I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
It was such a big deal when Spider-Man changed his costume. That notion seems a little strange these days, given that the wall-crawler and all his fellow denizens of the mighty Marvel universe now cycle through new get-ups at roughly the rate of Cher on stage in Las Vegas during the peak of her quick-change razzle dazzle. But in 1984, Spider-Man had consistently stuck with a highly identifiable red, blue, and bewebbed outfit for over twenty years of comic book adventures with changes no more drastic than shedding his armpit webs or slicing a few holes in the side to accommodate extra appendages. There was a whole lot more to the makeover that debuted in Amazing Spider-Man #252, written by Tom DeFalco with art by Ron Frenz and Brett Breeding.
The sartorial alteration Peter Parker made for his alter ego took place while he was away on business. Indeed, many of the costumed, super-powered beings, of good and bad guy persuasions, were off-Earth. They had mysteriously vanished, leaving the regular citizens to speculate on their whereabouts. Even the hard-hitting journalists at the Daily Bugle were stumped, some of them prone to wild, inflammatory conjecture.
The devoted readership of these four-color mags of course knew that the heroes and villains being whisked away had something to do with the limited series Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, which was about to start sharing spinner rack space with the other monthly offerings of the publisher. Within the fiction, though, pins and needles were worrisomely perched upon, at least until the heroes made their surprise homecoming through the sparking portals of a strange structure in Central Park. That’s when the world, inside and outside of the comic book page, got its first collective gander at the new-look Spider-Man in action.
Spider-Man was back, now in black. As it turned out, this was more than a simple garment change. Unlike his previous costume, which was stitched up by the fellow himself in his humble Queens bedroom, the new duds had a whole lot of special features that weren’t offered by even the most creative Earthbound tailors. Most notably, the costume transformed at the merest thought.
Decades after the publication of Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars and all the titles that saw changes big and small from the story told in its pages, the chronology is all mushed together in the memory. At the time, though, the structure was fairly audacious. The heroes disappeared at the end of one month’s issue and returned in a transformed state the next. In that next month is when the twelve-issue Secret Wars series started, so it took a full year of monthly installments for readers to learn how those changes transpired. Spider-Man’s new costume didn’t show up until the eighth issue of the limited series, for instance. DeFalco had a great deal of fun with this slow reveal, filling Amazing Spider-Man #252 with all sorts of dramatic references to the momentousness of this war fought in secret, such as Peter pondering the photos he took during the cataclysm.
Around the same time the Secret Wars issue featuring the origin of the black costume was released, Spider-Man discovered the special features of the suit came with problematic side effects. Not more than a year passed in the comic series before Ol’ Webhead was an accurate nickname again. Even so, the story of the black costume wasn’t done yet, not by a long shot. As previously noted, it was a big deal.
Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.