Last month, I highlighted some alternate costumes of Marvel heroes; costumes that, despite what you heard, were good and worth remembering. In preparing to do the same with DC Comics’s hero costumes, I ran into an unexpected challenge: a lot of the costumes I loved were associated with different versions of the character. For instance, the late 90s Firebrand has this great flaming pumpkin-headed look that I love. However, the Firebrand of the DCU you see now — if you ever do — is a totally different guy. So the costume is not forgotten, it just belonged to a different fella. I ran into a silly number of costumes that fell victim to this.
After lots of hemming and hawing, I still got a list together. I cheated a little, I admit. I highlight one costume largely associated with a second generation character worn only briefly by his predecessor. Another time, I cite an alternate world version of the character. But I’m fine with that. I’m kind of known as a loose cannon around these parts, so I suggest you get on board with it too. Hmm… where were we? Ah yes, the list.
Aquaman: The Camouflage Costume
Might as well start the list off with the biggest departure and least popular of these costumes, right? It’s like tearing the band-aid off quickly.
To start, let’s be clear. Though its name indicates otherwise, this costume is not actually camouflaging. Despite our common conception of water as blue, when underwater you are not actually surrounded by a pure blue world. In fact, the color blue underwater is way less common than, say, brown, green, or black.
What I love about this Craig Hamilton-created costume is its boldness. Those swirls of blues and whites pop on land and in the ocean. There is a brashness to it that makes Aquaman, the so often overlooked Leaguer, impossible to ignore.
It also, quite clearly, evokes water far more than his classic orange-and-green costume. That look has been with us so long that it never feels weird, but it is. Much like dressing an Amazonian princess in the stars-and-stripes before she ever comes to America, dressing Aquaman in green and orange is a bizarre choice. Wearing blue asserts his refusal to hide his true self from surface dwellers.
Aquaman’s blue eyes were, at least early on, considering a bad omen by the people of Atlantis. By wrapping himself in blue, he signals his refusal to hide or reject any aspect of himself.
Arsenal: The Navajo-Inspired Costume
White people (or people who pass as white, in Arsenal’s case) can be a problematic lot. Still, Roy’s embrace of his ancestry seemed a little more wholesome. For one, it appeared motivated by more than a desire to “exoticize” himself. Instead, Harper, as a recent father, became more cognizant of not knowing his roots. Moreover, he had just found out that he was some distant branch of the Vandal Savage family tree.
Therefore, his adoption of the Rick Mays designed costume inspired by the iconography of Indigenous Americans was not negative or appropriative. Rather, it was an affirmation of that aspect of his identity. In a life turned upside down, Arsenal was embracing the three things he could count on: his daughter, his friends in the Titans, and his Navajo heritage.
Additionally, either subconsciously or on purpose, it is a dulled down version of the Speedy costume –his first costumed identity — color scheme. At a time when Arsenal and his mentor Green Arrow were deeply estranged, this was the first sign of a defrosting. Especially given the arrow as it uses as its logo in the center of Harper’s body.
Azrael/Batman: The Azbats Costume
Well, this might be a cheat, too. Whatever: my list. I’m a rebel, remember?
This costume has been pretty well lambasted over the course of existence for being garish, overdesigned, and generally very un-Batman. All these criticisms are right. However, that’s the point of this suit!
When Jean-Paul Valley became Batman, the in-story reason was that Bane had critically injured Bruce Wayne. The meta reason, though, was that the Bat office decided to show “fans” what it might look like to have a Batman that killed. After years of readers demanding it, the editors were ready to teach people to be careful what they wish for.
As a result, Valley’s quest to make the mantel of Batman “his own” unfolded in the worst possible way. Valley had a short fuse and often found himself overwhelmed by the Saint Dumas mindwiping/training The System. He kicked Robin out of the partnership and then the Batcave. He was overly violent and unconcerned with collateral damage.
The Azbats suit — as created by Joe Quesada — was the physical representation of everything bad about Valley. It had to be monstrous and hideous, a perversion of everything the Batsuit was. Thus, it mirrored the perversion Valley’s Batman was of everything Wayne’s Batman stood for. Therefore, it was pitch perfect.
Azrael: The Agent of the Bat Costume
This Roger Robinson costume from 1999 is very much of that moment: metallic in appearance even as it moved like fabric, big wrist gauntlets, both busy and somewhat minimalistic. It is the kind of costume that begged to be drawn by Phil Hester, a master of that era’s look.
I don’t believe it was unpopular at the time, just largely met with a yawn. However, this is once again a look that reflects the internal evolution of the character.
For the first time since giving up the Batman mantle, Valley returned to the Bat Family as a willing ally. Whatever bad blood existed between him and Bruce Wayne had largely been erased by this time. Additionally, Valley was making an effort to leave behind the violence of the Order of Dumas.
This new suit recalled his original in coloring, gauntlets, and the striated cape look. However, the explicit religiosity of the previous Azrael suit had been replaced with a nod to his Bat Family alliance with the bat-like emblem on his chest. Additionally, the new gauntlets ditch the retractable blades, a piece of costuming that guaranteed a high level of bloodshed.
Honestly, though, I just love that late 90s look.
Batman: The Incorporate Era Costume
Despite my ageless appearance, I am an old man in many ways. One of them is I like certain things one way and I’m difficult to persuade otherwise. One of those is the presence of the yellow halo around the bat on Batman’s costume. I don’t care if the cape is blue or black, the suit grey or black. I’m flexible on all that. But the yellow halo? That’s the ideal Batman look.
So when the Incorporated suit — created by Chris Burnham — debuted, I was thrilled! The halo was back for the first time since “No Man’s Land” back in 1999! All hail the halo!
Moreover, the Incorporated suit introduced Batman’s shock gauntlet which spewed blue electrical energy. The blue looked incredible with the predominantly grey suit with black accents, black cape, and yellow halo. Additionally, it was a nod to the classic blue cape Batman rocked until it fell out of sometime around “Prodigal.”
A controversial aspect of the costume was the presence of visible seams, a trendy design for costumes in the mid-aughts. I’m generally agnostic on the topic. In terms of this costume, however, I like how they break up the otherwise undifferentiated grey fields across Batman’s mid-section and down his legs.
Unfortunately, this change only existed very briefly. My favorite Batsuit in years, and it existed for far too brief a moment.
Black Canary: The Original Birds of Prey Costume
Some people — a lot of people — believe the only good Black Canary costumes involve her in fishnets. I am not one of those people. I sometimes wonder if those people insist on fishnets for reasons other than good costuming. Perhaps that is just me being a little presumptuous, though.
However, I have to admit that many attempts to outfit Canary in something other than her classic look went poorly. The JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL costume is…terrible. Just unarguably terrible.
This Matt Haley costume, however, is a successful attempt. The color scheme is an unusual one for super hero costumes but it works with both Canary’s hair color and skin tone. Unlike a lot of heroes, Canary has long rocked a leather jacket. Thus, the inclusion of it in the costume does not feel strange or trend chasing. Lastly, the gold bird on her zipper is a nice nod to her new role. It is functional as it acts a communicator between her and Oracle.
While the two ribbed yellow patches on her thighs are less great, they appeal to my sense of style. I have no idea why they are there or what they do, but I just love the aesthetics of them. Stephanie Brown’s Batgirl costume has them as well in purple. They are just as nonfunctional there and I like them just as much. Sometimes costumes can just be about looking cool.
Flash: The “Dark” Flash Costume
Remember when I said I loved that late 90s look of metal that moves like fabric and big arm gauntlets? I give you Exhibit B as evidence.
Also from 1999, (see, the late 90s as can be!), Wally took on this suit following a difficult run into the Speed Force. He came back, but seemed to leave him angrier and a workaholic. In time, the scarred, obsessed Wally was revealed to be a WALTER West from another universe.
Besides just having an affinity for this particular style of costume, I also love when costume changes reflect personality or motivation changes. This alternate Wally who readers were led to believe was “our” Wally for several months was more intense and a bit crueler. His darker red costume with white instead of yellow lightning bolts indicated that darker personality and an erasure of the more upbeat aspects we knew and loved. Paul Pelletier, the artist behind this look, conveyed the changes easily with just a few simply tweaks.
Green Arrow: The Hooded Costume
While predominantly associated with Connor Hawk (aka Green Arrow II), this Jim Aparo-created costume was worn by both Arrows. In fact, they donned it in the same 1994 issue GREEN ARROW #91. Worn for the next ten issues by Oliver Queen, it is actually the costume he died in. During DC’s great Silver Age culling of the 90s, the iconic chapeau à bec Sherwood outfit was already gone.
The first thing I really love about this costume is that it is a more modern look that still manages to feel timeless. It does not adhere so closely to 90s aesthetics that it feels dated by now. Oliver Queen could don it in his book tomorrow and it would seem entirely reasonable.
The costume also had a lot of versatility to recommend it. The mix of brown and green worked well across environments. Thus, it nodded to in the urban areas that Queen had mostly been operating in prior. However, it did so while fitting the international, more rural locations the book was moving towards.
Additionally, the hood gave him the ability to vacillate between appearances. With the hood down, Oliver had the more classic superhero appearance while with the hood down he appeared more intimidating, his face mostly in shadow. This enabled Arrow to engage in crime stopping activities where “fear” was the watchword and vigilantism was the goal. He also could pursue community-building endeavors that mirrored liberal politics, by allowing him to appear human and relatable.
Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner): The Ion Costume
Current comic book fans might not know that, for a time, Hal Jordan was a bad guy named Parallax. In an act of contrition, Jordan sacrificed himself to restart the sun. The power that he used to restart our star lingered, however. In due course, Kyle Rayner discovered this and absorbed that power and becoming supercharged.
In order to reflect his new status, Rayner changed costumes, as he was wont to do. The Dale Eaglesham suit began as black-and-green. However, as Rayner’s knowledge of his abilities grew, it eventually morphed. The previously black parts turned green and the green parts became a kind of glowing white-green color, as depicted in the image above.
The change is part of what I love about the costume; it evolved alongside Kyle’s understanding of what he had become. The more powerful he became, the more that white-green glowed. It was, essentially, an external reflection of Green Lantern believing his own hype.
The criticism that it lacked a Green Lantern logo points to the other thing I really loved about this look. If you look closely, it actually does not lack the GL logo: it is a GL logo. Essentially, the logo has been stretched wide across Kyle’s frame and makes up the entirety of the suit. Firstly, I think that’s just a neat reinvention of a very familiar logo. Secondly, it again reflects Rayner’s state of mind. He is the last GL (or was at the time) and he was more powerful than any GL in history. It makes sense that he no longer saw himself as one of them but rather the brand itself.
Huntress: The Urban Avenger Costume
This look came to be known as the “Rubber Nun” suit after a reference to the Huntress being like a religious devotee. The argument goes that she was as dedicated to crime fighting as a nun was to performing good works. While I could not find a definitive creator of the suit online, its first several appearances — in BATMAN CHRONICLES #4 and the BIRDS OF PREY: MANHUNT limited series — were both drawn by Matt Haley, so he seems a good guess.
Utilizing a darker shade of purple and trading the light blue in for black, the suit reflected Huntress’s evolution. She was increasingly lacking in empathy for criminals. As a result, she became more violent to achieve her ends.
It also eliminated the deeply plunging neckline of the previous outfit that more or less exposed all the skin from her neck to her navel in a triangle including a “generous” amount of cleavage. Not, perhaps, the best look for a street vigilante who needs to move quickly and acrobatically to save others and protect herself.
I love that she continues to wear the cross with this costume In fact, it becomes a more potent symbol juxtaposed with her darker outfit and outlook. The cross hints at a belief that redemption exists despite appearances to the contrary. I will say I always found it odd that Helena Bertinelli, despite being an acknowledged Catholic, wears a cross instead of a crucifix. However, I imagine that was both an artistic choice (who wants to have to constantly draw a tiny crucified Jesus?) and a political one (the cross is more universal).
Nightwing: The Yellow Wings Costume
When people think of an early Nightwing costume, they tend to think of the disco suit. With its yellow deep V and its high light blue collar, there’s no wonder. However, a less garish version followed. It still featured the yellow wing design across the chest with light blue boots and gloves but ditched the silly collar and neckline. It also, for a time, included a small yellow gliding cape. This represented a nod to the origin of Nightwing’s name, a bird-themed hero back on Krypton.
Right off the bat (haHA), I like that this costume remembers where the Nightwing name comes from and honors that. It affirms the two biggest hero influences in Dick Grayson’s life: Batman and the Man of Steel.
Second, perhaps simplistically, I just really like how the colors play on the page. Like the Green Arrow costume mentioned above, Nightwing’s second costume gave him a look that allowed for the superhero equivalent of code-switching. Intimidating when necessary and more of a public, “I’m here to protect and comfort you” hero at other times. Given his role as the leader of the Titans and a solo vigilante, this kind of costuming versatility was important.
Red Hood: The Mentor Costume
For a time, Jason Todd decided he would be Batman’s direct competition. Todd felt stung, although he’d never admit it, that Dick Grayson became Batman after the seeming death of Bruce Wayne. He needed to prove himself. To do so, he returned to his more violent law enforcement techniques, recruited a sidekick in Scarlet, and made sure that his exploits were broadcast all over social media. His theory was that the people would prefer his and Scarlet’s approach over Batman and Robin’s. In no time, Red Hood and Scarlet would be the “true” champions of Gotham.
This costume, designed by Frank Quitely, is the last piece of that effort. Specifically choosing a flashier look over his previous pragmatic approach, Todd sought to be a sort of mirror of Batman. He returned to the more elongated Red Hood helmet as well, possibly to mock Batman. He also utilized a cape and two-tone suit with a centralized logo.
However, the logo hints at the half-baked nature of Red Hood’s plan. There is nothing particularly iconic about the stylized skull logo. Nor is there anything about it that says, “Oh yeah, the Red Hood,” except the color.
This costume tells you plenty about Jason Todd without saying a word: akes himself too seriously, is prone to jealousy, wants to be recognized for being great, often undoes his best efforts through impulsivity. Rarely do you get costumes that say so much about their wearers that they’d prefer you not to know.
Sand: The Super Hero Costume
When Sandy Hawkins returned to super-heroics, he donned a green ribbed sweater and pair of jeans. It was the fashion of the time! However, it quickly became clear that this homecoming was not simply a flight of fancy but a long-term choice. Therefore, Hawkins decided to adopt a more fitting costume for the line of work, aided by artist Derec Aucoin.
Mimicking the colors of his pseudo costume, he arrived at a look that was less a departure and more of a sensible evolution. His stylized gas mask was a more practical choice than his mentor Wesley Dodd, the Golden Age Sandman’s full World War I version. It was less bulky and left his ears free to hear without barriers. The dual holsters sat closer to the body than in his plain clothes look. Plus, the two gun at a time look was still very cool, even if they were just gas guns.
He also frequently paired the suit with a trenchcoat. This was another homage to Sandman and the more pulp aesthetics of Dodds’ latter costumes. Additionally, from an artistic standpoint, it could be frequently captured blowing in the wind or wrapped tightly around him. Both of these helped him cut a more imposing figure than the street clothes look.
Superman: The Electric Blue Costume
Let’s get down to brass tacks here. Yes, it is not a “Superman costume” by any stretch. Our Man of Steel embraces the classics, usually, not this dayglo nonsense. His interest in trend-chasing, new logos, or neon crackling colors when it comes to costumes? Zero. He’s got a Marvel brand head sock for goodness sake! How can they play Kal-El like that?!
Fair. All fair.
But, just for a moment, think of it not as Superman’s costume. This of it just as a costume. One of any number of superhero costumes you might encounter in the pages of a comic book. Now, look at it again. Be honest with yourself, with me, with the public. It’s pretty great, right?
First, everything is organized around two principles. First, this guy is BLUE. Very, very blue. By any measure, this costume delivers that in spades. Second, this guy is electric (boogie, woogie, woogie!). All the white on his suit reflects that. The logo, the jagged piping on the legs and arms, even that accursed head sock. They all hint at (or outright are) lightning bolts. You are not wrong to say this isn’t a Superman suit. However, it is uniquely designed to be a Superman Blue outfit. It tells you exactly who he is at that moment in time in just a glance.
Also, it is sort of awesome, in my opinion, that the longtime coloring thing where black hair had blue highlights in comics gets flipped here into being exactly how the Man of Tomorrow’s hair is intended to look like during this stage of his career.
Wonder Woman: The “Now With Pants!” Costume
Created by Jim Lee only eight short years ago, this look met a fair amount of ridicule upon debut. Looking it at now, it is difficult for me to understand why. If I recall correctly, it hewed close to the one used in the buried Wonder Woman live action pilot episode. Comic fans are notoriously annoyed by any and all attempts to get comics to resemble adaptations in film and television. I imagine that would have been part of the backlash. Maybe there were some who hated that tight pants made Wondy harder to sexualize than her previously bare legs?
When I look at it though, I see a smart update of the previous Wonder Woman costumes. It evoked the classic the bathing suit and boots costume while still addressing some problematic aspects of that look. The departure of the swimsuit did not see the complete lost of the look of her classic top, including the iconic double W’s. The blue pants maintain the colors of the original costume while moving away from the skin baring look. The jacket isn’t my favorite, but it is cut in such a way that it is largely unintrusive.
Additionally, the yellow stars at the shoulders echo the stars on Wonder Woman’s swimsuit bottoms look without the weirdness of an Amazon arriving into the man’s world wrapped in the American flag. The choker is pretty much the only thing I can’t justify. Jim Lee just has something with that design style of chokers and Nehru collars at heroes neckline.
More Costumes to Love
Obviously, this list does not approach all the DC Entertainment hero costumes sported that should have been praised more in their time or remembered more clearly today. If you have any thoughts as to what I missed, please include them in the comment section below or feel free to email them to me at email@example.com.
Additionally, I’ll be back soon with similar reviews of Marvel villain costumes and DC villain costumes. If you want to get ahead of the game or try to be an influencer, feel free to reach out to me about those costumes, too.