O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
I’ve been thinking about superhero redesigns, in part thanks to our awesome interview with Kris Anka on 3 Chicks Review Comics. We talked a lot about the difference between good artists and good designers, and how important getting an artist that knows about design and fashion is to having a modern and functional looking costume. Any time you change a costume, no matter how necessary the change is, or how great the new design might be, it tends to ruffle fan feathers as there is surprising emotional attachment to things like this. And when you change design as fundamental as a superhero costume you’re changing brand identity and recognition. It’s kind of a huge deal, and not something that should be undertaken all willy-nilly.
For this column I decided to focus on 6 recent redesigns that are actual canon (i.e. you can actually see them in comics – or will – and they have been embraced by the publisher) but because I hate actually sticking to the limits I set for myself, I added a couple brilliant redesigns that are “unofficial” or considered “fan art”, because honestly, there is A LOT of great design being done on the fringes. Skilled artists that know a lot about design and fashion and perhaps more importantly, care about characters, and the resigns for said characters are killing it out there. Anyway, I hope you’ll enjoy!
I’m hard pressed to think of a character more in need of a redesign than poor Psylocke. So it’s great as she gets more and more focus (post Remender’s great work with her in Uncanny X-Force) that she got a redesign before getting some even more intense exposure in both Marvel Now’s “new” Uncanny X-Force and Brian Wood and Olivier Coipel’s upcoming X-Men. And having Kris Anka do the design is really exciting. He’s a smart designer and one interested in both form and function. A designer that takes personality and purpose into consideration. Gone is the ridiculous thong swimsuit, as are the impractical thigh and arm straps. In its place is something with clean lines and a sharp design but with complete functionality. The addition of the sash is also a nice callback to her previous look. Nothing in Anka’s redesigns feels ill-considered. Check out this process shot as he worked out several different designs:
One of the things that actually made Glory work as a reboot was Ross Campbell’s hardcore redesign. In one brilliant re-design Campbell updated Glory for a new age of comics and made her an unequivocal badass instead of a “90’s badgirl chick joke” full of silicone and impossible proportions. And that design influenced the entire tone of the series bold groundbreaking relaunched series. With giant gorgeous armor and more practical considerations as well as height and muscle to spare, Glory went from joke to best of the best. And yet she kept that unreal hair, and Campbell somehow made it all work.
#3. POISON IVY
It’s disappointing to me that this is the only lady of the new 52 that I saw fit to put on this list (considering nearly all of them got serious redesigns in the last couple years) but I just didn’t see much innovation or consideration in those designs. A rare exception was Cully Hamner’s new take on Poison Ivy…and man was a new take overdue! I know a lot of us (myself included) have a lot of affection for what is basically a green one piece swimsuit, but man was it boring. Sure in the right hands it could look amazing (which was probably why we got stuck with it for so long) but in the wrong hands (see above) it was a train wreck. A fussy ugly ass non-functional trainwreck. And while Pamela is one of a handful of characters that I’m okay with seeing wearing less, as it fits her character, since we can’t just see her nude, a compromise has to be reached. And how it was decided that an impractical solid green swimsuit (sometimes with tights and little boots) was the compromise I’ll never know. That long history (and a bizarre one at that) make it all the more cool to see Hamner’s design (and Jesus Saiz’s interpretation – as these images are Saiz’s) as an entirely new tact with her costume. Bringing us a full body suit that had incredible functionality, not just from a practicality standpoint, but also from an ability to adapt standpoint (and what is Pamela if not adaptive?!) – from its ability to change color, to the constant shifting to the pattern, and the badass shapes on her face, this was a costume that really embraced who she was and made her costume actually feel a part of her. Check out these variations that Saiz showed us in just a few short issues:
If there’s a downside to Ivy’s new costume (does she even have it anymore?) is that not all artists have executed it as well as Hamner and Saiz. They have found the perfect blend of simple and stylized with just enough detail to feel organic. Some artists push it too far so that it feels overly design and fussy, which is a shame. It’s a surprisingly good design and one I would love to see more artists embrace.
#4. CAPTAIN MARVEL
While there was nothing aggressively wrong with Ms. Marvel’s longstanding classic costume – although I still maintain that a one piece swimsuit and thigh highs are a ridiculous thing to be fighting crime and supervillains in – the updated look is exactly what she needed along with her name change. And the story behind this update, that Kelly SueDeConnick funded the redesign (by Jamie McKelvie) on her own dime and Marvel agreed it was so good that they’d have to use it – is priceless. There’s nothing I like more than creators that love comics so much that they’re willing to risk it all to get the best possible comic out there. McKelvie’s redesign is clean and smart. And most importantly, she looks like a superhero. The colors are bold and the images are graphic. The costume screams strength and confidence. And nobody is going to mistake her for a Miss America contestant that lost her way.
Jubilee’s costume was never a favorite of mine, when it was new or old, but whether you liked it or not you have to admit that she was badly in need of an update. The one she got, post losing her powers and becoming a vampire, was incredibly smart as it addressed all of these issues at once while still maintaining that essential Jubilee vibe. This was designed by Phil Noto prior for the Wolverine & Jubilee mini-series he did with writer Kathryn Immonen (the image above is from the Olivier Coipel cover – and thanks to Jeanine for the correction/confirmation!). Regardless, going for a black catsuit instead of dated pink and blue shorts and t-shirt combo brings in a bit of edge and darkness to address Jubilee’s new Vampire state, but in keeping with a slight pop of pink on the zipper we still maintain a bit of the old Jubes. Similarly, she keeps her traditional yellow trench coat (a must!) but it’s fitted and fashionable, rather than bulky and absurd. To top it all off she’s got her quintessential giant pink sunglasses, but again, with a bit of an updated edge. The whole look is fantastic, and already we’re seeing great interpretations of it, like this image by Kris Anka:
A very new addition to costume redesign, this new Valkyrie design for Fearless Defenders by Mark Brooks just surfaced last week and it’s so long overdue I can’t even believe it’s finally happened. Gone is the ridiculous high cut swimsuit and thigh high boots. And most importantly the absolutely ridiculous metal torpedo boobs which have NEVER been a good idea. I’ve yet to see a single artist, no matter how talented, execute that insane metal boob holder design well (case in point, the brilliant Art Adams illustrating the Valkyrie on the left in our before shot – ridiculous!). Now we have something much cleaner and more practical, less revealing (and way less silly) but something that still feels like Val – the boots – easily the most impractical part if you were to dissect the costume further – are a great shout out to Val’s roots (also, they look AH-MAZING). The costume is a LITTLE fussy for my personal tastes but the more I look at it, the more I like it…and anything that saves us from metal boob torpedoes is worth its weight in gold.
So what about the non-canon stuff? Well, there’s a ton of it out there, but I just picked two of my favorite (relatively) recent things from the internet and from two of my favorite artists. First up is Meredith McClaren’s take on Domino:
Domino has had so many shitty costumes over the years it’s hard to keep track (although for my money that pink and grey one on the bottom is the worst. yuck!) It seems nobody has known what to do with her for years. So imagine my surprise when McClaren scrapped the whole superhero-y catsuit-ish look and instead went with classic but cool military/spy garb. The results are incredibly cool while still looking absolutely functional. Domino has never looked better!
All that said, for my money, Ross Campbell wins everything with his redesign of all the Jem characters (including The Misfits!). Never have I seen such a complete and wonderful redesign of an entire property that made me so happy. Campbell’s tight consistent style helps them all to look like they belong in the same badass world, but he’s not afraid to give them all their own looks and personality. He draws beautifully from the (boring and uninspired) originals and does something magnificent with each. Even as a kid I was never that in to Jem, but I would watch the shit out of a Jem show with Campbell’s redesigns.
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