Comics’ Best Alternate Looks: Part 1

My wife and I just recently moved into a new house. The house-shopping process took… a very long time. We got to the point where we figured we were cursed. But eventually, the stars aligned, and we were able to both buy a new home and sell our old one.

During the shopping process, we became close with our realtor at the time, and she quickly realized there wasn’t all that much that we were looking for. A garage would be nice. The location between our jobs was a priority. But our biggest must-have was a place where we could host our annual Halloween party, so there had to be parking and enough space to entertain.

My wife in particular loves Halloween. It is a pretty great holiday, I will admit. There’s candy, for starters! And I love candy. But there’s also the costumes. For not being someone who has ever cared much about comics, my wife really loves dressing up like comic book characters for Halloween. And god bless her, I love her for that, too. Black Cat, Warbird, Cheetarah, and Rogue in recent years? Great stuff!

There’s something neat about going out and dressing up elaborately in a manner you don’t usually get to in your day-to-day life when it is Halloween. Whether you disguise yourself as a favorite character or a clever pun or just a classic theme, it’s all a blast.

And even the fictional characters who wear weird costumes year-round seem to agree! In the world of comics, where some of our favorite characters wear crazy outfits all year, there is a lot of wardrobe changing going on. Sometimes it is plot-driven, sometimes an incoming creative team just wants to give a new take on the formula, but there are a lot of alternate looks in the comic world.

Let’s take a look at a few of the best.

Spider-Man has such an iconic look. When Steve Ditko designed Spidey, he really knocked it out of the park and designed a lasting look. When you see Spidey, you think, “there’s a look that can’t be topped”.

AND YET… Spidey (and his clones, pals, and multiversal versions) have had some fantastic other designs over the years! It’s crazy to think how many different great Spidey costumes there have been over the years. Hell, a ways back, I ranked some of JUST Spidey’s various outfits! But what did I say was the best?

Spider-Man 2099 #39 Very Fine (8.0) [Marvel Comic ...

Look, it’s hard, and if you said “The black/symbiote costume”, I wouldn’t blame you one lick. That is a GREAT design. It’s legendary. But for my money? I have always been enamored of the Miguel O’Hara duds. It’s viciously intimidating while still feeling classically Spidey. And I love what it does with the eyes, man. It’s a terrific allusion to the basic look while also being entirely different.

Respect shout-outs to the symbiote, the Scarlet Spider hoodie look, Miles’ outfit, and so many others! Like I said, Spidey is a guy of dozens of stellar get-ups.

Superman is as difficult to choose a great secondary costume for as Spider-Man is, but for the complete opposite reason. Supes’ duds are irreplaceable, and there has never been a stand-out re-imagining of his look. What are some of the options? Electro-Superman? Whoof. Post-Return long-haired Superman? I actually really liked that, but ultimately it’s just a haircut. The one-off battle costumes he wore in Hunter/Prey or Superman Unchained? Who really remembers those?

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Haha, I don’t know; I just think this costume is hilariously on-brand. He actually has a hammer-and-sickle as his emblem! That’s be like if Siegel and Shuster put an eagle and a Big Mac on the original Superman.

But it works. It’s Commie Superman, and you know that right away by looking at him. It’s a shame they didn’t really Red it up and invert the color scheme so there was more Russian Red than blue, but oh well. I like the darkening of the colors, too. Makes him feel more conflicted!

I do actually have two solid runners-up for Superman: Kingdom Come Kal-El with his red bar instead of a real, defined S on his chest, and Konner Kent’s black T-shirt look, which really worked for that character when Geoff Johns got his hands on him.

The Hulk is a character who has a bunch of different looks, but it’s more in having physical forms than in a vast wardrobe. Sometimes he is taller or more feral or a different color, though. For a character most easily described as “big, green, monstrous”, he has had a wide variety of appearances.

joe fixit | Tumblr

Ignoring the atypical gray skin which is a striking difference itself, there’s something about Sharp Dressed Hulk that is a wonderful contradiction of styles. An enormous, bulky beast wearing a full suit and knowing full well that because of his lifestyle, it’s going to end up shredded. How much money would “Joe Fixit” have to drop on attire in a year? You know those suits are custom-made and cost a fortune to begin with!

This Hulk is also somewhat more relatable than others. He’s usually drawn as a bit shorter than the usual Banner behemoth. He has a normal vocabulary that is neither grunts and “HULK SMASH” nor the scientific ramblings of the more Banner-ized Hulks. This is the Hulk you’d go out drinking with. It wouldn’t end well, but… it might be fun for a while!

Nothing is quite as snazzy as Fixit, but some other good looks are Planet Hulk’s gladiator gear and Bunny-Slippers-And-Big-90’s-Guns Hulk. I hope Hulk is in the upcoming Avengers game and has that as a choosable skin.

Batman is a tough one because… what the hell do you consider an alternative look for The Bat? He has about 50 different outfits that are variants on the same thing: blue and gray, black and gray, fat bat emblem, yellow circle emblem, long ears, short ears. One can look very different from another, but there are, like, 18 baby step changes on the way there!

Even a lot of the variant Bat-looks you can think of aren’t designs Bruce himself wore; they were the garbs of others who took up the mantle. But with that in mind, there’s an easy top dog:

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Terry McGuinness’ Batman [Beyond] costume has a sharp red-and-black color scheme and an unrealistic-yet-incredibly-stylish solid design with no seams or separation whatsoever. How does he get into it? What parts are connected to what? Who knows and who cares; it looks tight!

This look also gives a more aerodynamic and agile feel to Terry than a lot of Bruce’s gear has for him. This looks like a character that should be soaring from point to point or acrobatically dodging bullets.

Back-ups? Thomas Wayne’s Flashpoint Batman suit (I love red and black!).

There are a plethora of great Green Lantern looks, to the point that the basic suit has always looked silly to me. An interstellar police force is cruising around in skintight, bright spandex? Why? Hal’s costume may be the staple of GL attire, but a lot of looks do it better. The people who think Hal has a great costume are the same folks that think the Indianapolis Colts have the best NFL uniforms; they lack imagination.

My gut reaction is to say Kyle Rayner’s early costume as the best, but that might be the Kyle fan in me talking. It’s a solid choice–and better than the Hal/basic look by miles–but whereas Hal’s outfit looks weird for being so skimpy, Kyle’s is a touch bulky.

Another consideration would be Guy Gardner’s flappy jacket look. It is the happy medium between Hal’s skimpiness and Kyle’s armored look. It’s functional and distinctive. Not bad. But a GREAT look? Nah.

So we’re giving this spot to a look that is both bold without feeling overbearing, and classic without being dorky. One that says, I may the GREEN Lantern, but I don’t live and die by the theme.

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Lastly today, let’s take a look at a hero whose very nature makes frequent costume changes a necessity: Iron Man. When your only hope of fighting crime is to use the most cutting edge technology available at any given time, you are going to update a LOT.

But being the newest armor doesn’t always mean it’s the best. Case in point with Iron Man’s best look…

See the source image

I have always had an affinity for that look, and I don’t know why. It’s just a version of the Silver Age look with some tweaks and some silver where the gold should be. But man, I just loved it. It was somehow much more striking, and it read as more realistic than the cartoon colored classic look.

The Hulkbuster armor is worth consideration here because if you can make a mammoth anti-Hulk armor… why wouldn’t THAT be your default?

So of those heroes mentioned, what are your favorite occasional looks? I know there are a lot of heroes left to consider who have had many fancy designs, but I’ll get to them on another day. Give me some ideas… who should I talk about next?

Until next time… take care!

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