Comic book characters have to change. It’s a fact of life and the very nature of the beast. With comic characters having existed for decades, the time comes when they have to be refreshed so that they can resonate with modern readers. Sometimes it can be a drastic change, such as when DC’s transition to the Silver Age saw several characters completely reworked with new identities and backstories. Other times, it can be as simple as a change of direction or a new costume for a character that has been rocking the same look for years.
For the purpose of this list, we amassed the best and the worst we could find with a simple rule: it couldn’t just be a costume change, it had to be a new look that reflected a shift in direction for the character. They can’t all be home runs, with several changes being relegated to the history books for all the wrong reasons. But when a character is refreshed by the right hands, the updated character can become an instant classic that stands the test of time in ways it couldn’t before.
DC comics spent a lot of time trying not to make Superman seem old. It led to his marriage to Lois being delayed for some time and definitely made kids out of the question. A key aspect of The New 52 was making Superman younger so he’d feel more accessible to readers, and not tying him down with marriage.
But with DC Rebirth, they finally leaned into it the other way. Not only was Lois back, but the two had a son, Jon Kent, who was coping with his own growing powers. Superman becoming a father honestly felt like a natural progression, the next step for a beloved character who had been with us since childhood, and it’s been accepted by fans almost unanimously, as Superman guides the new Superboy in his newfound heroism.
14. SCOTT SUMMERS, PARIAH
Avengers vs. X-Men changed the landscape for Marvel’s mutants, but perhaps none more drastically than Scott Summers. Gaining a piece of the Phoenix Force, Scott led a team of Phoenix-empowered X-Men against The Avengers, a coup which resulted in Cyclops killing Professor Xavier and being arrested as a mutant terrorist.
The change was shocking, to say the least, but it worked. At the time, Scott had been around for roughly 50 years, and his characterization had largely remained the same. Overnight, Scott was changed to be a desperate, unforgiving character at odds with everything he stood for. Scott paid the ultimate price, ultimately dying as a result of terrigen poisoning, but for a brief moment, he was the most interesting he had ever been.
13. WOLVERINE’S GOT HIS OWN NOSE
When Wolverine had the adamantium ripped from his bones in X-Men #25, it set into motion nearly a decade worth of stories revolving around Logan coping with the loss. After living a life as a nigh-unkillable tank, Logan was suddenly much more susceptible to injury and no longer had his unbreakable, razor-sharp claws.
A short while later, it was revealed the adamantium had actually been restricting Logan’s powers, as his healing factor was constantly working to cure his body of metal poisoning. With the adamantium gone, his body eventually mutated into this more feral form, gaining tufts of hair on his arms and, for some reason, losing his nose. Logan would remain in this form for a short while but eventually reverted back when Apocalypse turned him into his horseman, Death, and restored his adamantium.
12. KON-EL MATURES INTO A T-SHIRT
Spinning out of the wildly popular “Reign of the Superman,” the kid only known as Superboy made a splash in his painfully ‘90s costume. Sporting an undercut and a leather jacket, the perpetually unnamed Superboy made his way to Hawaii and set about having a number of adventures in a criminally underrated series that ended with #100 in 2002.
Having gone through substantial growth over his solo title, the title ended with Superboy living as a human as Connor Kent in Kansas. Joining the Teen Titans, Connor radically changed up his look for a simple pair of jeans and a black t-shirt that proved to be just as iconic. This Connor would ultimately die sometime later, though a new Superboy appeared in the early days of The New 52.
11. THE PUNISHER: GUARDIAN ANGEL
Marvel Knights was an imprint that revived a lot of characters on the verge of becoming jokes. Daredevil, Black Panther, The Inhumans and more went from niche titles to A-listers almost overnight, but one such failing was, surprisingly, The Punisher. Releasing in 1998 and helmed by Christopher Golden and Thomas E. Sniegoski with art by the late, great Bernie Wrightson, the four issue miniseries saw Frank revived after a suicide coming back to earth as a hitman for Heaven.
Portrayed as a sort of hyper-violent guardian angel and wielding a series of mystical weapons, this iteration of The Punisher didn’t last very long. With 2001’s The Punisher maxi-series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon didn’t just retcon it, it hand-waved it in a single panel, where Frank casually mentioned he had turned down an opportunity to remain in heaven with his family.
10. GREEN ARROW FIGHTS FOR THE PEOPLE
Green Arrow is an interesting story. A billionaire playboy with an affection for Robin Head, Oliver Queen was one of the few heroes to survive DC’s Silver Age revamp thanks to his popularity as a back-up in the Superboy on-going. But time would eventually catch up with Oliver, and it finally came time to revamp the character.
Losing his fortune, Oliver became a man of the people. He began to focus more on combating social injustices and fighting for the little man. With this also came a more complex uniform, replacing his traditional shirt costume with a corded tunic, as well as his now traditional van dyke. The new era of Green Arrow has informed every run since, especially the “Hard Traveling Heroes” era, which saw him traveling with Green Lantern. Ollie’s changed looks a number of times since then but typically winds up going back to this classic look.
9. CAROL DANVERS EMBRACES HER (MARVEL) LEGACY
Carol Danvers has been a Marvel Comics mainstay for the better part of 40 years now. Starting in 1977, Carol adopted the identity of Ms. Marvel after an accident fused her body with Kree physiology. Despite the strong connection to Captain Marvel, Carol never seemed to fully embrace it, changing into other identities such as Binary or Warbird over the years.
After years of struggling to find her own place in the Marvel Universe, Carol finally adopted the Captain Marvel identity in the 2012 ongoing of the same name. Complete with a new costume design inspired by her predecessor’s look, Carol finally took on her role as one of Marvel’s premiere heroes after decades of stories, a role that’s netted the character a number of on-going titles and her own upcoming film.
8. WONDER WOMAN’S MOST PRACTICAL OUTFIT
Wonder Woman fans did something pretty incredible in 2010. After years of her book being consistently relaunched, a fan campaign successfully convinced DC to renumber the title so that it accurately reflected the longevity of the character. Wonder Woman jumped from #44 to #600, and with it came a new storyline that saw Diana in an alternate timeline where the Gods had fallen.
Diana got a new costume to reflect the new timeline, and it may be her best one ever. Donning pants for the first time ever, the bodysuit was reminiscent of her traditional costume, paired off with a great looking jacket. Diana eventually restored the timeline, but only shortly before Flashpoint rebooted Wonder Woman yet again. Since DC Rebirth, both Action Comics and Detective Comics were rebooted to reflect their lengthy runs, but DC chose not to renumber Wonder Woman in this instance.
7. SUE STORM EXPOSED
Sue Storm has been a fairly straightforward character since her inception. Aside from a landmark moment where she declared she was The Invisible Woman and no longer an Invisible Girl, Sue’s personality has largely remained consistent over the years, though she has become more fiercely self-reliant in recent years. The late ‘80s, however, saw her undergo a drastic shift during an era where Fantastic Four underwent a number of shake-ups.
Having been afflicted by her evil dual persona, Malice, Sue became more aggressive and stand-offish, a look punctuated by a shocking new costume that was really more of a bathing suit, including a bold number 4 cutout on her chest. Sue’s new look was resolved when she freed herself of the Malice persona, and since then she’s been the Sue we all know and love.
6. JANE FOSTER, GODDESS
Jane as Thor may seem like it breaks the rules of this list, as many would argue it’s a new character as opposed to a makeover, but that isn’t’ the case. Thor is the wielder of Mjolnir, which Jane Foster undeniably is, which is why the previous Thor is now known as Odinson, and Jane isn’t saddled with some stupid name like Lady Thor or She-Thor.
Jane’s ascension as the Goddess of Thunder has truly been a treat. She’s seemingly superior to Odinson in every way, which also includes the design of her costume. Jane’s story resonates as well, getting away from the high fantasy of Asgardian gods to tell the simple story of a dying woman striving to be something more. Few makeovers are as poignant or well-done as Jane Foster’s, and it’s truly a shame that her time as Thor seems to be coming to an end.
5. SPEEDBALL’S ANGSTY YEARS
The opening salvo of 2006’s Civil War saw the New Warriors accidentally blow up the small town of Stamford trying to apprehend the villain Nitro. The lone survivor of this attack was longtime member Speedball. Surviving thanks to his mutant ability to absorb kinetic energy, Speedball was found miles away from Stamford and believed to have lost his powers.
In fact, his powers mutated so that they were more violently explosive and only triggered by pain. Wracked with guilt over Stamford, Speedball donned a new suit which contained a number of internal spikes to leave him in constant pain to use his new powers and adopted the codename Penance. Penance left a sour taste with fans, edgy in all the wrong ways and was a short-lived jaunt, as he returned to the Speedball identity during Marvel’s Heroic Age era.
4. REVIVING BARBARA GORDON
The events of The Killing Joke have long been mired in controversy, largely thanks to the title’s treatment of Barbara Gordon. Retired from crime fighting, the former Batgirl found herself paralyzed after being shot by The Joker, inadvertently kicking off decades of debate on the casual mistreatment of such a prominent female icon to push forward Batman’s story.
Barbara may have fallen by the wayside after The Killing Joke had it not been for Kim Yale and John Ostrander’s revival of Barbara as Oracle in the pages of Suicide Squad. Barbara was never portrayed as weak because of her disability, but instead reborn as perhaps one of DC’s most interesting and effective characters. Though Barbara’s paralysis as long-term was later retconned with The New 52, her time as Oracle remains technically canon, and is one of fans’ favorite interpretations of the character.
3. THE EDGIEST FATE
The mid-90s saw DC Comics experimenting with new takes on classic characters, and one of the stranger ones to receive an update was Dr. Fate. A mainstay since the World War II days of superheroes, the 1994 Fate on-going saw Kent Nelson hire smuggler Jared Stevens to recover the missing artifacts of Dr. Fate.
Stevens was instead injured when Fate’s amulet exploded. He melted down the remaining artifacts into a series of daggers and hunting demons. This iteration of Fate was intended to be much edgier than the previous ones, but it failed to make a connection with the fans. Jared was only around for a brief period, being attacked and dying abruptly at the start of 1997’s JSA reboot, with a new Fate debuting shortly afterward.
2. MARY MARVEL’S NEW LOOK INSPIRES FURY
Mary Marvel might be the most tragic instance on this list, as her initial makeover was great. Losing her powers after Shazam died, Mary eventually received Black Adam’s powers during a period where he was grief-stricken over Isis’ death. Donning a new costume consisting a slick, black dress with gloves and a yellow lightning bolt, the new direction for Mary seemed to be a fresh new one for the Marvel family.
Mary eventually surrendered her powers upon realizing they were corrupting her. Regaining a degree of her powers from Darkseid, Mary is recruited to join the Female Furies and dons a frankly bizarre outfit that exposed a lot of bare skin and was highlighted by a punk rock, neon pink buzzcut and pigtails look. Mary would eventually be freed from this by the end of Final Crisis, ending her tenure as a DC heroine as Flashpoint loomed.
1. BLACKHAWK SQUADRON, SQUANDERED
You’d be forgiven for not knowing much about The Blackhawk Squadron. A team of World War II pilots led by Captain Blackhawk, the group was wildly popular right before the superhero boom took over in comics. One of a select few titles kept running by DC when they purchased publisher Quality Comics in the 50s, Blackhawk saw diminishing returns as superheroes gained prominence.
A number of attempts were made to refresh the Blackhawk title for the new age of comics, but none quite as a 1967 reboot which dropped the team’s aviator background for garish secret identities and gimmick abilities. This proved to be unpopular enough that the book returned to its roots a year later, with this era of Blackhawk only being referenced as a joke, such as in Mark Waid’s JLA Year One.
Which makeovers did you love? Which ones did you hate? Let us know in the comments!
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