×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The untold truth behind these famous superhero costumes

A superhero's costume is an intrinsic part of his or her identity—and yet in spite of how important they are, many fans never know how they're developed or designed. Sometimes, those stories are uncovered in the comics pages, while others come from behind-the-scenes revelations. Want to know why Superman fights in his pajamas or how Robin ended up running around in green underwear? Keep reading to uncover the untold truth behind these famous superhero costumes.

Superman

Since Superman's introduction in 1938, DC Comics has published multiple retcons about his history, his characters...and, yes, his clothing. More than a few stories are floating around (or should that be leaping in a single bound?) about Superman's outfit.

In Superman's earlier years, there wasn't a lot of in-comics history about the costume. In those days, the behind-the-scenes story was more interesting, showcasing how Superman's look evolved across a variety of comics artists and animated shorts. Eventually, it was revealed that his cape was actually made from a blanket that his biological parents included when they sent him to Earth—and the first Superman movie added an interesting wrinkle by making the "S" the crest of Superman's family.

Later comics changed the story of both the cloth and the symbol, turning them into decisions made by Clark and his adoptive parents, and still later comics removed the red "underwear" portion of the costume. More recent movies like Man of Steel return to the suit being from Krypton, making it battle armor, and the "S" now represents "hope" (which itself was a notion introduced in the "Birthright" storyline in the comics).

Spider-Man's black suit

At first glance, Spider-Man's black suit might look like little more than an excuse to give the typically brightly-colored superhero an edgier makeover. It has a truly bizarre history, however, and one that not many people are fully aware of. One reason? The suit's first big-screen appearance came in Spider-Man 3, which pretty much hand-waved it away as a creature from space.

It turns out to be much more complicated in the comics. Spider-Man was one of many heroes transported to a planet known as Battleworld by the Beyonder in the original Secret Wars comics crossover event published in 1984. His classic costume is damaged, so he's given a replacement by an alien machine. It turns out what he gets, though, is a living alien symbiote. At first, he's happy to have a suit that responds instantly to his commands and provides a non-stop amount of webbing—but he slowly realizes that the suit is controlling him while he sleeps.

After seeking the Fantastic Four's help removing it, the suit attacks Spider-Man, and he uses the sound of church bells to get it off him (it has a weakness to certain sound frequencies). Ultimately, this ends poorly for Spider-Man: while he gets rid of the suit, it later bonds to the suicidal Eddie Brock, and the two become the villain Venom. In addition to being violently unhinged, Venom has access to all of Spider-Man's memories, making him a villain who instantly knows his archenemy's secret identity.

Wolverine's brown suit

Wolverine has had a surprisingly diverse array of costumes. Sometimes, his colors are bright; at others, they're muted. On the big screen, they've grown progressively more toned down—as Deadpool jokes in the teaser before Logan, it wouldn't take him long to change into costume, as all he wears is "a !@#$ing tank top and a pair of jeans." Then again, Logan may never have had any costume variety at all if it weren't for X-Men artist Dave Cockrum and his desire to completely punk John Byrne.

Wolverine's look was pretty consistent in the first few years after he was introduced. The pointy parts of his cowl got pointier, but Wolverine's bright yellow, blue, and black costume was hard to miss. With Uncanny X-Men #107, however, departing series artist Dave Cockrum had Wolverine defeat a villain called Fang and steal his costume. Cockrum's real motivation was that he thought it would be funny to leave the new guy (who turned out to be future comics legend John Byrne) with a costume that was hard to draw. Byrne didn't like it, and quickly reverted back to the familiar yellow costume before realizing he didn't really like that one either. He designed a brown and orange outfit that Wolverine would sport for a dozen years—colors clearly inspired by the deliberately terrible getup Cockrum left behind for Byrne.

Deadpool

One of the more amusing parts of the Deadpool movie was seeing some of his disastrous false starts as a would-be superhero—including multiple trips to the laundry to wash out bloodstains, inspiring his future roommate Blind Al to suggest that if he's going to keep getting blood on his clothes, he should "wear red, dumbass!" As it turns out, this may have been a tongue-in-cheek reference to the surprisingly practical origin of Deadpool's costume.

The story actually goes back to Deadpool's friend Weasel. The movie portrays him as little more than a loyal bartender and friend, but in the comics, he's a weapons designer and an arms dealer, and the chief source of Deadpool's massive array of weaponry. He also designed Deadpool's costume, deciding its primary aesthetic function should be to hide the scars and other damage that cancer has wrought on the antihero's body—and connecting its story to Blind Al's line about the red suit keeping bad guys from seeing him bleed.

Robin

There are few comic book costumes that have evoked as much discussion (and occasional controversy) as the one originally worn by Batman's sidekick Robin. Over the years, some have wondered about the logic and ethics of a guy whose own suit is basically dark camouflage dressing his sidekick in some of the brightest and most visible colors; Robin comes off as a walking target. Later, the infamous book Seduction of the Innocent would examine a comic in which a rich bachelor's ward runs around in what amounts to green underwear, accusing Robin and his costume of being part of an effort to somehow recruit young men into becoming gay.

The actual origin of Robin's costume, though, is quite straightforward. When artist Jerry Robinson was tasked with designing a sidekick for the Caped Crusader, he turned to Robin Hood as an inspiration, modeling (and clearly naming) Robin after the classic literary hero. This is actually reflected in some early Batman comics in which Dick Grayson has a Robin Hood painting in his room—showing he was influenced by the legendary character, just as Robin's own creator was.

Harley Quinn

Of all of the characters on this list, you might assume that the story behind Harley Quinn's costume is pretty simple. She's a sidekick to the Joker, she dresses like a jester, so she's just going with the theme, right? The truth is weirder: Harley Quinn's costume was inspired by an episode of Days of Our Lives that creator Paul Dini really enjoyed.

Dini, producer and writer of Batman: The Animated Series, introduced Harley Quinn in the cartoon before she eventually broke out into mainstream Batman comics. When trying to imagine her look, Dini remembered an old episode of Days of Our Lives that starred his old friend Arleen Sorkin, who appeared in a fantasy sequence dressed as a kind of cross between a jester and the Pied Piper. Drawing inspiration from Sorkin for Harley's look, he also decided he wanted Harley to sound like her—and hired Sorkin to voice the character on the show.

Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel's newest look—and the one she'll almost certainly be sporting in her Marvel Cinematic Universe debut—is the result of a very conscious series of efforts. The artist who designed it, Jamie McKelvie, wanted to draw on the military background of the character (Carol Danvers had been in the Air Force). McKelvie believes the best costumes reflect aspects of a character's background and personality, so giving Captain Marvel a pseudo-military and professional costume helps to showcase her abilities and experience.

McKelvie has also pointed out he'd "like to see more consideration for what message a female character's design is putting across"—alluding to the outfit Captain Marvel wore when she went by Ms. Marvel. That leggy costume is generally considered one of the more exploitative Marvel designs, and her storylines reflected it: many readers still wince when they look back on an old story in which she was raped and impregnated by a character so she could give birth to her time-traveling rapist son. Marvel has since tried to ignore that story—and spent years downplaying Danvers—so her overdue makeover helped highlight her increased prominence as well as her character's increased agency.

The Flash

The most familiar iteration of the Flash's costume has an origin that isn't very exciting. Since Barry Allen was a scientist, he simply developed his own costume in order to reduce friction. Furthermore, he was able to treat it with a particular chemical so it could fit in a ring and shoot out when needed. Barry worked with the police all day, so he figured this was a smart alternative to wearing the costume under his civilian clothes like other heroes.

What is interesting about the costume design is the reason the comics offered for it: since there was a previous Flash in the Golden Age, a man named Jay Garrick, one of the Barry Allen Flash comics specifies that Barry designed a new costume because he didn't want to be sued for copyright infringement. While DC's tongue was firmly in cheek with this revelation, it's amusing to think Barry might be the only character in a comics world full of copycats who worries about the legal ramifications of having the same superhero name as someone else.

Green Arrow

Green Arrow's most familiar costume has a suitable origin. Neal Adams was inspired by Robin Hood (seems like there was a lot of that going on at DC), and he figured it was a natural look for the company's famous archer. Adams also had a distinct desire to make the character something more than a Batman knockoff. Think about it: Oliver Queen, like Bruce Wayne, was a billionaire who used his money to help fight crime. Like Batman, he did so with silly, themed devices (like an Arrow car in place of a Batmobile), and both characters had plucky teen sidekicks.

So Green Arrow's new design corresponded with a redesign of his fundamental character: he'd lost his wealth and lived among the downtrodden. He was portrayed as their champion as well, and fought against wealthy people who wanted to exploit them. If this sounds familiar—a character living on society's periphery and protecting the poor against rich exploiters—it's because Adams did this on purpose. As he admitted, "I didn't create a great new character that everybody immediately related to. I essentially created a modern Robin Hood and everyone relates to Robin Hood. What's the difference? He's got a little mask on his face. Big deal."

Daredevil

Daredevil's costume has a couple different stories. The first concerns the lesser-known yellow garb the character wore when he was starting out, inspired by the boxing robes worn by Daredevil's father—helping symbolically cement his superhero guise as a way the otherwise bookish Matt Murdock could feel closer to his pugilistic papa. It didn't take too long for a new artist to introduce Daredevil's familiar red costume, although this eventually led to some behind-the-scenes drama that even Daredevil's advanced senses couldn't pick up on.

Wally Wood not only designed Daredevil's distinctive red getup, but he introduced many elements fans now consider staples of the character—including how his enhanced senses are visualized in the comic, his billy club, the "DD" on the costume, and much more. Basically, Wood rescued a comic that was going to be canceled early on and ushered in a character redesign that's lasted for more than half a century—which helps explain why Wood's estate has publicly expressed disappointment that the credits of the Daredevil TV series didn't acknowledge him at all.