Debate Club: Best Superhero Costumes

Debate Club: Best onscreen superhero costumes

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Oct 10, 2018, 3:46 PM EDT (Updated)

Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.

In this week’s installment, we’re not so much ranking superheroes as we are giving props to their outfits. As iconic as comic book characters are, they’d be nothing without their costumes, which are as indelible as the heroes' personalities.

Even relatively mediocre superheroes — like, say, Green Lantern — sport super-cool wardrobes, but the best of the bunch communicate something elemental through their choice of getups. Narrowing this list down to five was really, really hard — there is a very good chance one of your favorites didn’t make the cut, which will make you mad.

For that we apologize: Fashion is inherently personal, and these are the costumes we dig the most.


Deadpool in Deadpool (2016)

Ryan Reynolds’ smartass performance as Wade Wilson is infinitely funnier because, when he’s dressed as Deadpool, we can't see his facial expressions. Every ironic quip and foul-mouthed tirade is delivered behind that deadpan mask of his — it's never not hilarious.

Of course, though, the mask has a deeper purpose. Horribly disfigured and wanting to hide from the world, Wilson has chosen a costume that makes him feel shielded but also reborn.

One other thought: More superheroes should rock a duffel bag when going into battle — it's just practical, people. Just be sure not to leave it in the cab, though.

Rorschach in Watchmen

Rorschach in Watchmen (2009)

It's such a brilliant idea for a mask that it’s amazing no one had ever done it before — one that has no definitive features but still conveys the emotions of the man wearing it.

And they are some pretty scary emotions: Rorschach is the darkest character in a book full of dark characters, and he's the most wholly original, a man fueled by rage and bent on punishment. By the time you realize what you're looking at, he's already destroyed you.

We have nightmares just thinking about this mask.

Black Panther, suit

Black Panther in Black Panther (2018)

The sleekest and most technological of all the Marvel costumes — save maybe Iron Man, and it's at least close — Black Panther reflects the superior technology of the Wakandan people, a suit that is made primarily for function... but of course looks really cool, too.

What is perhaps most impressive is how it avoids the potential silliness of a man dressed up like a cat: Black Panther's costume reflects the character but also is intimidating and rather terrifying to meet in close quarters. You could wear it to a fashion show, but also kick bad-guy ass with it.

Batman, The Dark Knight

Batman in The Dark Knight (2008)

Gotham's guardian has had a bunch of different costumes — never forget the bat nipples Joel Schumacher gave him in the 1990s — but his best look was in The Dark Knight, which emphasized a more military-style suit.

And yet, Batman doesn't seem indestructible — there remains a vulnerability and humanness that’s central to the character's appeal. Unlike so many other superheroes, Batman doesn't have actual powers — as he joked in Justice League, his only real power is he's rich — and so we never forget that, at any moment, he could be killed. Facing off with his greatest nemesis, the Joker, that possibility hangs over every scene. Of course, none of this precludes the Dark Knight from looking totally awesome throughout the film.

Superman, Christopher Reeve

Superman in Superman (1978)

The best thing about Superman's costume in the original 1978 Superman is that it's an actual costume. It isn't a suit of armor. It isn't a CGI construction. It's just a costume like you would buy at a local novelty store. It's made of cloth, it stretches, it's even a little loose around the shoulders. It thus fits Christopher Reeve perfectly, a Superman who of course has otherworldly powers but never seems alien.

He’s the best of us, but he's also one of us. His costume looks like something any of us could wear... but no one can quite as well.

Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

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