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Character Redesigns: Why don't they stick around?

Comic fans hear the word “redesign” a lot. It’s a tale as old as time, and every fan knows that no matter what crazy-ridiculous new look Jim Lee or Rob Liefeld can concoct, our beloved heroes are likely to be back in classic duds within a year. But what if they weren’t? What if these redesigns were actually both different and good enough to stick around for the long haul?

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s this little game that just came out called Injustice: Gods Among Us. This features the DC Universe in an Elseworlds-esque setting where Superman is tricked by The Joker into killing Lois Lane and all of Metropolis, and subsequently imposes a global ceasefire. Since this is billed as a non-canon Elseworlds story, there is no weight of continuity, no standards to adhere to, and free reign to go crazy with the status quo. (Wait, wasn’t that the point of the New 52?)

Like many fans, I was a little underwhelmed at the “redesigns” of the New 52 core Justice League members which mostly involved slight color changes (Wonder Woman), armor lines (Superman, Batman, Flash, and GL) and popped collars (Superman, Aquaman and GL). Oh yeah, and Supes and Bats lost their underwear. The costumes are still pretty much the same as pre-Flashpoint. But then along comes Injustice with some genuine originality. The armor plating on Superman, Batman and Flash actually look like armor, not just lines. Green Lantern looks like he’s woven green energy into his suit. Aquaman looks suitably regal. Wonder Woman has an actual breastplate and carries a sword and shield (you know, like a Greek warrior). [Ed. If ever there was a character that cried out for pants for decades, it was Wonder Woman.] Plus, these are not wild and crazy departures from the characters’ recognizable and classic color scheme or style. They still feel like the characters we all know and love.

So why are character redesigns in continuity comics so difficult to improve if this alternate universe video game gets it so easily?

For me, it all comes back to the second universal truth about comics: comics fans hate change. As angry as they get over not having anything fresh to read, they get even angrier when Superman loses his red shorts. It’s okay to change everything, as long as continuity stays the same. I’m sure that there was someone out there saying “Hey, those Injustice costumes look great in the game, but they won’t work in comics.” Well, the Injustice tie-in comic begs to differ. These same redesigns are working in print. And the comic is selling well. Clearly these designs work just as well in print as they do on console, so really, why aren’t the editors and art directors at DC pushing the envelope?

Some people will point to the failed redesign of Power Girl’s costume. I liked it, but unfortunately I’m in the minority because as of Supergirl #19 she’s back in her boob window costume. DC, you clearly want to have it both ways; you want to be hip, modern and functional, but stick to classic designs to avoid alienating established fans. That’s not bold, that’s a comfort zone. Look at what your younger audience is reacting to. The 15-22 year old demographic is playing Injustice and reacting really well to its liberties. Who’s to say that they won’t react well to these redesigns in normal continuity? Do yourselves a favor, DC. Take a chance on rebuilding your iconic characters costumes beyond just popped collars and lines.