If you were to ask a child to draw a spider you would probably get a black circle with eight lines coming out of it. This would be the basic representation of an arachnid. What you would probably not get back from a child would be a blue and red circle with blue and red lines comic out of it. Sure, there are spiders of every colour, but the red/blue scheme as a go to is pure comics. Primary colours such as that were often used for heroes, and secondary colours or shades were used for villains. Captain America, Thor, and Ironman all have bright primary colours to denote their heroism. Villains like the Vulture, Mysterio, and Dr. Doom have greens, purples, and greys to indicate their less than heroic nature. This is also why the colour scheme for the Hulk is so interesting, but I digress, as the topic of this column is a story about a costume change, and it is one that makes Spider-Man look like a villain.
Tale of the Tape
Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars Vol 1. #8
Written by Jim Shooter
Pencils by Mike Zeck
Inks by John Beatty, Jack Abel, Mike Esposito
Cover by Mike Zeck, John Beatty
Coloured by Christie Scheele
Lettered by Joe Rosen
44th ed. Overstreet Guide puts a 9.2 at $50
Available on Marvel Digital Unlimited
Costume changes for comic book characters happen pretty regularly, but they are mostly little tweaks based on artistic style. It isn’t very often that we get a complete re-design of iconic elements, and it is even less often that these elements are met with critical praise and become longstanding cannon. Daredevil is one of the few costume changes where there was a very marked difference from the original, but it worked and has since been the costume for the Man Without Fear. Less successfully, Superman become a lighting person, Batman a robot, and Wonder Woman was given pants. So costume changes don’t always stick, and the can never fully shake the gimmicky nature of the change. It is a superficial change to the nature of the character and book, but often hyped with a fervour that hopes to increase sales.
There was no internet in 1984, but I would have to assume that Spider-Man getting the black costume would be met but a great deal of negative feedback, not because was a bad idea, but simply because any change to a long-standing character will alienate some of the core audience. However, in the midst of the Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars the House of Ideas risked just that and introduced the world to the alien costume.
Legend has it that various studies led Marvel to discover that two words resonated with young boys: Secret and Wars. This key, toy-buying demographic would be drawn to this combination, and so to sell toys a comic book series was needed. What was created was an endearing 12 part story that shows various heroes and villains plucked from the Earth by the nigh-omnipotent Beyonder and forced to fight on a planet called Battleworld. A metaphor for small children dumping all of their toys out on the carpet and deciding who would fight whom. Yes, the premise sounds hokey, and yes, the dialogue now seems a bit dated, but this was a popular, fun series that many (increasingly) aged readers look back on with great fondness.
In many ways Secret Wars shook up the status quo in the Marvel Universe at the time: Colossus found a new romantic interest, She-Hulk joined the Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man got a new costume. Interestingly enough all of these were revealed in the Marvel Universe before they happened in the Secret Wars Mini-Series. For example, Spider-Man first appeared in the black costume in Amazing Spider-Man #252, which came out 2 months before Secret Wars #8, where he actually gets the costume. This meant that the reader already knew the what, and now was looking forward to reading the how.
The story of Secret Wars #8 revolves around the heroes launching a rescue mission to save She-Hulk from the villain team. It features a great series of fights, and the heroes are successful, but many damage their costumes in the process. Luckily, Thor tells Spider-Man about a machine that will repair his costume. But wouldn’t you know it? Spider-Man uses the wrong machine and released a symbiote, a living organism that becomes his costume, responds to his thoughts and gives him some new benefits. The Symbiote can shape shift to look like item of clothing, boosts Spidey’s strength a bit, and can create webbing that never runs out. Here is Spider-Man 2.0!
Spider-Man would keep the Black Costume for about 4 years, but over that time he would discover that it was trying to permanently bond with him and so, with the help of Reed Richards, Spidey removed the costume. Feeling spurned, the alien found a new host in Eddie Brock, and their mutual hatred of Spider-Man created the fan favourite villain Venom. And the rest, as they say, as history. But it all started with a ripped costume on Battleworld.
Costume changes don’t always work, but I feel like Spider-Man taking on the black costume was a very interesting concept that worked really well and has given us some fantastic stories. If you want to check out more of the Alien Costume Saga you can read pretty much any Spider-Man story from 1984-1988. The Black Costume makes periodic reappearances (but just black cloth, not an alien) after that period with the most notable being Spider-Man #13-14 and the Back In Black storyline (Amazing Spider-Man #539-543).