Classic comic book costume designs often pose a problem for live-action superhero stories. In order to present something vaguely reality adjacent, comics artists’ original intentions are often thrown out wholesale. Marvel movies and TV shows seem to do this quite a lot.
It’s far more common these days to see movies and shows reimagine a character's look (think Scarlet Witch in Avengers: Age Of Ultron), or outright disregard the established styles (like the generic black outfits from Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four), than it is to see a slavish recreation of a comic book character’s familiar threads.
There are exceptions of course – the Stark-assisted Spider-Man costume from Captain America: Civil War looks pretty accurate, and Deadpool has no qualms with its protagonist’s pre-existing style (minus a few belts and straps) – but these examples seem to be very much in the minority.
Often, the most fans can hope for is an Easter egg nod to the comic book costume. Before a live-action version of a beloved Marvel hero saunters into a new adventure, they might want to take a moment to snark about their comic book counterpart’s questionable dress sense.
Take, for example, these 15 Times Marvel Movies And TV Only Teased The Original Costumes.
15 “What Would You Prefer, Yellow Spandex?”
In the very first X-Men movie – Bryan Singer’s year 2000 game-changer – Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine expressed a lack of enthusiasm for the trendy black leather ensemble he’d been squeezed into. Then came an immortal line from James Marsden’s Cyclops: “What would you prefer, yellow spandex?” Cue millions of comics fans around the globe shouting in the affirmative.
Years later, a scene was shot for James Mangold’s The Wolverine where Logan is handed a suitcase. He opens it, sees an immediately recognizable yellow costume inside, and raises an eyebrow. The scene ended up on the cutting room floor, becoming a fan legend.
The hints continued in Mangold’s dystopian western Logan, where comic book pages were shown featuring Wolvie in his beloved yellow threads. There was also an action figure depicted at one point, displaying the same iteration of the character’s costume. Sadly, this is probably the closest that Hugh will ever hue to the comics.
14 Jessica Jones’ Jewel Outfit
In season one, episode five of Jessica Jones, the Marvel/Netflix series served fans of the comics a massive Easter egg to chew on. Rachael Taylor’s Trish Walker enthusiastically suggested that Krysten Ritter’s super-powered sleuth should don a white jumpsuit and adopt the Jewel persona.
Even if you’ve never read a comic, you would probably recognize this as the fan-pleasing "nod to the original costume, without actually embracing it" moment. To be honest, in this case, it was probably for the best that the buck stopped where it did.
Ritter’s Jessica Jones would have to go way out of her surly, sarcastic character to accept a cutesy name and don a pristine white costume. This moniker and look doesn’t wash at all with the whiskey-loving leather jacket enthusiast at the heart of the show.
13 Bullseye's Entire Costume
Nothing beats Colin Farrell’s Bullseye. You can just imagine the bizarre studio exec conversations that lead to this costume idea, which ended up front and center in the 2003 Daredevil film.
“Yeah, that comic book costume is a bit much, isn’t it?” one exec might ask. “True,” another might concede. “But without it he’s just an ordinary marksman without a gimmick. Where’s the fun in that?” “Um.... why don’t we... carve a bullseye into his head...?” “Done!"
As silly as Mr. Farrell looks in this flick, the decision made here turned out alright. The bullseye-on-the-forehead look is bizarre, but it fits with the oddness of the movie, and shows some level of respect for the comics. And it suits this swaggering Irish version of the character better than a leather or spandex bodysuit would.
12 X-Men: First Class Uniforms
The X-Men: First Class uniforms were close, but not close enough. Matthew Vaughn’s prequel/soft reboot/franchise saver presented the perfect opportunity to fully realize the iconic yellow uniforms from the earliest X-Men comics. The time setting meant that they didn’t need to look fashionable by modern standards.
To be fair to the film, the yellow and black colouring was present and correct. Even though the comic book versions never really looked this leathery and aeroplane-inspired, these costumes offer a decent amount of fan service.
However, a couple of iconic features are missing, meaning you can’t really call these fully faithful: there are no "X" insignias whatsoever, and the yellow crotches have been removed. The latter decision is fair enough, and the plot essentially explains the former: the name "X-Men" isn’t coined until the end of the film.
Without the "X"s, though, these costumes fail to fully represent the originals. They’re more like a knowing wink.
11 Spider-Man’s Homemade Costume
When Tom Holland debuted as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War, fans of Marvel’s iconic web-slinger rejoiced in droves. Additionally, as mentioned earlier, Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark designs a wonderful costume for Spidey, which very closely emulates Steve Ditko’s original artwork. It even has the adjustable eyes.
However, there is a tantalizingly brief hint at another iconic comic book Spidey style: the homemade costume, which Peter creates for himself in his early days of wall-crawling. It is shown in grainy YouTube footage and crumpled up in Peter’s bedroom, but fans didn’t get to see it properly. Darn the MCU and its teasers...
Thankfully, Spider-Man: Homecoming is set to right this wrong: the film will feature the homemade Spider-suit in all its DIY glory.
10 The Incredible Hulk's Purple Pants
Louis Leterrier’s 2008 film The Incredible Hulk featured a character holding up a memorable piece of comic book clothing that the central hero ultimately opts not to wear.
In this case, it was Edward Norton displaying the striking purple pants of Marvel’s big green rage monster. It’s hardly a complex costume, but, for comic book fans, these pants have become utterly synonymous with Bruce Banner and his jade giant alter ego.
Again, it’s easy to see why they chose to make a jokey reference here rather than sticking Norton in the purple pants for real. They might have looked cool and comics-accurate on the CGI Hulk, but they did look downright ridiculous on the skinny Bruce Banner the rest of the time. It's probably for the best that Norton didn’t wear them.
9 Old Man Logan Cowboy Hat
It wasn’t just the yellow Wolverine costume that Logan alluded to: the memorable cowboy-esque look from the Old Man Logan comics also got a knowing nod, offering yet another wink at the hardcore fan base.
When Logan, Laura, and Charles enter the casino, young X-23 takes an interest in some clothing on display. In a glass case, she sees the outfits that her and Logan ultimately change into, but with one notable addition: a cowboy hat, which Jackman’s adamantium-clad ronin never puts on.
The hat is a blatant reference to the final pages of the Old Man Logan comic books, in which a recently un-retired Wolverine dons an outfit fit for a Western gunslinger. (He’s very Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven in this moment.)
Of course, the Western influences that inspired the comics are very much present in Logan, but they stopped just short of putting Jackman in a hat. Shame.
8 Iron Man’s Space Suit
Fan excitement reached galactic proportions when an outer space Iron Man suit was featured in the promo materials for Iron Man 3. Speculation posited that Tony Stark might travel to space at some point in the film, following on from his wormhole experience and tying up Avengers: Infinity War.
Sadly, these rumours came to naught. The space-ready Iron Man suit was just one of a million empty shells that showed up for the final fight and then got blown up, as part of a big romantic gesture. Fans got all of the teasing, but none of the payoff.
Comic book fans felt particularly let down, given that Stark’s space suit is one of the best-loved Iron Man outfits from the source material. However, instead of actually showing this awesome comic book concept being used, all the film offered was a vague tease of it in the background.
Our fingers remain crossed that Downey's Stark will spacesuit up at some point in the future.
7 Deadpool’s Diamond-Eyed Costume
As mentioned earlier, Tim Miller’s 2016 Deadpool movie offered up a highly faithful costume - complete with emotive eyes - that was a direct nod to the comics. It was only a few massive guns and unnecessary straps away from being perfect.
Years prior to this, though, Deadpool’s legion of fans had to make do with the most naff allusion ever to a comic book costume. Gavin Hood’s 2009 X-Men Origins: Wolverine woefully reimagined Deadpool as a shirtless, mouthless mess with laser eyes and retractable sword bones.
There was only one clue about what Ryan Reynolds’ Merc With a Mouth was meant to look like: the areas around his eyes were burned out in diamond shapes, offering a lame allusion to Wade Wilson’s comic book costume.
6 Iron Fist's Proper Look
There is a lot wrong with Marvel and Netflix’s first season of Iron Fist, which meant that niggles about the costume – or lack thereof – were quite low down on the list of talking points. It’s worth pointing out on this list that they did a very bad job at even alluding to Danny Rand’s comic book clobber.
In one episode, Danny uses a green shirt to cover the lower half of his face, which feels as if it was added in last minute, particularly because it’s not even the correct half of his face. In the comics, of course, Iron Fist uses a green bandana to cover has his eyes and forehead, not his mouth and chin.
If Iron Fist does return for a second season, it would be nice to see a proper costume for Danny, with some level of accuracy. Failing that, fans' hopes of seeing a properly dressed Iron Fist will lie solely with crossovers such as The Defenders.
5 Cap's Wings
Chris Evans’ Captain America costumes have all been pretty good, but one main detail is missing from the comics that stops them from being fully accurate: the wings that stick out on the side of Cap’s helmet.
Captain America: The First Avenger does a decent job of paying homage to this detail, by painting some wings on. However, this is still more of an Easter egg nod than a pure page-to-screen recreation. On one level, this is a bit of a shame: if there was ever a chance to get away with doing this costume right, it was in the World War II era.
On a different level, it was probably wise to stop short of going all the way. Steve Rogers is a vital character to get right in order for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to fully flourish, and wings jutting out from his headwear may have made him look a bit too silly.
4 Yondu’s Fin
When James Gunn’s 2014 masterstroke Guardians of the Galaxy was being put together, a decision was made not to make Michael Rooker’s Yondu a carbon copy of his comic book original. The main change you’ll notice is that they chopped his fin off, leaving just a stump atop Rooker’s cranium. That’s enough to nod to the original, but not enough to be deemed fully accurate.
Whether it was a stylistic, budgetary, or logistical decision, it didn’t do the film any harm. Thanks to Rooker’s gruff charm, as well as some memorable scenes and the awesome whistling/murder move, Yondu came out of the film as a firm fan favorite.
In 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Gunn gave Yondu an expanded role and a full-on fin to go with it. It was a treat for the comic book faithful to see the character closer to his comic book roots, and this time around Rooker stole the show completely.
3 The Mandarin’s Magic Rings
Sir Ben Kingsley certainly looked the part as the Mandarin in Shane Black’s Iron Man 3. However, notoriously, this wasn’t the part he was really playing. In a fashion that Robert Downey Jr. could surely appreciate, Kingsley was just a dude playing a dude, pretending to be another dude.
One downside of the Trevor Slattery/Mandarin reveal is that Marvel produced a gorgeous costume for Kingsley that ended up just being a disguise. They even went to the effort of giving him ten rings – a trademark of the Mandarin from the comics.
Within the pages of Marvel Comics, the Mandarin’s rings are magical artifacts containing the souls of dead dragon-like warriors. They provide the Mandarin with mastery over matter, and the abilities to disintegrate objects, spread poison gas, blast flames, and much more.
In Iron Man 3, the rings provide a visual nod to these powerful items, but they’re nothing more than an actor’s accessories. There’s no sign that these rings have any powers. They’re merely Easter eggs, instead of adaptations.
2 Star-Lord’s Suit
Another way in which Guardians of the Galaxy drifted from the comics was in its visual representation of Peter Quill/Star-Lord. Instead of opting to give Quill his blue and red costume from the comics, with its meter-like logo, Chris Pratt was kitted out in a cool ensemble, featuring a snazzy leather jacket.
They did throw in a bit of reverence to the comic book costume, though. Star-Lord’s mask, especially its glowing eyes, bear something of a resemblance to the comics iteration of the character. This was enough to keep the fans happy, especially considering how obscure a character Peter Quill was before the movie came out.
Here’s a fun fact: art has begun imitating movies with regard to Marvel hero costumes – since the first Guardians film’s release in 2014, Star-Lord has been drawn in the comics with a Chris-Pratt-aping costume.
1 Luke Cage’s Tiara
The most fun example of a Marvel live-action property nodding towards comic book costumes has to be the moment from Luke Cage. In the fourth episode of the first season, Mike Colter briefly dons his character's zany threads from the comics.
Escaping Seagate Prison after some dodgy experimentation, beardy Luke has a metal headset on and chains around his wrists. He grabs a garish shirt and some jeans off a washing line, and voila: he’s dressed exactly like his comic book counterpart. Eventually he spots his reflection and utter the wonderful line, “you look like a damn fool.”
This, arguably, is the perfect way to do it. This scene doesn’t encroach on TV-Luke’s crime fighting costume of choice: it’s only a flashback, so he’s back in his hoodie later on. However, it still allows fans to see a proper recreation of the classic costume, and witness how perfect a physical fit Colter is for the character.
Perhaps this is the way forward for Marvel costumes: where possible, chuck in the cheesy old outfits to give fans what they want. The rest of the time, stick to the modern looks, so no one looks like a "damn fool" for too long.
Can you think of any other Marvel comic book costume teasers in any of their movies or shows? Let us know in the comments!