?The ’90s were a great time for the Amercian comics industry. Well, let us specify that — the ’90s were a great time for comics’ popularity and sales. In terms of content, the ’90s were a cruel mistress, who demanded long hair, manly stubble, and many, many pouches on even the most traditional of superheroes. Thus, we got revamp after revamp of our favorite Marvel and DC characters. Were any of them necessary? Nope. Not a one.
Why did editors decide that well-worn heroes needed to update their image? Were they copying Image Comics heroes? Trying to increase sales? Hidden fetishes for big guns? Payola from the leather industry? Probably all of them. Here are 10 completely unnecessary character revamps from that tragic decade.
?Nomad was never anyone’s favorite character when he teamed up with Captain America and wore his little blue suit. When he got his grim n’ gritty ’90s makeover he was still no one’s favorite character, but he got stuck with a kid and the obligatory ’90s trenchcoat. His hair got long, he got an ever-present sawed-off shotgun, and the badge of the gritty ’90s hero, the stubble. Did it make him interesting? No. It just made him look like a hobo who stole clothes off a cowboy and carried a baby around.
?You can’t improve on the classics, and when you try it’s just sad. Take a look at the original cover of All-Star Comics #3, the first appearance of the Justice Society. All those guys still wear those costumes today! And Dr. Fate’s costume is so iconic it’s making an appearance in the JSA Smallville special. So how do you improve on it? If you’re working in the ’90s, the answer is to give him a set of full-body, maroon tights, shoulderpads, a whole bunch of useless belts to drape over his chest, and a bunch of weapons instead of magic. Obligatory ’90s long hair? Check. Epic fail? Check.
?No self-respecting Norse god would even think of walking around with a sleeveless leather jacket on, so Marvel gave us Thunderstrike, an image of what Thor would look like if he hung out at biker bars. Goatee, jeans, and that pesky long hair made for an “edgier” take on a classic character. Thunderstrike still has his fans these days, but we can only hope that he stays gone, lest he usher in another era of shitty fashion and double-gatefold-spectro-holo-graphix-foil covers.
7) The Punisher
?The early ’90s were a tough time for Frank Castle, but the later part of the decade was worse. The Punisher’s original M.O. was killing bad guys; simple, basic, hard to fuck up. But in the ’90s writers forgot that the mob and serial killers existed and had Frank go after techno-punk soldiers all the time who were more robots than Mafia bosses. Plus he was always saddled with some other hero like Spider-Man or Daredevil, so they always forced him to sheath his gun and let the bad guys get arrested. LAME. What was worse was the series Punisher: Purgatory where Frank killed himself and came back as a supernatural avenging angel with holy guns. Thank God we have Garth Ennis to give us back the Punisher who liked guns and bombs again.
?We could live with the long hair. Really, if the worst thing they did to Superman was give him a mullet, we could handle that and move on. It’s hair, everyone in the ’90s grew it long. But when they made him into the “electric blue” Superman, that’s when we called foul. Truth, justice, and the American way made way for a blue- (then red-) skinned freak who had completely different powers than our favorite hero. And that was supposed to be permanent! Thankfully, DC realized you can’t change what’s familiar and changed him back, but did it in one issue without any fanfare, just to sweep it under the rug.
5) The Scarlet Spider
?If you’re going to try and improve on Spider-Man, nine times out of 10 you’re going to fail. And fail they did with Ben Reilly, the Spider-Man clone who took us on a misguided tour through the ’90s. Thirty years of Peter Parker apparently wasn’t good enough, so he was replaced with a dyed blonde dude who wore a baby blue hoodie with the sleeves torn off. Forget the Rhino and Green Goblin, fans themselves wanted to take this guy apart. Even today, say “Clone Saga” around comic geeks and you’ll need to run for your life.
4) Anything 2099
Put them all in the same bargain bin, they’re all the same. Doom 2099, X-Men 2099 and Punisher 2099 were all just guys with bad attitudes and big guns who are about as relevant today as the Noid and Yakov Smirnoff. Spider-Man 2099 was cool in his own way, but the rest of the gang were muscle-y douches with whatever weapons the writers came up with that month to top the weapons from last month. Who’s to blame? We’d like to say Rob Liefeld, but that’s just too easy.
3) Guy Gardner
?Poor Guy Gardner. Of all the characters that got new looks in the ’90s, his was probably the saddest. He went from being the Green Lantern who no one respected to something that was even worse. Gone was the GL uniform and in its place was orange and blue body paint, chaps, and cowboy boots. And we found out that he was part alien. How this man could wake up in the morning and take himself seriously was a mystery. Know who wears body paint, Guy? Strippers.
?Not the biggest name by far, but his solo series had all the hallmarks of the ’90s to it. Of course the first issue was polybagged with a trading card! Of course a nifty character from the ’70s became an ultra-violent antihero! Of course he wore a leather bondage bodysuit with a whole bunch of useless rags hanging off it! And he was a vampire to boot! When future generations re-read the Morbius series their #1 question will be, “Was everyone in the ’90s really into leather fetish?” Years later and he’s gone back to that same spandex number with the popped collar, and we thank him for that.
?Oh Jean Paul Valley, you were fun for a few issues as Azrael. Kinda intense, not the center of attention, that’s where you worked best. But when Batman had his back broken, this Johnny-come-lately stepped into the role with a 100% ’90s revamp costume. Armor! Spikes! Claws! Impractical shoulder pads! And yes, long hair! This meaner, abusive, violent Batman was less of a character and more of a symptom of what was wrong with the decade. Don’t come back, Jean-Paul.