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Reminiscing on Spider-Mans Rainments
Remembering the Birth of the Black Suit
By Chad Derdowski
April 27, 2011
There are certain touchstone moments in human history that cut us to the very core. Those moments which can be recalled with stunning clarity and accuracy… the assassinations of JFK or John Lennon. The Challenger explosion or the fall of the Berlin Wall. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 or the suicide of Kurt Cobain. When thinking back on events such as these, it’s often easy to remember the smells, the weather, the clothes we were wearing or exactly what we were doing when we first heard the news.
For many of us whose hobbies happen to include a weekly trip to the comic shop, May of 1984 holds such memories. That is the month during which Amazing Spider-Man #252 hit stands, and the first time we found out that the rumors were true, as the blurb on the cover suggested, and we were introduced to the “new Spider-Man”.
We’ve come a long way since then and that alien symbiote has since tried to kill Spider-Man, bonded with another human and continued to attempt the Webhead’s murder, been sold to the highest bidder (who also happened to have a strong desire to see Spider-Man dead) and has recently wound up in the service of the United States military, granting legs to Flash Thompson and allowing him to continue to serve and protect his country. These days, we tend to cringe at the very thought of that symbiote, after years of Lethal Protectors, Carnage and The Bride of Venom (not to mention the big screen travesty that was Spider-Man 3); but back then, it was just “the black suit” and as far as we knew, Spider-Man had turned bad. At least, it sure looked that way to us and our friends, most of whom were around 7 or 8 years old at the time. Those were simpler days, when bad guys actually did wear black.
How many of you are in your mid-to-late-30’s? You remember it well, don’t you? Or perhaps it wasn’t until early to mid-summer before you finally found out… was it the next door neighbor who had a copy of a recent issue of Amazing (or perhaps Spectacular) Spider-Man, or was it a classmate, or maybe even your older brother who showed up in the driveway, callously tossing his bicycle aside and rushing to share the news with you? Regardless, the next step likely involved frantically begging your parents for money or scouring the couch cushions for spare change – comics were only 60 cents back in those days – and then, the furious pedaling of sneakered feet to get to the local 7-11 or drugstore to see just what the hell was going on. Was it true? Had Spider-Man turned evil? Was there someone else under the mask? And what about these rumblings we’d heard that the suit had powers of its own?
And then, the discovery. That sleek design, like nothing we’d ever seen before. Unless, of course, we had older siblings who were reading Grendel… something we’ve always been a little suspicious of, but that’s neither here nor there. The black suit was to the 1980’s what Spider-Man’s original red-and-blues were to the 1960’s: a complete breath of fresh air. Let’s face it, true believers, Steve Ditko’s design for Spider-Man’s original costume was and still is one of the all-time greats in superhero history. From the full face mask to the striping down the arms to the fact that it didn’t feature underpants on the outside, that costume must have looked absolutely unbelievable in 1962 – which is exactly what the black suit was in 1984.
First of all, it wasn’t really all that common for a hero to wear black back then. Or… maybe it was more common than we think, but like we said, we were seven. Our worldview was still pretty myopic at the time. So that’s undoubtedly what led to our brief impression that Pete had switched sides. Beyond the color, that suit looked downright sinister and ten kinds of badass. It’s an absolutely brilliant design, beautiful and elegant in its simplicity. No gloves, no boots; just basic black. And that doesn’t even touch upon the redesigned symbol, which wasn’t just featured on both the chest and back, but actually connected on his ribcage. It was mindblowing then and when clear our minds of the oversaturation of symbiotes that the ‘90s yielded, it still strikes us as a pretty mindblowing design. Kudos to Mike Zeck and Randy Schueller for creating such an amazing look.
These days, it’s not uncommon for a hero to get a new look every few years. Dan Slott’s current Spider-Man storyline has already introduced two in the past year, not to mention Spidey’s FF duds. Heck, most of the time, two artists can’t even agree on a definitive look for a hero and wind up drawing them however they please. But back then, it was earth shattering; at least to us. Perhaps older fans were more cynical, but at the time, our friends had no idea the black suit wasn’t permanent. For all we knew, that was the costume that Spidey would be wearing from now on and frankly, we thought it was awesome.
People can reminisce about the death of Superman or waiting in lines to see the first Tim Burton Batman movie all they want. For us, seeing Spider-Man’s black costume was a monumental occasion that remains etched in our minds as one of our earliest and most important geek memories, and no matter how overused or altered that costume (or character) becomes, we’ll never forget that bicycle ride to 7-11 when history was made.
… and don’t even get us started on the first time we saw Beta Ray Bill. You wanna talk about mindblowing?!?! Sheesh!
Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?
And if I can stop referring to myself in the 3rd person for a moment… with this, my 2 ½ - year run on Comicscape comes to an end. It’s been nearly 3 years filled with four-color philosophy, monthly mindtrips, graphic novel guidance, sequential art suggestions and comic book consultation. My time here has given me a lot of great experiences, allowed me a place to sharpen my skills (though some might disagree) and I’ve made a few friends (and probably a few enemies) as well.
I’d like to thank the folks at Mania for giving me a soapbox upon which to espouse my views and I’d especially like to thank the Maniacs for reading them week in and week out and offering opinions of their own. If you’ve taken nothing else away from our time together, I hope you’ve developed an appreciation for Spider-Ham and signed at least one petition to bring Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends to DVD.
And if you are among the rare few who might actually miss me, feel free to hit me up on Facebook (I’d love to be your virtual pal) and check out more of my inane ramblings on the Zod Complex and Geek Fights podcasts which can be found at zodcomplex.com and geekfights.net respectively. Until then, I’ll see you in the comic shop next Wednesday!