The Evolution of the Spider-Man Costume Onscreen
As you may have noticed from the videos, status updates, or J Johan Jameson memes; Tom Holland as Spider-Man has finally made an appearance in the “Captain America: Civil War” trailer.
As expected the few seconds of footage has been scrutinized and dissected by everyone. We still don’t really know how the young actor will do overall so let’s focus on the suit. While we’re at it let’s see how we got here with the evolution of the Spider-Man suit onscreen.
I decided to lump all of these together as they’re so similar there is little point in separating them. Going from left to right, first we have the most well-known of these with the original TV series, “The Amazing Spider-Man.” It lasted 2 seasons trying to extend the success of the Lou Ferrigno “Incredible Hulk” to more Marvel heroes. Of the ones attempted this was the most successful which probably says something about the quality of the others. Still it’s mostly a pretty accurate costume when compared to the comics. The main difference being the eyes which are totally different from any drawing I’ve ever seen in the comics. I think they were going for a bug-eyed look, but it just looks odd. Next we have a Toei production (yes the same company that made the original Japanese version of Power Rangers). I first learned about this on the internet. Supposedly, it was born out a deal Marvel made to get the rights to some of Toei’s giant robot characters in the US and in return Toei could use Spider-Man for this series. For lack of a better word, they… “Japanized” him. He had a giant robot he could control to fight other giant monsters and I believe he may also have been an alien or something else. Maybe the technology is alien, I don’t know… Japan. Again, pretty accurate just with an armband to control the stuff. The eyes are longer and thinner and they sort of remind me of what Raimi would later do with his film’s suit.
There was actually one before these two on “The Electric Company,” for those who don’t know it was an educational sketch comedy show, mostly known today as the answer to the trivia question, “where did Morgan Freeman get his start?” One of the sketches involved Spider-Man, but here’s the catch he could only communicate through comic book word balloons. So if you wanted to follow what was going on you had to read. I’ve got to say that’s just really clever. Again, the costume looks mostly the same as the others and overall not that different from most Halloween costumes of the character. I guess technically it makes it more accurate to the comics as it is supposed to look like something Peter Parker made himself, but definitely not the coolest looking thing. The funny thing is that in 10 years, suit technology hadn’t really changed much as you can see in this ad for the Cannon Films announcement poster. Fortunately (or depending on your point of view, unfortunately) the film never got made which means our first cinematic portrayal of Spider-Man is…
3 Dev Adam
So let me answer your first question, YES THIS IS REAL. And only predated by “The Electric Company” appearance. This is a Turkish film about Captain America and Mexican wrestling star Santo teaming up to stop a US dollar counterfeiting ring in… Istanbul. I promise I’m not making this up. The leader of this “Spider Gang” is our friendly neighborhood wall crawler Spider-Man. Yes he’s the bad guy. How bad?… EVIL! As in killing people with boat propellers and man-eating guinea pigs. Yes this is all real. I wish I had that kind of imagination. Maybe I made a mistake of referring to him as wall crawler because he doesn’t have any of the usual Spider-Man type powers. Instead, he uses a switchblade and his power seems to coming back to life after being killed… somehow. So from all of that I guess it isn’t surprising that the costume is so bonkers. I don’t know if it’s the film transfer or the costume itself but it looks green instead of the traditional blue. There’s the fact that it looks like he’s wearing Spidey’s normal costume backwards with black leather gloves and the eyes. Normally it’s the mustache that seems to be proportional to a bad-guy’s evilness but here it’s the eyebrows that are so big they pop out past the mask. Then, top this all off with a beer belly going with one of the most famously lean, skinny heroes in comics. At least they got him right on the poster which is something… I guess.
Sam Raimi Spider-Man Trilogy
At this time in film, Blade and the X-Men’s costumes were re-invented with black leather and there was no telling if they weren’t going to go that way with Spider-Man too, but they didn’t. Not only did they not do that, but for the first time a Spider-Man costume looked cinematic. Yes, it no longer looks like something Peter could actually have made himself, but sometimes you just need the hyper reality in movies. Like Tobey Maguire’s performance itself, it sticks pretty close to the comics. Not exact by any means but close in all of the right places. I’d say something about the spider chest symbol but they’ve never really settled on a true iconic design. Even in the comics (unlike say Batman and Superman) each artist does their own like all of the previous entries have. The webbing is raised and, depending on the lighting, looks white, silver, or black throughout the films. I was never a fan of the shapes of the eyes. I don’t know why I get hung up on those because again in the comics they vary from artist to artist. In fact, it’s a good place to check to get a clue who’s drawing the comic you’re looking at. I remember thinking as a kid how it was so close to comics and why it wasn’t closer. I think I assumed it was just the reality of actually putting the costume on a real living person. It was always going to look a little different.
Then we got “Spider-Man 3.” While in my opinion hated on more than it actually deserves, it still has a ton of problems and is undeniably the weak chain in the trilogy. One of its fumbles being the black suit. Oddly enough you’d think that this would have been easier to translate as films love darker edgier looks. However, what we got was basically the regular costume dipped in black coloring. It’s interesting in that it’s a different take, but I always regretted not seeing the true symbiote suit. After all it is a living organism and thus doesn’t really feel it. The one thing I will give it is that it allows for webbing on Venom which made his design an even darker perversion of Spidey’s suit. Too bad they couldn’t match that with the performance. Supposedly they did try to make something closer to the black suit of the comics, but they said it came out looking more like a gimp suit.
I’m just going to get this out of the way, I don’t like Marc Webb’s version of Spider-Man. I feel like he didn’t get the core important aspects. Andrew Garfield sounded like a great choice when I first heard of his casting (I had just recently seen “The Social Network”) but then he and the filmmakers proceeded to turn Peter Parker into a douche I couldn’t bring myself to give a damn about. The first “Amazing Spider-Man” film wanted to set itself apart from the Raimi trilogy, which with “Spider-Man 3” still being fresh in everyone’s head is not surprising. But oh boy did they mess up his costume. Spider-Man is probably the third most iconic comic book superhero (after Batman and Superman) all across the world and we all know him and his costume. So I’m really not that interested in seeing it messed with. From the orange eyes to the basketball looking texture, the whole design looked awful to me. Put me firmly in the pro-organic web shooters camp. Even as a kid I thought it was used more as a crutch for stories. Why can’t Spider-Man just catch the bad-guy “oh no I’m out of webbing!” That’s just a personal preference of mine.
Now you may be saying, “come on Eric, aren’t you just hating on Marc Webb’s vision?” No because I will say they got the costume right in the sequel. I actually haven’t seen it as of this writing as the trailers made it look like they hadn’t learned anything from the previous films, so I skipped it in theaters. The reviews mostly convinced me that I had made the right call. I’ll still see it as a Spidey fan eventually and will try to keep an open mind, but it’s not something I’m itching to do. But do you know what did look good in the trailers? The costume. Yes I may not be a fan of the “Amazing” films, but I have to admit that the second film possibly has the closest costume to the comics. It’s basically the Tobey Maguire version just with the eyes finally looking like the comics. It also taught how much body type plays a role. At first I thought it was just the suit, but then I read that Garfield actually weighs more than Maguire but is taller. Maguire just has a stockier build although design may be part of it too. As I looked at the costumes carefully I noticed the red chest part that runs down the front of the costume is normally fairly thin in the comics and the Garfield costume nailed that whereas it’s much wider on Maguire’s. I think it somehow tricks your eye into thinking that the body is wider too. Just an observation while writing this.
My immediate thought when hearing the news that Marvel had gained back part of the rights (Sony will still make the solo films) to bring Spidey into the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) was, “OK they’re not connected to the Andrew Garfield films (thank God) but how are they going to do the costume? It has to look different to set its own style and Marvel likes to be accurate to their books, but the last film was a practically perfect rendition, where do you go?” Turns out you go to a specific artist’s style, specifically John Romita Sr. What’s funny is that I didn’t realize I wanted this until seeing it so well realized. I think the costume looks great, maybe even better than anything else. I’ll wait until the movie comes out and we can look at it more to make a final decision. As I like the costume from the comics as is, I do think some of the extra stripes are unnecessary, but like I said they had to differentiate it somehow. Not only does the mask look like it’s something that jumped right off the elder Romita’s drawing board, but as we see in the trailer the eyes change shapes. It’s always been one of those comic things where the eyes would magically change shape so that we the readers could better know what the old Web-Head is thinking, but in-universe the mask always stayed the same. It looks like it’s maybe some sort of shutter thing, but they found a way to incorporate it into the films which is so cool for the fans. I can’t wait to see more.