Bad isn’t necessarily bad

I recently stumbled across this fascinating pair of panels from the early run of Iron Man:

I’ve always like the gray Iron Man armor. I think it’s cool, modern, and intimidating. But I like the red and gold armor even better — it’s all those things and it looks stone-cold awesome. Costume redesigns are tricky, it can be hard to retain the original integrity of the character while making the whole outfit look better.

What I love about these panels is that you have the character himself offering an excellent rationale for a redesign besides just “we need more sales”. His armor works and looks good, but he identifies a key problem — you have to not only intimidate your enemies, you have to make the people you’re supposedly serving feel good about you, too. Otherwise they might call Thor instead when they reach for the phone to call in the latest bad guy rampaging through downtown.

The outfit’s bulky, Frankenstein-like appearance is a drag on his public relations, so he decides to make a shift. I love that — generally characters don’t give their outfits more than a moment’s consideration, if that, and changes are foisted on them from the strip’s writers and artists without necessarily making much in-character sense.

I think this is a great example of a bad-ass costume still being bad for the character (paging black-costume Spider-Man!), leading to a redesign that works both in-character and as a sales driver. In fact, I’d argue that no other character in comics has costume changes integrated into the very (ahem) fabric of the character as well as Iron Man does. Part of it, clearly, is that his costume is his super-power, but there are plenty of other armored avengers out there who are stuck with one look. Not so Iron Man — he’s got a closet full of armor that would put Imelda Marcos’ shoe collection to shame. And it works!

So bravo to the Marvel team for taking a bad-ass design and shelving it in favor of one equally cool, but even more effective. Well done, old-school sirs!

(Image and character © Marvel Comics.)

About Jeff Hebert

Jeff is a 45 year old city boy who has somehow found himself located in Colorado, fulfilling his lifetime dream of making a living drawing super-heroes all day.

14 Responses to Bad isn’t necessarily bad

  1. “In fact, I’d argue that no other character in comics has costume changes integrated into the very (ahem) fabric of the character as well as Iron Man does.”

    The only one who comes close was The Wasp during her “new costume every issue” phase, justified by her career as a fashion designer- and we DID see her closet full of costumes.

  2. What would Rob Leifelds Iron Man look like?

  3. @Danny Beaty:
    Some kind of bizzare Iron Man/Stilt Man hybrid with spikes jutting out everywhere, maybe?

  4. @EnderX: And little tiny feet.

  5. Since the armored hero character contest I’ve been tweaking my character Gray Guardian. Here he is:

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=561388&l=4ad5f193d5&id=1815191475

  6. Nick Hentschel

    “I say ‘cool’ is rube; sometimes, bad is BAD.”

    - Huey Lewis and the News

  7. Watson Bradshaw

    I love that good ol’ Tony has a suit to take down every individual superhero in the Marvel U!!! Just if he goes on a bender and starts another Arms race.

    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_nlyTcxWNEns/TGtmNFWbKxI/AAAAAAAAAkQ/luVHcLKK5Pk/s1600/Hulk_Buster_Iron_Man.jpg

    http://www.superherotimes.com/news/images/390-ML15%20Destroyer.jpg

  8. William A. Peterson

    Nice, Danny…
    Actually, Tony didn’t go straight for the Red and Gold!
    He just spray painted the above suit in all over gold, which was a LITTLE better.
    Of course, the current Red and Gold suit has artificial eyeballs stuck all over it (to give him 360 degree vision), and ‘lives’ inside his bone structure…

  9. A positive review for bad super hero costumes?
    Now I really have seen everything.

  10. Howzabout them Iron Spiders, huh? Or Iron Patriot? Or Iron Lad? Or DC’s Hardwire? Or Dark Horse Comics’ Hero Zero?

  11. The cool thing in movie was why Tony Stark chose red and gold. The colors of his favorite car. Very zing.

    One reason I like the armor concept is the character can “re-invent” himself (or herself) in a “logical” manner. One of my Champions characters was “The Jade” with a Power Pool based on her OIF (Obvious Inaccessible Focus) suit. She had the green theme, but her powers varied with which suit she wore.

    Hey… I think I’ll use HM to re-design her. There’s a novel idea. I’ll post her in this thread later.

  12. @William A. Peterson: Thank you!

  13. @Owl_Poop
    Given who Iron Lad really was, I’d say you’re opening a complete new can of ‘bad costume’ worms bringing him up.

  14. The Jade: An early version with jetpack and amplifier (concussion wave and flash attack)

    http://members.cox.net/freethespam/the_jade.html