In the first 50 years of the world of superheroes, a comic book character changing his or her costume was a big deal (well, except for the Wasp, who famously changed costumes every other “Avengers” story arc). When Spider-Man’s black costume debuted, fans freaked out. In the last 25 years, though, costume changes have been much more common, and as a result, the proliferation of new costumes have led to a few iffy costume changes. However, even in the early days, the occasional ill-advised costume change would take place.
In this list, we’ll count down the worst superhero costumes of all time. However, we have a couple of ground rules. Only major superheroes qualify, so no obscure superheroes whose costumes don’t really matter. Everyone on this list has had had their own ongoing comic book series at one point or another. Secondly, no costumes that were intentionally weird-looking on the list. If you try to make a costume look weird, odds are you’re going to succeed. No, these costumes were intended to look cool and it just did not work out that way.
Due to the rule about not including costumes that were meant to be odd-looking, a few famously bad superhero costumes won’t make the list, so we figured that we’d quickly address them before the real list begins, just so you don’t feel like you’re missing out on them. Early on in her superhero career, Kitty Pryde would often try to make costumes for herself. Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum would play this for comedic effect.
During the 1990s, Invisible Woman was possessed by the villainous Malice, which caused her personality to change and she temporarily wore a very provocative costume. It was meant to show that something was wrong with her. When Azrael took over as Batman in the 1990s, the idea by “Batman” editor Denny O’Neil was to show why the real Batman was so much better than an “extreme” hero, so Azrael as Batman was intentionally over-the-top. Similarly, when James Gordon temporarily took over as Batman with a mecha-armor, the comic itself made fun of the look of the armor, including the odd “rabbit ears” aspect.
15. SUPERMAN (ELECTRIC BLUE)
In 1996, Superman temporarily lost his super powers as part of a crossover called “Final Night,” where the Earth’s sun was extinguished. Superman’s powers worked on solar energy, so after enough time without the sun, his powers went away. Ultimately, the sun was re-ignited due to the sacrifice of Hal Jordan (back when he was a supervillain). However, Superman’s powers did not come back right away. Eventually, an experiment got Superman charged with solar energy and he was back to having powers.
The downside, though, was that he ended up becoming supercharged with solar energy, to the point where his body could no longer process it in the way it used to. Instead, his body basically became energy. He was still super-powerful, but in a completely different manner. All of that energy needed to be contained somehow, so Superman gained a containment suit that he wore until these powers went away. It’s not an awful costume period, but boy was it a bad fit for Superman, specifically.
14. DIANA (HOT PANTS ERA)
In 1994, Wonder Woman’s mother took a page out of Odin’s playbook and came up with an elaborate plot to protect her daughter. You see, she had learned that Wonder Woman was destined to be killed in battle, so she decided to make sure that her daughter, Diana, was no longer Wonder Woman. So she held a new contest to determine who would be Wonder Woman and then sabotaged her daughter by weakening her just enough so that she would lose the contest. The new Wonder Woman was an Amazon named Artemis (we recently wrote about her crazy history here).
Diana was not happy with her mother about the whole situation and she decided to continue being a superhero (as she still had all of her powers, she just didn’t have the weaponry that came with her Wonder Woman outfit). Her choice of outfit, though, was odd. She wore very short shorts and a shirt that wasn’t even quite a bra — it was barely more than pasties — plus a jacket too small to actually serve as a jacket.
13. IRON MAN (ORIGINAL GOLD ARMOR)
We would never begrudge Tony Stark for his original Iron Man armor not looking cool, as, come on, he literally built it while imprisoned by a warlord in a foreign country while dying of shrapnel in his chest that was making its way to his heart. His original Iron Man armor was built for two reasons only — the first was so that the chest-plate in the armor could keep the shrapnel from reaching his heart, and the second was so that he could fight his way out of captivity.
Once he returned to the United States, he realized that he could use the armor to fight crime as a superhero. The problem was that the ungrateful public were put off by his initial appearance. Iron Man then solved the problem by literally painting the armor gold. No improvements to the armor. No brand-new design. Just a simple paint job. “Oh dear lord, he’s hideous!” “Oh, wait, his armor is now painted gold. He looks awesome now!” Luckily, Iron Man then moved to a much cooler red and gold design a few issues later.
12. MAGNETO (HEADMASTER OF XAVIER’S)
Beginning with the revelation in “Uncanny X-Men” #150 that Magneto was a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust, Chris Claremont slowly began to build up a redemption arc for the character. This was aided by the earlier revelation by Claremont that before he became Magneto, the master of magnetism was a friend of young Charles Xacier and actually served along him as they fought against Baron Von Strucker and Hydra. The arc came to its conclusion in “Uncanny X-Men” #200 when Xavier asked Magneto to take over as headmaster of Xavier’s school while Xavier was in outer space recuperating from a brutal attack.
Now that he was on the side of the angels, Magneto could no longer rock his helmet look, which just screamed, “Villain!” to everyone. However, his new superhero costume was a bizarre choice, as it had a giant M on his chest (in case anyone forgot that he was Magneto?) and it was sleeveless, which is not usually something worn by an older fellow like Magneto. The arms tend not to be all that toned.
11. THOR (CROSSING ERA)
Around the time of the “Avengers” crossover event, “The Crossing,” pretty much all of the Avengers got new costumes, even characters like Thor that were not directly tied into the actual “Crossing” event. In the case of Thor, he was going through a tough time when it seemed like the World Tree was dying, sending the Asgardian gods into a spiral. So, Thor ended up getting a new oddly busy new costume, complete with a giant metal codpiece, plus long chains out of nowhere (seemingly out of the pages of “Spawn”) for his hammer.
The actual costume was not a bad design, but it seemed out of place for Thor to wear. The craziest thing, though, was that Thor didn’t even wear it! Despite being shown in promotional materials as his new look, he didn’t actually wear the costume, instead running around shirtless for most of the time that he was supposed to be wearing this new outfit. When he returned after temporarily dying with the rest of his teammates during “Onslaught,” he was back in his traditional costume.
10. GHOST RIDER (NOBLE KALE)
In 1990, Howard Mackie and Javier Saltares successfully re-launched Marvel’s Ghost Rider character, introducing a brand-new series starring a new version of the classic character. This new version was bonded with its human host, Dan Ketch, and wore black boots, gray pants and a black leather jacket. It was a classic biker look and it served the character well as Ketch became far more popular than the original Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze (who wore a similar outfit as the original supernatural Ghost Rider).
While Blaze’s Ghost Rider had been due to a demon Zarathos, it was unclear how Ketch was empowered, until he learned that the “demonic” side of his being was actually that of Noble Kale, an ancestor of Ketch’s who had been cursed back in the 18th century and chose to kill himself rather than go through with the curse. Heaven and Hell fought over him and reached a compromise where he could possess his descendants and use them to transform into the Spirit of Vengeance. With this new knowledge, Noble decided to change his look, going for a bizarre choice of colors for a motorcycle-riding Spirit of Vengeance — lots of bright orange.
9. WARBIRD (RED ZONE)
After initially having her powers stolen by Rogue, Carol Danvers discovered new energy-based powers when she became the hero known as Binary. Eventually, those powers mostly burned out and she returned to Earth and sought to re-join the Avengers. Not wanting to use her old Ms. Marvel name, she instead adopted the codename Warbird during Kurt Busiek and George Perez’s run on “Avengers.” She served the team well, but ended up splitting from the team after she developed a drinking problem.
She returned to the team later in Busiek’s run and was in place when Geoff Johns took over writing the series (during that brief period where Johns was working for both DC Comics and Marvel Comics). Johns eventually wrote her out of the series at the end of the “Red Zone” arc, where she was offered a job in Homeland Security. Before she left, though, Olivier Coipel gave her an amazingly bland costume. It was basically just nondescript body armor. He was clearly going for a more militaristic look, but that didn’t need to equal boring.
8. THOR (GODPACK)
In the mid-1990s, Thor was in a strange place. After being missing for a few years while Eric Masterson took over as the new Thor, the Odinson returned and promptly came down with Warrior’s Madness and fought against Adam Warlock and the Infinity Watch. Once that was finished, Thor really didn’t particularly have anything to do, so incoming writer Roy Thomas tied him in with the High Evolutionary.
The High Evolutionary was always trying to create new superhuman teams and he succeeded with a new group of beings based on gods. Thor dubbed them the “Godpack” and actually joined their team. When he decided to join the group, he figured that he should get a new costume to commemorate the change. His new costume had one of the most unusual looks we’ve ever seen in a comic book costume. We’ve seen characters wear vests before, but not clothing only down the middle of the chest!
7. GUY GARDNER: WARRIOR (VULDARIAN ERA)
In 1994, DC Comics decided to dramatically revamp its “Green Lantern” line of books, which, at the time, had reached four ongoing series (three monthlies and a quarterly). The plan was to remove the Green Lantern Corps from the scene period and start over with a brand-new character being Green Lantern. As a result, DC canceled “Green Lantern: Mosaic” and “Green Lantern Corps Quarterly” and then had to make a major change in “Guy Gardner: Warrior,” a book where Guy Gardner used a yellow power ring (that was powered by Green Lantern rings).
Guy lost his ring (since there were no longer any Green Lantern Corps around to power it) and DC wanted him to get new powers. The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers were popular at the time, so DC had Beau Smith try to do something similar with Guy, and Smith came up with the idea of Guy being part-alien. When he discovered his alien heritage, he gained the ability to transform his body into different weapons. He also now dressed like a member of his alien race, which involved tattoos all over his now-shirtless body.
6. WAR MACHINE (CROSSING ERA)
Around this same time, the comic book series “War Machine” was going through a similar issue as “Guy Gardner,” as it also wanted to distance itself from the comic book series that it spun off of, which was “Iron Man.” James Rhodes had been using a suit of armor designed by Tony Stark. Stark, though, was the villain of the “Avengers” crossover, “The Crossing,” and thus Rhodey could not get another suit of armor from him after Rhodey lost his original armor during a time traveling story arc.
Instead, Rhodes was chosen by some aliens to wear a special alien armor called WarWear. At first, he didn’t know why he was specifically chosen (it was his connection to Stark), so he thought it was some really weird coincidence that he lost an armor and then got new armor. This armor was intentionally designed to look very alien, but wow, it was really weird looking. When most of the Avengers (including Iron Man) were seemingly killed during “Onslaught,” Rhodes gave up the WarWear by sacrificing it to erase all information about the Iron Man technology from Stark Enterprises’ servers.
5. HAWKEYE (POST-KREE SKRULL WAR)
Interestingly enough, Clint Barton’s initial career as Hawkeye only lasted five years, as after five years under the Hawkeye name, Clint Barton adopted the growth powers and abandoned Goliath identity from Hank Pym (when Pym gave up on growing and became Yellowjacket). His Goliath costume was kind of goofy in and of itself, with the strange chest strap thing.
Anyhow, during the famous “Kree/Skrull War” storyline, the Avengers ended up in outer space and they all returned… except for Goliath. He wasn’t even gone a full issue before he showed up, to the great delight of his teammates. As it turned out, he had escaped back to Earth, as well, and landed in Eastern Europe where he got a job working in a traveling circus. Oddly enough, former Avenger Hercules was also in this circus (talk about coincidences!). Going back to his bowman ways, Hawkeye rocked an amusing, pants-less outfit. It did not last long.
4. HERCULES (CROSSING ERA AVENGERS)
Hercules had always been a bit of a tricky character for writers to incorporate into the Avengers due to the fact that he was a demigod living amongst mortals. His personality was so over-sized that he was a bit hard to relate to — he was basically just the strong guy on the team and the comic relief. When he returned to the Avengers during the famous Bob Harras/Steve Epting/Tom Palmer run, Harras tried to humanize the character more.
One of the ways he did so was to reduce his power level, as well as give Hercules a new costume (and a shave, since the Eric Masterson Thor was also on the team at the time and two bearded characters was apparently one beard too many). However, over time, the costume devolved to the point where it was basically just a stretched-out tank top. With his beard now gone, he sort of looked like a depressing Rocky Balboa, maybe from “Rocky V.”
3. BLACK CANARY (FLASHDANCE)
In the early 1980s, Black Canary was involved in one of the strangest retcons of all-time, when it was revealed that she was her own mother living in her comatose daughter’s body (her daughter was cursed with a Canary Cry, which explained why Canary suddenly had sonic powers). Eventually, the younger Canary then took back control of her own body. Wishing to distinguish herself from her mother, she then decided to get her own brand-new costume. It was a good idea, but the decision was made during the early 1980s and it very much embraced the fashion of the era.
It looked very much like something a superhero would wear to Jazzercise. The hilarious thing is that DC hyped up the new costume so much that they even homaged Canary’s original first cover appearance with the debut of the new look. The new look only lasted a few years before she re-embraced her mother’s style when she got her own solo feature in “Action Comics Weekly.” Artist Brian Bolland spoke for many comic book fans when he drew the cover of Canary’s first feature in “Action”…
2. IRON MAN (NOSE ARMOR)
In 1972, Stan Lee officially became the Publisher of Marvel Comics. That ended his time as a regular ongoing writer for comics, but it was also a strange period in terms of his influence on the company. He was now above the Editor-In-Chief (a role a variety of creators went through between 1972-1978) but was not nearly as directly involved with the comics as he once was. He was mostly a hands-off boss. So when he did make comments, they were taken very seriously, but since he rarely discussed things, sometimes his directions would be misunderstood.
Lee once looked at a drawing of Iron Man that he thought looked like the helmet was drawn so small that a face couldn’t fit under it. He remarked, “Shouldn’t there be a nose?” That was taken to mean “Iron Man’s helmet should have a nose.” So, for a brief period, he did (to help scare villains — seriously!). In one comic, Iron Man went to San Diego Comic Con and everyone made fun of his new armor. Eventually, either Lee saw it and didn’t like it or people just got sick of it, so it was dropped. Hilarious stuff.
1. WONDER MAN (WEST COAST AVENGERS)
Wonder Man is the king of bad superhero costumes, and you could make an argument that a couple of his outfits belong on this list, but we don’t think any of them are egregious enough to quite crack the Top 15 except for this one, from 1986. You see, Wonder Man had moved to Hollywood to become an actor and when the Avengers opened up a West Coast branch, he was an easy pick for the team. However, as his profile rose with the new team in the area, he got cast in a major motion picture playing a version of the Conan-inpired Arkon.
His agent then got Wonder Man a brand-new, extremely garish costume. Again, this is a guy who had gone through some real stinkers in the past, but managed to top them all with this monstrosity. The Avengers then got lost in time for a long storyline. When they returned, writer Steve Englehart wrote the fan reaction to the costume into the comic, with movie fans within the comic book all expressing how much they hated his new look, so he changed back to his previous costume, which he has mostly kept since.
What do you think is the worst superhero costume ever? Let us know in the comments section!