It’s safe to say we’ve been spoiled with all the superheroes that have debuted live-action lately. Thanks to The CW’s shared DC universe, a plethora of our favorite heroes and villains get to play in the same sandbox multiple times a week. One thing that indicates how closely these characters are adapted is the costuming. The quality of costuming on the various DC Comics-based TV series is all over the place but, for the most part, we’ve been treated to some excellent interpretations of suits that have never been seen before in live-action.
So, rounding up the most notable costumes, CBR has ranked several of the modern DC TV heroes and villains based on their style. From “The Flash,” to “Legends of Tomorrow,” “Supergirl,” and the one that started it all, “Arrow,” we have got the good, and the bad — in some cases really bad — DC TV costumes in order of quality, from worst to best!
15. The Atom
The Atom costume as seen on DC’s “Legends of Tomorrow”… could use some work. Well, it could use a lot of work. Ditching the traditional blue and red spandex from the comics, Brandon Routh’s live-action take on Ray Palmer is clad in what looks like a rejected Iron Man suit — possibly something Tony Stark would pawn off to Rhodey, or even Happy Hogan, if that poor fella were to agree to suit up in that doozy of an armor.
The robotic nature of the suit isn’t a bad idea, considering it made its debut on “Arrow” when things weren’t so superhero-y in the Arrowverse, but it seriously could use some help from a fashion designer. The visor and arm pads give a real “Rollerball” quality — the crappy reboot, just to be clear — that’s best not mixed with the other great costumes on “Legends.” And that pulsar blast sound effect — it’s basically just Iron Man. Just. Iron Man…
14. Martian Manhunter
When Martian Manhunter made his debut on “Supergirl,” it was a wonderful surprise, and certainly a highlight of the series’ inaugural season. The introduction of Martian Manhunter proved that “Supergirl” had the ability to bring in characters from the DC lore, just as well as any of the other live-action adaptations. The downside… would have to be how he actually looks.
The designers behind “Supergirl” depicted J’onn Jonzz in a very traditional form, much like he appears in the comics… but there’s a definite awkward and low budget ’90s sci-fi quality to it. Instead of looking like a Martian, poor J’onn comes off like a lumpy green puppet from the Jim Henson Company — and not the good kind, more like he’s from a not-so-good episode of “Farscape.” The color of the Martian Manhunter’s green skin is a little too vibrant in the context of live-action. And while the glowing red eyes look pretty cool, the overall appearance of the character distracts from how cool those eyes could come off.
13. Black Canary
We can all admit at this point — I mean, she’s dead, so it’s about time — poor Laurel didn’t get the same quality of costuming as her sister Sara when she appeared on “Arrow.” The Black Canary costume isn’t hard to screw up. If you’re looking for the costume done right, check out the recent run on the character where the incredible Annie Wu draws her. Instead of depicting the character with a cool, punk aesthetic, the designers behind “Arrow” basically gave Black Canary a variant of the Green Arrow costume with a pretty ugly domino mask.
We get why the designers would be apprehensive to give Black Canary the classic fishnets from the comics, but they could have done something reminiscent of the look, and possibly produce a costume that comes off less like a character from a rejected fourth “Blade” movie. Apart from the costume itself, Canary’s equipped with a sweet baton for combat, thankfully, boosting the look of her full outfit by that much.
At the time of writing this, Superman has yet to make his live-action debut on “Supergirl” — outside of a silhouette, of course — but thanks to a slew of promotional material, we’ve gotten a taste of his suit as it will appear throughout Season 2 of the series.
From what we can tell, the costume is pretty traditional and has a similar material to Supergirl’s. Based on that alone we can’t justify putting Kal-El as high as his cousin on this list. Plus, the Superman suit comes off a little more awkward. It could be the choice to remove those oh-so-important red undies, but there’s something about Supes’ costume on this show that reminds us of something from a Nike catalogue. A very cool Nike catalogue, at least. Otherwise, it’s not bad and stays true to the Man of Steel — definitely more than Nicolas Cage’s rainbow suit from Tim Burton’s cancelled “Death of Superman” film… and that’s saying something.
11. Red Arrow/Arsenal
In the same way that Superman’s costume is essentially a reimagining of Supergirl’s, the Red Arrow/Arsenal costume as it appears on “Arrow” is a pretty uninspired duplicate of the Green Arrow suit… but, you know, in red. Of course, in the comics, Arsenal/Red Arrow/Speedy’s costume is a direct copy of Green Arrow’s (in its first appearance), but we would’ve liked to see a little more effort put into differentiating Roy Harper’s duds from Oliver Queen’s for his live-action debut.
Additionally, there’s something about the shade of red they chose for the costume that has a cheap Halloween quality to it, especially on top of that shiny leather. Something stealthier, or edgier considering Roy’s personality, would probably fit the context of the show better. Regardless, Colton Haynes pulled off the look decently and did a nice job bringing Roy Harper to life for the first time outside of comics, video games and animation.
10. Captain Cold/Heatwave
We get it, it’s hard to pull of the Rogues’ costumes as they appear in the “Flash” comics — there’s a lot of silly stuff going on. Heatwave generally has a clunky HAZMAT suit with a backpack on, while Captain Cold is bundled up like he just came from that “Stargate” movie that’s set in the Antarctic. So, instead, the designers on “The Flash” went pretty basic when they reimagined Leonard and Mick for live-action.
Instead of their goofier costumes, the duo was given baggy coats that give a real world, thuggish quality to the anti-heroes. The dirty, grounded costumes certainly fit the description of the characters, considering they’re gruff outlaws, but a little more pizzazz could have gone into their designs. Perhaps they could have taken inspiration from their more stylish “Legends of Tomorrow” teammates, like Firestorm or White Canary, with insignias or strategic markings that represent their elemental powers (but more on that later…)
9. Rip Hunter
Rip Hunter was certainly a surprising addition to the “Legends of Tomorrow” cast — considering his low-profile role in the comics, outside of the lovely “Time Masters: Vanishing Point” miniseries — but as soon as the time-travel element of the series was revealed, Rip’s introduction made a whole lot of sense. Perhaps the protagonist of “Legends of Tomorrow,” Rip is the time-traveling leader that (misleadingly) enlists the team to take on the temporal threat of Vandal Savage.
Essentially, he’s one of the Doctors from “Doctor Who” — and boy does his costume reflect that. Sporting a brown trench coat, Rip looks like a spinoff or Mirror Universe version of one of the Time Lords. While his costume isn’t incredibly original, it’s certainly iconic to everybody’s favorite BBC series. But… we like it, so, it definitely works for “Legends,” and reminds us, along with the character’s fun portrayal, of the charisma and pure magnetism that David Tennant had as the Tenth Doctor back in the day.
8. White Canary
At the end of the day, everybody loves White Canary because she’s one hell of a fun character and incredibly entertaining to watch thanks to the charismatic portrayal by Caity Lotz. But, on top of that, the Black Canary offshoot has a spectacular form-fitting costume that allows for the camera to capture all her Kung Fu badassery, while serving as a simple, stylish getup for Sara Lance.
Comprising white gloves, a jacket, and matching leather pants, the sharp suit looks like it could work outside of the DC Universe, in an entirely different action-adventure show, or even in a movie. Barely resembling that of a superhero costume, the White Canary outfit works because it just looks cool, without having to harken back to a comic book design or something gaudy to justify its place among more out-of-this-world characters on the “Legends of Tomorrow” team, like Firestorm or the Atom.
7. Killer Frost
Killer Frost’s costume is, ahem, killer. Well, now that that’s out of the way, let’s point out how awesome it is that this character was reimagined in such a cool way on “The Flash.” Brought into the series as an evil, Earth-2 version of the aptly named Caitlin Snow, Killer Frost made a splash (or, a shiver) in the third season of the DC Comics-based show, and immediately established herself as a worthy character of the Arrowverse, with a stellar visual aesthetic.
Sporting icy blue hair (and equally blue lips), pale white makeup and a sharp leather outfit, Caitlin’s evil makeover was one of the best things to happen on “The Flash.” Obviously, her appearance was well-enjoyed by fans, considering that Killer Frost will be featured prominently in the current comic book run of “Suicide Squad” by Rob Williams, Jim Lee and Philip Tan. And we’re sure she’ll look similar to her Flash appearance in the comic, because, why not? It was awesome.
6. Green Arrow
Oliver Queen kicked off the Arrowverse (of course), and did so sporting a traditional Green Arrow outfit as we recognize it from the comics. Sure, it’s not the hardest costume to adapt to live-action, but the designers certainly pulled it off — way better than the Adidas-inspired costume worn by Justin Hartley on “Smallville.”
The costume is great for its basic design, but the muted green color scheme really sells the idea of a vigilante on a show that was, originally, very grounded in reality. It’s been altered slightly over each season, but with each addition, the suit somehow looks even better, still managing to look cool among all the other costumed heroes we’ve seen come and go on the series. If Green Arrow ever gets to make his splash in the DC Films universe, little to no work has to be done to this suit.
How cool is it that we had both Hawkgirl and Hawkman appear on TV (again)? After a tacky appearance in the “Smallville” universe — which, like Hawkman and Hawkgirl so famously do, we’d like to forget — the duo got a better treatment in live-action as members of the Waverider crew on “Legends of Tomorrow.” The comic book-accurate reimagining looks believable — and that’s saying a lot, considering how massive those wings are. The Hawkman and Hawkgirl designs have a regal quality to them that hearkens back to their Egyptian ties, while looking futuristic and out-of-this-world.
The ability for those costumes to work in any time period “Legends of Tomorrow” takes us is a real testament to the flexibility and stylistic integrity of the suits, which could easily look like cheap Halloween costumes, or something you’d see in “Barberella.” While Hawkman was only a recurring guest star in Season 1, it was great to see Hawkgirl look so fine on a weekly basis, thanks to the team that put so much care into crafting a stellar live-action costume.
Firestorm is an incredibly difficult character to pull of in a live-action setting, since his elemental powers require a special visual effects touch and an accompanying costume that looks good in the context of those powers. Luckily, the costume designers behind DC’s “Legends of Tomorrow” absolutely nailed it with Firestorm — which is not an easy feat. Of course, we’re talking about the Jefferson Jackson character, as played by Franz Drameh on the DC team-up series, not the Ronnie Raymond (Robbie Amell) incarnation that had a… less than pretty debut on “The Flash.”
The red and yellow leather uniform, with the classic Firestorm insignia on the left shoulder make for a remarkably sharp get-up, especially when his fire powers are activated, making for a fun, stylistic take that actually differs significantly from the comics’ version originally incepted by revered artist Al Milgrom. Anytime Firestorm suits up on “Legends of Tomorrow,” it’s a real treat — and a perfect example of how a minor character can be elevated to great lengths with a good-looking costume.
3. The Flash
The Flash costume is probably the hardest to pull off on this list, and honestly, it’s probably a big reason why it’s taken so long to bring the character to live-action. There’s a real concern with adapting the Flash that his costume will come out looking like a big tomato with a lightning bolt on it. But thanks to the costume designers on “Arrow,” they made it work — really work.
Having debuted on the more-grounded DC TV sister series, before moving on to his own spinoff, Grant Gustin’s Flash sports an incredibly comic book accurate suit with some slight variations that make it look normal in the context of a live-action world that’s supposed to resemble ours. Boasting a muted red color scheme, and made up of a leather design that resembles a biker’s uniform, the suit is believable yet extremely comic book-y at the same time. It sort of reflects Gustin’s portrayal on the show — incredibly human while endearingly heroic.
Inherently, Deathstroke the Terminator is one of the coolest characters at DC, and his original design by George Perez stands the test of time as one of the best villain costumes out there, at any superhero publisher. The was introduced in live-action rather quickly on “Arrow” — in the first season, in fact — to the delight of fans of the super-assassin. And, while his portrayal wasn’t necessarily groundbreaking, the costume was absolutely spot-on from the get go.
Keeping the iconic dual-colored mask from the comics, the character looked true to form, and incredibly badass in combat with his trademark marksmanship and classic ability to wield a sword like it’s nobody’s business. It’s impressive how well the costume designers at “Arrow” managed to make Deathstroke look just as impressive as he does in the comics, without making him come off like a cheap “Might Morphin Power Rangers” villain. Based on what’s been revealed from the upcoming Batman solo movie, it looks like the cinematic Deathstroke, rightfully, took some cues from his TV counterpart.
Supergirl’s costume tops the list because it simply is Supergirl, and encapsulates the iconic imagery of the character at first glance. Combining elements of various Supergirl costumes from the comics and in animation, the skirted suit is a wonderful balance of elegance, femininity and regality. Seeing star Melissa Benoist soar in the actual series, you can’t help but associate her as the one and only Daughter of Krypton.
Benoist’s portrayal is special because she carved out the first really memorable Girl of Steel in her own right, and as an added bonus, sports one heck of a costume. Yes, there was the Helen Slater movie back in the day, but that incarnation pales in comparison to Benoist’s super-take. The optimism, humor, skittishness, charm and overall lovable quality of the modern Supergirl solidifies Benoist as the ultimate live-action version of Kara Zor-El, which will undoubtedly be remembered as the character in it purist form, alongside the live-action portrayals of Christopher Reeve and Lynda Carter as Superman and Wonder Woman, respectively. Benoist is ours, and everybody’s Supergirl — and we’re certainly lucky fans to be around while she’s still on the air.
Have a problem with our ranking, or notice a hero/villain we missed that’s worth calling out? Sound off in CBR’s TV/Film forum or the comments with your picks!
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