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The Comic Book Origins Of 14 Superheroes' Signature Looks

October 5, 2020 14 items

The most iconic superhero costumes in history are those that have stuck around for decades after being designed by legendary artists like Joe Shuster, Bill Finger, and Jack Kirby - but that only serves to explain their real-world origins. Each cape and cowl also needs an in-universe, canonical backstory to explain how they ended up on the back of a crime fighter, and that’s where the writers get to step up and put together something memorable.

Most superheroes just end up sewing their own costume, like Spider-Man did, or having it made for them by some supporting character. (Where would the Batman be without Alfred Pennyworth’s needlework?) But other superheroic uniforms have origin stories of their own every bit as interesting as those of the characters who wear them.

  • Superman's Costume Came From Within His Kryptonian Rocket
    Photo: DC Comics

    The Kryptonian rocket that delivered baby Superman from Krypton to Kansas didn’t just save him from the destruction of his planet - it also provided the basis for his eventual superhero costume. When young Clark Kent accidentally started a fire in the attic, Pa Kent noticed the Kryptonian blankets in which he'd been swaddled did not burn, and so Ma Kent fashioned a blue-and-red costume out of them. 

    Over the years, she’d continuously unravel and reknit the costume as Clark grew. Eventually, the rocket’s seatbelt was repurposed into a regular belt, and the upholstery was turned into Superman’s trademark red boots. Through several continuity reboots, the super-suit’s backstory has changed, but these days it seems to have returned to the original version.

  • When Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider and famously developed the ability to do whatever a spider could, he didn’t let anyone else in on his secret - not even those closest to him. That meant he couldn’t get his Aunt May to make a costume for him, so he had to learn to sew and put the ensemble together himself. All things considered, it’s an impressive design for an amateur.

    When he first put needle to thread, however, Parker didn't have superheroics in mind. Instead, he was just looking for a flashy and fashionable way to protect his identity while pursuing a career as a professional wrestler, reasoning that his unique abilities made him a natural for the squared circle. It was only after his showbiz antics indirectly led to the demise of his Uncle Ben that Parker actually embarked on his web-slinging career. Conveniently enough, he already had the outfit ready to go.

  • Wonder Woman's Costume Was Intended To Make Her A Hero To Americans
    Photo: DC Comics

    In the original telling of Wonder Woman’s origin, she wished desperately to leave the island paradise of Themyscira in order to fight alongside the Allies in World War II. Her mother, Hippolyta, forbid it, but agreed that an Amazonian representative should be sent to the United States to aid in combating the Third Reich, so she announced a tournament to choose her champion. Diana, wearing a mask to conceal her identity, proved victorious, and Hippolyta begrudgingly agreed to send her.

    Before she departed, however, Diana was gifted a new uniform to take with her - one specifically designed to win the hearts of Americans - as well as a new title: Wonder Woman. This explains why an Amazonian would be running around in an outfit clearly based around the symbols of another land; that’s exactly what it was intended to be.

  • Tony Stark notoriously built his first set of armor in a cave, with a box of scraps, but it didn’t take long before the inventive Iron Man felt the need for an upgrade. At first content with retooling the Model 1 and painting it gold, he eventually clashed with the supervillain Mister Doll - who, despite his nebbishy name, used his voodoo abilities to deal Stark a real thrashing.

    Stark realized the Model 1 was far too bulky, causing it to waste an enormous amount of energy just to hold itself up. He went back to the lab and came up with the Model 2, a significantly sleeker design that also debuted the red-and-gold color scheme that would immediately become emblematic of his character. Iron Man may have invented dozens of new armors since, but he's never strayed far from this aesthetic for too long.