Spider-Man is back—but why all dressed in black?


Enlarge / New continent, new costume. (credit: Sony Pictures)

It’s maybe no weirder than anything else in comic books that Peter Parker—a working-class teenager from Queens who is also Spider-Man—must have a closet the size of the one at Vogue. (It’s big. So I hear.) Because over his six-decade career in comics, television, and movies, this guy has had a lot of costumes.

His new movie, Spider-Man: Far From Home, showcases at least four: a baseline blue-and-red, a black superspy outfit, the metallic robot-arm-equipped armor he wore in Avengers: Endgame, and a nifty new red-and-black suit. Now, sure, that Beyoncé-like number of outfit changes could just be a play to sell more dolls (“action figures,” pfft). But it also embeds this third cinematic Spider-Man even more deeply in a long comic-book tradition. Costume changes illustrate character development. And the color of those costumes tells you something about who these characters are at any given moment—especially if those colors, like they do in most of Far From Home, include black.

For sure, Spidey’s standard lewk hasn’t really changed since Steve Ditko created it for the hero’s 1962 debut—a small spider emblem on the chest and a large one on the back. Red shoulders and torso, blue armpits and legs. Full face mask with big eyes. Some kind of web-embroidery. Webbed-red boots and gloves, thin enough (Ditko wrote) for the man to stick to walls. In the spiderverse, Pete acquires his powers from the bite of a radioactive (or, after more recent retcons, genetically engineered) spider, and then sews himself a costume and invents web-shooting bracelets. Pete’s a bullied nerd, and his kind of heroism is predicated on helping people even if they’ve been horrible to him. But he doesn’t just pull on a hoodie and yoga pants. He creates a symbol, albeit a DIY one. Great power, great responsibility, etc.

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