Tattoos are an intensely personal endeavor, requiring an unbelievable investment of time and money. They’re an expression of the art that speaks to the person getting inked, to the things that matter to them the most in their life. Usually, they turn out amazing — they’re richly colored, the lines are tight, and it flows with the shape of the body, like you were born with it; other times, they turn out looking like a real dog’s breakfast.
So what makes a terrible tattoo? There are a couple things: first, the design of the tattoo itself. It’s impossible to get a good looking tattoo on your body if the artwork you want to get tattooed looks amateurish. Second, the tattoo artist — not all tattoo artists are equal; just because they have a studio doesn’t mean their work will be great. Check portfolios, get designs made, and do your homework, and your tattoo will be fine. Some people ignore all these rules and become cautionary tales. They get ill-advised superhero tattoos, or try to show off their design skills with homemade work. Or they just get low-quality ink done, and they have to live with it. These are 15 of those tales.
15. “WHY SO SERIOUS?”
In the near-decade since The Dark Knight came out, there have been no shortage of people getting tattoos of Heath Ledger’s Joker, or his famous catchphrase, “Why so serious?” Most of the ink leans on the imagery from the movie, or perhaps the famous Brian Bolland panel from The Killing Joke of Joker running his fingers through his unruly hair, eyes wide and crazed; some of them try to break the mold and do something different.
We appreciate that this one is something new, an interesting take on a tired tattoo — but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a tired tattoo. The cartoony aesthetic is interesting, but ultimately it comes out looking like someone squeezed “Why So Serious” out of a toothpaste tube and got a tattoo of it.
14. JUSTICE LEAGUE + AVENGERS FINGER TATS
If you’re going to get a bad tattoo, you should put some thought into coherence. For example, unless you’re actively going for something weird, you wouldn’t want to get a tattoo of Spider-Man with a Bat-symbol on his chest, or Green Arrow riding an actual black canary. Those are bad examples for illustration, but this tattoo speaks to the same jumble.
This person decided to get eight of their favorite superhero logos tattooed on their fingers, and while the tattoos themselves look as good as they can (Captain America’s Shield and the circle around Thor’s hammer are both a little imperfect, but they’re on fingers, it’s a tough spot), they don’t make any sense. The split is uneven, with five Marvel heroes and three DC ones, and they aren’t even in alphabetical order or anything. This guy would have been better off buying eight rings — cheaper and removable.
13. RIPPED SKIN SUPERMAN VAULT
This tattoo seems like an unnecessary expansion of a classic design. There’s nothing wrong with getting the Superman shield tattooed — it’s a noble symbol, and done right, it can be an eye-catching and impressive tattoo. This tattoo is very technically well-done; it’s full of straight lines that actually look straight, and coloring on a flesh texture and a metallic texture, but it’s just too much. T
hey started with a Superman shield and then decided, “Well, better add some flames around it to get some blue involved.” Then they decided, “Nah, that’s not enough, we should make it look like it’s bolted to a metal wall, that’ll be cool.” Then, when their appetite still was not sated, they asked, “what if that metal wall was inside my body? What if my subdermal layer was all metal panels, and the Superman logo busted out in a fleshy explosion?!” And then they got that tattooed.
12. FALLING LOGO SLEEVE
Sometimes, you can’t pick one superhero tattoo, so you just decide get as many superhero tattoos as you can. The logos on this tattoo sleeve are all very well done, with clean lines and generally good coloring, with one major exception. The biggest issue with this one is placement — there’s no good way to make superhero logos all fit together, so they just decided to pile them all on top of one another, like they’re falling out of a Pringles can on their upper arm.
The bigger issue is the Batman logo — the colors are inverted for some reason, with a black bat on a field of gold. The coloring on the rest of the logos is flat, which looks good, but the gold coloring on the Bat-symbol tries to add a third dimension and some depth to it, and just comes off looking like a bloated Bat-balloon.
11. THE THING LEG SLEEVE
Everybody loves Aunt Petunia’s favorite nephew, Ben Grimm — the blue-eyed, everlovin’ Thing — but some people love him too much. This gentleman has made the decision to wear his rocks on his sleeve, and got himself some of Ben Grimm’s rockwork on his right leg, covering the whole area below the knee. This tattoo in particular is a classic example of “one could, but should one?”
Sure, it’s technically possible to get another face tattooed over your actual face, but that’s not a good look for anyone. And unless this dude sprung for both legs, he’s gonna have a lot of weird trips to the gym, the beach, basically anywhere he decides to wear shorts. And while the work is technically very skilled, the orange starts to get pretty monotonous, even with the accent colors to give it depth.
10. HIS ‘N HERS JOKER & HARLEY
Can we all stop pretending that Joker and Harley are a couple to aspire to be? Liking characters that are despicable is no crime — if it were, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Eastbound & Down would have fizzled in the pitch phase. But aspiring to model your relationship on Joker and Harley’s coercive, violent pas de deux speaks to some pretty messed up #relationshipgoals.
These tattoos are also guilty of just being plain old extra. The couple already has wedding bands with Joker and Harley on them (gross), and the tattoos that they got will be partially covered up by the bands. Plus, the movement and friction of the ring on the finger means that those tattoos are gonna fade mad quickly; maybe they’re planning on getting touch-ups for their anniversary every year?
9. NIGHTCRAWLER & WOLVERINE
This one needs very little analysis, but let’s try and be objective. The subject matter of the tattoo is great — Nightcrawler and Wolverine have a long history of fire-and-ice style friendship, where hotheaded Logan hangs out with cucumber-cool Kurt and they throw back some beers together. So the concept is there, but fails in execution.
To start with, Nightcrawler looks like a blue-skinned guy who has followed Phish around for a decade or so, and Wolverine looks like someone cut off his entire upper lip (he has no lips but he must scream, as it were). And we’re just now getting to the fact that the whole thing looks like it was drawn on this person’s arm in crayon, by a right-handed person who decided to challenge themselves to tattoo with their left hand instead. This one is gonna need a heck of a cover-up some day, hopefully soon.
8. BATMAN SILHOUETTE
This tattoo is one of those rare ones that’s actually done extremely well — the design is just not good. The use of negative space to create Batman is a really stellar idea, and the technical aspects of the work here speak to the artist’s skill — the depth of the black is all uniform, and the lines and corners are sharp and clear.
After the first blush, flaws begin to appear, however: the ears on Batman’s cowl are non-existent or turned somewhat sideways, and with the negative space, it kind of floats above his head; the hollow on the side of Batman’s neck looks out of place, since the line connecting the neck to the shoulder is missing. Finally, the Bat-symbol on his chest is appropriate to the way that his body is shaped, as though Batman’s pecs are completely jacked, but it looks off without context.
7. WOLVERINE CHESTPIECE
This one is a double whammy in that the work itself is subpar, and the placement of the piece is just bonkers. A lot of massive tattooing gets done on chests, as it’s relatively wide open real estate on the body where you could put something huge and intricate and still have a lot of space to work with it. So why this man chose to expand his tattoo and have Wolverine’s arms on his arms, Wolverine’s pecs on his pecs… it doesn’t make a ton of sense.
It just makes the tattoo look even wider than it already is, and it’s surrounded by a lot of nothing, so the perspective looks wonky, too. Where are Logan’s legs? It looks like he and the tattooed gentleman either share a sternum, or Wolverine is like Kuato from Total Recall and he grows out of this guy’s chest cavity.
6. DARK KNIGHT JOKER & HARLEY QUINN
Hoo boy, there’s a lot to unpack here. Let’s go figure-by-figure. The Joker on the upper forearm is supposed to be Heath Ledger from The Dark Knight, but instead, he comes out looking like Old Greg from The Mighty Boosh. His disheveled hair and suit didn’t really come out in the ink, looking more like he is wearing an old, moldy mop on his head, and wearing a suit over what looks like a shirt-and-tie one piece, which is a piece of clothing that does not exist.
Meanwhile, Harley is only Harley Quinn by association with The Joker — without her face paint, she just looks like someone cosplaying as Deadpool. Also, sure, eyes are tough to draw, but you would think you’d want non-crossed eyes. The coloring is uneven and is going to heal splotchy, too–this dude is in for a rude awakening on this ink.
5. SUPERMAN ANGEL
This one has a lot going on to unpack. It’s unclear if this is supposed to be a tattoo about how much this person loves Superman, or how much this person hates what Superman has become — thematically, it reads like an “In Memoriam” tattoo for an angel-winged Superman who never was. The Superman shield is done in a dusting of gray, as on a gravestone, Superman has angel wings, and DC is not in any of the DC logo fonts, but rather in a stock handwriting script to look like someone’s name.
Is Superman mourning DC? Is the tattooed person mourning DC? Are they mourning both? This whole thing is a riddle wrapped in an enigma and injected into this person’s dermis. We only hope that this idealized version of Superman found peace, somewhere in the outer Orrery of Worlds.
4. BIRD NIGHTWING
This one is only on the list because it’s barely a comic book tattoo. The outlines of this bird look like the template for a peacock tattoo that they decided to get colored in Nightwing’s color scheme. There’s even a head for the bird that’s supposed to look like a human head in profile (one would assume), but it just looks like a thumb.
The placement is also a bit strange — it looks from the photo like the tattoo is on the back of the person’s right upper arm, angled in towards their body, like it’s flying up from their elbow into their armpit. The coloring on the tattoo is also either still very fresh or much, much too splotchy — there are raised edges where the black appears to be too heavy. Ultimately, this one is just too boring to be great.
There are certain tattoos that people get in hairy areas specifically because it’s funny when hair grows back. While researching for this, we came across wizards tattooed over hairy nipples so that the nipple hair looked like a beard, we came across unmentionable hairs being mowed by Bart Simpson with a lawnmower, and now… this.
If this man chooses to grow his hair out, this Hulk tattoo will disappear entirely — his mouth ends at the bottom of the hair on his neck; theoretically in case he has to cover it up for an event, or a funeral. But since he’s living the life of a free and wild man, he’s got a Hulk tattoo on the back of his head and he presumably pays his barber to cut his hair in such a way that it looks like Hulk’s angry eyebrows staring at whoever is behind him on an escalator. Horrifying.
2. WOLVERINE ON A LITTLE PONY
As far as middle-of-the-road quality in a tattoo, this one is pretty exemplary. The colors are the best part of this piece, with the yellow of Wolverine’s costume really setting off the pink and purple tones of the pony. While the posing of the piece is interesting and actually fairly dynamic, with the pony rearing up on its hind legs and Wolverine riding it like a battle steed, that’s about the end of the list on positives.
First on the list of negatives: why do this thing? And then why put it on your body? Forever? The stars and sparkles in the background are a nice touch, but are they supposed to be drunken bubbles over Wolverine’s head? That’s where it seems like the idea for this tattoo might have come from in the first place.
1. ALEX ROSS CAPTAIN AMERICA
Alex Ross is renowned for his oil paintings of comic book characters, both as standalone illustrations and as interior art for sequential pieces like Kingdom Come and Justice. But the artwork that works so incredibly well on the canvas, and on the printed page settles into a space of ugliness and unreality on skin.
The way painters are able to blend blocks of color together and create different shades is entirely different from how tattoo needles work, so they have to translate the work essentially into a different medium, such as here in this Captain America piece. It’s on a decent spot, the back of the person’s leg, but it would be better served with a more squared off space, like the back or chest, and it comes off looking… wonky.
Which of these tattoos is the worst to you? Let us know in the comments!
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