In mainstream comics, superhero characters get sexy make-overs on a rather regular basis. It’s not rocket science, really, as the majority of the target audience for these books is young men, and often young men of the, shall we say, lonelier variety. Some of these looks cross the line of good taste and vanish after a brief while, and yet some of these racy revamps stick around for the long haul. Here are ten of the most notable, for good and ill:
#10. Namor, the Sub-Mariner
Usually when we think of something or someone becoming more sexy, we tend to think “less is always more.” And that usually is true…except when it isn’t. Case in point: Marvel Comics’ Namor the Sub-Mariner, ruler of Atlantis as well as Marvel’s first mutant hero. Namor has been sporting a pretty sexy costume in the form of a little green speedo since he was first created way back in 1939. He’s been showing his lean, hot body off to everyone and anyone who ever wanted to take a look and either lust after him, or simply be jealous of him.
So what’s sexier than almost naked? How about some head-to-toe black leather? (or possibly vinyl; it’s not like we readers are privy to just what materials are being used here.) The black costume, with a big opening down the center so he can still show off that chest and those glorious Atlantean abs, has it so Namor is now ready for whatever underwater version of a kinky S&M leather fair Atlantis has to offer. This costume was introduced way back in 1973, a year or so before his comic was cancelled, and was therefore not around too long in its original inception.Nevertheless, in more recent years the black leather-daddy-of-the-seas costume has been making a comeback, and he has been wearing a variation of that look in issues of Uncanny X-Men. While this look may cover his body up more, the black leather has certain connotations in our culture that make this an even sexier costume than his usual pair of little green trunks.
The X-Men sure have a thing for super sexy telepaths. There’s Jean Grey, Emma Frost, and of course Betsy Braddock, better known as Psylocke. There is probably no main X-Men character who has had as much of a radical “sexified” transformation as Betsy, and none whose have have lasted as long as her transformation has. Usually when a sexy makeover happens in mainstream comics, before too long the look reverts to its original version. But not this time.
When originally introduced way back in the late ’70s, Betsy was the cute model/pilot, with blonde hair and perky attitude. (only in comics, folks.) As Captain Britain’s twin sister, she was a major supporting player in his comic, until her creator Chris Claremont transferred her over to the X-Men in the mid ’80s. She had purple hair now, but she was still as cute and bubbly as before, and wore a pink costume. She was a typical female hero in the era of Rainbow Brite and My Little Pony.
By 1989 though, comics had begun to take their darker turn, Psylocke was kidnapped by the Japanese ninja cadre known as The Hand, and not only was she turned into a psychic version of Daredevil’s Elektra, but her ethnicity was literally changed from Caucasian to Asian. Now, instead of bubbly, she was cold; instead of a flowy pink blouse as a costume, she was in a skin tight ninja outfit, only one that managed to show plenty of skin and all kinds of ass. The former good girl would even try to seduce the then-saintly Scott Summers away from his soon to be wife, Jean Grey. Suddenly the character who never quite fit into the team and was seen as a cheap Jean Grey substitute was more popular than ever. And she’s stayed a top-tier character in the X-Men franchise ever since; like it or not, the sexy upgrade had to play a part in that.
You might read this entry and be thinking “isn’t Wonder Woman sexy enough in her original look??” True, she’s been fighting evil in not much more than a bathing suit for the better part of 70 years. But truth be told, despite the fact that she’s never been a character afraid to show a lot of skin, for most of her career she’s never been portrayed as showing skin just for titillation’s sake. She is simply from a culture where there is no body shame. There are almost no instances where the character’s lack of clothes has ever really been played up as overtly sexual in nature. Being in constant bondage during the Golden Age of comics, that was sexual, but her costume…not so much, even when Lynda Carter wore it on television back in the ’70s. Somehow, she made being half dressed look almost wholesome.
Except back in 1994, when Diana traded in her Wonder Woman namesake, costume and magic lasso to fellow amazon Artemis. This was the height of the over-played “famous hero goes away or is incapacitated, and new unknown character takes their place” thing that was going in comics at the time, most famously with Superman, Batman and Spider-Man. So Wonder Woman was now simply going by Diana, and for some reason decided that for her new look she should embrace her bad girl side. Who knew she even had one?
Diana now sported a pair of black biker shorts, a leather jacket, and a black leather bra. All the elements that made her Wonder Woman costume famous were pretty much gone, and there really wasn’t a story reason as to why she would embrace this biker/stripper/Hell’s Angels groupie look. She even lost her traditionally flowing wavy locks, and had a straight, more severe hair cut. This look lasted less than a year, thank Hera, and Diana was back as Wonder Woman in no time, and this particular fashion disaster never appeared again.
The second underwater Atlantean monarch on this list is maybe the most famous; Arthur Curry, better known as Aquaman, who just might be more famous than Namor due to how much he’s been ridiculed in popular culture the past thirty odd years due to his cheesy portrayal in the old Super Friends cartoons. For most of his seventy year career, Aquaman has sported an orange shirt with little gills on (or chainmail, in more modern versions) and tight green pants.
Back in the early ’90s, though, back when just about everyone was getting their bad-ass makeovers, Aquaman got one that actually stuck around for awhile. He grew his hair long (which, underwater, had to get all over his face as he swam and had to be really annoying), he grew a beard, and he lost the orange top and went shirtless, except for a metal shoulder thingy that extended along his arm. In effect, he now looked like most of the men that appeared on the covers of bad drugstore romance novels looked, holding a woman in their arms with some violent waves crashing against some rocks. Cheesy as it may seem now, remember the ’90s was the era when women thought that Fabio was actually attractive. Admittedly, during this era Aquaman lost his hand and had a hook for an arm, which isn’t quite so sexy…but ya never know, some people are into that weird amputee stuff. Someone out there thought it was hot.
Aquaman held onto his ’90s makeover look much, much longer than any of his contemporaries, as sales on his comic were actually decent during this period. Eventually though, he reverted to his cropped, short hair and his orange shirt,lost the beard, and he miraculously got his hand back about a decade later. The “New 52” look Aquaman’s costume, which is currently being featured in his own comic, is even more retro than than ever, although he holds onto a lot of his 90’s edge, at least in terms of character. But long gone are the flowing locks, the smoldering stares, and those visible pecs and abs. And while I abhor the notion of a ’90s revival in comics, if King Arthur wanted to go back to some of those attributes, I know I won’t complain.
#6. Saturn Girl (and other female Legion of Super-Heroes members)
During the 1960s, the Legion of Super-Heroes were the very picture of wholesome, post-war America, only set about a thousand years in the future. The female members of the team all looked like members of the Mickey Mouse Club, and for the most part their costumes were modest, and reflected the country’s attitudes of how proper young women were supposed to look. Even as the sixties rolled along and actually got more swinging, the Legion members kept their early outfits. But eventually, the sexual revolution caught up with them, and in the early seventies, artist Dave Cockrum decided to give the ladies of the team a sexed-up makeover. Many of these lovely ladies of the future would soon start learning to fight crime wearing not much more than strings, held together by spit and a promise.
Psychic member and team founder Saturn Girl went from being covered from head to toe to wearing not much more than a pink bikini with thigh high leggings. Team member Shadow Lass started sporting a black bra and black panties as a costume (hey, at least she still had a cape.) And Princess Projectra had half her breasts exposed and a slit in the front exposing her belly button. Artist Dave Cockrum left the Legion after a brief stint as artist, but his costumes remained well into the early 1980’s. He eventually designed the All-New X-Men in 1975, and you can see how Storm’s classic look is really just a riff on Saturn Girl’s bikini.
#5. Cosmic Boy
Speaking of the Legion of Super-Heroes and their sexed up disco era make-over, there is one character who got the most radical and sexually charged costume change during this period, and it wasn’t one of the girls. Magnetically powered teenager Cosmic Boy, also known as Rok Krinn, was a founding member of the Legion and their first leader. Originally sporting a pink and black costume, after fans started to write letters crying foul over the overt sexism of the female Legionnaires sexy new duds in the early ’70s, the editors decided that instead of covering up the girls, they’d have one of the fellas get all half naked too.
So in the mid ’70s, Cosmic Boy got a new costume from artist Mike Grell, who essentially traded out all the pink in Cosmic Boy’s costume and substituted it with bare flesh. This meant Cos was now in a black bustier, with black boots and black gloves. He was now ready for a 30th-century touring production of Cabaret. I’m not exactly sure what the hell was supposed to be holding up this costume, but hey…who knows what kinds of material exist in the future. Maybe it’s metal and he’s using his power to keep himself from being totally naked.
Cosmic Boy kept this look well into the early eighties, right up until Legion artist Keith Giffen once again gave major redesigns to the team, this time with their outfits reflecting their original costumes once more. Everyone pretty much got covered up again. This was the perfect Legion for Reagan’s America, that was doing everything to set the clock back to a pre-sexual revolution country. But there has probably never been a male super hero character who has ever worn such an overtly sexualized costume in the whole history of the medium, so Cosmic Boy has a special place in comic book history.
Steve Rogers, better known of course as Captain America, has always been a sexy slice of Aryan beefcake, giving wet dreams to closeted white supremacists everywhere. But his traditional Cap costume exudes small town county fair/Norman Rockwell more than it does anything remotely sexual. In fact, Captain America might be the hottest hero on paper that somehow manages to exude the least sexual charisma at the same time. (And yes, even Superman exudes more sex appeal than Cap.) But for a brief moment, back in the mid ’70s (when else?), Steve got in touch with his sexier side. In Captain America issue #180 (December 1974) Rogers becomes disillusioned with the United States government when he discovers that a very high ranking government official, who is very heavily hinted to be Richard Nixon, is the leader of the terrorist organization known as the Secret Empire. Cap is so disillusioned by this, he ditches the Captain America identity and instead becomes the “hero without a country”- The Nomad.
So this is where the sexy comes in. Instead of the red, white and blue costume, Rogers is now wearing head to toe black leather, and his rippling chest and abs are now exposed for everyone to see. Sadly, this look lasted only about four issues, and before too long Steve decided that Cap could represent the ideals of the the United States, without having to represent the actual government of the United States. Other people have taken on the name and costume of Nomad in the years since then, but none were as sexy as when that All-American slab of beef Steve Rogers wore the duds. And while I doubt that Marvel Studios is ever going to go the Nomad story route for a big screen Cap sequel, I for one would pay any ticket price to see Chris Evans in a movie with a more revealing costume, and I’m sure I’m not the only person out there who feels that way.
#3. The Invisible Woman
Another example of horrible early nineties costume changes emphasizing sex, similar to what was done to Wonder Woman over at DC Comics at roughly the same time. The Fantastic Four’s Invisible Girl was not only the girlfriend, and eventually wife, of team leader Reed Richards, but ever since the Fantastic Four’s inception she had been the den mother of the team as well, and eventually the actual mother of children Franklin and Valeria Richards. At some point in the early ’90s, the FF got the whole Image Comics era makeover, with Ben Grimm wearing a metal mask, Reed wearing lots of pouches and carrying a giant gun, and Susan dressing pretty much like a streetwalker. She now wore thigh-high leggings (with heels, of course) had an exposed mid-riff, and a number 4 cut-out as a kind of boob window. This costume made Vampirella blush.
This is completely the opposite of how Sue had been portrayed in the comics for the better part of thirty years, and the whole thing smelled desperate, at a time when all Marvel Comics that weren’t X-Men or Spider-Man were losing sales to the upstarts at Image Comics. Remember, this is the mother of a little kid at the time. Not that a mother suddenly stops being a sexual being, but this just took it to another, sleazier level.
I can’t for the life of me remember what the in story reasoning was for this ridiculous costume change, but I can promise that it was really, really stupid. Unlike the Dave Cockrum sexy Legion designs of two decades earlier, which although ridiculous in how skimpy they were, actually were good designs. But this was just ugly and had no real aesthetic value. It was just…icky seeing a character who had been portrayed as fairly modest her whole existence suddenly sporting hooker wear. Like most bad costume choices of the era, this one eventually went the way dinosaur, and we’re all better for it.
Hey kids, remember Speedball? No, not the highly dangerous and highly illegal combination of cocaine and heroin, but the Marvel Comics super-hero? No? Well, I doubt anyone will hold it against you. Speedball was actually a character created by none other than Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko in 1988, back when he was freelancing for Marvel. He had left Marvel under somewhat acrimonious circumstances in the Silver Age, so this was touted as Ditko’s big return to the Marvel Universe. Sadly, the reunion didn’t last too long. And the legacy of Speedball isn’t quite what the legacy of a certain wall-crawler turned out to be.
Speedball was really teenager Robbie Baldwin; due to a pesky lab accident, Robbie is bombarded with energy and he discovers that his body now generates a kinetic field that protects him from impact and makes him a character that can “bounce” all over the place. His power manifests as multi-colored balls that surround him. You read that right, multi-colored balls would constantly surround his face. Speedball’s costume was straight out of the 60’s “pop art”movement, and just felt hopelessly dated by the late 1980s. Poor Speedball’s comic was cancelled in less than a year after only ten issues, although he continued to appear in Marvel’s New Warriors throughout the ’90’s.
Then in 2006, Writer Mark Millar decided to use the character as the accidental catalyst for a massive disaster that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians due to his own carelessness, in his mini-series Civil War. Robbie survives the incident that kills over 600 people, and at first he thinks he has lost his powers, but it turns out they only manifest when he experiences pain. So he has a new costume outfitted with 612 internal spikes (one for every victim he accidentally killed) so he constantly feels pain for what he’s done, and also can still use his powers to make amends for the tragedy he wrought. His new look is head to toe hardcore S&M Bondage gear. He is now a character who can only “perform” while in pain. This isn’t even subtext at this point, it’s just plain old text. And just like that, the bondage community finally have their first heroic icon in the form of Penance.
My first choice might throw people off a bit, as there are those comic-book characters out there who probably got more revealing costume updates over the years. But Supergirl’s change of outfit to me is not only the sexiest, but it is the one that most exemplifies the huge change in what is considered appropriate and tasteful between one end of the sexual revolution and the other.No other superhero character exemplifies the massive shift in our culture’s views on sex and sexuality than perhaps this first costume do-over from Supergirl.
Debuting in 1959, Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El was the epitome of the late Eisenhower era, Sandra Dee suburban girl next door. While she wore a skirt and not pants, the skirt wasn’t particularly long or revealing in any way. Her hair would be drawn at varying lengths over the next several years by different artists, but her basic costume would remain the same for the next eleven years.
Then in 1970, Supergirl would start wearing a wide variety of new costumes, before finally settling on a new permanent one in 1972. Kara ditched the skirt for a pair of red hot pants, and would start wearing a low cut blue blouse with the “S-Shield” strategically placed over on of her breasts. On top of all that, her cape would come attached to a choker.
The funny thing is, Supergirl was not suddenly written as a more sexualized character–she was still the girl next door, only thirteen years after her debut it was entirely appropriate for a wholesome All-American girl to be wearing clothes that only a few years prior would have only been appropriate for a cocktail waitress to wear. Supergirl’s costume change encapsulates the sexual revolution of the previous decade as much as the entire series of Mad Men does. Supergirl would eventually shift back to a costume reflecting her original one a whole lot more. Although recent versions of the character have her showing a bit more skin again, she’s never been as outright sexy as her first big costume make-over.