For many superheroes, the costume is a symbol, meant to represent something bigger than the people who wear it – think Batman, Superman, and Captain Marvel. For people like Black Widow and Catwoman, the suit is more tactical. There are those for whom the costume is almost a curse — like Hulk and Spawn.
Of course, lots of superhero costumes require a little suspension of disbelief. It’s a little hard to justify Wolverine’s classic horned yellow costume or the high heels something like 90% of female superheroes used to wear, but fans have always allowed it up to a certain point. But there are some costumes that just cross the line right into the absurd.
From plunging necklines to awkward shoulder pads to masks that just make no danged sense, plenty of superheroes have found themselves looking significantly less super owing to some truly baffling decisions in how they suit up. There are plenty of examples to choose from, but let’s just go with the 15 Least Practical Superhero Costumes.
OK, this whole list could honestly just be women and some of the outlandishly exploitive costumes their creators stuff them into. It’s true that superhero comics have a long history of slapping a band-aid’s worth of material on their women and sending them out into combat (although that trend is thankfully improving…a little). From Emma Frost’s bustier to the almost hilariously fragile getup worn by Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose, even the strongest super women were often no match for the male gaze.
We’ll limit ourselves to just a few of the most egregiously skimpy costumes on this list, and we’ll start with Marvel’s manic pixie dream ninja, Elektra. Clad in the traditional ninja garb of a red ribbon fluttering daintily between her legs (which themselves are decked out in anywhere between seven and thirty garters), Elektra’s role as a fierce assassin has always been at odds with her Playboy Bunny vibe, which looked just as stupid in Jennifer Garner’s 2005 live action movie as it does on the page. But let’s just be grateful she’s wearing the red costume, because it looks positively Puritan next to a white version she (thankfully) wore only once. To the credit of the minds behind Netflix’s Daredevil series, Elodie Yung’s Elektra costume pays nice tribute to its roots while still looking like a functional outfit for a ninja assassin.
14. Iron Fist
Iron Fist is an awesome hero with some great stories to his name. Danny Rand is one of Marvel Comics’ most proficient hand-to-hand combatants who has the power to summon a brutally powerful “iron fist” and also the ability to somehow engage in dizzying martial arts bouts while seeing through a mask with no eyeholes, with a vampire-like collar that cuts off his peripheral vision, and two long ribbons whipping around his head.
Seriously, Iron Fist’s costume makes a lot of sense from his feet to his neck and then everything just goes bananas. It’s like he was almost done putting his outfit together and then decided it just wasn’t ridiculous enough.
Now, Iron Fist has had a lot of different costumes over the years, and some are better than others. He joined the Avengers a few years ago and actually got a pretty decent improvement, probably because the Avengers laughed at his three-foot collar thing until he agreed to get rid of it. But his current one is actually a step backwards. Let’s hope he’s seen the light in his upcoming Netflix show.
13. Azazel Batman
Undoubtedly the most crushing blow Bruce Wayne suffered during the infamous Knightfall storyline wasn’t Bane breaking his back, but Azazel dragging Batman’s legacy through the mud by wearing whatever this is. The original Batman costume is one of the all-time great superhero costumes, a perfect blend of tactical practicality and cool as hell flourishes. Azazel — who served as Gotham City’s Batman while Bruce Wayne recovered from his injuries — took one look at the original costume and thought, “how can I make this completely stupid?” It called to mind the “bat” motif only in that you’d have to be completely blind to think it looked good.
Lord, where to begin. There are six shoulder pads, but it’s more like twelve since they are each taller than his head. And let’s not neglect to mention his actual golden shoulder pads. Seriously, the original Batman made it through most of his career with no shoulder pads and then this genius comes along and decides his shoulders need exponentially more coverage than his predecessor’s.
And let’s talk about the belt for just a second. Azazel’s driving principle for his costume “upgrade” appears to have been “less is less” until it came to the utility belt. The original Batman’s utility belt is lowkey one of the DC Universe’s most dangerous weapons, and it’s the one thing Azazel skimped on, deciding instead to go with two-thirds of a belt that stays in place, like everything else on this monstrosity, in defiance of the laws of physics. If Thomas and Martha Wayne were up in heaven, they surely despaired to know what their deaths had led to here.
12. Power Girl
Perhaps the most infamous example of super female exploitation in comics is Power Girl’s “boob window.” Her costume isn’t awful — it’s actually pretty slick, if you don’t mind the whole “no pants” thing. But the cleavage window is just so clearly the result of some her creators succumbing to their most juvenile instincts that it’s tough to take her seriously, even though Karen Starr is a terrific character.
There are a lot of apocryphal stories about where the boob window came from and how it stuck around as long as it did. Power Girl once said that it “shows what I am: female, healthy. If men want to degrade themselves by staring, that’s their problem, I’m not going to apologize for it,” which would feel more a little more empowering if it hadn’t been written by men. Power Girl co-creator Wally Wood once said that he’d draw Power Girl with a slightly larger bust every issue until someone told him to stop, because the comic book industry is all about treating their characters with respect. Writer Geoff Johns also had Power Girl once explain that she left the hole open because she couldn’t think of a good logo, and when a writer of John’s caliber is stooping to an explanation this inane, it’s time to close the window, which DC finally did in 2015.
Gambit is an awesome hero who has had the misfortune of being cast in one terrible movie (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and having his Channing Tatum-helmed solo movie stuck in development hell. It’s too bad because a lot of Marvel fans have fond memories of the ragin’ Cajun. He’s got a penchant for explosive playing cards, a wicked staff, a funky accent, and just the barest hint of untrustworthiness.
Unfortunately, Gambit also has a costume that doesn’t make a lick of sense. He’s a creation of the ‘90s, when federal law mandated that all superheroes had to wear jackets. Gambit took this rule a little seriously and copped a giant duster that he has never been seen without since. Which is fine for the those cold winter months New Orleans is so famous for, but Gambit’s got an acrobatic fighting style and how he manages all those dashing jump kicks while wearing an oversized trench coat is a mystery.
That could be forgiven (maybe it’s where he keeps all his cards?) except Gambit had to go one worse with some bizarre halfway headgear thing that’s not quite a mask and not quite a helmet. The only practical purpose it could serve is keeping his hair out of his face, in which case, a couple of bobby pins would be a lot easier. There’s also the fingerless gloves, to keep his palms warm? Who knows. This thing is a mess.
Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye redesign (and the one worn by the all-new, all-different Hawkeye, Kate Bishop) are great. Hawkeye’s costume for the MCU Avengers movies is also great. Lowkey, practical, functional, with just a hint of razzle dazzle, as befits an archer. But Clint Barton’s classic costume is a disaster. Now, this isn’t a list of the ugliest superhero costumes (although Hawkeye would be on that list too), but the least practical, and Hawkeye’s OG costume seems deliberately designed to make it harder for him to do his job.
For one thing, you’ve got the mask. If you’ve got to hide your identity with a mask, at least make it one that doesn’t block off something like 30 percent of your field of vision. For another, the full cape between the legs makes no sense. At least Elektra’s serves the barest practical purposes of decency, but Hawkeye’s is just there to trip him when he runs. At least it’s better than his mercifully brief Greco-Roman tunic phase.
9. Moon Knight
This might be controversial because Moon Knight’s costume looks awesome. It’s like Marvel’s spin on Batman (a lot of things about Moon Knight feel like Marvel’s spin on Batman), but does a better job of hiding Spector’s true identity.
But looking awesome is not the only requirement for a superhero costume. It also has to work and Moon Knight’s costume doesn’t. For one thing, you’ve got the droopy Assassin’s Creed-style hood. As an experiment, tape the pointed end of a napkin in front of your face. Now go outside and try to beat up somebody. At night. Now do that every night as part of your service to the Egyptian moon god Konshu.
And while we’re on the subject, the biggest difference between Moon Knight and Batman’s respective outfits is that Batman’s is dark, so we can burst from the shadows. Moon Knight is wearing white so that he …well, look, there’s no pragmatic reason. He once defended his color choice by saying “I want them to see me coming”, which isn’t as bad as Power Girl’s “I just couldn’t think of a logo” excuse, but it’s close.
Little remembered and never missed, Shatterstar is an unholy union of the Rob Liefeld’s superhero name choosing method “pick two words that don’t go together” and Marvel’s ‘90s superhero mantra “give them a sword.”
As best as anyone can figure, Shatterstar is the son of Longshot and Dazzler from an alternate timeline (where else?). It turns out that, thanks to some time travel shenanigans, Longshot was actually created from Shatterstar’s genetic material, which makes Shatterstar more or less his own grandpa. That level of inbreeding is the only way to explain Shatterstar’s appearance.
Shatterstar’s costume would change significantly from issue to issue and even panel to panel, but the one unifying theme in all iterations was that they were terrible. His ponytail would magically change length, often times looking quite a bit longer than Shatterstar himself was tall. He usually had some sort of Gambit-esque mask, because Shatterstar’s real power is borrowing other superheroes’ worst ideas. Lots of pouches, of course. It’s not a Rob Liefeld creation without a frick-ton of useless pouches. He would either wear a billow-y button-up or no shirt at all, and sometimes a single shoulderpad or no shoulderpads at all, but never two. but in no design did he ever have a practical place to keep his multitude of swords. Truly, the guy has one sword for every brain cell (five) and no place to keep any of them. It doesn’t sound like Shatterstar will make an appearance in the upcoming New Mutants X-spinoff, which is the most promising thing about it.
7. Flash (Jay Garrick)
Flash’s costume in his CW series is a slick recreation with all kinds of nifty tech. Fans are a little divided on his suit in the upcoming Justice League movie, which has an awkward, armored look to it. But both of these are better than Jay Garrick’s Flash costume, who wears an actual winged dinner plate on his head.
Why? Impossible to say. It doesn’t conceal his identity and it’s not bulletproof. No, it’s just precariously perched atop his head like he’s training himself to have better posture by always balancing something on his dome. Now, it is perhaps conceivable that Garrick could keep it on top of his head during Justice Society meetings if he sits very still, but there is no universe in DC or anywhere else in which that thing stays on his head while he runs. And for the uninitiated, running is sort of Flash’s thing.
Depending on which version of the character you’re following, Hawkman is either a decorated police officer from the alien world of Thanagar; a reincarnated prince from ancient Egypt; or an “earth-bound angel of the Eagle-host Zauriel.” In every incarnation, he is dressed to strike confusion and hilarity into the hearts of his foes.
Hawkman is actually a fierce combatant. He never shuts up about it, probably because he knows that as soon as he stops talking, someone’s going to point out that he looks like a high school football mascot. He has in the past suffered from the single shoulder pad syndrome that has plagued so many heroes but these days, he generally rocks an unwieldy chestpiece and some clawed gloves. None of this would be cripplingly bad, per se, but for the helmet. Good grief. Apparently hawks on the planet Thanagar have beaks about three times the size of their head, and that was the sole consideration when it came to Hawkman’s absurd headgear. Tape a giant carrot to your nose and see if you think that would affect your ability to oh, say, see where you’re flying. Now imagine that carrot is made of solid gold, like the rest of your giant, stupid helmet.
It’s worth noting that Hawkgirl, Hawkman’s counterpart/ally/girlfriend, has a significantly more sensible costume, with less of a beak and more streamlined wings on the side of the head. Take a hint, dude.
You see that picture above, in which Tigra looks like she’s slipped into something more comfortable for a romantic evening with a gentleman caller? That is her actual superhero costume.
In one of the great ironies of superhero comics, Tigra was originally conceived as The Cat, a 1970s attempt by Marvel to expand its female audience. Tigra was Greer Grant, a young widow with the proportionate strength and agility of a cat and a functional if flashy costume to boot. Her comics were written by Linda Fite and had a cool, neo-feminist edge. This turned out to be a little too progressive for Marvel’s head honchos at the time, so the book was canceled and the Cat was retooled as Tigra, a cat/human hybrid with striped fur, a tail, claws and a string bikini. This increased the character’s popularity, but wasn’t exactly in lockstep with the female readership outreach she was originally designed to be.
The textual explanation for all this is that Tigra’s covered in fur, so she’s extra hot, so she needs to wear a bikini to stay cool. Throw this into the same excuse pile as Power Girl’s “I just couldn’t think of a good logo” is in; excuses that seem easier for men to come up with than to find a simple, tactically appropriate costume for their female characters. Even if you allow that Tigra’s fur might be a little hot, can you really see that trumping the need to be fighting earth shattering menaces in the frailest of outfits ever designed by man?
4. Captain Cold
This is a list of heroes and Captain Cold doesn’t precisely fit the bill. He’s waivers between chaotic neutral and lawful evil, following his strict personal code of money, girls and a seething obsession with Barry Allen. He’s been willing to fight crime when the mood suits him, having done some stints with the Suicide Squad and even teaming up with the Flash on occasion, as evidenced by his anti-hero role on the CW’s Legends of Tomorrow. Captain Cold can always be counted on to play the angles, so it’s too bad he can’t see around them.
Look at this dude’s sunglasses! Why does Captain Cold wear them? Did he lose a bet? Was he worried his cold ray gun makes him too powerful, so he wanted to give his foes a sporting chance by designing his own handicap? Does he *gulp* think it looks cool? These are all possibilities, but none of them really add up. It’s an incredibly dumb look, as Captain Cold would probably be able to tell if he could see his reflection through his tiny, basically non-existent eyeholes.
Hey, you know gravity? The theoretical law that dictates all bodies of mass are drawn towards other bodies of mass? That law clearly doesn’t exist on Starfire’s home planet, and she’s never really got the hang of it even here on earth. Her costume exists in willful defiance to nature’s most foundational principles, baffling friend and foe alike. It has been redesigned many times, but never with more than the most passing glance at anything recognizable as “possible.” It exists in its own tiny (very tiny) universe, subject to its own strange laws.
The stated purpose for this costume is that Starfire gets her powers from ultraviolet radiation, so she needs as much of her skin exposed as possible to get as much power as she can. This would make a certain sort of sense, except Superman’s power also comes from the sun and he doesn’t need to fly around in his super bloomers. At one point, Starfire expressed some amusement at how “a society that is so intensely preoccupied with sex is equally cowed by nudity.” Whatever truth this statement might have is undermined by the fact that it was written by men to be said by a naked woman of their own creation.
Vision’s 2016 series was the best superhero comic of the year, bar none. It lent a new gravitas and tragedy to Marvel’s most misunderstood synthezoid, and contextualized his humanity within a disconcerting oddness. It did not explain his costume, which is understandable, because there is no conceivable explanation.
Vision’s backstory is a bit convoluted, but the main thrust was captured (sort of) in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Ultron created a new sort of human to be his new vision (!) of humanity — a human made of synthetic parts. This Vision was an improvement on humanity in that he can adjust his density to be completely intangible or weigh immeasurable tons, fire lasers from his head, and is dressed in the style of a Christmas vampire.
There is no possible reason for Ultron to have taken the time to deck Vision out in this festive manner, barring some heretofore undisclosed aspiration to design gowns for the red carpet. It’s not camouflaged, unless Ultron was planning on sending Vision on a covert ops mission to Santa’s workshop. It’s not a symbol, other than of Ultron’s buried desire to be invited to the Met Gala. It’s just a giant question mark and one of the smartest moves Captain America: Civil War made was having Vision get his hands on a Banana Republic catalog.
1. Wonder Woman
And so we end with Wonder Woman. Not the most egregiously sexist costume on the list, but the most iconic and the most deserving of a real upgrade. Princess Diana of Themyscira is one of the greatest superheroes of all time, a member of DC’s Trinity whose name has become shorthand for any woman who kicks ass and inspires others to do the same. So why, why is she preserved in her pantsless 1940s getup?
Unlike other superheroes on this list, there’s an argument for Wonder Woman’s more natural look. Ancient Greeks and Romans, from whom she takes a lot of her inspiration, tended to fight as close to naked as possible, but even by that lax standard, Wonder Woman’s costume fails.
It’s a bustier that would flap open in a moderate breeze. A few years ago, her costume got some highly coveted “pants” which was treated like a giant step forward, though it’s something Diana’s male teammates have been wearing since World War II. Her costume is iconic, no doubt about it, and it wouldn’t take much to give it with little more tactical practicality, but the fact that DC has had almost 75 years to do so but never really been successful is why she’s at the top of the list. Credit where it’s due: Gal Gadot’s film version of the costume has a certain battle readiness to it that feels true to the character while still pretty tough. Still no pants though.
Any hyper impractical superhero costumes you think we missed? Let us know in the comments!