Do you spend much time thinking about superhero costumes? Maybe not as much as I do.
Claim: few costumes designed are identifiable or classic. Certainly very few recent costumes.
What are the classics? Batman tops my list. But not many other DC characters. Superman is classic, but not actually great in my opinion. It is the template other mediocre costumes emulate.
Spider-Man works great. Iron Man, Captain America, Wolverine – my list is similar to the most popular heroes. But I’d add Daredevil, Moon Knight and Doctor Strange to the list too.
Other heroes are recognizable too: Hulk, Thing, the Human Torch, but their powers give them that instant identify.
Ok. Here is my theory. The best costumes work in silhouette. Addendum – a striking logo is a bonus.
My test case is Batman. Cape, cowl, gloves are all recognizable even in profile or shadow. The bat logo is striking too.
Spidey is the counter argument. The elements of Spider-man’s costume that work aren’t visible in silhouette. The eye pieces, the complicated web pattern, but mostly it is just a bodysuit – featureless in shadow.
But it obviously works. I’d say because other elements do work in silhouette. The way Spidey always crouches or clings to walls, the distinctive hand position and, of course, the webs. Even in shadow or profile Spidey works. (Artist often make the eyepieces highly reflective and almost luminous too.)
The others I list all have elements that work like that. The shield and ear wings, claws and cowl, blocky armour. On the others – Daredevil has the horns and billy club, Moon Knight is a Batman copy with a distinctive cowl and cape, Strange has the cape and hand positions.
After Batman my favourite DC costume is the Flash. It is mostly just a body suit except the wings. But artists always make the lightning details work into his speed effects. Like the Human Torch his powers make him distinctive.
But so many costumes are just bodysuit in different colours. Most original Xmen costumes are boring, but Angel, Iceman and Beast had power effects to make them distinctive. Magneto works though. Dave Cockrum did a good job on the all new Xmen.
Punisher is a boring bodysuit. But the silhouette is saved by the great logo.
Wonder Woman has a horrible costume. Distinctive accessories: tiara, bracelets and lasso but over a swimsuit.
Some that kinda work: Green Arrow – the bow and quiver and the cowl, but mostly a body suit. Iron Fist – great logo, bare chest and distinctive collar and cowl, but not much silhouette.
Anyway, back to my thesis, the best costumes are those that are identifiable by silhouette.