As a superhero, Spider-Man has remained one of the most recognizable, with a fairly consistent look over the years. But that isn’t to say that Spidey hasn’t had his share of revisions – from page to TV, low-budget live-action to big-budget blockbuster, Peter Parker’s alter-ego has been reinvented at the whim of artists and storytellers. Click through for some of the most iconic, memorable and odd costumes Spidey’s worn over the last 50 years.
By Monika Bartyzel
Before Spider-Man, there was Harry Steeger’s pulp hero, Spider – the vigilante-alter of millionaire playboy Richard Wentworth. Untouched by the Great Depression, Wentworth used various disguises to bring justice to the criminal underworld. He’d leave a red “spider” on his victims, and carried a super-strong silken line to catch his prey. 30 years later, Wentworth’s spider inspired Stan Lee to create what would become today’s webbed wonder.
Designing Spider-Man: Ditko v. Kirby
Jack Kirby, comic book artist, had drafted a handful of pages during the inception of the superhero, including one drawing of how Spider-Man should look. In response, artist and co-creator Steve Ditko drew up a comparison sheet, revealing the differences between Kirby’s initial Spidey, close to the design of Captain America, and what Peter Parker’s alter-ego ultimately became.
The First Suit
Spider-Man’s skintight, red and blue costume was not his first. Briefly, in the first Spider-Man issue, Peter Parker wore a different disguise. After seeing a wrestling contest where he could win $100, Peter decides to enter. His costume: jeans and shirt, plus a webbed mask to hide his identity. His costume prowess grows by leaps and bounds after the fight – he goes home and makes himself his nifty spider-themed ensemble.
‘60s - Amazing Fantasy
Perhaps if he wasn’t a superhero, Peter Parker could’ve been a superhero seamstress. From moment-one, Spider-Man wore a timeless costume, one requiring only the barest of updates over the years – almost always the red and blue, with the webbed embellishments. In this first cover, Spider-Man is clad in his classic red and blue, with his distinct, 8-legged spider emblem, and slight webbed wings that would come and go over the years.
‘60s - Strange Tales
For all of Parker’s sewing prowess, this is a fictional world always at the whim of the artist drawing him. In this cover, only one year after Spider-Man’s arrival, he appears on the cover with multiple changes made by Jack Kirby. Most noticeably, his spider emblem is missing and his webbed wings are longer. More minutely, the costume’s webbing is different, there are wider belt and chest bands, and his boots are noticeably shorter.
‘60s - Cartoon
1960s cartoons didn’t offer the same amount of animated detail as current incarnations. To keep Spidey simple, his webbed costume was streamlined with simple red and blue contrasting swatches and few areas of fancy webbing. But the simplification of his costume also resulted in creating a six-legged wonder instead of an eight-legged one. Both the black emblem on the front and the rather stubby outline on the back boast spiders with only six legs.
‘70s – Live-Action TV
In 1977's The Amazing Spider-Man actor Nicholas Hammond played the hero bitten by a radioactive spider. These were the days when human superheroes wore spandex and tights instead of more respectable fighting gear. Hammond’s Spider-Man dons a clingy unitard and handy utility belt. His eyes are reflective, with a more catlike embellishment than the swooping teardrops Spidey was famous for. Those were some of the only similarities the show had with its source material, and Stan Lee was outwardly displeased with the whole affair.
‘70s - Six-Armed Spider-Man
Some of the last comics scripted by Stan Lee in the early ‘70s were the Six-Arm Saga. Peter Parker had grown tired of nabbing crooks and keeping his identity a secret from Gwen Stacy. He vows: “In order for Peter Parker to really live … Spider-Man must die!” He takes an untested serum he’s been working on for years, hoping that it will rid him of his spider attributes—instead, he wakes up with two extra arms.
‘80s - Cartoon Spidey
Let technology catch up for 20 years and you get the ability to craft much more faithful cartoon representations. In the ‘80s, Spider-Man gains a number of artistic improvements over the ‘60s cartoon. This new incarnation has increased muscle definition, webbing across all stretches of red – just like his comic incarnation. The spider emblem isn’t as carefully crafted as the previous slide, but at least Spidey gets a spider with the proper number of legs.
Sure, Spider-Man grew extra arms in the ‘70s, but it wasn’t until the ‘80s that his costume got a new boost. Spidey had to face Electro and his fierce electric blasts, so Peter Parker, ever the seamstress, developed a new, electro-proof costume out of an old rubber air mattress. The new suit wasn’t as flashy as his normal one, the color being much more about function than style, but it absorbed enough of the blasts that Spider-Man was able to claim victory.
Spidey’s costume has never held up all that well during long, drag-out fights. Briefly, however, Spidey donned a new, super-tough creation – a white and blue metallic armor suit that made him bullet-proof to the New Enforcers guns. It didn’t leave the hero as agile as normal, and when it was destroyed by acid, it was never rebuilt.
In Secret Wars #8, Spidey popped up in a new, black-and-white costume. But it wasn’t some new textile creation, but a bunch of alien muck that would attach itself to its human host like a costume. Peter ultimately rid himself of the menace and it ultimately turned Eddie Brock into Venom. This suit, of course, isn’t to be confused with the very similar suit designed by Black Cat, which Spidey wore once when his go-to threads were wet from washing.
Not every spider is Peter Parker. In this 1992 line, he is Miguel O’Hara, a geneticist living in 2099, and the first Latino Spider-Man. Created for the hero's 30th anniversary, this story sees O’Hara fall victim to genetic sabotage that gives him 50% spider DNA. Masked, the blue and red remain, in a much different form. The webs are gone, as is the simple spider. 2099’s Spidey boasts a menacing arachnid skeleton, no tear-drop eyes, and some claw-like hands with folding talons.
At one point, he even got some help from the one and only Tony Stark. Tony created his Iron Man-esque suit, one with many toys and gadgets including extra mechanical arms and cloaking devices. Unlike the stiff, piecemeal costume we know from movie-Iron Man, Spidey’s costume was made with a “smart” metal that could change shape and look as needed, responding to mind control. Ultimately, however, Peter went back to his old costume.
Spider-Man 1, The Wrestler
In 2002, Sam Raimi introduced Spider-Man to the big screen, but before he could become the snazzy webslinger, Raimi went back to Peter’s early roots and threw him into the wrestling ring. Tobey Maguire’s wrestling costume was very simple, and very believably homemade. He wore a red sweatshirt decorated with a large spider and web, and a simple red mask as he faced Bonesaw McGraw, played by real WWE fighter Randy Macho Man Savage.
Spider-Man 1, The Real Costume
Cinema Spidey’s next costume grew by leaps and bounds, employing the same basic design Spider-Man always wore, and boasting a much more snazzy design than his previous live-action incarnation. The spider on Peter’s chest looks realistic, with 8 large legs against a silver webbing and a form-fitting, rubbery bodysuit. In fact, with the ability to have more realistic costume webbing, the expanses of red increase taking over for much of the basic blue.
2003 - Biker Spidey
In 2003, Spider-Man doesn’t exactly get a very merry birthday. Instead, he gets faced with versions of his past and future self in trouble, faced with every villain he’s encountered over the years. This incarnation also takes a future Peter Parker out of his heroic unitard and throws him into real clothes – a reversible jacket, his mask, and some gloves. It’s practical, but it doesn’t seem right for the webbed wonder.
Spider-Man 3 isn’t the most beloved superhero movie out there, and was a distinct disappointment after the success of Spider-Man 2. However, Raimi’s final foray into Peter Parker’s world did give us a more “real-life” look at the symbiote attaching itself to Spider-Man and changing his look. An oil-meets-Silly Putty material stretches across Peter until his classic red and blue becomes a scaled black with silver webbing.
Though mostly a loner, Spider-Man finally got himself a group in 2011 when he joined the Fantastic Four after a long relationship with the heroes (which included one brief costume where Peter wore an FF costume and bag over his head in a pinch). As a member, Spider-Man got a snazzy new black-and-white costume with a large black spider whose legs stretch across his chest, complimenting the black bands and white chevrons that stretch across his inner arms and outer legs. Like Iron Man’s earlier gift, this suit has the ability to morph.
Almost 20 years after Spider-Man was taken over by Miguel O’Hara, the half-black, half-Latino Miles Morales appeared, a nerdy kid with scientific prowess. Peter’s blood is used to create new super-bitey spiders, one of which escapes and bites the unsuspecting Miles. As a new Spidey, he has a more streamlined costume – darker blues and reds, fewer webs -- thanks to help from S.H.I.E.L.D.
The Amazing Movie Spider-Man
In Marc Webb's new movie, the costume has a few new embellishments – the texture is riddled with distinct scales, the webbing is darker, and the spider has a very angular and sharp body. And though it looks a lot tougher than some of the older styles, it rips just as easily.
Which is your favorite incarnation? Tell us below!