In the world of superhero costume couture, red/black is the new…EVERYTHING.
One of the greatest things about comic books is the variety of costumes that the various heroes and villains deck themselves out in. From Batman’s iconic dark cowl and cape to Captain America’s star-spangled super soldier suit to Aquaman’s unconventional vibrant splash of orange and green goodness, costumes are great eye-candy and help to really individualize a character. And aside from teams like the Green Lantern Corps or the X-Men, who are pretty much required by law to wear matching or similar costumes, the majority of Marvel and DC’s collective universes were always awash with character costumes sporting colour combinations as distinct as their powers or skill sets.
And then something happened.
Just a few short years ago Batwoman, Batman Beyond, Deadpool and a small handful of other characters were the only comic book headliners who were rocking costumes that solely consisted of red and black material. It was something that didn’t really stick out and wasn’t even worth noting, really. Fast forward to today and suddenly EVERYONE is wearing red and black – to the point where it is so obviously distracting that you can’t HELP but notice it. Comic books – one of the most creative mediums out there – are now sliding into a creativity-free fashion slump due to the over-employment of this restrictive palette. And for this particular comic book fan, there’s only so much red and black, page after page, comic after comic that I can take. It’s a fashion emergency that is dangerously close to putting some of my regularly purchased monthly titles on the critical list.
So, What ACTUALLY Happened?
This rise of the red/black scourge is easily traceable – and it’s all DC’s fault. Back in 2011, DC Comics launched their highly publicized (albeit ill-conceived and poorly executed) line-wide reboot, “The New 52”. The point behind it was to boost sales and attract new readership with new #1 issues of all their regular monthly title providing easy “jumping on” points.
So, the masterminds in the DC think tanks were chugging along, thinking of every type of marketing voodoo magic they could employ to pull new readers in. And then someone, somewhere must have read something that indicated that red and black were the colours most likely to catch people eyes or draw their interest or hypnotize them into opening their wallets, because suddenly a number of heroes had inexplicable “New 52” makeovers that suggested that Batwoman would be facing a lot more competition at the next red and black sample sale.
Nightwing, Hawk, Superboy and Wonder Girl were the first out of the gate with their revamped looks (shown to the right, alongside their pre-New 52 looks) which ranged from pointless colour swaps to needless outfit updates that somehow managed to seem both bland and busy at the same time. Nightwing’s blue-on-black ensemble was distinctive but his new red/black look is just derivative of both Batwoman and Batman Beyond, Hawk’s red-on-white garb was meant to complement partner Dove’s similar-looking blue-on-white outfit, but now it just…doesn’t.
And poor Superboy and Wonder Girl – gone are their refreshing “Causal Friday” jeans-and-t-shirt looks. Now, in their place we get a Tron Cosplayer and Grumpy Red Riding Hood. (Even Wonder Girl’s lasso has been given an unholy red re-do. Is nothing sacred?)
At this time, DC also launched a new Red Lanterns title (think Green Lanterns with anger issues) and like all Lanterns, their costume colours default to a black base and the colour of their ring, so now we had a whole new team of red and black characters added to the mix. And just recently, Supergirl became the latest Red Lantern recruit (as indicated on the far right of the image at the top of this post) so she has now traded in her traditional blue, red and gold garb to become the latest red/black fashion victim.
And it didn’t stop there. Not content with their makeover madness, DC also introduced a handful of “new” characters – who are also all decked out in the devil’s colours. And here’s where the creativity crutch is really puzzling to me. With the launch of the titles Earth 2 and Justice League 3000, there came the opportunity to present alternate world and future timeline versions of the World’s Greatest Heroes. So what does DC do? They give us not one, but two different versions of Superman and Batman – and ALL four of them are sporting that cutting edge red/black combo. I mean, come on.
BUT WAIT – THERE’S MORE!
Of course, this red /black onslaught is not all on DC’s shoulders. Because in the world of comic book publishing, whatever trend one of the big two publishers jumps on, the other has to try and top them. And that’s where Marvel came into the ring. It was like someone over at Marvel HQ said, “Well, we can give red and black makeovers too – and we’ll do it to ALL the members of team! No..scratch that – TWO TEAMS!”
So, first they launched the latest iteration of Thunderbolts, now led by Red Hulk. And apparently he had a “red” prerequisite for eligible team members, so while Elektra and Deadpool aced it, Punisher and Agent Venom had swap out their black and whites for black and reds (see top image, second from left). So cute that they’re all matchy-matchy now, right?
Not content with that, Marvel unleashed what I consider to be the atomic bomb of this whole red/black catastrophe. Marvel’s first family, the Fantastic Four, is an iconic team that has always had an iconic look – matching blue uniforms (except when they’re feeling pretentious, in which case they switch to their “Future Foundation” whites). Well, earlier this year they debuted in the latest of their never-ending string of relaunches. Bold new story! Bold new direction! Bold new…costumes?
Yes, the Fantastic Four has now hopped on the red/black express (see top image, second from the right) This is truly the sign of the Apocalypse – for if a great mind like Reed Richards can succumb to the mind-numbing, eye-searing pull of a red and black makeover, is there really ANY hope for the rest of the comic universes?
We can only stay strong and pray that a brighter, colourful and more aesthically pleasing day will soon come to pull our heroes out of their collective red and black nightmare (and save me from some severe red and black induced headaches).