Here at SYFY WIRE, it’s no secret that we enjoy celebrating the things that we love. Sometimes that takes the form of unranked lists. To us, that’s love.
Join us as our entire staff celebrates anything and everything in genre through our series of “25 Greatest from the last 25 years” lists. They are all unranked, because all of the people, movies, shows, comics, props (and so on) have equal standing for us.
“Clothes maketh man” didn’t originally come from a comic book, but it could easily be applied to the world of superheroes. Sure, powers are great, but if they’re not paired with a snazzy outfit, you’re not getting the front-page press. The past 25 years have seen some stellar costume designs come through – here’s a list of our favorites.
In its first appearance, the creature that would become Venom was just black goop that replaced Spider-Man’s costume in the original Secret Wars. Oh, how the little symbiote has grown since then. It was separated from Peter Parker and became its own character based on the hosts to which it was bonded, most notably Eddie Brock, and was a mainstay villain for decades. In 2011, it became an agent of the US Government and bonded to soldier and longtime Spider-Man supporting character, Flash Thompson, who had lost his legs in Iraq. The symbiote and Thompson became Agent Venom, with the alien growing “legs” for Thompson while he is bonded. So as not to give into the symbiote’s more chaotic side, Thompson is only able to be Agent Venom for 48 hours at a time. But what an addition he has become! A militaristic version of Venom with eyes more like goggles and 100% less slobbery tongue, as well as the ability to form extra “arms” to increase Thompson’s shooting skills? This is a one-man/symbiote army all on its own.
“Neo-Gotham”- the word instantly conjures up a futuristic vibe, one in which there is a place for a new Batman. Welcome to the year 2039 and enter Terry McGinnis, a 16 year-old whose parents are murdered. Seeing the time has come to pass on the cowl, Bruce Wayne decides to take Terry under his care and give him training and a cowl of his own. This was the first incarnation of a teenaged Batman, and with its futuristic setting, tweaks were made. But Bruce Timm gave Terry just the right look to take Batman…uh, beyond the previous costumes. The cape was replaced with high tech retractable wings, the ears elongated, and the new Dark Knight outfit was even darker with a pitch black suit and a blazing red bat-emblem on the chest. This was truly a new Batman for a new age.
Who knew Gotham had a hip side of town? A suburb known as “Burnside” is where young folk (and heroes) liked to hang, so with the de-aging of Barbara Gordon to a teen in New 52, it made sense Babs would follow…but with a new suit. A trendier, almost DIY costume debuted in Batgirl #35, and it was both fashionable and functional. With snap-gloves, a snap-on/off cape, leather jacket, and yellow Doc Martins, this was a Batgirl ready to ditch the spandex crowd and be more realistic.
Captain America Sam Wilson
Steve Rogers’s long history as Captain America saw his fair share of costume tweaks, but when the time came for an aged Steve to retire and Sam Wilson to adopt the mantle, Sam opted for a winged look, instead. A call-back to his long-time heroic career as the Falcon, the wings gave him his own twist on the costume while allowing Sam to fill Steve’s boots exceptionally well (especially when Steve made a heel turn and became the Supreme Leader of Hydra). Now that Steve Rogers (the real one) is back and will be taking over as Cap, Sam will be returning to fly as the Falcon once more. It will be interesting to see how his time as Captain America will have affected his upcoming return to that costume.
Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers McKelvie design)
To say this was a controversial change at the time would be an understatement. When Carol Danvers left behind the Ms. Marvel identity and took on the more militaristic Captain Marvel moniker, a change in look was needed. To reflect this military style, Jamie McKelvie decided to give her a more practical look to fit the part of a soldier, including shortly cropped hair. Although it took some adjustment for some fans, the look is now one of the more popular costumes Carol has had.
House of M Hawkeye
When the Scarlet Witch pronounced “No more mutants” and remade the world in Magneto’s image, she also subconsciously undid one of her most tragic actions- the death of Hawkeye during Avengers Disassembled. When Clint Barton stepped out of the shadows in the House of M world, fans lost it. Not only was he wearing his classic purple costume, but it had some pretty nifty updates courtesy of Olivier Coipel. The purple armor on one arm mixed with some real-life archery gear gave the remade Hawkeye the perfect look. Although he would be “unmade” in House of M, Wanda’s magic managed to bring him back in our reality…as the sword-wielding Ronin. It would be years before we saw him in his classic costume again (and then change into just a t-shirt and jeans look), but it was fantastic to see the Avenging Archer restored.
Earth 2 Hawkgirl
Earth-2 is known for its various takes on heroes (as is almost any world in the DC multiverse), but Hawkgirl is definitely a departure from the DCU we know. Kendra Munoz-Saunders is a treasure hunter who was given her wings rather than them being a natural part of her biology. She is also African American rather than of the alien Thanagar race. In sticking with her pre-transformation skills, she also prefers the uses handguns in place of a mace and sword. She certainly made quite a splash when she debuted in this alternate take in 2012.
Earth 2 Jay Garrick
Pre- New 52, Jay Garrick was an aged man brought to the main DC Universe from Earth-2, bucket helmet and all, and the leader of the JSA. But with everything changed in New 52, Jay was no exception. Now a young man, Jay “Jason” Garrick’s costume retained some of the same elements, such as the large lightning bolt across his chest and blue pants, but gone was the metal bucket helmet. In its place was a sleeker helmet that wrapped around his head and had a clear visor. The lightning bolts that extended came from the use of the Speed Force rather than the pre-New 52 ornamentation. This was a younger Earth-2 Flash for a new generation.
C’mon. Hulk + armor + a mace and shield? Talk about your upgrade from torn purple pants. Forced to fight in a gladiatorial arena for sport, Hulk needed more than just his fists, and thus an instantly classic look was born. And now, it’s very soon to be seen on the silver screen! ‘Nuff said.
Harley Quinn (Classic Look)
Once again, we return to the genius that is Bruce Timm. Twenty-four years ago, he, along with writer Paul Dini, created a love interest for, of all characters, the Joker. To fit that idea, they fashioned her in a harlequin-esque outfit that looked a lot like a playing card joker. The look and character became an instant hit and a perfect accomplice for her Mister J. Although her look has modified – and at times radically changed – in the comics and on the big screen, it’s the original that will always be our puddin’.
Damian Wayne Robin
When Bruce Wayne discovered he had a long-lost son, it was a shock not just to him, but to everyone. That the headstrong Damien Wayne would quickly take on the mantle of his father’s side-kick as Robin wasn’t a shock, but the teenaged rebel made sure he wasn’t just wearing hand-me-downs. His mask resembles that of the original Robin’s domino mask. Not to be out-darked by his father, though, he dons a cape with hood to help hide in the shadows while still wearing the yellow and red color combination. And the biggest deparure is his choice of weapon: A sword, as a nod to his mother, Talia al Ghul.
What more reason do you need us to give?
Moon Knight (Declan Shalvey)
Marc Spector’s look for nearly 30 years was pretty basic, with a touch of foreboding: white cape, white tights, crescent moon chest. In 2014, Warren Ellis along with artist Declan Shalvey took a much different approach to the character. Playing into the character's multiple personalities the creative team gave Moon Knight THREE separate looks. Each look served a different purpose for the Moon Knight's battles with the foreces of evil and each one was an inspired design by Declan Shalvey.
When Marvel introduced their first headlining Muslim character, they went all-in, giving her the recently freed name “Ms. Marvel.” A teen who idolized Carol Danvers (who had now become Captain Marvel), Kamala Khan took up the mantle to fight ne’er-do-wells using her Inhuman abilities. She fashioned her costume based on the lightning bolt theme Carol had used, but the design also incorporated the Muslim traditions of female modesty in public, with an outfit that covered her entire body. The character and costume were both instant hits, and like Spider-Gwen, one that became a favorite in the cosplay scene.
Nightcrawler from Age of Apocalypse
In 1995, the entire X-Men line was shunted into the Age of Apocalypse timeline. It was originally going to be the new status quo, so all of the characters got costume tweaks or overhauls to reflect the past that came with this alternate universe. One of the most memorable was Nightcrawler. Gone was the simple blue and red jumpsuit and short curly hair. Instead, Kurt Wagner had fully embraced the swashbuckler side of the pre-AoA Nightcrawler, brandishing two swords, a red stripe down his eye that resembled a patch or scar, and shaggy hair. It made for a more hardened blue devil that the one we had known for the twenty years leading up to it
Scarlet Witch (McKelvie look)
The one-piece bathing suit with cape and thigh-high boots (and sometimes leggings) look had been a mainstay for Wanda Maximoff (with a brief foray into a gypsy-inspired flowing gown look to reflect her heritage) since her introduction in the 1960s. But when the Scarlet Witch made her return to the world of superheroing post-House of M, she took on a more regal and modest look. Her red, full-length robe/dress with red pants and boots made her look slightly reminiscent of her father, Magneto (now retconned to not be her father). She may have looked more modest, but the look still turned many heads.
Shadowcat Age of Apocalypse
Remember how Age of Apocalypse changed character looks to reflect their hard-knock pasts? In the regular Marvel U, Kitty Pryde trained with Wolverine to become a ninja for a time and was often his sidekick. It seems fitting that that history is reflected in her AoA look. Gone was the late teen Kitty Pryde and in her place stood a more mature Shadowcat, complete with claws—Wolverine’s retractable claws strapped to her wrist, to be precise. Complete with short hair and an outfit that looked like she raided the Hellfire Club’s wardrobe, this was not the “Professor Xavier’s a jerk” growing pains Kitty any more.
1990s Shrinking Violet
The Legion of Super Heroes has an incredibly large cast and has been known to evolve and rotate, not just in terms of members, but in its looks, as well. One of the bigger changes came from one of the smallest members: Shrinking Violet (or Virus, Atom Girl or LeVIathan, depending on what year it is). Originally a ‘60s-mod green mini skirt, her look changed from skirt to body suit over time. It was in the ‘90s that Salu Digby took on the color scheme of her namesake, wearing a purple and black bodysuit, complete with hair bow and a little flower detail on her chest. It’s amazing what a color change (and the powers of the Emerald Eye of Ekron’s influence…a tale for another list) can do for one’s personality, as the shy introvert eventually became the Legion’s leader.
Even though Gwen Stacy on her Earth had been the one bitten by the radioactive spider and ended up fighting a Lizard version of Peter Parker (causing his death), she still managed to look the part of an iconic Spider-hero. Taking elements from Spider-Man’s costume (the big eyes and the slight web motif carefully placed) and combining it with tights and a hoodie, Spider-Gwen is instantly one of the top modern costume designs – and one that is relatively easy to cosplay, upping her fan-favorite status even more.
Spider-Man (Miles Morales)
The Ultimate Universe had done the unthinkable in their “Ultimatum” event: They killed Peter Parker! Enter Miles Morales. A bi-racial Afro-Hispanic teen who got his powers in much the same way as his predecessor, Miles first donned a costume very similar to the one worn by Peter Parker. He eventually thought the decision was in bad taste, so he had his own version made, one in good taste both in terms of honoring the fallen hero and in a fashion sense. The darker toned with red accents gave this a feeling of a true All New-All Different Ultimate Spider-Man. The character and costume both gave a fresh feeling to the alternate “Ultimate Universe” that distinctly set him apart from the mainstream Marvel Universe counterpart.
Annihilation Conquest Star Lord
This isn’t your Chris Pratt Star-Lord. When Peter Quill returned as Star-Lord in 2007 to play a central role in the Annihilation crossover, he was dressed and ready for some space battle. Wearing an almost World War II-era British officer look, including an overcoat, pants and boots, he also sported a helmet with a space age gas mask. This looked like a “Lord” ready to conquer the Annihilation Wave controlled by Annihilus. And defeat it he did, ushering in a new beginning for what’s hard to believe a former C-list character as the leader of the newly formed Guardians of the Galaxy. If you ask him, it’s because he’s just awesome.
Storm (this century mohawk version)
The ‘80s were a time of rebellion and self-discovery, and no movement symbolized that more than punk rock. With wild hairdos and leather and spikes, the “punk look” was immediately recognizable. When Storm went on a voyage of self-discovery of her own, she abandoned the Wind-Goddess look for a full-on punk rock mohawk look. It was popular for years until she grew it back. Recently, she sheared her long white locks again, this time opting to keep her more traditional costume and blend the two looks. Fans were delighted to see the iconic mohawk, and paired with her black caped look, she’s never looked more powerful.
With Otto Octavius’s mind transplanted into Peter Parker’s body, it would only make sense that Doctor Octopus would take some liberties with his new alter ego’s costume as the Superior Spider-Man. Abandoning the blue tones, he opted for a black and red look. The biggest addition was the inclusion of four mechanical arms that extended from the back. You can take the Doctor out of the Octopus, but you can’t seem to take the Octopus out of the man, it would seem.
Jane Foster Thor
After Thor Odinson lost his worthiness to wield Mjolnir and become Thor, God of Thunder, another was found worthy- this time a mysterious female. Her identity a secret for some time, until it was later revealed the woman behind the hammer was none other than Thor’s long-time friend and former lover Jane Foster. Jane had been dying of cancer, but as long as she remained in her Thor identity, the cancer was gone. Not only was this a clever plot device; it led to an instantly iconic take on the character. Armored, cloaked and with a face-covering helmet, Jane Foster’s Thor is truly mighty one to behold.
Wonder Woman Kingdom Come armor
Kingdom Come remains one of the greatest “Elseworlds” tales of the DC universe. Set in the future, where a war is brewing between heroes and vigilantes, it made sense for some characters to get upgrades to reflect the pending battle. The greatest of these changes was that of Wonder Woman. Her Earth-1 present day look had always had elements of an American defender in her color scheme and hints of an eagle emblazoned on her chest, but Kingdom Come Wonder Woman took that patriotism look to the extreme, donning winged armor with an eagle helmet and a partial American flag over her shoulder. She was transformed from an Amazonian warrior to a golden goddess.
Those were OUR choices from the last 25 years of Superhero costumes. Undoubtedly, you have some opinions about this, so please leave us any costumes from the last 25 years that you would wear.
And be sure to check out our complete "25 Greatest" lists here.