Following my Top 10 Best superhero/villain redesigns, it seems only appropriate that we take a look at some of the absolute worst revamps, reboots and reimaginings around. This will be a much more perilous journey, and perhaps unsurprisingly, we’re going to talk about the 90’s. A lot.
Note: - the only restriction to this list is that there must have been, at one time, a better version of the character’s presentation. This restriction is for my sanity, since the amount of bad superhero outfits is mathematically endless.
10. Justice League (2011) - Jim Lee
Everyone has the same v-neck collar (even Wonder Woman’s choker). Why do they all have that same collar? Why does Superman need little red linings on everything and armor? Why are there lines on EVERYONE? Putting little details all over existing costumes is bad for so many reasons. There has to be purpose behind the details, otherwise you’re just wasting everyone’s time. Also, Wonder Woman’s going to cut her breasts on that top; there’s metal poking right into them!
While this is definitely the least offensive “reboot” on the list, it sets an important precedent for later entries. The other main reason this is on the list is that it’s purported to be a “fresh new take” on these characters, but all they’ve done is made their costumes more uncomfortable and drawn lines over them. Speaking of lazy…
9. The Avengers (1990s)
Following a similar design philosophy, the mid-90s Avengers “revamped” their look by giving everyone a leather jacket. This was pretty popular in the 90s in general when you had a design that wasn’t working, but what’s annoying about this case is that they had perfectly good costumes already. The Black Knight was dressed as a black knight! He does not need a bomber jacket and a lightsaber.
8. Namor (1990s) - Jae Lee
Namor, the Sub-Mariner was always one of my favorites as a kid and was one of the true early anti-heroes of the Marvel Universe. He’s also got a design that’s pretty solid for a guy who lives underwater: he’s slim, streamlined and has little wings because why not. He also has a very distinctive face that screams “snotty royal guy.” Perfect, right? Well, no, what he was missing was crazy hobo hair and spikes all over his body! What is it with the 90s and pointy things?
7. “Feral” Wolverine (1990s)
For a brief stint in the 90s, Wolverine was bitten by a radioactive Furby and forced to cut the fingers off all his gloves. He took it like a champ, though.
It was silly enough that Wolverine didn’t have a metal skeleton for most of the 90s, but then they had to go and turn him into an actual furry little monster. There seems to have been a design strategy in this era that focused on making covers rather than how the characters actually moved around. Wolverine’s hair there is bigger than most people, but the best part is the mask. I mean, why is he not only bothering to disguise himself in his feral state (perhaps it’s really millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne under there), but also why is he not using his regular mask? Did he knock it behind the drier when he was barbarically doing his laundry? How do you even barbarically clean clothes? See? This revamp raises more questions than it answers.
This would be higher on the list, but really it’s not that out of keeping with the character. It’s just stupid.
6. Zatanna (2011)
I’ll be the first to point out I’m fairly ambivalent toward Zatanna. I only know of her because of her appearance in the old Batman cartoon, but darn it all if she didn’t have the most appropriate costume. Call me crazy (and many do), but if you had a character who was raised by a magician and escape artist and then made her own way in the world as a stage magician, you might expect her to dress up as a stage magician. Granted, maybe this version of Zatanna has some different backstory where she’s a prostitute who is magically cursed to wear the lowest cut pants on the mortal plane, but at face value it’s pretty rough. Someone was paid to draw this on purpose.
5. Thor (1990s) - Mike Deodato
Thor knows what he did. You stay there in the corner, young man, and think about what you’ve put on. You think about why a magic hammer that always comes back to you would need a giant chain. You think about why stripping your costume of any recognizable nordic imagery will confuse readers, and why you thought it was a good idea to wear a belly shirt.
Now write on the board explaining what you think those straps on your legs are supposed to do.
4. Azrael Batman (1993)
Following the 90s theme of “putting pointy crap all over a costume,” Batman’s temporary replacement, Jean-Paul Valley, wore what I guess is some kind of super bat armor over a gray unitard. The in-comic justification for all this is that Jean-Paul is a meaner, grittier Batman, and that’s fine, but my problem is that none of his modifications make any sense. I don’t know how either of his utility belts stay on his body, and he has all those pointy spines coming off him that could get caught on basically anything. Also, his big bat-gloves don’t seem to do anything besides shoot little batarang disc things, and Batman could already do that without sacrificing dexterity.
What’s most ironic, though, is that the main purpose of the outfit, scaring criminals, has been removed despite the “scarier” sales pitch we’re given. He just looks goofy with all those colors. If I were a two-bit crook, I’d just be confused by this laser light show of a vigilante. The only reason this isn’t #1 on the list is that the editors wanted us to hate Jean-Paul Valley, so at least some of the crappiness was intentional.
3. Wonder Woman (1990s) - Mike Deodato
Another Deodato gem, this 90s take on Wonder Woman is downright silly. Granted, I’m rarely quick to defend Wonder Woman as it is a character created around a bondage fetish by a guy who had a very real bondage fetish, but still this sort of thing needs to be addressed. Superhero costuming should be pretty simple: tell us something about the character and make sure it’s useful for what they do. Easy, right? Wonder Woman only has two costumed criteria:
1) Make sure it has something to do with Greek mythology
2) Make sure it has some stars and spangles, because WW loves America
Wonder Woman is a lot of things, but she is not a stripper wearing a Member’s Only jacket with no zipper.
2. Sue Storm (1990s)
Inexplicably, in the 90s, Sue Storm mastered the ability to make parts of her costume invisible, and used this in a long-term secret plan to defeat Dr. Doom through strategic distraction. That is the only explanation I’ll accept for why she ran around in whatever this is while the rest of the team wore regular clothes. I mean, really. An off-brand “Sexy Invisible Girl” halloween costume would be more modest. Also, what’s kind of funny is that the 4-shaped “boob window” doesn’t even draw attention to itself properly (like, say, Power Girl), because of the clashing tones. Even the voyeurism is a mess in this design! Speaking of incomprehensible voyeurism…
1. Harley Quinn (2011)
This is probably the most embarrassing “reboot” of a superhero or villain in recent memory. Harley Quinn was such a well-designed character with a clear, developed personality, and one of the most distinctly recognizable DC properties outside their “big names” like Superman and Batman. It’s downright insane that not only would the editors of DC want to completely do away with that iconic imagery, but in such a way that it’s offensive to most humans.
First off, I don’t know what this new outfit tells me about the character. In the old one, it was pretty simple: silly jester girl with a sinister side, a great combination of cute and dark. Now it’s… a biker juggalette stripper with guns, a knife and a sledgehammer? Why a sledgehammer? I’m guessing it’s supposed to be a grittier version of her mallet, but that kind of misses the point, doesn’t it? It’s like replacing the Joker’s acid-squirting flower with a handgun pinned to his shirt.
Most importantly, though, is that corset. That corset is going to fall off and we will have a topless character running around in a comic that used to be for children. That’s going to happen, isn’t it? Presumably it is supposed to be “sexy,” but I’m not sure why they didn’t just give her pasties if they like naked ladies so much. It would be more functional and they’d actually stay on while she’s running around… malleting people. It’s becoming really depressing that things actual strippers wear would be more functional that what comic book protagonists have on their bodies.
Beyond just functional considerations, I don’t know what human would dress like this, regardless of craziness. Like I mentioned before with Wolverine, I feel like too often these artists are thinking about pinup or cover potential without actually thinking about people doing things in a comic. Also, you know, it’s unapologetically sexist, and not because of how much skin it may or may not show. It’s sexist because it’s not a design that comes from the consideration of a character, but rather what the artist or writer wants to see. There’s a lot being written about that right now (concerning DC’s “reboot,” including Harley Quinn) by smarter people, so I’ll leave it at that.
In short, I wish editors, writers and artists would think a little harder when messing with the classics. Superhero comics, as an industry, rely pretty heavily on nostalgia and properties that have been around for years, so it’s stupid of them to take something that’s working and run it into the ground.
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