Superman & Spider-Man Getting Costume Changes: Creative Decision, or Marketing Scheme?

Recently it’s come to my attention that both Spider-Man and Superman have gotten new costumes. Regardless of their semi-permanence or not, the first thing that comes to my mind is always: Why? For Spider-Man, dude has had probably an entire closet full of costume changes, anything from the infamous (and creatively sound) Black Suit, to the stunningly forced and ugly Iron Spider suit from Civil War. You know, the one that was somehow bulletproof yet could be torn by glass. Superman on the other hand, seems to get a suit change every once in a while, until the editor who approved it realizes how stupid they were being and switches back to the iconic, perfect original suit.

Well anyhow, they’re at it again, this time Spider-Man gets a new suit for his debut in the brand new Spider-Man title, The Superior Spider-Man.

Picture via [Newsarama]

Spider-Man is pretty much the poster boy for superfluous suit changes. Every couple of years he seems to get a new suit change so I’m not surprised really. It’s no secret here at GB that I’m not the biggest Spider-Man fan, but even so I still have to say this new suit is just kinda weaksauce. It more or less seems the same, with the exception of a color palette swap, and maybe a few more minor changes that either aren’t visible or I haven’t noticed. At least with the Black Suit that was noticeably different, and worked on its own terms. On top of that, it had a good creative argument behind it. Spider-Man is inherently kind of stealthy character, and why would a guy like him wear such bright colors? Follow it up with the suits excellent reveal of actually being the living Symbiote that would create Venom, and you’ve got more than enough justification for a suit change. In that case, a writer had an idea that made sense, was new and interesting, and helped tell a good story. Time will tell as far as for the storyline implications of this new suit, but I don’t think it’d take much to successfully predict it’s not a fully creative decision. The new suit, the cancellation of Amazing Spider-Man and launch of this “Superior” Spider-Man, reeks of executive business decision. It looks and feels like something that was decided solely to try to get more readers and/or mainstream press about this sudden “new” suit change.

I think the problem with Spider-Man, in my opinion is that he’s a character ruled and governed with such executive care. Everything about him seems so obviously handled by a suit, making sure their cash cow isn’t somehow accidentally caught doing something original or daring. It’s the main reason why we keep getting endless origin stories of him, and sensationalist gimmick stories that don’t really do anything interesting. One More Day, his identity reveal/pro-reg siding in Civil War, and of course that most recent terrible movie, are all plagued by this. It’s one of the main reasons I hate costume changes in general, because it actively reminds me that the guys running these businesses, (and that’s what they are) are just trying to maintain IP security. Make sure people are talking about our character, no matter what! Any press is good press! Who cares if we color him in terrible red and gold and give him lots of useless extra limbs!

It’s like staring into a giant dumb lens flare. Or a J.J Abrams film. HEYOOOO.

But as much as I’d love to keep hating on Spider-Man all day, DC is also to blame for this same stupid tactic. In a lot of ways, Superman is victim to the same company paradigm that Spider-Man has. Protect the IP, raise character awareness, etc. The difference is, he generally gets far fewer costume changes, and due to his ironic modern lack of popularity, ends up with better stories. The people who writer Superman generally get to tell the stories they want to tell, and don’t have to follow any company mandates TOO hard, although occasionally you’ll end up with some real stinkers like the Superman Red/Blue outfits from years back. Of course, we’re talking about Superman’s most recent costume change, and really, it’s literally nothing we haven’t seen before.

Picture via [Newsarama]

Compare it the old black suit he wore from Return Of Superman, and a bunch of other things, and you’ll see it’s not a new design at all. They just added the red cape to it.

DC has always had trouble with Superman’s outfit in one way or another. It seems like every once in a while some idiot comes along and thinks they can improve it, or give him an outfit that will supersede the original in some way. As I mentioned earlier, the most egregious example of this is the Blue/Red suits, which were an embarrassment that DC and nearly all Superman fans would like to forget. So understand it brings me no pleasure to re-live this horrible outfit again by showing them here.

My eyes! The goggles do nothing!

Those costumes were from a TERRIBLE old storyline that involved Superman going into the sun, getting supercharged (whatever that means), and then needing the new suit to “contain” his powers. Then he split into two for… reasons. One was evil or something, and that’s about all I can remember before blood starts to violently leak from my nose and I pass out.

This isn’t the first time DC has made superfluous and needless costume changes. They did it very recently pre-New 52 with Wonder Woman, and gave her an idiotic, tacky 90’s jacket and some pants:

Damn the man!

Or the time they did that whole Azrael/Batman thing, after Knightfall happened:

But the thing is, we’ll keep getting new costume changes, because people will still buy the comics to see them, if only out of curiosity. We’ll have to deal with all of the slutty Invisible Women:

Stupid mohawk Storms: [Editor’s Note – Mohawk Storm was badass!]

And asinine Mr. Fixits:

Seriously, this happened. Hulk in a suit and fedora. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?

Because it’s a tactic that works. Very rarely is there ever any true creative incentive to actually change a long-established character’s costume, and when there is, it’ll still be met with controversy, and likely sales no matter what. In terms of a gamble, it’s kind of no brainer, because if it’s good, it’ll sell and fans will like it. A good example is Carol Danvers AKA Ms. Marvel, who’s had plenty of costume changes as written about here on GB. She ended up with a new costume that fared far better than her original costume, and is now arguably more iconic and representative of her than the one she started with. However, if the costume is bad, you’ll end up with a Superman situation, where the book sells but it ends up damaging the character, and the whole thing is looked back on as a huge mistake. In the short-term though, it all generates sales, and this is the main problem with the whole costume changing concept. Executives will just demand a costume change any time they see sagging numbers, and short of actually trying to tell a good story, will simple implement a costume change to see those numbers go up. It doesn’t always have to be a costume change, sometimes it’s a gimmicky story element, but more often than not it is.

It’s easier to get an artist to draw up a new suit, print a couple thousand comics with him on the cover, animate the tv show with him in it, license the look to an action figure company, and switch back later when the heat dies down. For every Ms. Marvel, we’re gonna get 10 other totally craptastic costume changes we’ll have to live through. Such is the life of being a comics fan.

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