We all have our weird phases. Whether you bleached your hair like Eminem and/or N*SYNC, or ran with your arms behind you in gym class like Sonic The Hedgehog and/or Naruto the orange ninja, we all have that one proverbial yearbook photo of the soul that we’d like to have erased from existence. Quality design may survive the test of time, but Gotham City wasn’t built in a day. Even Gwen Stefani was really into ska at one point. Sometimes, you need to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes, that wheel comes in the shape of nipples on a Batman suit. There comes a time in every individual and intellectual property’s life to break out of the status quo and try something new.
Growth is necessary, both for ourselves, and comic characters. In comics, growth comes in the form of redesigns. Sometimes, writers challenge themselves by taking formerly lame characters of yesteryear and reshaping them into the badasses of today. Sometimes, characters are redesigned to avoid lawsuits. Regardless, we’ve picked a bouquet of whoopsie daisies, highlighting 15 DC characters who have gone through radical redesigns.
15. MR. ZERO
Doused with a freezing solution from an ice gun, Mr. Zero embraces villainy and ice-puns in “The Ice Crimes of Mr. Zero” from 1959’s Batman #121. Rocking an orange and yellow air-conditioned suit, Mr. Zero traps Batman and Robin with “ice gas.” Batman escapes by smashing into a conveniently located steam pipe, simultaneously curing Zero. Considering his velour robe, Zero is basically Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze.
The refrigerated rogue returns in a green welder’s suit as Mr. Freeze in 1968’s Detective Comics #373, wielding a combination flamethrower/freezethrower cryothermal gun. To match Batman: The Animated Series, however, the former joke-villain is given a tragic backstory to save his wife Nora in 1993’s Detective Comics #670, in addition to a red goggled redesign by Mike Mignola. Batman Annual #1 from 2012 takes a step back, making Victor Fries a cryogenic creep obsessed with Nora.
14. KILLER MOTH
Protector of the criminal underworld, Killer Moth was originally an evil Batman in Rainbow Brite leggings in 1951’s Batman #63. Outfitted with his own Mothcave, crime lab and Mothmobile, Killer Moth sells his services to small-time crooks with “Moth Signals.” In place of a sidekick, Moth wields twin unique untraceable revolvers, each “worth six Robins.” Pretty badass, yet Killer Moth is downgraded to a joke villain in 2003’s Batgirl Year One #1, serving as Batgirl’s first supervillain.
Wanting to be feared instead of mocked, Killer Moth sells his soul in Underworld Unleashed to gain moth-powers, which isn’t exactly an upgrade. The mothy malcontent remains a bit of a joke character, teaming up with Firefly as the “other hired gun” in All-Star Batman #1 by Scott Snyder. Batman stabs Killer Moth in the hand, pointing out that most adult moths don’t have mouths.
The mercenary in the asymmetrical sci-fi balaclava who nearly never misses, modern Deadshot is the patron saint of head-shots. Take the exact opposite and you have OG Deadshot, making his debut as a gun-slinging foil to Batman in “The Man Who Replaced Batman!” from 1950’s Batman #59.
Rocking a top hat and tuxedo, Deadshot encroaches upon Batman’s monopoly on vigilantism with his own Bullseye-symbol and by never shooting to kill. Deadshot’s plan is to intentionally kill Batman by accident, foiled by Batman telling Deadshot to shoot him. No need for dodge-rolls – Deadshot is too psyched out to shoot straight. Despite his moniker, Deadshot has never shot to kill. Batman elaborates: “And you call yourself Deadshot! Dudshot would be better!” Call the Gotham City Fire Department, because that burn was sick, Batman. Incidentally, Deadshot still habitually pulls his punches with Batman.
Apparently, the original method of creating comic characters was to put weird heads on bodies. Take character actor Basil Karlo, the original Clayface from 1940’s Detective Comics #40, a guy in a cape and hat with the “strength of a madman,” who enjoyed stabbing his former coworkers with knives while wearing gross stuff on his face.
Considering that, like, 80% of Batman villains are just murderers with weird faces, the second Clayface, Matt Hagen, bathes in a radioactive pool of protoplasmic jelly in Detective Comics #298, gaining 48 hours of shapeshifting powers, instead of cancer. Detective Comics #934 from 2016 has Karlo reprising his role as Clayface, a former actor whose DNA got muddied up in an accident. Now a Bat-Ally repenting for his shapeshifting sins, Clayface’s excess biomass fuels the Mud Room, which is like the X-Men’s Danger Room, but with mud.
Rolling up in a flying saucer for “The Super-Duel in Space” from July 1958’s Action Comics #242, Brainiac was originally just a green alien in black spanx with a pet space-monkey named Koko. Presented as a foil to The Main of Steel, “The Alien of Steel” known as Brainiac was all about two things: bragging about his ultra-force barrier, and bottling cities. Superman doesn’t even beat Brainiac, he just hangs with Jor-El’s college roommate Kimda before stepping out with the bottle city of Kandor while Brainiac takes a century-long nap.
The Brainiac of 2015’s Convergence by Dan Jurgens and Jeff King is a composite of every Brainiac ever from across the Multiverse. “The Ultimate God Machine,” Brainiac has collected cities from DC history, placing a different incarnation of Brainiac in charge of said cities. Why? Multiverse Battle Royale, duh.
10. CLOCK KING
Debuting in “The Crimes of The Clock King” from August 1960’s World’s Finest Comics #111, William Tockman was just a guy who covered everything except for his genitals in clocks. Clock King looms over a masquerade party from a balcony, directly in front of a clock indicating that his clock-suit is totally off. Clock King leans hard into his theme, robbing “The Tick Tock Club,” “The Idle Hour Inn” and “Minute Man Saving” on a precise schedule. Clock King clearly has a problem, as Green Arrow and Speedy bust Tockman trying to rob a clock store.
Fortunately, Clock King lost the clocks save for a sleek set of clock-faced shades and time rewinding powers for Batman: The Animated Series. These shades are downgraded to reading glasses for The Clock King from 2017’s Batman #14, his clock-fancy culminating in a clock-face face-tattoo.
Originally going by just “The Cat” in 1940’s Batman #1, Selina Kyle disguises herself as an old lady in order to steal some jewels. Batman snatches Selina’s wig and rubs her makeup off while exclaiming: “Quiet or Papa spank!” When not in disguise, The Cat’s uniform consists of a super-impractical yellow wizard-dress, red cape and hyper-realistic full-face cat mask.
Papa does spank, as since 1992’s Batman Returns, Catwoman is hardly seen outside of her shiny-leather catsuit, a skintight fit considering her cat-burglar schtick. Throw in some high-tech goggles that rival Batman’s detective vision and you have Batman’s purrfect paramour, recently seen banging him on a rooftop (masks off, sadly) in 2017’s Batman #14 by Tom King and Mike Gerads.
8. KILLER CROC
Making his first full appearance in April 1983’s Batman #358 by Gerry Conway, Curt Swan and Rodin Rodriguez, Waylon Jones, aka Killer Croc, was originally just a gangster imbued with a scaly skin disease and carny-level strength. With his green jacket and disguise, Killer Croc kinda looked like a gangrene Thing incognito, so it’s not a surprise that Croc got increasingly reptilian over time.
By 2002’s Batman: Hush, Killer Croc had “devolved” into full saurian status, now a man/lizard hybrid hooked on mutagen that made him grow a tail. As if someone realized Croc had become The Lizard but with a slightly more jacked-up face, 2017’s Suicide Squad places Killer Croc in a happy greyscale area between man and crocodile-man.
7. CALENDAR MAN
Batman faces “The Challenge of The Calendar Man” in 1958’s Detective Comics #259. This fashionista foe has a look for all five seasons: snowman for winter, flower fetishist for spring, hazmat suit for the summer and “bag of dead leaves wearing a cape” for autumn. The fifth season is rain, so Calendar Man plans to make it rain before Batman reveals Calendar Man’s true identity – a turban-wearing caucasian magician named Maharajah.
Calendar Man, aka Julian Day, is reimagined as a seasonal Hannibal Lector for 1996’s “Batman: The Long Halloween.” As of 2017’s Batman: Rebirth #1, however, Calendar Man is a fully-fledged metahuman who ages according to the seasons. Calendar Man dies every winter only to molt out of his corpse every spring, which is frankly a bit ridiculous. Honestly, does Calendar Man get those head tattoos reapplied every year?
6. GUY GARDNER
Guy Gardner originally appeared as a rival to Hal Jordan in March 1968’s “Earth’s Other Green Lantern” from Green Lantern #59 by John Broome, Gil Kane and Sid Greene. Essentially a ginger Hal Jordan, the OG Guy was fairly unremarkable, albeit the former PE teacher was Abin Sur’s first choice to wield the GL Ring. Steve Englehart and Joe Staton revamp Guy through some impromptu brain trauma, turning Guy into an arrogant, childish and legitimately interesting douchebag.
The Guy Gardner of 2016’s Green Lantern: Rebirth is a former cop turned space-cop, who is a douchebag just because. We would be remiss not to mention Guy’s transformation into Warrior, from 1994’s Guy Gardner: Warrior #23. To capitalize on the popularity of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, Guy drinks some “Warrior Water,” activating ancient alien DNA that turns Guy into a shapeshifting living weapon.
5. RED HOOD
You can technically three characters arcs in one with Red Hood, as the criminal with the crimson cranium originally appeared in 1951’s “The Man Behind The Red Hood!” from Detective Comics #168. Rocking a tuxedo, red cape, and nondescript red domed helmet, Red Hood escapes capture by diving into a vat of a “deadly chemical mixture.” Red Hood survives thanks to filters built into his helmet, but at the cost of becoming the Joker. Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke claims that proto-Joker was Red Hood for only one heist, making the original Red Hood’s identity ambiguous.
Jason Todd rocks a redesigned Red Hood for 2005’s Batman #635, dropping the tuxedo for some sweet double-guns and an actual helmet. This redesign fits the former Robin who was (temporarily) murdered by the Joker, making Todd’s take-over of Joker’s former alias perfectly fitting.
4. BLUE BEETLE
Essentially the blue Green Hornet, the original Blue Beetle, Dan Garret, appeared in 1939’s Mystery Men Comics #1 from Fox Comics as a rookie cop who would take drugs (“Vitamin 2X”) then fight crime. Charleton Comics would redesign Blue Beetle for 1961’s Blue Beetle #1, making Dan Garrett an archaeologist powered by a mystical scarab relic, transforming by screaming “Kaji Dha!” In 1967’s Blue Beetle #2, Garrett passed the scarab, but none of its powers, to his successor Ted Kord, who was for lack of a better phrase, a boring Batman.
Fast forward to 2006’s Infinite Crisis wherein we have the modern Blue Beetle, Jaime Reyes, who can access the powers of the scarab relic, an alien war-machine fused to his spine. As of 2016’s Blue Beetle: Rebirth #1, however, the scarab relic is both mystical and extraterrestrial in nature.
3. LEX LUTHOR
Originally going by just “Luthor,” Superman’s nemesis made his debut in April 1940’s Action Comics #23, rocking a fiery mane of red hair in a matching red monk robe. A scientific “super-genius,” Luthor’s goads nations into warring with one another before hitting Superman with a “green ray.” Due to what is believed to be an artist error confusing Luthor for The Ultra-Humanite, Luthor is depicted by Leo Nowak as bald and jowly in 1941’s Superman #10.
In 1986’s Man of Steel #4 by John Bryne, however, Lex is reimagined as a corporate executive, the self-made CEO of LexCorp who battles Superman with his mind. Lex was also elected President in 2001’s Lex 2000 #1, but that’s whatever compared to Lex joining the Justice League in 2014’s Justice League #31. Scratch that, Lex is the acting Superman as of Action Comics #957.
2. MR. MIND
When Captain Marvel tracks down the malevolent mastermind Mister Mind in 1943’s Captain Marvel Adventures #26, Mind wargs into as many minions as possible, including a goat-man, an unsettling octopus with a human face and a muscleman in purple hot-pants. When the super racist Steamboat bites into an apple in Captain Marvel Adventures #27, Mr. Mind’s true form is revealed as essentially The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s brain-eating cousin. With his tiny spectacles and amplifier, this wuvable warmongering worm fits well into the kid-friendly/nazi-fighting comic.
This isn’t even Mr. Mind’s final form, however, as he chest-bursts out of Skeets in 2007’s 52 #51 by Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison. No longer hungry for brainwaves, this multi-eyed eldritch abomination feeds off of time and space itself, intent on devouring the multiverse when he isn’t threatening to impregnate Booster Gold and Rip Hunter.
1. DICK GRAYSON
Starting out as a daredevil child soldier in short-shorts in 1940’s Detective Comics #38, Dick Grayson has evolved from the sidekick stand-in for young readers into what is essentially an emotionally balanced Batman. Breaking out of the Boy Wonder role, Dick pops his collar to become Nightwing in 1984’s Tales of The Teen Titans #44. Incidentally, Nightwing was originally an alias – inspired by Batman and Robin – utilized by Superman when he fought crime in Kandor in 1963’s Superman #158.
After his secret identity is compromised in Forever Evil, however, Grayson takes on a secret agent role in 2014’s aptly titled Grayson, reverting back to Nightwing in 2016’s Nightwing: Rebirth. What’s cool about Dick Grayson is that he’s one of the few characters to experience legitimate growth. If anything, Dick’s maturation makes us aware of how little Batman has changed.
Can you think of a DC character that went through a drastic redesign? Which DC character do you think is due for an upgrade? Whatever happened to Koko? Let us know in the comments!
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