In the mid 1950s, DC had a book called Showcase, which was designed to try out new characters. The first three issues had normal heroes like a fireman and a Navy "frogman." They sold terribly, so DC decided to mix things up and try to bring back superheroes. Artist Carmine Infantino was to design a new look for the Flash and he came up with an amazing look that likely made the book a sellout before people even cracked open the front cover! The sleek, lightning-themed red, yellow and white costume would become so popular that it remains one of the few superhero costumes to simply be brought over into television without massive overhauls to the design. It is just that good. There have been tweaks over the years, like altering the logo on the chest or adding lenses to the eyes in the mask, but generally, the costume remains the same today as it did back in 1956.
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Not only are they unnecessarily sexualised, they are also extremely impractical in most cases. For instance, why would a female character with no superhuman durability to speak of go into battle with heavily armoured and massively powered opponents wearing what is essentially a bikini? It shouldn't happen, but it does happen in comic books - and it happens a lot. Of course, there are characters whose durability is such that they don't necessarily need to wear full body armour in battle but, even so, revealing 90% of their body is still unnecessary.
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Artist Dave Cockrum had already famously re-designed most of the members of the Legion of Super-Heroes, giving them modern revamps to their rather staid older costumes. His Lightning Lad re-design was particularly good, as while many of the character got later revamps over the years, Cockrum's Lightning Lad look became a standard one for the character for decades. Essentially, Cockrum was so far ahead of the game that when the team was revamped in the 1990s, his early 1970s design fit right in. While working on the Legion, Cockrum designed a new team of heroes called the Outsiders who were set to team up with the Legion. DC passed on the concept.
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Her abilities basically equate to being a peak human athlete, with survival skills and great combat abilities (think Tarzan, but female). She has encountered a number of well-known characters, such as Wolverine, Daredevil, Spider-Man and Black Widow. As for her costume, it's basically a ragged bikini made up of materials you'd expect to find in the jungle.
These superhero films and comics have captivating storylines and jokes, which every adult will enjoy viewing or reading through, while the fighting and superhuman abilities will largely appeal to the younger viewers. In addition, some of the most profitable box office films in recent years have been films based on comic book characters and animations - a sign of just how these genres are popular with the masses.
The comic book version of Thor has never really been a sex symbol. Sure, he’s incredibly good looking, as the God of Thunder probably should be, but he’s never been viewed as sexier than, say, Wolverine. However, when Thor debuted on the big screen, anyone with eyes saw that Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is most definitely a sex symbol. It’s become so much of an issue that the recent Thor shorts directed by Taika Waititi even poked fun at Thor’s big muscly physique. His looks are so vital to the character that when fans saw his new look in “Thor: Ragnarok,” they obsessed over his haircut more than anything else.
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You probably don’t remember the 1974 Sean Connery film “Zardoz.” No one can blame you because the film was a massive flop for the actor. However, the outfit worn by Connery in the film will go down as one of the most ridiculous in cinema history. Coincidentally, that same year, DC Comics decided to debut a new character named Vartox, who looked an awful lot like Sean Connery, probably thinking that sexuality would carry over to comics.
Vartox belongs on this list, not because of his sexy nature, but because of how he was created to be sexy and ultimately failed. Unfortunately, over the years, the sexy nature of his design was lost, and the ridiculous costume and silly look defined the character. His look is also lampooned a bit in his appearance in “Power Girl.” There, he tries to woo Power Girl into helping him repopulate his home world. He dons a black leather speedo and see-thru robe, trying to show how sexy he is. Unlike others on this list who are actual sex symbols, Vartox is here because he was created to be a sex symbol, but fans never really bought into it.
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Another Detective Comics character, Halle Berry plays Patience Phillips who is murdered and then brought back to life to become Catwoman. The character acquires cat-like abilities and is on a look-out for her murderer in the film. Berry won the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actress in 2005 for Catwoman and accepted the award in person, one of few people to do so.
Superman soon had lots of company and lots of competition! What do they have in common? All superheroes have some type of extraordinary power or ability. Their "superpower" can be something they're born with: Superman, Wonder Woman, Thor. It can be the result of an accident or mutation: Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Wolverine. Or, it can be simply a skill they have learned, honed and perfected beyond the average: Batman, Hawkeye. They all have a strong moral code and a motivation to rid the world of some menace.
For a character who has been such a major part of Batman's comic book history, Catwoman has had a surprisingly unimpressive list of comic book costumes over the years. When she debuted, she was simply dressed in normal clothes, as the name "The Cat" was more general for a thief than anything, and not something that was actually a costume motif. When she then started to reappear as a villain, she went through a few different uninspiring outfits. Then, due to the Comics Code, she stopped appearing in Batman comics period for over a decade.
Debuting in “Cry for Dawn” #1 way back in 1989, the character has only show up sporadically throughout the decades. However, when people think of the hottest female characters in comics, she’ll always rank highly. She is so defined by her looks that Dragon Con held a Dawn look-a-like contest from 1998 to 2010, even when the character wasn’t seen in any recent comic books. Now, don’t think that we are somehow saying that the character isn’t a great character because her looks are so important, but rather that the iconic design by Linsner has allowed the character to live on through the years based on looks alone.
If you have been reading comics since the mid-‘90s, you are probably aware of the (in)famous “Marvel Swimsuit Special” issues. These issues featured the most popular male and female Marvel superheroes in their swimsuits, drawn by some of the best artists in comics. One of the most famous images is that of Colossus getting washed by a few unnamed women, his huge metallic muscles being flexed, with his shorts unzipped. It’s so over-the-top that it’s almost silly.
Silly as it may seem, the 1960's Batman TV show had a lot going for it in the costume department. While Adam West's Batman was less a dark knight than a kind of schlubby guy in tights, Burt Ward's Robin was almost a direct translation of the Boy Wonder's classic look, pixie boots and all. Additionally, Yvonne Craig's flashy, sexy Batgirl defined the character's look in a way that is still felt in modern takes on the costume, where it's common place to inject some purple into Batgirl's palette.
But some female heroes haven’t been so lucky as to get more practical makeovers. Take for example Elizabeth Olsen's cleavage-baring Avengers: Infinity War look, which Olsen says isn't exactly her personal cup of tea for a character wading into battle with Mad Titans. Even she'll admit it's a step up from Wanda's comic book look, but in her words costumes like hers aren't "representing the average woman."
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Here, we will take a look at the very best of the best when it comes to superhero design. Do note that we are working with at least one major caveat, that the superheroes in question have iconic costumes. It does not do you much good to have a really cool costume if no one knows who you are. As a result, we are heavily weighing in the cultural impact of the costume design when we rank them. Where does a costume stand, historically, within the medium itself? That is one of the most important questions that we address when we start our ranking of the best superhero costumes of all-time.