Due to the fact that they don’t have to appear in every issue to make an impact (unlike the superhero stars of the comics themselves), supervillains have an interesting advantage when it comes to costumes. Since they only make sporadic appearances, they are less likely to have their costumes changed for reasons of staleness, something that happens to superheroes regularly. As a result, most of the major supervillains stick with the same costume for decades. It’s been over 75 years, for instance, and the Joker still wears that same purple suit he wore in 1940!
RELATED: The 15 Worst Superhero Costumes
However, occasionally, supervillains do end up with some weird costumes, and we’re taking a look at the worst from the worst. Just like our recent worst superhero costumes list, we’re only looking at major characters here, as it is far too easy to just pick out obscure villains to mock their costumes (Crazy Quilt, anyone?). These are supervillains big enough that they have had their own series or are big enough to be the main villain in a superhero movie. With that qualification in mind, here are the 15 worst supervillain costumes of all-time!
In the world of superhero comic books, characters tend to stick with the title in which they were introduced. The Joker isn’t likely to become a Green Lantern villain and Sinestro isn’t likely to become a Flash rogue. However, on occasion there have been exceptions to this “rule,” with the most famous one probably being how the Kingpin went from being a Spider-Man villain to becoming Daredevil’s arch-nemesis. A lesser-known example of a change like this happened when Sandman went from being a Spider-Man villain to being a member of the Fantastic Four villain team, the Frightful Four.
Sandman used his Steve Ditko-designed costume (which was just regular clothes — the idea being that when Sandman gained his powers, his clothes were also transformed) for the first few years as a Fantastic Four villain, but eventually Jack Kirby gave him a proper supervillain costume. It’s not a bad costume, but it’s a big step down from that iconic Ditko look, which is a unique one that always made the character stand out (note that he has since gone back to the original look).
When Sabretooth debuted in the pages of “Iron Fist,” John Byrne established the basic look that the villain used for many years, which was a fur-trimmed costume that really worked well for a character with his name. As the years went by, and Sabretooth began to get new costumes from other artists, they tended to take one of two different approaches. One, they would take Sabretooth out of his costume entirely and have him be in a suit (an approach Jim Lee used early in the “X-Men” solo series) and the other, he would get costumes that are basically the same as Byrne’s original design.
That changed, though, with the “Weapon X” series in 2002 by Frank Tieri, Georges Jeanty and Dexter Vines, when Sabretooth was a recurring adversary of the main characters of that series (which was a new version of Weapon X that was quite evil — Sabretooth just didn’t want to be under their control, so they were at odds with each other). The costume was an odd blue version, with a new tattoo for Sabretooth. It’s not bad, it just doesn’t seem like a Sabretooth costume.
13. CATWOMAN (ORIGINAL)
Something that people sometimes forget about the early days of superhero comic books is that, A.) they were still heavily influenced by pulp fiction and adventure comic strips, and B.) they were not putting a whole lot of thought into continuity in the series, even when the same creators were working on each issue. This was very evident with Catwoman, who made her debut in “Batman” #1 as “The Cat.” When she was first introduced, she was just a standard jewel thief. Over the next few issues, though, she kept coming back, and went from “The Cat” to “The Cat-Woman” to “The Cat” until eventually she ended up as Catwoman.
The first time she actually got a real costume was in “Batman” #3 (by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson and George Roussos), and it was very much in the tradition of the pulps and comic strips like “Flash Gordon” with her long, flowing dress… but also a giant purple cat head. It’s such an odd look.
12. DOCTOR OCTOPUS
An area that often has a major influence on the looks of both superheroes and supervillains is when a character appears in a major motion picture. The comic book companies often wish to adapt the look of the characters to match the film. The issue, sometimes, is when they make a change to a character due to a film and the end result doesn’t even really match the look of the film. That was the case with Marvel when the powers-that-be decided to change Doctor Octopus’ costume to match his look in the then-new film, “Spider-Man 2,” where Doctor Octopus was played by Alfred Molina.
The new costume, which was used in a pair of miniseries released to tie in with the film, was pretty much an entirely different-looking character than any of his other appearances. He was thinner, younger and had slicked back long hair. He also wore a green trench coat. Once the movie was out of theaters, this look was quickly swept away.
11. HARLEY QUINN
Another character that saw her look change due to outside media was Harley Quinn, only instead of a movie, she was changed based on a popular video game, “Arkham Asylum.” The thing is that the original look for Harley Quinn, designed by Bruce Timm for “Batman: The Animated Series,” is such a stunningly awesome, even iconic look. The modern depiction of an actual harlequin getup was perfect. Of course, we’re fine with updates on costume ideas, but “Arkham Asylum” went to a very surprising place.
The costume was simply a skin-tight bodice, making sure to show as much of her skin as possible. She was also dressed as a nurse. When the DC Universe rebooted in 2011 with the New 52, that costume was adapted into the comic book series, “Suicide Squad,” only without the nurse aspect of the design. The series was a hit. Luckily, though, when she got her own ongoing series, she was re-designed again.
One of the most acclaimed ongoing horror comic book series was Marvel’s “Tomb of Dracula,” where Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan and Tom Palmer stayed on the book together for years. Their run introduced Blade the Vampire Hunter, who helped the other characters that were constantly trying to hunt down Dracula. The design of Dracula in this series was roughly based on the iconic look for Dracula, as established in films like Bela Lugosi’s “Dracula” in 1931. In the early 1980s, Dracula (and all vampires on Earth) were killed off in the pages of “Doctor Strange.”
A decade later, vampires returned, and Dracula went back roughly to his original look. However, in a storyline featuring mutants fighting against vampires in a relaunched “X-Men” series, Dracula was killed off by his son and the X-Men had to resurrect him to take down his son (who was worse than Dracula). The look was not bad, per se, but it was so different that he clearly wasn’t even the same character. For a character as iconic as Dracula, it was a disappointing design.
9. CATWOMAN (1967)
During the early years of the Comic Code, while there was no specific ban on female characters being portrayed as villains, it appears that comic book companies still mostly tried to avoid having female supervillains after the establishment of the Comics Code in 1954. Thus, Catwoman retired from villainy in 1954 and did not appear again until after the character had already made her television debut in the mega-hit TV series, “Batman.”
On “Batman,” Catwoman was depicted wearing a skin-tight jumpsuit, evoking the outfits Diana Rigg wore on “The Avengers.” So when Catwoman made it into the comic books, the creators took her out of her classic comic book outfit, and tried to make it appear sort of like the TV series look, in that it was a close to skin-tight costume. Oddly, though, it was also green, sort of scaly and decorated with a bizarre necklace. How many green cats are out there? This costume did not last very long.
The very first villain that Spider-Man fought against was the master-of-disguise known as the Chameleon. The Chameleon was famously noted by the fact that we never see his real face, as he just wears a blank mask while he is not wearing one of his disguises. Since he was generally wearing outfits of the people that he was dressed up as, he did not really have to have a costume. Most of the time, when he wasn’t wearing his disguises, he was dressed in robes.
However, in “Amazing Spider-Man” #186, the Chameleon caused some trouble for Spider-Man soon after Spider-Man had finally been cleared by the police for any outstanding investigations into the hero (mostly driven by the Daily Bugle’s J. Jonah Jameson). People all loved Spidey (DC Comics’ Jennette Kahn offered to do a comic book where Spider-Man fought Leon Spinks, famously mocking the then-recent “Superman vs. Muhammad Ali” comic) but then Chameleon disguised himself as Spider-Man and caused some trouble. He then debuted his bizarre multi-colored costume in the issue. Spider-Man called the costume “fancy,” but it was more silly.
Over the years, one of the ideas that was introduced when it came to the depiction of Galactus, the Eater-of-Worlds, is that he is essentially beyond our normal comprehension. Thus, every world that he comes to sees him in a different way. Skrulls see him as a Skrull, Kree see him as a Kree, etc. That’s a clever idea. However, if you take that into account, that means that it is our fault that when Galactus first showed up, he had his original costume.
Not only did the giant eater of worlds come to us with a big “G” on his chest, he also did not actually have pants. Even as late as the mid-1960s, coloring in Marvel Comics was done in such a way that Kirby might not have actually known whether Galactus’ legs were going to be colored purple or not, so maybe Galactus was never supposed to be without pants. Luckily, future appearances gave him giant pants.
One of the silliest things when it comes to costume design is when characters have the first initial of their name on their outfits. We don’t mean stylized things like Superman’s “S,” but just plain-looking letters, like Galactus’ “G” above and the “M” that was on Mandarin’s chest when he debuted in “Tales of Suspense” #50.
Besides the odd-looking “M” on the chest of this Don Heck-designed costume, it also was a strange combination of a Martial Arts gi and a bulky robe (despite Mandarin having 10 powerful rings, he mostly fights Iron Man with his martial arts skills for some reason). Then, to cap it off, he has that ugly mask that doesn’t seem to go with the rest of the outfit. The Mandarin has always been hard for artists to come up with costume ideas for, but it is hard not to come up with a better costume than this first one.
5. DOCTOR DOOM (SKIN SUIT)
We have written in the past about the problem artists sometimes have where a costume designed by one illustrator, which works with a particular style, might not work for other artists. A similar idea to that is when a costume that made perfect sense in the context of one storyline might not make a lot of sense outside of that storyline. Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo had a great storyline in their “Fantastic Four” run called “Unthinkable,” where Doctor Doom decided to embrace the magical side of his background in order to get revenge on Reed Richards.
The truly “unthinkable” aspect of what Doom did is that he had to sacrifice something dear to himself to gain power. The sacrifice he made was killing his own true love, Valeria. His sacrifice completed, he gained a new magical armor, that was made out of her skin! That is obviously super gross, but at the same time, it was very powerful in the context of this storyline. The problem is that outside of that story, he’s walking around in a costume made out of a dead woman’s skin. It was just too creepy out of the context of the original story, so Doom soon went back to his regular armor.
Once Jack Kirby left Marvel for DC Comics in the early 1970s, Marvel was suddenly without its most prolific artist. John Romita and John Buscema, in particular, stepped up to take over a lot of Kirby’s assignments, but Marvel still had to add other artists. The interesting thing is that at the same time that Kirby was leaving Marvel for DC, a number of longtime creators at DC were being forced out of the company due to a “youth movement.” One of the creators struggling to get work at DC Comics was Mike Sekowsky, the longtime artist on “Justice League of America” who famously re-designed Wonder Woman’s costume in the late 1960s.
Marvel gave Sekowksy a shot by having him draw the “Inhumans” feature in “Amazing Adventures.” In his first issue, the Inhumans fight against Magneto and Sekowsky gave Magneto a brand-new costume (and also a new look without the costume that was much different from the famous look that Neal Adams had given him a few years earlier in “X-Men” that had led to people deciding that he must be related to Quicksilver). It was a bad costume, especially the ridiculous Black Widow-esque belt.
3. THE RIDDLER
During Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s famous “Hush” storyline, one of the major players was the Riddler, who discovered Batman’s secret identity in the story. That information did not end up doing the Riddler much good, especially when Hush returned and tried to kill the Riddler. The Riddler was forced to turn to the Joker for protection. The Riddler ended up a homeless wreck when all was said and done.
While living on the street, he was built back up by befriending a former codebreaker. He got over his compulsion to be caught using riddles and instead revamped himself and got plastic surgery, with a giant question mark tattoo on his neck and a new costume that was just black. The revamped Riddler did well against Batman and also Green Arrow, but then was almost killed during “Infinite Crisis.” When he recovered from a coma, he went back to his classic look (and no longer remembered Batman’s identity). It was cool to see the revamped Riddler do so well against Batman, but the costume was just silly. There was nothing wrong with his old look!
2. RED SKULL
When the Red Skull was introduced, he wore a very functional green jump suit with swastikas all over it. When Captain America got his own feature during the Silver Age in “Tales of Suspense,” Stan Lee and Jack Kirby decided to tell stories set during World War II. This brought the Red Skull back, still wearing his classic Nazi jump suit. Eventually though, the Captain America feature turned to present day and eventually the Skull was revealed to have somehow survived the war, as well.
Jack Kirby knew the jump suit didn’t work in modern times, so he gave the Skull a green suit, instead. His take on the Skull was having him depicted as a refined evil villain (this is how most artists have drawn Skull in recent years). Once Kirby left the book, though, artists instead just began to draw the Skull in his Nazi uniform, only without the swastikas. Without the swastikas, though, it was just a green jump suit, so Captain America’s greatest villains simply wore what looked like green sweats. It was one of the blandest designs imaginable for such a great villain.
1. CATWOMAN (1969)
Clearly, the creators on the “Batman” titles realized that the green outfit for Catwoman was a misfire, so they tried again soon after. However, their new look was somehow even more bizarre (and, again, her previous costume was a green scaly-looking thing, so that’s a high bar to clear)! In “Batman” #210’s “The Case of the Purr-loined Pearl,” Catwoman got a new go-go style costume.
The most notable aspect of this costume was that it was the first time that Catwoman was drawn with a short haircut, which has become a standard look for her over the years (although typically not a bob like this one). Besides a tail and a cat-like mask, nothing else about the costume even remotely suggests “cat,” which makes it a terrible choice for a costume for someone named “Catwoman.” Somehow, this costume actually lasted until 1974, when Catwoman just went back to her Golden Age costume.
What do you think is the worst supervillain costume of all-time? Let us know in the comments section!
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