The Many Alternate Costumes of Spider-Man

Spider-Man has easily one of, if not the, most iconic superhero costume of all time. For more than 60 years, the Wall-Crawler has fought evil and struggled to live a normal life (what a shlub) in his classic red and blue threads. While the costume has seen tweaks and various interpretations thanks to the many styles that artists have brought to the printed page, it has stayed incredibly close to the original version. Except for that armpit webbing. That’s been typically left out since the ’70s. And for good reason.

But the result of longevity in comic books means that every once and a while, Spider-Man will adopt a different costume in order to take the fight to tougher villains. Or maybe just because his normal costume is getting stinky. In either case, the Web-Head has worn quite a few different outfits over the years. Some are amazing, some are laughable, but one thing is for sure, when Peter Parker changes his look, heads turn.

These are the many costume changes rocked by Spider-Man over the years and a look at their fun and weird history, as well as the temporary replacements that have briefly taken the over mantle for better or worse. As a heads up, popular alternate reality versions like Miles Morales and Miguel O’Hara will be featured separately in the up-coming Alternate Reality Spider-Men article.

Symbiote/Black Costume

First Appearance: Secret Wars #8

This is the granddaddy of all alternate Spider-Man costumes. Not only is it his first, but it’s also played an integral role in a vast portion of his history. When Spider-Man was caught in a giant battle against a collection of supervillains on the planet known as Battleworld in Secret Wars, his costume was left in tatters. But he and his fellow heroes found a machine that produced replacements. However, his turned black, giving him a new look. It was eventually discovered to be an alien symbiote that could change appearances, produce its own webbing, and shapeshift. But it also had a mind of its own and wanted to permanently bond with Peter! After he forcibly rejected it, it bonded with Eddie Brock, who hated Spider-Man and was turned into the monstrous villain Venom. In the time since, Spider-Man has taken the look again, this time donning a normal cloth costume that emulates his old alternate look. Because it’s not just fans that think the black costume is awesome. The simple black matte color and giant white spider on the front and back is in instant classic look that has endured for decades.

Spider-Armor

First Appearance: Web of Spider-Man #100

This is most definitely the costume that was the biggest cash grab of any outfit swap. When Spider-Man had to fight the heavily armed New Enforcers, he created a suit of armor made from a pseudo-metallic compound of his own design. However, the heavy armor caused him to be slower and far less agile, which is the exact opposite of what Spider-Man is all about!  The disadvantages of the suit eventually caused him to get caught and hit with acid, which destroyed the Spider-Armor. This was both the first and last of this armor. But it’s legacy lives on in the form of toys and quick homages in comics that have come in the decades since. Yeah, I bought the toy as a kid. I thought it was awesome. No, I hadn’t read the comic when I bought it. It’s Spider-Man in shiny armor. Who wouldn’t buy this. Way to go Marvel, you stole my money even back when it wasn’t my money.

Scarlet Spider

First Appearance: Web of Spider-Man #118

For those not in the know, Ben Reilly was the clone of Peter Parker who came crashing into his life in the mid-‘90s storyline that came to be known as “The Clone Saga.” While that storyline turned into an overly long and convoluted mess, Reilly himself was a pretty strong character. While he first appeared in 1975, he was presumed dead, only to return in 1994, showing that he had been living a different life and fighting crime as the Scarlet Spider. As this makeshift hero, he wore a red spandex suit and an utra-‘90s sleevless hoodie. It’s actually a really fantastic design that emphasizes his different style and strengths. Despite its somewhat dated appearance, the look still works incredibly well today and many hope for a return at some point. Only a dyed-blonde Spider-Man clone that decided to name himself after the original’s dead uncle could successfully rock a sleeveless hoodie over a skin-tight piece of stretchy cloth and make it look awesome 15 years later. The balls on this guy.

Ben Reilly Spider-Man

First Appearance: Sensational Spider-Man #0

When Ben Reilly took over as Spider-Man (long story, lots of twists that were eventually untwisted), he took his own spin on the Spider-Man costume. (That’s a spider pun.) While the costume retained the red and blue color scheme, the layout was shifted, with a giant spider that connected from front to back and a larger amount of blue that was also darker than the typical shade. It’s really one of the absolute best Spider-Man costume variations and is generally loved by fans. It was eventually adopted by the alternate reality Spider-Girl. Outside of aesthetics, Ben took a new spin on the web-shooters. These were bulkier gauntlets mounted on the outside of the costume and featured a few new variations on the weapon. Beyond the typical webs, his shooters could fire impact webbing – pellets that wrap up targets on impact – and stingers – metal darts that can incapacitates enemies. Peter went back to the typical costume when he took back the identity of Spider-Man. As for Ben? Still a big dead pile of dust.

Captain Universe

First Appearance: Amazing Spider-Man #329

What happens when Spider-Man is imbued with all the power in the universe? He gets really strong and is given a funky-looking costume. Captain Universe is a persona tasked with guarding all of existence from enormous threats by merging with heroes throughout the universe. The powers were given to Spider-Man in order to stop the powerful Tri-Sentinel from destroying New York City. And while they first subtly increased his typical powers, they eventually manifested in full form, giving him cosmic power and the new costume. Since the typical Captain Universe costume is blue and white with some stars and atomic-looking structures with the mouth and nose exposed, Spider-Man took on the same appearance, except his normal mask covered his mouth. The shape of the head also resembles the typical look of Spidey’s dome so the hero manages to not lose his identity despite the major change in costume and the very different powers. It’s a silly but somehow iconic design that sticks with readers.

Ricochet, Hornet, Dusk & Prodigy

First Appearance: Amazing Spider-Man # 434

When Spider-Man was accused of the murder of a small-time crook, Peter Parker had to temporarily stop using his heroic alter ego while he worked to clear his name. His completely sane idea? Become four different heroes! Each with their own powers! And each spotlighted in one of the four (!) simultaneously running Spider-Man comics at the time. Ricochet is an agile crok-for-hire. Hornet is a tech-based hero with a jet-pack and sedative stingers. Dusk uses a costume from another dimension to blend in with shadows and use super-strength. Prodigy is fast and strong and uses a bulletproof vest to seem even stronger. Of course, Peter eventually cleared his name as Spider-Man and went back to the old identity, leaving behind the four identities for four teen heroes to take on in their own new comic book series – Slingers! Which was quickly cancelled. Not the finest era of Spider-Man.

Iron Spider Armor

First Appearance: Amazing Spider-Man #529

When superheroes were forced to take a side during the Civil War, which saw them split between registering their secret identities with the government (led by Tony Stark – Iron Man) or rebel against The Registration Act (led by Steve Rogers – Captain America), Spider-Man was forced to make a choice. Surprisingly, Peter chose to register and publicly reveal his identity on national television! In return, he was given an upgraded suit by Stark. The Iron Spider armor is stuffed full of gadgets, including three mechanical spider-arms (why not four?), known as Waldoes, that have cameras and can manipulate objects. Also included are life support systems, shape-changing, a glider, air filtration, and many other enhancements. The color scheme was Stark’s idea, making Spider-Man visually identified with Iron Man’s side. When Spider-Man switched sides, Stark made the suit go haywire and it was eventually destroyed in an attack on the hero.

Big Time

First Appearance: Amazing Spider-Man #650

When Spider-Man was sent reeling due to the new Hobgoblin’s Sonic Scream, which incapacitates anyone within hearing range, he had to come up with something to get the drop on the villain. So he created the Stealth Suit, which can warp light and sound around it to become invisible due to its harmonic mesh. However, the suit can only do one at a time – taking on orange-red highlights when red to block sound and green highlights when ready to go invisible. In addition, the suit can mend itself through concentration of the user and is fireproof. Eventually, the suit was stolen by Kaine, Peter’s dark clone (the other non-Ben Reilly one) to become the new Scarlet Spider. This version had a red and black color scheme to reflect his new heroic yet dark nature and has been the character’s primary costume in the years since. Peter himself never made another one to replace the stealth costume that was taken.

Future Foundation

First Appearance: Amazing Spider-Man #658

When The Human Torch apparently died during one of the adventures of The Fantastic Four, the super hero family decided to end their career as a team and become The Future Foundation. Along with the change came a request in Torch’s will that his good friend Peter Parker take his place in the team. In order to fit in as a member, he adopted a new white and black costume that fit in with the new FF aesthetic whenever he went on adventures with the team. Beyond its striking inverted appearance, the suit’s composition of unstable molecules allows it to change appearance in order to resemble his normal red and blue costume, as well as shift into a stealth mode that primarily uses black in order to better blend in with the shadows. But really, it doesn’t augment or add much to Peter’s powers. But he doesn’t really need anything extra. He’s Spider-Man! He eventually left the team amicably when Torch returned and has rarely used the costume since. The Fantastic Four and The Future Foundation have both changed their look in the time since, rendering this look out of date, but still awesome.

Bullet-Proof Spider

First Appearance: Amazing Spider-Man #656

In an effort to save the city, Spider-Man once had to set off a bioelectric magnetic pulse to disable multiple villains. Being at the epicenter, the pulse shorted out the hero’s Spider-Sense, making him far more vulnerable than he had ever been and causing him to question his effectiveness in stopping crime. Of course, this was just in time for the heavily armed and psychotic villain Massacre to begin terrorizing the city and taking hostages, which eventually led to Spidey being shot through the abdomen. Unwilling to stand by while innocents died, Spider-Man cooked up a new bullet-proof outfit that allowed him to take on the trigger-happy villain. While it may not be the most unique idea for a costume (why doesn’t he just wear it all the time?) it shows off the hero’s dedication and willpower. He even allowed himself to be riddled with bullets to protect hostages as well as Massacre in order to ensure that no one dies.

Ends of the Earth

f324e-spider-manFirst Appearance: Amazing Spider-Man #682

Also known as the Spider-Armor Mk. III, Parker created this costume as a last resort in case he had to face The Sinister Six (a team comprised of his deadliest villains) in a manner that was too much for even his own formidable powers. Here, the suit was put into use when the dying Doctor Octopus tried to speed up the Earth’s Greenhouse effect to destroy the planet. Beyond its heavy armor, the Mark III includes a hearing acuity device to better detect the disguised Chamelion, a holographic visor to see through Mysterio’s illusions, a “Pink Hippo” app that can mess with Sandman’s shape-changing abilities, electricity defenses for Electro, jet boosters for flight, and maxed-out web-shooters. It’s a pretty cool armor that shows how Peter is willing and able to take the next step in putting his genius to use in order to defend the Earth. It’s also way overpowered and not very true to the essential core of Spider-Man.

Superior Spider-Man V.1

<First Appearance: Superior Spider-Man #1

When Doctor Octopus took over the body of Peter Parker and left his archenemy to die in his shattered body (another very long story) he decided to not only take on the heroic identity, but become The Superior Spider-Man! First order of business? Upgrading the Spider-Suit, which has typically been very sparse beyond web-shooters, flashlight, and Spider-Tracer. Ock’s first version of his new suit included high tech goggles that gave him in-depth readouts on his surroundings and miniature claws that can pop out from the fingertips. Not only can these slash apart his opponents, but they inject nanobot tracers into the target, allowing him to track them anywhere in the city. The costume was also given aesthetic tweaks, including  an angrier webbed face and split-toed feet that resembled jika-tabi shoes, also featuring a spike. The little changes mean that while the costume wasn’t a huge departure from the classic costume, it was easily recognizable as The Superior Spider-Man. It wasn’t the last of his upgrades.

Superior Spider-Man V.2

First Appearance: Superior Spider-Man #15

As Doc Ock’s campaign continued, he removed the last traces of Peter Parker’s subconscious from his mind, giving him freeing reign and unbridled desire in the war against crime. This was visually marked by another costume change, taking him further away from the classic Spider-Man costume. The Superior Spider-Man 2.0 has black instead of blue and a red chest piece featuring a larger spider and ending in a triangular point. It’s actually very similar to the original design artist Alex Ross had when designing the first costume for the cinematic Spider-Man in 2001. In addition, the suit was upgraded with four mechanical arms that crossed between the Iron Spider design and Ock’s tentacles, which were stored in a spider-shaped backpack, as well as advanced gauntlets and clawed gloves. The feet changed as well, with a boot-like appearance instead of the typical minimal covering. It’s a far more aggressive and somewhat villainous-looking appearance that marked the second phase of the Superior Spider-Man. It’s no wonder that this look was promptly ditched for the classic reds and blues when Peter gained control of his body once again.

Honorable Mention: Bag-Man

Not really a costume, but Spider-Man’s long history with The Fantastic Four has led to him using their costumes several times. Most memorably, Peter was drafted as a member but didn’t have a Fantastic Four-styled mask to conceal his still-secret identity. His good friend Johnny Storm had an idea, put a brown paper bag on his head and cut out two eye holes. Of course, it was one big joke on Peter that tied right in with Storm’s love for pulling pranks on the people he cared about. Peter’s had to don a bag over his head a few times over the years. While he typically wears his Spider-Man costume under his clothes, he’s been caught without a change of clothes, leading to him taking off his shoes for better wall-crawling and a bag over his head to keep his identity secret. The result? Most bystanders don’t realize its Spider-Man and think he’s … The Bombastic Bag-Man! As per the usual Parker luck, it’s another way for Peter’s life to be even more difficult and to have the joke be on him in the end. But he still keeps saving lives one day at a time.

Have your personal favorite Spider-Man costume? Say yours in the comment section below!
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