The Real Reason DC Changed How Its Heroes Looked

Bringing a costumed super-person to the screen is always a challenge, no matter which hero or villain you're working with. Do you keep the classic costume and hope your actor doesn't look like a Comic-Con reject? Do you redesign the whole thing and add a whole bunch of edgy fish-scales, potentially pissing off all the fans in the process? With so many classic characters, DC Comics' live-action ambitions have had to tackle this issue dozens of times, from big-budget movie adaptations to super-suits that have to stand up to TV productions week after week. Like them or not, there are plenty of good reasons why DC changed how its heroes looked:


When it came time to bring a new version of Superman into movie theaters in 2013's Man of Steel, DC Comics' parent company, Warner Bros., had a conundrum. How do we make a costume that was first modeled after a circus strongman — a job that literally isn't a thing anymore — look good in the 21st century? Brandon Routh's suit from 2006's Superman Returns was a noble attempt at updating the comic book-perfect Christopher Reeve outfit, but it just took the classic look and turned down the brightness. The result was ... well, boring, a forgettable footnote that failed to restart the Superman franchise.

Enter Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder, who sought to do for Superman what they'd just done for Christian Bale's Batman. The new Superman, played by Henry Cavill, would need to be not only realistically and believable, but memorable, too. The result was a textured armor, a boldly drawn logo, and — alas — no bright red undies on the outside. Sure, Cavill in the old-style Superman suit would look undeniably classic. No one would complain about the bright blue and red colors, or the old-school hairdo. But this Superman would just be an imitation, and not its own, new thing. By ditching the old threads, the DCEU's Superman is undeniably new and different. That's how you kickstart a franchise.


Sorry, Aqua-fans, but there's no easy way to say this: Aquaman kinda looks like a big, underwater doofus. That orange shirt, those green pants and gloves, and that big yellow belt with the A on it — yikes. And check out that hair — Aquaman looks like he went to the nearest undersea barber with a picture of Superman and, pointing at it, said, "Make me look like this."

The comic book explanation for Aquaman's fashion-sense is that he's not wearing an orange shirt — that's actually a shirt made of high-density golden chainmail. Never mind that gold is actually a really soft metal and is a dumb choice for armor. The real reason he wears orange? So he'll look like a blond, walking goldfish.

Believe it or not, Aquaman's actually shown up in live-action a few times before Jason Momoa took on the role in Dawn of Justice. Back during Smallville's ten-season run, showrunners found a great way to adapt Aquaman's silly costume for TV: they wrote him as a swimmer for the University of Miami, where the school colors are orange and green. And when the CW filmed the unaired pilot for its Smallville spin-off, called simply Aquaman, they just stuck actor Justin Hartley in a pair of jeans and told him to take off his shirt. Where's your golden chainmail now?

So it's no surprise that, instead of trying to make Momoa look like the classic Aquaman, the designers at Warner Bros. decided to channel his more modern, gritty look from the mid-1990s. That Aquaman had long hair, a scruffy beard, and some silver armor, all of which seems to be in the mix for the DCEU version of the hero. Good thing. It's hard to imagine cinematic success would come with giving Khal Drogo short, bleach-blond surfer hair, a bright orange shirt, and that doofy belt.

Instead, the new Aquaman looks like an Atlantean badass, ready to stab bad guys in the face with a friggin' swordfish. As a side-note, let's just all agree right now that the Aquaman movie must feature him stabbing bad guys in the face with a swordfish, okay?


The original design for Hawkman just screams "first draft." It's almost as if someone burst into a tired artist's studio and said, "quick, I need a superhero named Hawkman! Get drawing!" And so the artist thought for a second, then drew a shirtless guy with a pair of wings and a hat with more wings — and an actual beak thrown in for good measure. Boom: hawk plus man equals Hawkman.

Amazingly, when Smallville decided to make the first live-action version of Hawkman, the showrunners actually stuck pretty closely to the original comic book design, though they did make the wise decision to give him some armor up top, for some added protection against, like, whatever it is Hawkman fights. Small rodents? Whatever.

Anyway, Hawkman came back to help kickstart the CW's Legends of Tomorrow series, and this time around, the designers decided to make him look significantly less stupid — if they'd gone with the classic comic look, that show would've been canceled real, real fast. Would you watch a show where one of the superheroes literally wears a feathery, hollowed-out bird's head on top of his own head?

Well, okay. Maybe you would. Maybe that might actually be the greatest show ever created. Actually, can we make that happen? Can David Lynch be involved somehow?


Hawkgirl's first introduction into the comics came pretty shortly after Hawkman's — and her original costume was, basically, identical to Hawkman's. The biggest difference is that instead of going shirtless, Hawkgirl wisely wore a bikini top. And as comic books have repeatedly proven, there's nothing better to wear in battle than a bikini.

As time went on, however, comic book artists, wisely, continually updated her look to help her appear more distinct from her male counterpart. In fact, with a unique headpiece and smartly designed outfit, Hawkgirl has managed to outshine Hawkman entirely, becoming one of the lead heroes in the animated Justice League shows, and staying on as a regular cast member of Legends of Tomorrow. But as good as her design eventually became in the comics, the CW's costume department wisely steered clear of the more classic elements of her outfit, making her look like a time-travelling, battle-ready warrior. Gone is the brightly colored top and helmet. That stuff may work great on paper, but on film — not so much.

Black Canary

Let's say you're a lady crimefighter looking to make an impression on the bad guys. You see dudes like Green Lantern and the Flash, wandering around in brightly colored tights and weird hats, and you think to yourself, "nah. I'm gonna wear fishnet stockings and a leather jacket. Because reasons."

That's more or less the thought process that possessed Black Canary, who made her comic book debut in 1947 in just such an outfit. Over the years, her look has more or less riffed on this theme in different ways, with some more traditionally superheroic ensembles thrown into the mix in the 1980s. But overall, it's been a healthy mix of leather and fishnets.

Thankfully, when the producers of Arrow decided to bring Black Canary into their televised world, they smartly decided to ditch the stockings in favor of a combat-oriented leather get-up, and stick a mask on her face to help conceal her identity — which has more in common with her first comic book appearance than most of the looks she wore afterwards. If they'd gone with the usual comic book version of the hero, Black Canary would simply put on a blonde wig and a low-cut top to distract her enemies. That's not really the best strategy when it comes to fighting crime — though it definitely seems to be working for Nicki Minaj, so that's something.

Wonder Woman

If there's one thing on which pretty much everyone can agree, it's that one of the best parts of Batman v Superman was the big-screen unveiling of Wonder Woman. A mainstay of comics and pop-culture since the 1940s, Wonder Woman is probably one of the best-known superheroes ever, rounding out DC Comics' "trinity," along with Superman and Batman. And that's even more impressive considering that, for the majority of her existence, she's worn an outfit with star-spangled underpants.

For a character who traces her origins back to Greek mythology, Wonder Woman sure does seem to have a weird America fetish. Of course, since she was created during the height of American patriotism in 1941, it's not too surprising to see her red-white-and-blue outfit in place from the beginning. But over time, the clothes covering Wonder Woman's nethers got shorter, tighter, and skimpier. Great for comic book sales — but thongs don't generally top the list of proven crime-fighting accessories.

Fortunately, the designer of Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman outfit knew that when you claim to be an Amazon warrior, you better have the gear to prove it. The cinematic Wonder Woman is covered in slick-looking armor that borrows from the costume's original look but makes it look, well, wonderful.

The fact that Gal Gadot is a former a fashion model means that it's her job to make clothes look good, no matter how ridiculous. But even she would be helpless before a more comics-accurate costume. Bright red spandex, a big golden tiara, and those damn star-spangled undies on the outside — that's a tough look to pull off, no matter who you are — unless you're Lynda Carter, of course.

The Flash (DCEU)

For most of the heroes discussed in this article, the changes made by DC and Warner Bros. to adapt their characters for live actors has made sense. After all, tights are typically the domain of gymnasts, dancers, and contestants on American Ninja Warrior. But real crime fighters — like, say, police officers and soldiers — usually look to protect their bodies from harm with padding and armor of some kind. And so, making movie and TV versions of comic book characters seem better equipped to stop damage makes sense ... until you get to the Flash.

The Flash's costume — the Silver Age one that first appeared in the 1950s — is just about perfect in every way. He's the one character for whom skin-tight fabric makes sense, and bright red with splashes of yellow lightning bolts says everything you need to know about him. He's fast. Y'know, like lightning!

So it's a bit weird to look at the outfit that's been designed for Ezra Miller's take on the Scarlet Speedster. Like his DCEU compatriots, he's decked out in battle-ready armor, though until we see more of him in action, we won't know what else the high-tech gizmos will do. And the new outfit does make sense when compared with the rest of the Justice League: next to Batman, Wonder Woman, and Cyborg, the Flash would look awfully strange in his skin-tight red spandex. The armored look makes sense for the world that Warner Bros. has built, so hopefully we'll get an idea as to the benefits the Flash's armor will bestow upon him.

But still ... c'mon, man. That armor's gotta weigh you down, right? The Flash runs fast! And the last time science offered an opinion on the subject, adding more weight to something generally makes fast things go slower.