Comics
Published March 23, 2023

A History of the Marvel Swimsuit Special

Learn more about the history of the 'Marvel Swimsuit Special' in light of Phillip Tan and Scott Williams' 'Summer of Symbiotes' spin on it.

To celebrate Venom’s 35th anniversary, Marvel is making this summer the SUMMER OF SYMBIOTES. While symbiotes like Venom and Carnage are usually busy tearing their unlucky enemies apart, they get a chance to relax and soak up the sun in a new promo image by Phillip Tan and Scott Williams, which pays tribute to one of the most influential X-Men images of the 1990s. 

Featuring several symbiotes chilling out under an alien sun, this SUMMER OF THE SYMBIOTES image homages the Marvel swimsuit spreads of the early ’90s, specifically Jim Lee, Scott Williams, and Joe Rosas’ iconic poolside pinup from X-MEN (1991) #1. Now, let’s take a closer look at the legacy of that image and the way this SUMMER OF SYMBIOTES image revisits those moments. 

With a story that introduced several iconic costumes and assembled the X-Men’s Blue and Gold squads for the first time, X-MEN (1991) #1 by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee kicked off a new era for Marvel’s mutants and sold over eight million copies. This history-making comic book also featured several pinup images that highlighted various aspects of the X-Men’s world, including one double-page spread where the X-Men take a much-needed break by the X-Mansion’s pool. At a time when beach culture and swimwear were at the center of pop culture, this poolside pinup captured the cultural zeitgeist of the time and inspired the first MARVEL SWIMSUIT SPECIAL later that year.

Much like the original poolside X-Men image, MARVEL SWIMSUIT SPECIAL served as both an artistic showcase and a chance to see the lighter side of Marvel heroes as they enjoyed some fun in the sun. Everyone from the Punisher and the New Mutants to the Impossible Man headlined their own summer specials, which offered a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek look at Marvel heroes once a year from 1991 to 1995. Featuring the work of dozens of creators, these specials were primarily built around pinups of heroes relaxing in revealing swimwear, but they also featured fake in-universe ads with characters like Thor selling hammers and the Hulk advertising insurance. 

Each one of the swimsuit specials also had a unique premise that explained why these Marvel heroes were lounging around in swimwear. In 1991, the MARVEL ILLUSTRATED SWIMSUIT ISSUE brought the heroes together in the Savage Land for an athletic competition hosted by Stark Enterprises. This issue also featured swimsuits designed by Janet Van Dyne, who occasionally works as a fashion designer when she’s not saving the world as the Wasp. While later swimsuit specials focused almost exclusively on art, this inaugural special parodied the popular publications of the era, with magazine-style articles and interviews spotlighting the heroes between the pictorial spreads. 

In 1992, MARVEL SWIMSUIT SPECIAL #1 cemented the art-focused format of the series and took the Avengers, X-Men, and their allies to Wakanda, where they celebrated the engagement of Black Panther and Monica Lynne while they took in the country’s natural wonders. In 1993’s MARVEL SWIMSUIT SPECIAL #2, Pip the Troll threw a party to celebrate the end of INFINITY WAR (1992) and teleported the heroes to his home on Monster Island for the festivities. In 1994’s MARVEL SWIMSUIT SPECIAL #3, the Inhumans invited several heroes and villains to join them on the Blue Area of the Moon, which they temporarily transformed into a tropical paradise, for the once-in-a-century Water Festival. Then, in 1995’s MARVEL SWIMSUIT SPECIAL #4, the final special brought several heroes and villains to Madripoor, where they relaxed on the beaches of the island nation to encourage tourism.

Although the swimsuit specials ended, their legacy lives on in the Marvel Universe. While many of the swimsuits featured in these issues reappeared later, MULTIPLE MAN (2018) #4 by Matthew Rosenberg, Andy MacDonald, and Tamra Bonvillain introduced one alternate reality where Marvel’s heroes are still enjoying an endless summer on the beach; as he stumbled across alternate realities, he found one world where X-Force and Avengers were more focused on showing off their swimsuits and playing volleyball than Multiversal threats.

SUMMER OF SYMBIOTES promo image by Phillip Tan and Scott Williams
SUMMER OF SYMBIOTES promo image by Phillip Tan and Scott Williams

Now, that spirit of relaxation finds new life in this SUMMER OF THE SYMBIOTES promo image. In this image, a symbiote Black Cat and Scream hang out the left as the villainous Meridius, Hank Hensley’s heroic Sleeper Agent, and the robotic Flexo stand over them. The mysterious new symbiote Misery sits in the middle of the image with a symbiotic Jeff the Landshark, while Normie Osborn’s Red Goblin and Carnage stir up trouble behind her. As Knull takes to the skies, Anne Weying’s Agent Venom reclines, while Dylan Brock, the symbiote Silence, and a mulleted Eddie Brock look on in the background.

Although these specials may have started out as an encapsulation of beach culture in the ’90s, the swimsuit specials still stand as uniquely revealing looks at Marvel heroes on their days off.

Join the madness when SUMMER OF SYMBIOTES kicks off this May, and check out a side-by-side comparison of the images below!

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