonly used to symbolize fear, and changed his design to the red costume we know today. The leotard piece, though evoking Matt's pro boxer father in it's time, would today evoke a women's one-piece bathing suit. The upgrade from the single D to the double D design also helps to give Daredevil more of a logo than a generic typeset.
Sometimes a costume is great on it's own, but simply doesn't work in the context of the book it's used in. Case in point, Kid Flash. His iconic costume is a red and yellow bodysuit that evokes the same sense of speed as his mentor and ties in with it's color scheme. It's so successful that it's in use on Young Justice with only an updated logo and the addition of a pair of goggles. So what was wrong with Wally's original costume?
Carmine Infantino's Flash costume is one of the best designed superhero costumes of all time, ranking right up there with Steve Ditko's Spider-Man. What's not as inspired is putting his sidekick in the exact same outfit. It requires the reader to constantly stop and check scale and facial details to be sure which character they're reading, breaking the pace and immersion of the comic.
Fortunately for the kid, Barry shot a Tim Gunn Ray out of his chest that gave KF a more fitting costume.
Warren Worthington III, the winged X-Man known as Angel (and later Archangel) has one of the handful of costumes created in the sixties that can stand up today without any alterations. It's sleek, with a simple logo and a clever cutting of the white elements around the neck and shoulders to evoke his wings. It needs no alterations, but has taken to the ones it has received extremely well, with the blue sometimes being traded out for red and the head piece often being removed. It works with both his white and blue skinned forms, as well as with his feathered and metal wings. Warren started out in the traditional Jack Kirby designed X-Men team uniform, and was the only X-Man to get a new uniform between the introduction of the individual graduation costumes and the original cancellation of the book. Why did he need that redesign, when none of his teammates did?
Yeeeeeeeeaaaaaahhhh..... that's why. While using all of the primary colors can be striking on characters like Superman and Wonder Woman, here it comes off as garish. The striped cuffs are over designed, and the suspender stripes just make him look like pigeon Urkel.
Of course, he wouldn't learn to just stick with what works. When Warren formed the short lived Champions of Los Angeles with Iceman, Hercules, Ghost Rider and Black Widow, this is what he wore:
It certainly doesn't evoke an Angel. More like a bad eighties workout video.
Simon Williams was caught embezzling from his family's company that was failing due to competition from Tony Stark, and accepted a bargain with the Masters of Evil to infiltrate and destroy the Avengers in exchange for powers and freedom. He eventually decided to stand by the Avengers, and seemingly died due to lack of treatments from his former villainous masters. He would eventually return from the dead, join the Avengers, and start an acting career. There's something very Hollywood about Wonder Man's simple black and red design and it's sunglasses. But, like the rest of the characters on this list, it wasn't struck on right away. Here's what he first looked like:
As Luke Cage would say, Sweet Christmas! The red and green color palette's association with the holidays is so entrenched in the minds of American's that it's not a wise choice for a superhero who doesn't secretly operate out of Santa's Workshop.
And of course, some people......
take a long time.....
The DC Universe
While technically not the same characters, the names for many of DC's Golden Age heroes were re-purposed and redesigned as the basis for their Silver Age lineup. Superhero comics fell out of favor with readers after World War II, causing DC to cancel all but their best selling trio of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. In the mid 1950's, it was time for a revival with classic characters such as the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and the Atom receiving space age makeovers to reflect the more scientific bend of Cold War America. And with the new origins and secret identities came new costumes.
Barry Allen's sleek red Flash costume replaced Jay Garrick's mythically inspired getup. Test pilot Hal Jordan gained a sleek, authoritarian Green Lantern uniform as opposed to engineer Alan Scott's caped costume that looked like crayola was paying his artist by the color and once again, was far too Christmasy. Katar Hol, a space cop from Thanagar replacing his Pharaoh-reincarnated-as-an-archeologist counterpart, would have more modest improvements over Carter Hall's Hawkman costume, including a new logo and finally settling on a mask design that worked. Shrinking college professor Ray Palmer would replace diminutive student scrapper Al Pratt as the Atom, and bring a simple red and blue spandex costume to replace the predecessor's bare legged caped costume with a plunging neckline.
Of course, it wouldn't be fair to talk about the missteps of professional artists without allowing you a peak behind the curtain and showing some of Cockroach Man's earlier looks. Though the original drawings were incomprehensible childhood scribblings, I've reconstructed some of Cockroach Man's designs from his earliest incarnations below. Enjoy!