Black is the New Black

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Although Spider-Man had many variations of his costume – in some cases minor alterations, others attributed to artistic license – Marvel gave him a bold wardrobe makeover in 1984. 
After more than two decades in his familiar red-and-blue togs, Spider-Man appeared on the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #252 (May 1984) wearing a black-and-white costume. 

The change in clothing was not initially explained, beyond that it had occurred on an alien world during events set between ASM #251 and 252.  In addition to giving the webslinger a more ominous look, the black costume also offered Peter Parker an entirely new batch of tricks – including the ability to mentally command the costume to look like any other set of clothing.  From this point, the “new” Spider-Man regularly appeared in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel Team-Up and Spectacular Spider-Man.

Over the course of the next several months, Peter began to notice that he was feeling particularly fatigued.  Initially, it appeared to readers that the new costume was somehow responding to Peter’s subconscious mind.  At night, the costume moved across the room, enveloped Peter and took him out on patrol – all while the webslinger was asleep.  In Amazing Spider-Man #258 (November 1984), Spider-Man finally sought the aid of the Fantastic Four’s resident genius, Reed Richards. 

Following a barrage of tests, Richards concluded that the costume was not simply an alien fabric – it was an alien itself.  A symbiotic entity, the costume had selected Peter as a host and was attempting to permanently bond to him.  After driving the alien costume of off Peter with a sonic rifle, Reed imprisoned the alien costume in his lab.


The next month, fans finally learned the full story of how Spider-Man acquired the alien costume.  Under the guidance of Editor-in-Chief and writer, Jim Shooter, the Marvel heroes were involved in their first major company-wide crossover, Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars (beginning in May 1984, the 12-issue series was set between the April and May issues of Marvel comics).  The saga told of how Earth’s greatest heroes and villains were abducted by a nigh omnipotent being to duel on an alien world.  During the course of one such battle (in Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #8), Spider-Man’s costume was damaged.  He discovered a machine that created him the new black costume, modeled after that of his ally, the new Spider-Woman.  

Returning to the chronological saga, it was to absolutely nobody’s surprise when the alien costume escaped in Fantastic Four #274 (January 1985).  Although Peter had resumed using his classic uniform, his super-hero girlfriend gave the webslinger a set of new “non-alien” black costumes (Spectacular Spider-Man #99, February 1985).  Eventually, the alien costume made its way to Peter’s apartment, hiding in his closet.  Thinking he was donning one of his regular suits, Peter suddenly found himself in a struggle to prevent the symbiote from bonding to him.  In a climatic battle in a church bell tower, Peter was finally able to drive the costume off (Web of Spider-Man #1, April 1985). 

Over the next year, Spider-Man alternated between his classic uniform and the black costume, usually dictated by either the need for stealth or the whims of the given artist.  By late 1986, all of Peter’s red-and-blue costumes were destroyed, and the black uniform became the official Spider-Man costume.  Around the same time, a mysterious figure, able to circumvent Spider-Man’s spider-sense, began stalking the webslinger (most notable in Web of Spider-Man #18, cover-dated September 1986, when the stranger pushed Peter in front of a train). 

This subplot, introduced by David Michelinie, didn’t come to fruition until early 1988.  Even though the mystery character was originally intended to be a woman, the stalker appeared again in the final pages of Amazing Spider-Man #298 and 299.  Brought together by a mutual hatred of Peter Parker, Eddie Brock and the alien costume clashed with Spider-Man in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #300 (May 1988). 

As Venom, the disgraced journalist and alien symbiote proved to be a powerful match, but the new villain was eventually defeated by the more experienced hero.  At the conclusion of the issue, Peter abandoned his black costume, finally making a return to his classic look.

Although Peter did still occasionally use the black costume (usually when he needed to be more stealthy), it was Eddie Brock that primarily wore that design for the next 15 years – both as a villain and an anti-hero.  In the pages of Marvel Knights: Spider-Man, the symbiotic costume finally passed from Brock to a would-be gangster, before settling on a new host – Mac Gargan, the Spider-Man foe previously known as the Scorpion, in Marvel Knights: Spider-Man #10 (cover-dated March 2005).

Looking further into 2007, fans can expect to see the black Spider-Man costume quite frequently.  As part of the fall out from Civil War, the new Mac Gargan Venom has become a regular cast member in the re-tooled Thunderbolts series.  Following the conclusion of Civil War, Spider-Man himself will be returning to the black costume, apparently under very dire circumstances, in the ‘Back In Black’ event that starts today in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man and will run through all of the Spider-Man family titles.

And, finally, a slightly modified version of the costume will get a live-action treatment, as it plays a key role in the upcoming motion picture Spider-Man 3.

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