The world of comic books is chock full of interesting and fascinating characters. With every decade comes not only a new ensemble of superheroes and villains, but new themes, tones, and even costumes, that help to communicate the times they’re in. During the ‘90s, comic books experienced a significant change, one unlike anything that had come before. This new decade introduced readers to the concept that superheroes needed pouches, big guns and even more bombastic-looing outfits -- oh and pouches were especially important.
In the early ‘90s, a group of writers and artists like Jim Lee, Erik Larsen and Rob Liefeld, from Marvel Comics and other companies, left their employers and created Image Comics. In its beginning, Image Comics was hotter than the sun. The company introduced a whole new wealth of ideas, characters and concepts. People loved it; for a time. Despite breaking ground, many characters continue to leave a sour taste in comic book history. In short, some heroes and villains were designed looking absolutely appalling, going on to give the era of the ‘90s a really bad rep. Today at CBR we’re going to be looking at 15 of the worst and most poorly designed characters to come out of Image in the ‘90s.
Wearing the traditional battle regalia one must don in order to battle demons, Rob Liefeld’s Avengelyne leaped into battle with only bathing suits and oddly placed clothing straps to serve as protection. Sure, that makes sense. Actually, it was the ‘90s over at Image, so it makes perfect sense. What use do warrior women/angels of God have for armor that covers, at the very least, 50 percent of their body? None!
Despite her skimpy and otherwise hideous outfits, Avengelyne lasted quite a while in comics. She appeared not just in Image Comics, but Awesome Entertainment and Avatar Press. Throughout it all, she kept experiencing costume changes with each change only helping the heroine come across as a lady of the night who just so happened to wield swords.
Heralding from the DC Comics/Wildstorm Universe, Percival Edmund Chang, or Grunge as he’s known by when punching people in the face, is a part of the Gen13 superhero team. Created by Jim Lee, J. Scott Campbell and Brandon Choi, Grunge actually wasn’t too dreadful a character. He wasn’t a cheap knockoff of some other mainstream superhero from either Marvel or DC and his powers were kind of groovy: he could molecularly bond with anything he comes into contact with. Still, his ability to also assume the shape of anything he absorbed lead him to looking like a mess.
Running around without a shirt and a tattoo of a green…thing, on his chest, Grunge’s arms, which also had weird red armbands on them, could also turn into stone. While Grunge might not have been the most “extreme” hero out there, it wasn’t for lack of trying.
During the ‘90s, there was the penchant for making characters “extreme”; giving them huge muscles, ridiculous outfits, and making them spout cheesy one-liners. With a character like Warwolf, you better believe his creators would go all out with the Youngblood villain. Nearly identical to the Marvel and X-Men baddie Sabertooth, it’s virtually impossible to tell the two characters apart; the only discernable difference is their color scheme. For that alone, Warwolf deserves to be on a list for horrible Image characters -- he couldn’t even get his own original look!
Warwolf was a mutant working for Maddock before joining a group of freedom fighters led by Colonel Bravo; his backstory was as goofy as his presentation. Sporting manes of hair coming out of his boots, wrists, and neck, Warwolf was an affront on the readers’ eyes.
One of the coolest and longest-lasting characters to come out of Image’s early days was the anti-hero known as Grifter. With a personality that mirrored that of the Punisher, i.e. being totally okay with using guns to dish out lethal justice, Grifter has since become a cult classic fan-favorite.
Cole Nash, or Grifter, was created by Jim Lee and Brandon Choi and was first introduced in WildC.A.T.s #1. A member of the book’s team, he had telekinesis and telepathy, but if he used his abilities too often, they would put a frightening drain on his body. Regardless, Grifter is on the list because his first outfit was downright hideous.While it might have passed as “cool” back in the early ‘90s, sporting a dirty trench coat and a red bandana over your face as a mask is anything but.
A name like Ladytron pretty much says it all. Whatever witty remark or snide insult you want to throw her way, rest assured, she’s likely heard it before. It goes with the territory of being called Ladytron and having half the body of a steampunk cyborg. From the very beginning Maxine Manchester’s life was not one of sunflowers and roses. Abused by her father and then later shot multiple times, it was only through taking her to a mad scientist where he turned her into Ladytron, did she survive.
Maybe it was her difficult upbringing or maybe it was because she got turned into a monstrous-looking freaking cyborg, but whatever the reason, Ladytron went for a life of crime. All the while, she and her half-robotic jaw presumably shattered any nearby mirrors.
Cougar first appeared in the premiere issue of Youngblood. Cougar, because what else are you going to call a walking rug of a monster man, possessed cat-like abilities he inherited from his Jakarran ancestry…whatever that means. Cougar, like many comic book characters from the ‘90s, had a bizarre and ultimately uninteresting backstory. What is interesting however, is the most egregious outfit and poor haircut Cougar sports.
Cougar somewhat resembles David Bowie, at least with the insane silver streaked hair that separates the rest of his red mane, but then his stylist apparently through his hands up in disgust and gave up, leaving Cougar to wear half an outfit. With no sleeves or anything to cover his torso (though strangely the sides of his torso are covered), Cougar suffered from a bad case of the ‘90s and all the animal mysticism in the world couldn’t help him.
Chapel is an interesting case, because not only does he look like a refugee from a Kiss concert, but also his backstory is incredibly abysmal for the audience and himself. Firstly, Chapel was part of the Spawn universe and killed Al Simmons, who later becomes the aforementioned Spawn. From there, Chapel was injected with several chemicals that not only gave him superhuman powers, but also infected him with the HIV virus. His superiors infected him with HIV, and could turn it on if he didn’t obey their commands…think on that for a moment.
Armed with guns unreasonably large and with a penchant for painting his face white, Chapel is a questionable character at best. Why would you give a horrible looking character an equally horrible history? Because it was the ‘90s at Image Comics, that’s why.
Maul, a member of the superhero team WildC.A.T.s. is a big hulking brute of a superhero who mirrors, you guessed it, the Incredible Hulk. The two characters are virtually identical, except Maul wears some ridiculous spandex bodysuit, akin to something Winter Olympians wear, covering his body and head -- it’s really ghastly. With purple skin that sticks out like a sore thumb, the green contrast only makes Maul look more monstrous; it’s difficult to tell where his outfit ends and his actual skin begins.
The resident powerhouse for the WildC.A.T.s., Maul is half human, half alien and can choose to increase his body’s size, giving him greater strength, at the cost of becoming dumber. Dumb, you know, like the idea to create an analog for the Hulk, purple pants and all.
If you’re going to choose give your character a name like Violator, it’s pretty clear they’re not going to have supermodel features. First appearing in Spawn #2 and created by Todd McFarlane, while Violator might have been an intriguing and important character to the Spawn mythos, his ugliness made him exceptionally unpleasant to gaze upon. Being a demon and all, it stands to reason Violator probably wouldn’t be winning any beauty contests in the future; his demonic features, which definitely were extreme, did a solid job at representing the blackness in his soul.
The first archnemesis to Spawn, Violator was the eldest of the Phlebiac Brothers, an assemblage of five demonic brothers who clearly never heard of makeup. Even Violator’s “alter ego” as it were, that of The Clown, was a disgusting overweight, evil clown with a blue face.
Villains are a nasty and evil lot. During the ‘90s, and especially at Image Comics during the ‘90s, there was no representation of pure evil better than outfitting your standard bad guy with rows upon rows of sharp teeth, claws, and spikes protruding from nearly every body part. Granted, sometimes it was acceptable to just have enormous muscles and wear nothing but a loin cloth, cape and jewelry made of human skulls -- nothing says evil like wearing pretty little necklaces made out of the skulls of your victims.
Anyway, formerly an angel of God, the character B’liale turned to evil and was banished to Earth. He constantly battled the heroine Avengelyne, trying to make her turn evil. No matter, what’s really important is B’liale looks like a discarded reject from a heavy metal music video. Despite going through multiple outfits, the all-powerful demon still found the need to wear loincloths…
It’s important to understand that green fire hair is not for everyone. Some people get it, others don’t. If your name happens to be Photon, then unfortunately you didn’t get the memo. Created by Rob Liefeld and first appearing in Team Youngblood, Photon is a member of an alien race that looks uncomfortably like Marvel’s Kree or even DC Comics’ heroine Fire; heck, just lump the two together and you get Photon.
It’s really difficult to find any positive quality about Photon or his appearance. While he might have humanoid features, his green and blue skin, not to mention his silly fire hair, is overly distracting…and not in a good way. Recruited to be a member of the Youngblood Away Team, these days Photon is a woman, the change of gender something his species does every seven years.
Obviously one pale imitation of the Hulk, i.e. Maul, wasn’t enough, so Image went and made a second. Introducing Pitt, the mean-looking, chain-wearing, perpetually smiling nut-job of a hero. With a vest about a 50 sizes too small for his massive frame, and a ponytail that desperately wanted to break free and make a run for the nearest grunge garage band, there are few Image characters who look as awful as Pitt.
With super human strength and durability, the ability to use pain as a stimulant and a set of retractable claws (because of course every hero needed a little Wolverine in them), Pitt was a force to be reckoned with. It still didn’t resolve why he wore chains around his body like articles of clothing, but when you don’t have a nose and look like you want to eat everyone, chain-clothing is the least of your problems.
Warchild is what happens when you let a caveman come up with a character. Everything bad about the ‘90s can be summed up into the simply ugly character that is Warchild and his excessive design. You want useless pouches and belt buckles, you’ve got useless pouches and belt buckles. If you want bandoleers chock full of ammunition for a character that doesn’t have guns, wrapped along ever part of his body, Warchild has those too!
For a character, whose primary weapon seemed to be swords, bow and arrows, or really anything that can stab people, one wonders why have so many bullets hanging off you. Even on paper, "Warchild" sounds like something out of a fever dream. You have a young warrior-boy named Sword, along with his trusty cyborg companion/guardian Stone, and together they hang out with the wizard Merlyn and fight Morgan Ley Fe. Sure, why not?
Perhaps the worst character to ever haunt the pages of Image Comics was the intergalactic bounty hunter Bloodwulf. Flaunting nearly every imaginable trope that people think back on when reflecting on how the ‘90s were an awful time for comic books, Bloodwulf didn’t help matters any. Certainly, the genesis of Bloodwulf lay in trying to piggyback off DC Comics’ success with their intergalactic bounty hunter character Lobo. Bloodwulf was no Lobo.
Created by Rob Liefeld, Bloodwulf’s overall design emphasized emaciated features that made the antihero look like the nightmarish lovechild of The Joker, a starving veteran and a porcupine. With insane hair that stretched to preposterous lengths and a giant red tattoo branding his horrible space-faring face, there was literally nothing pleasant about the character.
1 FIGHTING AMERICAN
Every comic book company needs a Captain America, or at least a character who’s totally down with representing freedom and the red, white and blue. Image’s response to such a need was by resurrecting the Fighting American. While Jack Kirby originally created the character in the '50s, he wasn’t seen again until the ‘90s, when by then, it was too late to save him from an “extreme” makeover. The new Fighting American ended up acting as a poor man’s Captain America, if for no other reason than he unabashedly looked like Marvel’s Star Spangled Avenger.
The color scheme is slightly different, but the Fighting American also bore a shield that might as well have been Captain America’s, were it spray-painted. Even the stories involving the Fighting American weren’t terribly impressive; they were dry, flat, and generally uninteresting.
Which of these Image characters did you find the most appalling? Let us know in the comments!