The red, white and blue shield. The red and gold armor. The red cape, giant hammer and silver helmet with little wings. Marvel took on a tall order when they began bringing their iconic super heroes to the silver screen, and in this spring’s upcoming blockbuster — The Avengers — they were tasked with costuming Hollywood A-listers to look like Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Sure, it’s easier with some than others — Hulk just needs some big ol’ ripped up purple pants — but with fans being notoriously nitpicky, it’s easy to make a super-powered fashion faux pas that will send blogs across the internet talking. So we’re going to take a look at how Joss Whedon’s team took decades of comic book costume history and made it a real world mega-movie reality.
Any comic book fan who’s followed a team or a specific hero for a while knows that costumes can change and reinvent almost as often as backstories do. Yet some elements stay classic and get carried over as a staple of a particular hero. Not many are as iconic as Captain America. When bringing Cap to the big screen in his own film, designers drew on the classic imagery of World War II Steve Rogers to firmly root the film as a period piece.
They went even further to add more brown straps, pouches and used leather-looking padding to make the costume look authentic to the 1940s. From his solo film to Avengers, Cap gets a futuristic upgrade that looks like the Cap comic lovers can easily recognize. Not much has changed — the new look is more streamlined with modern/futuristic fabrics that looks more like the classic super suit we know from our everyday comics. So the modern Cap...
...gets his Chris Evans day on screen in streamlined, spandex glory:
The only complaint I might have with this costume is that Chris Evans looses a lot of power in his performance due to the bulky cowl. Still, at least it doesn’t have the little wings on the sides of his head.
One character in the Avengers has changed the least over time, and that’s the Hulk. Bruce Banner may have started out in the comics a little grey around the gills, but the most recognized Hulk images became canon staple thanks to the 1970s TV series. Since then, it’s been bright green and purple pants all around. The first Hulk film with Eric Bana in 2003 tried to stick to the purple pants, but failed to hit the audience mark...
...Mostly because the CGI made him look like a bright-green Stay Puff Marshmellow Man. With The Incredible Hulk rewrite for Edward Norton in 2008, more detail was put into the CGI Hulk looking less cartoon-like and more terrifying, a factor that The Avengers designers seem to have taken to heart. They have recognized that the big guy’s pants really matter little by comparison to his face. In other words, this:
That’s the Hulk money-maker, the rage-filled facial expressions and less cartoon-like appearance, and The Avengers gets this one right in spades.
Another costume that’s paid attention to the basics and translated really well is Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow costume.
There have been very few changes to Natasha Romanov’s catsuit look over the years. It went from black to grey to black again and Natasha’s hair has gone from long to short to long again. That’s really it, and Marvel has managed to include the hair change in her costume upgrade from Iron Man 2 to Avengers. The classic Widow costume comes simple, elegant and is designed for ease of movement as well as obvious display of the Widow’s assets (it’s a spandex comic costume after all) but The Avengers doesn’t try to sex it up any further.
The belt buckle in The Avengers did go to the classic red Widow symbol, a nice touch homage that makes her closer to her comic book counterpart, rather than the sort of blander look she’s sporting from Iron Man 2.
And speaking of classic homage, let’s move on to Iron Man:
Iron Man’s costume has really gone through a stream-lining process over the year as fans expected technological upgrades for the metal-man hero, and Marvel covered a lot of that upgrade process in the first and second Iron Man films. When Tony Stark develops the suit in his cave prison, it is almost a scrap-iron affair, and the first film follows him going to his Mark 1 suit back home. Would the movies and comics have been cooler if he’d stayed looking like ol’ Bucket Head? I don’t think so.
Over the years, Tony Stark changes his armor more times than Barbie changes outfits. He even has all-weather gear, such as this lovely blue artic ensemble:
An entire storyline was dedicated to what were known as the Armor Wars for Tony Stark, pictured here with all his various suit versions. The idea was for the inventor to not only get more intricate with his design but for comic book designers to figure out new ways to make Tony Stark look like a Transformer.
Each Mark evolution of the suits become more elaborate in the disasembling process on film and the transportation process for Stark — like the briefcase system introduced in Iron Man 2. But the films have remained true to the classic images of Iron Man from mainstream Marvel continuity and that has paid off for them in spades. The Iron Man suit on film looks hot and remains so in The Avengers.
Marvel also has another entire universe that the costume designers could have pulled inspiration from for our heroes. Along with the mainstream Marvel continuity, fondly known as Earth 616, Marvel also puts out the Ultimate Universe where all our favorite stories are reinvented for an often grittier-style reboot. That universe is what inspired the ultimate Transformer look for Iron Man, where he looked like the love child of a race car and Bumblebee.
It’s the Ultimate universe costume and attitude that seems the inspiration for Jeremy Renner’s secret agent archer Hawkeye. After all, in the mainstream comics, Hawkeye looks like this:
While that might work for a comic, the more realistic-looking Ultimate costume inspires more ’super spy’ and less carnival/costumed super hero feeling.
The film also imports a lot of the Ultimate Hawkeye’s attitude, so the match is perfect, and the streamlined armless shirt and darker colors really fit with the covert nature of Hawkeye’s character in the films. Not to mention, it would be a shame to hide Renner’s face behind a giant purple cowl when so much of his acting power is in that brooding, intense expression.
A perfect amalgamation between classic mainstream and edgier Ultimate redesign seems to have been the idea when costume designers looked at transforming Chris Helmsworth into the mighty Thor.
The Asgardian god of thunder’s costume in the comics is one of those that often has to be taken with a grain of salt. It is a comic book costume, it isn’t supposed to be realistic looking. But translating the original comic look to screen, with it’s silver hat adorned with little wings and a mighty breastplate might not have gone over very well. The more modern comic version is still a little over the top, even with the added scale-mail sleeves. I swear, it might just be the winged hat.
Enter the Ultimate comics reboot of Thor and a more streamlined, sexy look. The breast-late glows, the arms are bare, and gone is the cloak, and Ultimate Thor has a sexy, serious goatee look to match the long hair. Once you get a look at the film costume of Thor, you can see where the elements of his armor are inspired by this Ultimate design.
Still, the designers managed to take the classic elements, like the red cape, and give the whole thing a very brushed metal design that makes it look less like a costume and more like armor. We have to be glad that funny little helmet is gone (though it gets a little screen time in the original Thor film) so we can all get a good look at Chris Hemsworth’s brooding Asgardian face.
Overall, Thor gets the Best Updated Costume Award, hands down.
The Avengers’ team designs are obviously a very classic homage to elements that make us harken back to the decades of comics that came before. Yet the little updates are important to a contemporary feel that lifts it out of the cartoon realm, something that helps make comic book films successful rather than hokey. And in the case of The Avengers, the job gets done with flying colors.
Shoshana Kessock is a comics fan, photographer, game developer, LARPer and all around geek girl. She’s the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions and ReImaginedReality.com