Like clothes, superhero costumes make the man, woman, and child. Think about it. Would Batman be recognized across the globe if he constantly changed his costume like The Avengers' Wasp? Would the reaction to Superman getting his red underpants back been met with so much glee if they weren't part of his wardrobe for decades? The answer we hope you respond with is, "Probably not. Though Batman did change his costume plenty in the 50s." Now, that's just semantics. What mustache fits my face.
When a hero significantly changes their costume it reflects on more than the color or cape length. It takes something away from who they are inside. Considering the long histories of many DC superheroes, the switch can make or break them. As examples, here are 5 of the best costume changes in the DCU and 5 of the worst.
10 Worst: 1990s Alan Scott
Before Hal Jordan brought the swagger to the Green Lantern Corps, Alan Scott was the only GL around. He performed his superhero duties in a simple uniform he probably cobbled himself. Nevertheless, the red and green outfit with the high-collared cape gave him a regal stance instead of someone giving out free candy canes at Christmas.
Fast forward to the 1990s. We all know what happened then: costume chaos. Alan gave then-Green Lantern Kyle Rayner his ring. Meanwhile, the jewelry's original power source, the Starheart, was absorbed into the Golden Age hero, making him younger. These changes gave Alan an impetus to design a new costume for his short-term identity as Sentinel. Turns out, it was similar to dozens of others during that decade -- bold and blah with a ginormous cape. Luckily, he returned to his senses and went back to his classic duds.
9 Best: 1960s Batman
When the Caped Crusader got his yellow chest plate in the spring of 1964 it transformed the costume and the man who wore it. Before the upgrade, the bat was drawn more like a deformed mustache than a dangerous creature. It seemed almost insignificant on a dull grayish-blue tunic. Just like the stories of the 50s and 60s were up to that time.
The new design, along with the other minor touches provided by artist Carmine Infantino, began to morph Batman away from the clown he had become in his zebra-striped suits. He returned to the role of detective and fighter. It was only logical that, a few years later, Neal Adams would enhance the outfit once again to make the Dark Knight both scary and a beacon of hope.
8 Worst: 1970s Legion of Super-Heroes
The Legion of Super-Heroes needed costume updates when they entered the 1970s. While they were all distinct, some lacked defining traits. For instance, you could tell who Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad were, but Colossal Boy?
Trimming handlebar moustache
Enter future X-Men artist Dave Cockrum. Before his redesign of Marvel's Merry Mutants, he revamped most of the Legion's costumes when he took on artist duties in their new series. While the updates for Lightning Lad and Timber Wolf were fine, the ones he did for the Legion Ladies were... Let's just say the #MeToo movement wouldn't be happy with them. Lots of skin and very little cloth. Still, these designs lasted well until the 80s.
7 Best: 1980s Legion of Super-Heroes
Once Keith Giffen entered the 30th century, he looked at the Legion's costumes, swore, and gave the women their cloth back. For instance, Saturn Girl donned a variation of her original outfit while Shadow Lass was given a uniform that was both tasteful and stunning. In addition, many of the other members were given enhancements to their own costumes.
These changes made sense. This was a team of superheroes who battled the bad guys in space and different planets. Though Legionnaires started to wear transuits -- portable spacesuits -- their 70s costumes didn't provide necessary protection. Particularly Cosmic Boy. He wore gloves and a pair of shorts that climbed up to his mid-torso. That was it.
6 Worst: 1980s Black Canary
We're not sure why Dinah went the way she did in the post-Crisis universe. Granted, her original costume wasn't the easiest to fight in, but it worked well for her. Though the cost to constantly replace her fishnet stockings was probably outrageous.
Maybe the artists who drew Black Canary wanted something different, something 80s. Hence, the headband and the one-piece jumper. However, it never worked. It turned Canary from a warrior to someone who seemingly liked to fight in per pajamas. Luckily, later creators removed their own headbands and realized the costume was a mistake.
5 Best: Modern Wally West Flash
When Wally took over as the Flash after Crisis on Infinite Earths, he wore a slight variation of Barry Allen's legendary uniform. Over the years, Mr. West decided to muck with it. He made it shiny, darker, and gave himself white eye coverings. It wasn't a good look for him.
When he was rescued from anonymity during Rebirth, Wally decided to honor the legacy of the Silver Age Flash and his previous identity as Kid Flash. The result was an outfit with slimmer lines to capture the Speed Force... and the eyes of the ladies. Well, the ones who could see him as he traveled at super speed.
4 Worst: Modern Batgirl
Babs always had the best Bat-family costume prior to her Joker-based injuries. It was a homage to Batman's with its own flair. Furthermore, Barbara's flaming red hair always looked amazing pouring out of her cowl. She was a true fashion plate for her time. Even her New 52 duds were pleasant to the eyes.
Not so much her Rebirth-era outfit. Her designers said it's a throwback to the original, but that's simply a load of doo-doo. The bat on her first outfit was proportionate to her frame. Here, it expands to the point of being stretched out. Plus, Batgirl needs a cowl. Removing it is like removing the ruby-encrusted tiara from Beyonce. It's not done.
3 Best: Modern Black Lightning
Superhero-based disco suits were the norm during the late 1970s and early 80s. Black Lightning had one when he was introduced to the world. In fact, its design was quite similar to Nightwing's first outfit. The main difference was Lightning's V-neck went down to his navel.
He did make changes to reflect popular styles. In the 80s, he added a black undershirt. In the 90s, his costume was red, blue and crackled electricity. They finally got it right during the 2000s. His current costume reflects elements of his previous disco suit while also being protective from various attacks. For example, being shot in the navel.
2 Worst: New 52 Superman
As the great thinker Jim Croce once told us, you don't step on Superman's cape. Similarly, you don't remove the Man of Steel's red underpants. That's what the New 52 architects did when they decided to revamp his costume to be more like armor than his super-suit. Through this shift, they removed a piece of Kal's legacy.
He destroyed that costume with his Flare Vision, not to be confused with his Bootcut Vision (that's for the fashionistas), He created a new outfit that came closer to the original but still lacked the outer undergarment. It took several years and the urging of Brian Michael Bendis to return Supes to his original and glorious look.
1 Best: Modern Nightwing
When Dick Grayson shed his shorts to become Nightwing, there were two reactions from fans. First, gratitude that Dick finally got to wear long pants. Second, confusion as to why he still went to the disco. Face it, we were surprised he didn't add a thick gold chain to the ensemble.
Fortunately, after his late 80s mullet-based costume, Nightwing went for something less flamboyant. An outfit that allowed him to hide in the shadows like the Bat. The latest incarnation in the Rebirth era is one of the best. Let's hope he doesn't go back to one of his disco costumes when he comes out of this whole Ric Grayson stage.