To be a memorable hero (or villain) you’ve got to make an impression, and a great look is the key to staying in the hearts and minds of those who admire or fear you. Unfortunately, the various good guys and bad guys of the DC Universe haven’t always struck gold the first time around with their super suits. Sometimes these earlier looks are simply dated by today’s standards, sometimes they’re perfect…for another hero and sometimes they’re enough to make even the most fashion-clueless of us cringe. Fortunately, most costume-clad superhumans outgrow their early awkward stage, but like any good parent, it’s fun to bust out the old pictures and smile every now and then.
As we wrap up our week exploring DC’s legacy, let’s have a little fun by revisiting ten of the best DC costume upgrades!
First appearing in The Flash #110, Wally West originally wore an exact replica of the Scarlet Speedster’s costume. But in The Flash #135, a matter-transformer machine zapped the Flash, then hit Wally with a beam of energy, causing his suit to change to the now classic yellow-and-red number. In this issue, the Flash had remarked that he was planning on changing KF’s look anyway. How convenient!
In Batman #59, crack marksman Floyd Lawton dressed in a tuxedo, similar to that of famed magician Zatara. With his top hat and domino mask, Lawton operated as a crimefighter, while secretly planning to take control of the Gotham City rackets. Batman arrested him, but Lawton emerged years later in a totally new outfit, complete with a full-face mask, targeting eyepiece and red body suit. The look changed in the succeeding years, but the general pattern of the eye-scope and red suit has stayed the same. No more tuxes for this assassin!
In the pages of the original Teen Titans, Donna Troy stood out as the team's sole female. But as the sixties turned into the seventies, styles around the country were changing quickly and the Amazon hero took notice. In Teen Titans #23, Donna traded in her star-spangled shorts for a red leotard and mod jewelry. Needless to say, this letting of her hair down drew the interest of the guys on the team, particularly Speedy.
Sometimes it’s not so much a matter of replacing your look as it is supplementing it. Riddler’s trademark symbol is the question mark (often enmeshed in the color green), but the Prince of Puzzles has maintained two different yet equally iconic looks over the course of his career. The first, as you see above, is green spandex topped with purple gloves, mask and utility belt.
As Batman, and by extension his villains, expanded beyond comics, he started being depicted in a green suit and bowler hat. This can perhaps best be seen in the '60s Batman series’ pilot episode and in Batman: The Animated Series. The comics eventually followed suit, although certain issues, like Batman #490, have seen the Riddler wearing both looks for different capers.
Black Canary’s outfit is a classic and she's maintained this look for nearly eight decades. With her martial arts skills and glamorous beauty, Dinah Lance never strays far from her original design of leotard, jacket and fishnets. Well, usually. We shouldn’t ignore the attempts she's made to change her look over the years. One instance is in Detective Comics #554, when she believed adopting her mother’s (the original Black Canary's) costume was psychologically holding her back. She then created a new look to better suit the new wave 1980s. But after a few years (and plenty fan outcry), she burned the costume in the home she shared with Green Arrow and returned to her trademark fishnets.
When Oliver Queen first made the scene in More Fun Comics, his suit was one of the simpler superhero costumes around. A short-sleeved green top and leggings with red gloves and boots, topped with a feather-tipped cap and mask. It wasn’t bad, but it was so obviously inspired by Robin Hood that it’s surprising his crimefighting partners weren’t a friar and a bruiser named “Johnny Little.” Green Arrow bobbed around different teams like the Seven Soldiers of Victory and the Justice League with this look, but in Brave and the Bold #85, artist Neal Adams updated the Archer’s design to better match the more free-spirited times and his looser personality. Like Deadshot, this look has varied over the years, but the addition of the Van Dyke beard has remained mostly intact.
This one’s unique in that it happened entirely outside the realm of comic. In Batman: The Animated Series, the Scarecrow had a number of different designs. Originally hewing closer to his initial comic book design, Dr. Jonathan Crane didn’t strike a lot of fear for a guy who was meant to be terrifying. His head looked too much like the punching bag Batman would use it for. A second design appeared in the episode “Fear of Victory,” and this more deranged look was maintained for the remainder of the show’s original run. But in The New Batman Adventures episode “Never Fear,” the Scarecrow reappeared with an all-new look, frightening younger viewers by sporting a hanged man’s noose and a bizarre face that resembled a zombie rather than a scarecrow. A lot of Batman’s villains were redesigned for The New Batman Adventures, but Crane was by far the best received.
In Batman #1, Selina Kyle first appeared as a beautiful woman disguised as an elderly maid in an effort to steal diamonds. Known as “The Cat," she later returned wearing another disguise—a giant cat-head mask. Thankfully, this look didn’t last long before she got an update in the form of a purple cat-eared mask. This costume evolved into what became a classic design, with a green cape and a cat o' nine tails whip to slash anyone who crossed her…and she didn’t stop there. Catwoman has updated her look arguably more than any other A-list DC character, with each new look launching a flurry of new cosplays. In fact, we could write an article like this that just focused on Selina…and we pretty much have. Check it out here.
One of the most popular upgrades in DC history, Dick Grayson’s fashion sense grew from a tiny acorn to a mighty oak tree. After retiring as Robin, Dick returned to help the Teen Titans with a new costume and identity, that of the acrobatic hero Nightwing. His first suit was a straight-up statement featuring dark shades of blue with yellow accents resembling feathers. Most notorious is the high disco-style collar, which—while now viewed affectionately as part of his past—got dated pretty quickly. (Also, it couldn’t have been very aerodynamic!) After Dick briefly retired as Nightwing, Batman’s tech-assistant Harold designed him a sleek, black costume with a blue insignia that wrapped across his back, torso and down his arms. This became the iconic Nightwing suit that we’ve now seen on the small screen in shows like Teen Titans and Young Justice to, more recently, Titans.
Yeah, yeah, we know. Calendar Man?!? He may be fairly low-level as super-villains go, but Calendar Man is the character who's received the most dramatic visual change over the years. Originally updating his costume to match the various holidays on which he would commit his crimes, Julian Day would eventually settle on a baggy red-and-white costume with numbers scattered throughout. (We can only hope his crimes against fashion were taken into consideration when Batman arrested him.) This bizarre outfit remained until Batman: The Long Halloween, when artist Tim Sale stripped his look down to a simple suit and a shaved head tattooed with abbreviations of months. If there were any doubt that this revamp was a winner, considering that Calendar Man has shown up in two different movies this year—the two-part Batman: The Long Halloween animated film and The Suicide Squad. Slicker, smoother and far more sinister, this is the best DC costume revamp of them all!
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NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of Donovan Morgan Grant and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.