Comic books are a visual medium. Good writing goes hand in hand with good art. Many of comics’ most iconic and enduring characters are ones that are multi-faceted in their personalities, and have unforgettable designs.
Every artist that comes to draw one of these iconic characters tends to put their spin on the character, integrate something new, or undo (retcon) something someone did before them. Sometimes these redesigns are well received, but other times, the fans react with abhorrence. After all, you can’t make everyone happy all of the time, right?
Occasionally, however, the creatives who draw and write our favorite comic books get a little too carried away, resulting in misfires so offensive that they would probably prefer it if fans just forgot they ever existed. But we’ll never forget. And we’ll never forgive. Join us as we take a look at some of the worst superhero costume makeovers ever penciled, inked and colored.
Yes, there were the live-action bat nipples. Yes, back in the Silver Age of comic books Batman had a number of laughably bizarre one-off costumes like “Zebra Batman” and “Mummy Batman” (yes, these are real). But one of the most bizarre outfits was that of the Batman of Zur En Arrh and his patchwork of vibrant colored fabric.
When Batman of Zur En Arrh made his first appearance, it was revealed to be an alien named Tlano from the planet Zur En Arrh who just happened to be really into Batman. Tlano and his Technicolor dreamcoat batsuit promptly disappeared, because this was the Silver Age of comic books and they were full of one-off nonsense like that.
Fast forward to 2008, when comic book mad scientist Grant Morrison resurrected Batman of Zur En Arrh in one of the more shining examples of his “out there” creative decisions. According to Morrison, the Zur En Arrh persona was an aspect of Bruce Wayne’s own personality that he crafted through a combination of hypnosis and drugs, and would manifest itself in case Wayne was ever overwhelmed by psychological trauma. In theory, Batman of Zur En Arrh would be able to continue to watch over Gotham, even if Bruce Wayne himself was mentally incapable of doing so.
This version of Batman was psychotic, employing far more violent tactics in his crime fighting, and was prone to hallucinations, including Bat-Mite, one of the more ridiculous leftovers from the Silver Age of comics that were forgotten about with the modern age’s emphasis on realism. Kudos to Morrison’s ability to acknowledge some of the sillier aspects of Batman’s history, but why would Bruce Wayne, who constructed this contingency plan while he was of sound mind, choose to dress that persona in the hideously garish Zur En Arrh costume?
Scott Summers has always had a costume befitting of his personality, one that was supremely boring. The Boy Scout leader of the X-Men has never had a particularly memorable appearance, although to be fair, this is largely due to his mutant power necessitating a ruby red visor be worn at all times, lest powerful death rays emit from his eyeballs.
Because of this, every iteration of Cyclops’ costume has been more or less the same, save for some minor cosmetic changes like the swashbuckling boots of his blue and white X-Factor uniform and the single suspender pouch bonanza that defined him in the ’90s.
It wasn’t long ago that Cyclops underwent a massive design overhaul that saw the removal of the long standing Geordi la Forge visor in favor of a head condom that had the ruby quartz of the visor integrated in the shape of a giant X.
In addition to looking like a walking advertisement for the X-Men and their various subsidiaries, we fail to see how the mask would even work. The shape of the letter X would fail to even cover Cyclops’ eyes, unless he walked around cross-eyed all the time. As far as we’re concerned, this is another fail in a long line of unremarkable costumes.
When Dick Grayson, the original Robin, left the nest (Bat Cave?) to set out on his own as a crime fighting vigilante, he modeled his duds after his late father’s trapeze costume. The result was a hilariously awful dark blue jumpsuit with a massive robin’s egg blue popped collar (unknowingly inspiring frat boys to pop the collars of their Polos for years to come) and yellow accents that were supposed to look like feathers.
As bad as this was, the costume retained the playful nature of his prior persona, a more upbeat and colorful interpretation of his dark and gloomy mentor. Things somehow got worse when Grayson’s then-girlfriend Starfire made some alterations. The popped collar disappeared, presumably because it was getting in the way of his illustrious bullet/ponytail. Then the suit integrated numerous yellow compartments around his calves and gauntlets that served the same function as Batman’s utility belt, which we have a hard time accepting due to the design seemingly not being able to hold much.
Logan, James Howlett, Weapon X, whatever you want to call him, the man known as Wolverine has gone through some pretty traumatic events throughout his abnormally long life. Despite all of the awful things he has had to endure, we would argue that the worst thing that Wolverine ever had to go through was devolving into a feral, animal-like state like he did in the mid-’90s.
During the 1993 Fatal Attractions storyline, Magneto ripped the adamantium from Wolverine’s skeleton, which eventually caused him to devolve into feral state, complete with a more monstrous look and the complete absence of a nose for some reason. All of this nonsense was quasi-explained by Professor X, when he determined that the adamantium bonded to his skeleton actually prevented Wolverine from fully mutating (no explanation was presented as to what it was waiting for all the years prior to the Weapon X program), and now that it was gone his body was simply completing his mutation into that of a dog-like creature.
Wolverine’s costume featured a bandana and fingerless gloves and so much extraneous body hair we’re surprised that none of the X-Men complained about him shedding during this entire fiasco. Eventually the whole “feral” Wolverine thing came and went depending on who was drawing him, until it was just sort of forgotten about completely.
This one is a bit of a cheat since this isn’t just a makeover, but an instance in which the entire character was replaced. Originally, the character of Lobo was designed as a parody of the popular anti-hero characters in the ’70s and ’80s like Marvel’s Wolverine (which is why the two characters “fought” in the ’96 Marvel vs DC crossover). The crude, cigar-smoking alien mercenary struck a chord with fans and graduated from bit character to having his own title. As you can imagine, when DC attempted to shake things up and change Lobo completely, fans were none too pleased.
In 2011, DC established The New 52, a continuity reboot that affected every title under the DC banner. Most of the flagship characters stayed the same, albeit with minor cosmetic changes or origins that differed slightly from the pre-established lore, but in a head scratching move, DC decided to revamp Lobo from the ground up by asserting that the old Lobo, the one that fans loved, was actually an imposter, and that the real Lobo had traveled across the galaxy in order to stake claim to his name and destroy the imposter.
This new Lobo was sleek and suave, looking more like a member of Menudo than a bloodthirsty mercenary, leading to a massive backlash from fans. Rest assured, should DC ever get around to developing a movie around the main man, they’ll stick with his more traditional design.
Speedball was one of the many goofy characters that cropped up in the ’90s, written and drawn as a fun loving, naïve young superhero — emphasis on the naïve part — as he adopted a codename that is also slang for a potentially deadly combination of drugs. Speedball’s powers came from harnessing kinetic energy, allowing him to store it in his body and use it give him super strength, speed and stamina. Relegated primarily to supporting character status, Speedball bounced around for years before finding a home with the New Warriors, who were promptly killed in an explosion. There were severe civilian casualties, but thanks to his powers, Speedball survived. Unfortunately, his psyche did not.
After developing some serious survivor’s guilt, Speedball adopted a new name, Penance, and a costume that did the inverse of all of the spiky “extreme” costumes of the ’90s by putting those spikes on the inside, causing Speedball constant pain. In addition, his new costume was ugly, looking like something that belonged at a bondage party in Silent Hill. Whether you consider Speedball’s new direction gross or borderline offensive, one thing is for sure, Speedball/Penance was Marvel’s worst looking self-mutilator.
Magneto’s position in X-Men lore as the Malcolm X to Professor X’s Martin Luther King, Jr. is almost as well known as his love of the color purple. For the majority of his career, Magneto has been hatching schemes to overthrow humanity and establish mutants as the dominant life forms on Earth. His erratic and violent ideology makes him a worthy adversary to the X-Men, which sort of makes up for the lavender pyjamas and conspiracy theorist headgear.
Being such an iconic character meant that Magneto was a big draw for Marvel, and so the editors decided that they wanted him to become a hero, despite the fact that he led a super villain group with the word evil in their name. Anywho, Magneto shows up to become the new leader of the X-Men after Professor X is incapacitated.
Of course he leaves his homicidal tendencies at the door of the X-Mansion, and to prove he’s going straight, Mags shows up in brand new duds. Essentially a sleeveless jumpsuit coupled with a cape and a pair of gloves that look like he was about to go rooting around in someone’s trash, the worst part had to be the giant letter “M” that stretched from his shoulders all the way down his torso. He also ditched the bucket on his head, although in retrospect, he probably should have kept it on.
8. Namor the Sub-Mariner
Since Namor’s debut back in the 1940s, his character has always exhibited the clean cut look of royalty, which is appropriate since he is literally the King of Atlantis (in the Marvel Universe, anyway). Namor’s design has always taken inspiration from nautical myth, employing a sleek style that made him look more like an Olympic swimmer than a mer-person (although the tiny wings that sprouting from his ankles may have raised a few eyebrows).
Unfortunately, Namor would be one of the many victims of 1990s extremism, when for reasons unknown, comic publishers demanded that all of their characters become dark and brooding, with redesigns that reflected their new morose attitudes.
For Namor, this meant shedding his regal look in favor of growing his hair and cultivating a big bushy beard, making him look like a member of the Sons of Anarchy, Atlantis chapter.
The new ‘do and facial hair was complimented by a set of armor adorned with numerous spikes jutting out every which way, as if Namor was cosplaying as Sonic the Hedgehog. How he managed to move around without constantly jabbing himself is a total mystery.
Let’s be honest, when Daredevil debuted, he was little more than a thinly veiled Spider-Man rip-off. He wasn’t particularly intimidating either, as he did his superheroing wearing a bright yellow and red ensemble that supposedly took its inspiration from colorful circus outfits, a deliberate attempt to evoke the acrobatic nature of the crime fighter’s abilities.
It wasn’t long after that Daredevil’s costume was changed to capitalize on the devil in his name. Now sporting his iconic all red jumpsuit, Daredevil’s stories now closely matched his more intimidating appearance. This simple redesign perfectly captured the new tone of his books, and proved that he wasn’t just a Spidey clone.
Of course, the subtlety and effectiveness of his costume was thrown out in favor of a gaudy and unnecessary redesign in the ’90s that gave him tacky metal shoulder pads and a blue and red suit that made him look more like the player of some strange future sport than a masked vigilante.
Mike Deodato, Jr. (whose name will appear on this list again) has some deep desire to desecrate beloved characters by drawing them in what can only be called fashion abominations. Just look at that hideous get up!
It takes a certain type of crazy to imagine the God of Thunder as a cross between an ’80s hair metal music video and Fabio. Despite the fact that this costume strips away anything Nordic, we can take solace in the fact that this design has one positive, the wanton sexualization of a male comic book character, something that female characters are subjected to far more often.
What’s even more perplexing about this design than the fact that Mjolnir is attached to Thor via a massive chain, like the world’s most impractical chain wallet, is the fact that there were zero reasons given for Thor’s wardrobe change. He just suddenly started wearing it. Luckily it was short lived, lasting a mere four issues before Thor reappeared with his more traditional costume. Maybe he was getting it dry cleaned or something.
Looking back on 1992’s The Death of Superman, we can see that it was a pretty transparent attempt at generating book sales, but at the time, people were going nuts over it. While the lead up to Superman’s heroic sacrifice was compelling stuff, the nonsensical disaster that followed showed the iconic superhero zero respect.
No we’re not talking about the four “supermen” that showed up after Kal El’s death (although someone should be held responsible for the cinematic turd that was Steel), even though DC’s decision to tease readers with the possibility that an amnesiac cyborg and an emotionless weirdo could actually be Superman was questionable. Instead we’re talking about the real Superman’s return.
Brought back to life via the power of the sun and Kryptonian technology and fairy dust or whatever, The Man of Steel looked even lamer than the four fashion-challenged imposters. Resurfacing with a shoulder length mullet that had readers questioning whether Clark was going to break into a rendition of Achy Breaky Heart, the worst was his boring black leotard with the chrome “S” insignia stamped on the chest. DC threw away everything that made Superman’s suit iconic in favor of a drab ballet onesie. “Slammin'” indeed.
4. Power Armor
If you were a superhero in the ’90s, there was a high probability that you would be redesigned to be gritty, or extreme, or edgy or whatever buzzwords were favorable amongst comic book editors at the time. If you weren’t given a superfluous leather jacket to wear over your brightly colored spandex, then you were given a gun, if you weren’t given a gun, you better believe your new costume would be covered in pouches that served no tactical purpose. Occasionally, writers and artists would come across characters that just didn’t seem right with any of the above accessories. However, the mandates put in place by the executives still applied, and it seemed as though when nothing else worked, they simply slapped that character inside a ugly, chunky suit of metal and called it power armor.
Aside from looking like low rent Power Ranger rip-offs, power armor served no purpose. These are superheroes with superpowers. Readers have watched them perform incredible feats of strength, agility and speed. Heck, some of them have cheated death multiple times, but now you’re telling us they need some unholy union with a garbage can to do the same stuff they’ve been doing for decades? Hogwash!
3. Wonder Woman
We told you that you’d see another creative aberration from Mike Deodato, Jr. on this list. In the 1990s (of course) Wonder Woman’s mother, Queen Hippolyta saw a vision of Wonder Woman being killed in the near future. In order to prevent this, she concocted a ridiculous scheme that involved disowning her daughter and crowning someone else Wonder Woman, with the idea that this new Wonder Woman would be killed and her daughter would be spared, because she’s a classy person.
After some challenges and a little behind the scenes tampering by Queen Hippolyta, Diana Prince relinquishes the title of Wonder Woman to fellow Amazon, Artemis. Not content with just sitting around while Artemis was out on the streets kicking butts and taking names, Diana grabs a pair of lycra bike shorts, a leather bra, and a jacket she picked up in the Little Miss section at Macy’s.
Thankfully, the days of blatant over-sexualization of a strong female character seem to be a thing of the past, and Wonder Woman’s modern incarnations are now considered some of the best-drawn comics in the industry.
Most female superhero costumes do very little to evoke the character’s personality or even hint at what her powers may be. One look at Zatanna Zatara, DC’s resident sorceress, and you have a pretty good idea of what her abilities are. Dressed in a stage magician’s outfit complete with top hat and some fishnet stockings to exude sexiness without being gratuitous, Zatanna is one of the few comic book characters that had the perfect costume from the day she appeared back in the 1960s.
DC fumbled Zatanna’s look when she was admitted in the Justice League back in the ’70s, trading in her magician’s garb for a generic black jumpsuit, the defining characteristic of which happened to be a vampire’s cape. Luckily, this look was short lived, and the subsequent outfits Zatanna wore were variations of her original magician’s outfit, with subtle changes.
The powers that be over at DC must really hate the phrase, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, because they drastically changed Zatanna’s look for 2011’s Flashpoint, in which she appeared wearing the world’s lowest low riding pants coupled with a bra and leather vest. Fans were outraged by Zatanna’s depiction, deriding the hyper-sexualized look that sapped all the personality out of her character. Luckily, the Flashpoint universe was rendered null and void when Barry Allen collapsed the multiverse into The New 52.
1. Invisible Woman
Sue Storm has had a rocky history. Appearing at a time when women in urged to be more subservient lest they inspire deviant behavior, she was often left playing second fiddle to the rest of Marvel’s first super hero family. Also, being married to a complete egomaniac like Reed Richards must be exhausting.
In the ’90s Sue received an overhauled attitude, and because a strong woman must be a highly sexual one, she also received one of the worst costumes in the history of female superheroes. Just look at that thing. Now, we know that a lot of women in comic books essentially wear swimsuits while doing their superheroing, but Sue Storm’s “4-kini” is especially gratuitous because there is literally no reason for it. The rest of the team didn’t even get updated costumes — just Sue.
Granted, the writers responsible for the new costume appeared seem to be poking fun of the abuse and neglect that Sue endured over the years, which isn’t acceptable in the least bit, but at it makes more sense than the actual explanation given for the boob and belly window.
As it turned out Psycho-Man somehow managed to manipulate Sue’s repressed negative feelings and make them become a separate entity unto itself called Malice, who took over Sue’s body and proceeded to act classless…we guess.
There are hundreds of other ridiculous superhero redesigns we missed, so sound off with your most-loathed makeovers in the comments section!
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