Superhero Colour Theory

There was something mentioned on Comics Should Be Good a couple of years back regarding Superhero comics and the colours used in the sixties.

It was pointed out how many of Spidey’s foes are dressed in Purple and Green. Now, from my rusty colour theory knowledege, these are two of the secondary colours. Spidey himself is Red and Blue, primary colours. Which makes me postulate is there a relationship between superhero characters and primary colours, and conversely supervillain characters and secondary colours?

If we look at the main characters in Marvel’s sixties comics we see the following:

  • Spider-man – Red/Blue
  • Fantastic Four – Blue, Torch is Red on occasion, and Thing is a mix of Orange and Blue. It’s note worthy that the most monstrous character breaks from the primary colours.
  • Iron Man – Yellow, then Red/Yellow
  • Captain America – Blue/Red
  • Thor – Blue/Yellow/Red
  • Ant-Man/Wasp – Red
  • Nick Fury – Blue
  • X-Men – Blue/Yellow
  • Daredevil – Red/Yellow, then Red.
  • Doctor Strange – Blue/Red/Yellow/Orange – if there is a connection between colours chosen and the popularity of  a character, could it be argued that the use of too many colours relates to the lesser impact Strange had as a character?

As you can see mostly primary colours, however there are 2 notable exceptions:

  • Hulk – Green (and purple trousers)
  • Namor – Green

However both characters could frequently be found behaving in less than heroic manners in the sixties. Indeed, literally painting the Hulk with the colours of villainy adds to his outcast nature. Would a Blue, Yellow or Red Hulk have worked as well?

Now let’s look at Spidey’s villains:

sp20 sp15 sp14 sp13 sp11sp06sp05sp04sp02sp09

A few notable exceptions – Sandman (green top, but blue trousers – sand often coloured yellow), Electro (green and yellow. Yellow is the colour of electricity of course), and Rhino – plain ol’ grey. Chameleon – (assorted disguises, note he had a purple costume in the 94 cartoon).

Other Marvel Secondary Coloured Villains:

Notable exceptions: Red Skull (Red, obviously), Loki (Green and Yellow), Magneto (Red and Purple)

But as you can see, a lot of purple and green was used for villains. (and a smattering of orange). Whether this was intentional, coincidence or printing related, I’m not sure it matters, because I think it works. And possibly if more colour theory was used in designing new characters we’d have ones that catch on with readers.

Some later date I’ll take a look at DC characters, because this theory holds out over there a lot too (especially Batman and Superman).

Scans from