Superhero Icons

Guest Post

For my first article, I thought I’d discuss a topic that’s relevant to both my comics hobby (or is it a habit?) and my profession, graphic design. Wearing a distinctive icon or logo can say a lot about a person, their religious beliefs, political affiliation, favorite brands, or in this case, comic book character.

The t-shirt never goes out of style, but what’s on it changes every decade or so. With all the mainstream attention given to comic book characters lately, I see more and more people wearing comic-related (or any geek culture) apparel. I’ve been a big fan of graphic tees for as long as I can remember and would probably wear one every day if my employer allowed it. I’m also very picky about what kind of shirts I buy. My preference for comic-related tees seems to be drawn to the simple, iconic logo.

The thing I noticed is that DC’s major characters almost all have an iconic logo that distinctively and immediately identifies them, more so than Marvel’s.

Superman’s modern logo says a lot about the character. It features an exclusively primary color scheme (very bold), and a nicely designed “S” is melded into the diamond-shaped border (presumably because diamond is the strongest mineral). Batman’s logo was originally just the black bat, then become more eye-catching with the yellow oval background, but has changed back to the black bat. It’s more subtle, and appropriately so. Flash has the lightning bolt. Green Lantern’s logo is an iconic representation of the lantern/battery that provides the charge to his ring. Wonder Woman’s double W’s isn’t as symbolic, but it is just as recognizable and shares the primary colors with Superman.

Of all the Marvel characters, only a few have iconic logos that I could think of. Spider-Man has a few, depending on costume and what side you’re looking at. There’s the little black spider on the chest, the big red one on the back, and the huge white design on the black costume. Captain America had the bold “A” on his head, but I guess the design on his shield is the closest thing to an iconic logo he really had. The Punisher is probably the most distinctive, with a skull on black, letting you know that if you cross him, you may very well wind up dead. Daredevil has the two red “D’s” but they’re even more subtle than Batman’s. The Fantastic Four have their “4,” but they didn’t start out with that. Thor, Iron Man, Hulk (obviously), Wolverine, Namor, Silver Surfer, and almost all of the Avengers are logo-less. The X-Men haven’t really had consistent logos or costumes.

I wonder if this plays into the old belief that DC’s characters are the more fantastical, and Marvel’s have been historically more down-to-earth (whether it’s still true or not is debatable). It also could have to do with the time in which they were created. While some of DC’s were designed in the Silver Age, their Golden Age predecessors shared similar logos (Green Lantern and Flash, particularly). Many of DC’s characters were created in WWII-era, a time when something a simple as a symbol could unite people around a common goal, or terrify them into submission. Symbols, icons and flags carried a lot of weight in those days. However, it may also speak to the consistency of DC’s characters and their traditional simplicity relative to the complexity of Marvel’s, often teetering on moral ambiguity that DC’s rarely shared.

In a time where many new characters rarely have such an iconic feel, I hope to see new characters getting some of that old-fashioned flare and sporting a unique logo. You’d think more creators would do so, considering the vast amount of money to be had in licensing them.