Avengers, Assemble! : The Very Best Comic Book Collaborations
It’s that time of year again – San Diego has been struck with Comic-Con fever! To mark the colourful occasion, we’ve pulled together a list of the very best official comic book sneaker collaborations. From Nike to New Balance, Dark Horse to DC, you’ll find a mix of footwear inspired by some of the comic world’s biggest superstars, including a few whose origins are a little less well known.
(Criteria: one shoe per collaboration, with one exception; points awarded for originality, wearability and faithfulness to the original source material; and official colabs only – so you won’t find any ‘Hulk’ Dunks, ‘Kryptonate’ Foamposites or ‘Mr. Fantastic’ Air Max 90s here!)
AIR JORDAN 4 ‘DOERNBECHER’ (2011)
This Air Jordan 4 is one of the Doernbecher Freestyle Collection’s most coveted releases. Designed by Isaiah Scott, a then-11-year-old patient battling Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia at Doernbecher Hospital, the AJ4s wore the Man of Steel’s coat of arms – a nod to Isaiah’s unwavering bravery – with flashes of ‘Kryptonite’ throughout. The tongue’s Jumpman is subbed out for Superman’s shield – the Kryptonian symbol of ‘hope.’
MARVEL COMICS X ADIDAS BASKETBALL ‘AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON’ COLLECTION (2015)
An all-star mashup of Marvel Universe’s most powerful superheroes, the Avengers served as the perfect inspo for adidas’ remake of its greatest OG basketball silhouettes. We saw a ‘Thor’ Real Deal, ‘Iron Man’ Top Ten 2000, and ‘The Hulk’ T-Mac 1, but the ‘Captain America’ Crazy 97 was hands-down the best. The colab also featured some BOOST-blessed sneakers; however, the Avengers connection was tenuous at best, leaving the retro superstars to steal the show. It’d be a sin to split up the Avengers, so they all make the list!
MARVEL COMICS X REEBOK PUMP OMNI LITE ‘DEADPOOL’ (2012)
In 2012, Marvel and Reebok went ham on a series of collaborative kicks. Wolverine, Spider-Man, their long-standing adversaries, Sabretooth and Venom, and a host of others were honoured with make-ups. The undisputed favourite, though, was a Pump Omni Lite made for the quick-witted Merc with a Mouth, Deadpool. Made in the shades of the Regenerating Degenerate’s jumpsuit and furnished with a few stealth nods to the comic such as double katanas at the heel and Deadpool’s logo in place of Reebok’s ‘O’. Given the success of 2016’s film adaptation, don’t hold your breath on finding a pair for cheap!
NIKE SB STEFAN JANOSKI ‘DOERNBECHER’ (2015)
Another tough-as-nails patient of Doernbecher Hospital, Isaiah Neumayer-Grubb, was diagnosed with a brain lesion – or ‘brain freckle’ to Isaiah – at age seven. Taking Stefan Janoski’s signature SB, Isaiah gave it the Dark Knight treatment, adding bat symbols to the lateral sides, his name to the medials, and rinsing the rest in jet black. A reflective underlay sees the bat symbol illuminated when hit with light. ‘I made it as cool as possible so that a lot of people will buy it,’ Isaiah said, with an eye for cool well beyond his years.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES X FILA FX-100 (2013)
What started as a pretty dark comic in 1984 quickly morphed into the family friendly story of sewer-dwelling, cowabunga callin’, pizza-addicted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Tapping into the nostalgia nodules of 80s kids worldwide, FILA first produced a trio of official TMNT sneakers in 2013. The FX-100 wore olive hues and gum outsoles, with turtle tones offset by ankle straps in the colours of each brother’s eye mask. Three came packaged like the early Playmates action figures. A Shredder-inspired FILA Cage would arrive later in 2013, joined by a Michelangelo-themed M-Squad the following year.
MARVEL COMICS X A BATHING APE BAPESTA ‘THE INCREDIBLE HULK’ (2005)
In the mid-2000s, A Bathing Ape’s skyrocketing popularity happened to coincide with the sneaker-world’s thirst for loud and garish footwear. In 2005, BAPE collaborated with Marvel on a collection of blindingly colourful Bapestas. Captain America, Thor and Iron Man each got their own shiny shoe; however, The Incredible Hulk’s remains the most iconic, a patent beast blasted with the lime green and plum purple. Complementing heels sporting the heroes and Marvel logo, the sneakers came presented in action-figure style blister card packaging – an ingenious concept later replicated by adidas for their Star Wars colabs.
MARVEL COMICS X NEW BALANCE 530 ‘SPIDER-MAN’ (2017)
The second most recent colab on this list, New Balance and Marvel Comics came together to produce a 530 tribute to everyone’s favourite web-slinger. Produced to commemorate the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming, the sneaker takes on a more mature colour palette than earlier Spidey-themed shoes. A mahogany leather upper is embossed with spiderweb graphics and finished off with official Marvel lace dubraes.
BAIT X DREAMWORKS X DIADORA N9000 ‘MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE – SKELETOR’ (2016)
Before becoming one of the defining cartoons of the early 80s, Masters of the Universe was originally established through a selection of minicomics that came packaged with the Mattel action figures. When Dreamworks granted West Coast retailer BAIT access to the MOTU licence for an expansive triple collaboration with Diadora, they shunned the series’ noble hero, He-Man, for his nefarious adversary, Skeletor. The result was a luxurious Italian-made N9000 equipped with a drawing of Skeletor on the insole, curiously decked out in full soccer kit.
DC COMICS X CONVERSE CHUCK TAYLOR ALL STAR ‘WONDER WOMAN’ (2012-PRESENT)
Chuck Taylor All Stars are always ripe for artistic expression. DC Comics, big fans of Chuck’s blank canvas, have created All Stars sporting the likes of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. The latter’s make-up initially featured artwork based on Wonder Woman’s Silver Age look; however, with Converse and DC still producing new tributes today, they’ve updated Wonder Woman’s appearance to reflect 2017’s take on the fierce fighter.
G.I. JOE X BAIT X NEW BALANCE ML574GI1 ‘COBRA COMMANDER’ (2015)
Marvel’s G.I. Joe comics birthed iconic characters such as Roadblock, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, who were together pitted against the evil forces of Cobra. In 2015, a G.I Joe-themed collaboration between BAIT and New Balance produced four distinctive sneakers, the most eye-catching being a snakeskin-patterned 574 themed for Cobra’s commander-in-chief. The subtle deboss of the Cobra logo on the heels saw Joe fans the world over forking out for this colab.
DARK HORSE COMICS X ADIDAS ‘HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY’ FORUM MID (2008)
To commemorate the release of Hellboy II: The Golden Army, adidas produced a special version of the Forum Mid – equipped with copious golden accents, of course! Limited to 5000 pairs, these lustrous kicks were joined by an even rarer make-up of the Stan Smith Mid that featured artwork by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and was limited to 1000 pairs.
MARVEL COMICS X BAIT X PUMA CLYDE SOCK ‘BLACK PANTHER’ (2017)
In this list’s most recent colab – not to mention one of its most fitting – Marvel Comics united with BAIT to create a ‘Black Panther’ PUMA Clyde Sock. Made to coincide with 2017’s San Diego Comic Con, the cat-themed collaboration sees a Clyde Sock drenched in black, with striking silver eyelets inspired by the Black Panther’s vibranium suit. A limited run of 200 pairs also makes these the list’s most exclusive comic-themed colab.
BONUS ENTRY: AIR JORDAN 6 X BATMAN RETURNS (1992)
Who knew Batman would need the GOAT’s help to improve his airtime? Specially designed for Michael Keaton in Tim Burton’s 1992 Batman Returns, the Air Jordan 6 became part of the Caped Crusader’s official costume – with a little modification of course! This wasn’t the first time Batman ducked out to his local Foot Locker for some footwear, having worn a modified Air Trainer III in 1989’s Batman. Never publicly released, we can only hope the Jumpman revisits this curious colab for a retail drop.