The Spirit may fight comic book crime, but he always preferred a fedora and suit to spandex. We look at the other heroes who’ve paired their masks with suits and hats instead of tights.
Will Eisner wanted to distinguish the Spirit from costumed superheroes like Superman and Batman and bring comic books to a more adult audience. He put crimefighter Denny Colt in a simple suit, tie, and fedora, with the later addition of a domino mask and gloves his sole concessions to the costume-hungry publishers. But earlier and later heroes had similarly low-key mask, hat, and suit combos.
Zorro: Pulp writer Johnston McCulley created this granddaddy of non-superpowered pulp heroes, but originally placed him in a simpler sombrero and full-face mask. Douglas Fairbanks, who adapted the story for the film The Mark of Zorro, gave him the more dashing Andalusian hat and black half-mask, which McCulley himself adopted for all subsequent Zorro media. For The Spirit film, Frank Miller changed the Spirit’s blue suit and hat to black to evoke Zorro’s more romantic and more costumed look.
The Shadow: Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Radio serial character the Shadow knows. The Shadow enjoyed a lengthy radio run (voiced by, among others, Orson Welles), as well as in comic books, video games, and film. Walter Gibson, the writer and magician who fleshed out the character, sought to make a hero with traditionally villainous qualities, dressing him more as a noir villain than a superhero.
The Clock: In a three piece suit, a fedora, and a full-face mask, former district attorney and college athlete Brian O’Brien fought crime, making him the first masked hero to appear in American comic books. He also aided the long tradition of terrible superhero puns, leaving behind a calling card that read “The Clock Has Struck.”
The Green Hornet and Kato: Newspaper publisher Britt Reid is the grandnephew of Western masked avenger the Lone Ranger, and he shares his famous uncle’s affinity for anonymous vigilantism. But as an urban hero, the Hornet prefers a suit and tie to cowboy gear. His more famous sidekick Kato also gets the hat, coat, and mask combo, but in lieu of the Hornet’s more Spirit-like fedora and Chesterfield topcoat, Bruce Lee wore a chauffeur’s uniform.
The Crimson Avenger: The Crimson Avenger may be considered a progenitor of the Justice League, but his Chinese chauffeur bears a suspicious resemblance to the Hornet’s own sidekick. Wing fights side by side with the Avenger, wearing a yellow outfit that matches his employer’s red one.
The Phantom Reporter: The recently thawed out Dick Jones was square-jawed, all-American athlete, proficient in boxing, fencing, and wrestling. And, like so many upstart journalists, he spent his nights battling crime. When he awoke from his cryogenic slumber in 2008, he got an updated outfit, but kept the suit, hat, mask, and cloak as part of the ensemble.
Midnight: While Will Eisner was serving in the Army, fellow artist Jack Cole frequently ghost wrote The Spirit, with Eisner’s consent. But fearing Eisner could be killed in the war, Quality Comics asked Cole to come up with a possible Spirit replacement. Dave Clark is an actor who plays a masked vigilante until one day, he decides to put on that domino mask and fight crime for real.
The Sandman: No, not Neil Gaiman’s Lord of the Dreaming. Wesley Dodds premiered as the Sandman in 1939, as a suit-wearing detective with prophetic dreams and gun full of truth gas (the accompanying gas mask was for practical purposes, though Gaiman’s Sandman would carry a similar helm). Later, Dodds would get a spandex makeover and a young ward (who would, in turn, grow up to become a coat, mask, and hat wearing superhero).
The Phantom Stranger: The Phantom Stranger doesn’t actually where a mask, but the shadow of his hat creates the appearance of a mask around his eyes. He’s also known to pal around with other members of the so-called Trenchcoat Brigade, a group of fellow occultists (John Constantine, Doctor Occult, and Mister E) who share a fondness for long coats.
Mr. A: The first of Steve Ditko’s Objectivism-spouting heroes, Mr. A (short for “A is A” the logical Law of Identity) battled criminals in a pair of armored gloves and a stoney-faced armored mask. Otherwise, he wore a plain white suit and hat, signifying his untainted and uncompromising morals.
The Question: Ditko’s second superheroic tribute to Ayn Rand came in the form of the Question. Thanks to a Pseudoderm mask that left his face featureless and a gas that altered the color of his clothes and hair, investigative journalist Vic Sage could transform into the Question without ever changing his clothes.
V: The mysterious terrorist of V for Vendetta is certainly Zorro-inspired, right down to the rapier and the single-lettered insignia. While his black cloak and hat help him hide in the shadows, they also add a dramatic air to his mischief. And the Guy Fawkes mask helps him melt into the identity of the famed anti-establishment figure, and disguise a deformed face.
Rorschach: Alan Moore has said that Watchmen’s own moral absolutist has his origin in the Question. Rorschach pairs a simple hat and coat with his unnerving, full-face mask. The black and white mask, which betrays no emotion, echoes Mr. A’s unwillingness to see the world in shades of gray. The detective garb also fits well with Rorscharch’s grim, pronounless, noir-inspired monologues.
Darkman: When Sam Raimi couldn’t secure the rights to the Shadow, he created his own trenchcoat-wearing, shadow-lurking vigilante. Darkman can create synthetic faces to make himself look like anybody (for a very limited time), but when he went out with his burned face bandaged, he wore a coat and hat to resemble the 1930s pulp heroes.
Tuxedo Mask: Since Sailor Moon’s one true love inhabits the world of a magical girl comic, he gets a romanticized version of this outfit, trading a tuxedo and top hat for the business suit and fedora. The transformation is probably apt since he is more support for Sailor Moon than a fighter for truth and justice.
The Mask: The Mask makes everything more animated, so when Stanley Ipkiss puts on the mystical relic, he gets a yellow zoot suit inspired more by Tex Avery’s cartoons than private detectives.
Damien Darkblood: Highly alliterative demon detective Damien Darkblood doesn’t wear a mask, but he cops his style from Rorschach (right down to the pinstripe pants). He also shares Rorschach’s mannerisms (including a propensity for saying “hurm”) and mission (to find out who’s been killing superheroes).
The Gray Ghost: The Gray Ghost is actually a fictional show-within-a-show superhero, a character supposedly watched by young Bruce Wayne and meant as a hat tip to Batman’s Shadow roots. As such, he gets a toned down version of the Caped Crusader’s uniform, wearing a gray suit and cloak with a hat and goggles instead of a cowl.
The Invisible Man: Griffin plays a villain in HG Wells’ The Invisible Man, but the morally challenged gent does fight some evil as a member of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And he tries to keep his invisibility under wraps with bandages, sunglasses, long coats, and the occasional hat.