If Superman has taught us one thing, it’s that a classic never dies.
And even if it does, it doesn’t stay dead for long!
Having explored the plethora of alternate comic book duds for Batman and Spider-Man, in light of the recent Superman Day I thought it might be pertinent to look over some of the cool costumes that Superman has worn throughout his 75-year publication history.
While some comic book characters have undergone major vestiary makeovers over the years (let’s not forget that Daredevil was originally yellow), Superman has generally enjoyed a certain consistency.
There’s pretty much always been a blue suit and there’s pretty much always been a red cape, and any deviations from that formula have generally been pretty short lived.
Let’s take a trip back through time to check out some of the Man of Steel’s most formidable finery!
Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ Elseworld’s story Kingdom Come was a metatextual analysis of what was happening in comics in the mid 90s. Classic heroes like Superman were being seen (both by comic book readers of the time and inhabitants of this fictional alternate reality) as a quaint anachronism that should move aside for the younger, more violent, more morally ambiguous new generation of “superheroes”.
After years in self-imposed exile after a catastrophic event in Metropolis, Kal-El returns in a modified version of the suit.
Ross’ subtle redesign of the classic costume is very befitting of the principal. In the story, Superman remains virtually unchanged while the world around him grows increasingly darker.
Thus, the slightly modified S shield here bears a black background and the belt is black with a gold buckle.
The implication here is that while Superman has tried to remain the same externally he cannot escape the personal tragedies that have darkened his world outlook and his perception of the humanity that he has exiled himself from (as evidenced by the book’s nerve-shredding climax).
In the terminal months of the New 52 Superman’s career, writer Greg Pak and artist Aaron Kuder made some interesting choices with the character.
Things had not been going well for Clark Kent as he found himself outed as Superman by none other than Lois Lane and his powers temporarily nerfed after exhausting his energy reserves using his newfound solar flare power to stop the villain Ulysses (easily one of the best things to come out of this era of Superman comics).
Disoriented and practically powerless, Clark dons a t-shirt with the familiar S-shield that he happens to find in a thrift store and resumes his activities as the street level social crusader that he was in Grant Morrison’s early issues of Action Comics.
This variation on the ‘blue jeans’ Superman of 2011 trumps its predecessor just by a hair for me (if only for the 40s style, Fleischer inspired rendering of the familiar logo). While I miss the cape, the look harkens back to the t-shirt and jeans combo sported by the pre-Flashpoint Kon-El / Superboy.
There’s a humility to this look that encapsulates Superman’s humble nature. While he may spend a lot of his time among the clouds, his heart belongs down here on the streets with us.
What better way to deconstruct a symbol of truth, justice and the American way than by relocating his upbringing from Kansas to the Soviet-era Ukraine?
That was the starting point for Scottish comic book writer Mark Millar, whose idea for the story first germinated when he was only 6 years old.
Relocating The Man of Steel to the Soviet Union in the 1950s this variation on the costume has a stark utilitarianism that becomes increasingly militaristic as the story progresses.
The red cape is (obviously) retained but the body suit is no longer blue but a military grey. As Superman becomes a more authoritarian figure a black collar and gloves are also incorporated, but by far the most compelling and disturbing change is that made to the iconic logo.
In a triumph of graphic design, the stylised S (which would later be retconned by Mark Waid to be the Kryptonian symbol for hope) is replaced with the Soviet hammer and sickle.
Regeneration Suit (Death and Return of Superman)
In 1992 Superman died.
He wasn’t the first comic book character to be killed off (he wasn’t even the first comic book character to be killed of and then come back) but at the time, trust me, it was a really big deal.
In his absence readers got a glimpse of a world without Superman… And it was not a pretty one. Replaced by four impostors (who all fell short of the mark in some way), Supes would eventually return from the grave to set the world to rights.
With the familiar red and blue gone, Kal returned in a robotic Kryptonian regeneration suit which retracted to reveal a powerless Man of Steel wearing this snazzy black number.
The genius of this design is in its simplicity; a simple black silhouette highlighted by the silver cuffs and a metallic rendering of the familiar shield.
’90s mullet optional.
After 5 years of the unnecessarily bulky and ornate armour sported by the New 52 Superman, this return to the classic look (designed by Pat Gleason) was a welcome compromise between the familiar pre-Flashpoint suit and the newer flourishes.
Unfortunately, neither the classic yellow belt nor the red trunks are back but the yellow insignia on the cape returned and thankfully that god-awful collar from the New 52 version is gone (hopefully forever).
Similarly to how Batman’s Rebirth costume used elements of Batfleck’s costume from Batman V Superman, this suit has some distinct similarities to that worn by Henry Cavill in Man of Steel. The cuffs and ‘belt’ detail are very similar to their cinematic counterparts, and though the S-shield has been restored to its pre-Flashpoint iteration, it does appear raised as in the film costume.
One detail that is retained from the New 52 version that I’m actually in favour of is the slightly V-shaped cape.
While many fans weren’t crazy about the matching of the boots to the rest of the suit, the red detail around the edge was a nice touch and the blue boots themselves were an homage to the character’s original appearance in 1938 before the advent of the red boots.
Wasn’t it David Bowie who said: “Blue, blue, electric blue, that’s the colour of my Supes”? No, it wasn’t, but this radical departure from the traditional look of Superman (while certainly gimmicky) is an interesting entry into the canon.
Following the events of the “Final Night” storyline, Supes found himself powerless and unable to be rejuvenated by Earth’s yellow sun.
A series of desperate experiments to restore his powers left him altogether transformed.
His skin turned blue and his powers changed completely. No longer did he leap tall buildings or bend steel in his bare hands, instead he wielded bolts of electricity and was able to phase from a being of pure energy (requiring this blue and white containment suit), to a being of matter (his normal appearance as Clark Kent). While in this form, Clark could get sick, injured or even killed just like a normal human.
I remember the stir of controversy that this suit caused in 1997 with even national newspapers declaring their outrage. Given that this was never intended to be a permanent change I never found it all that objectionable. Indeed, I quite like the aesthetic
Indeed, I quite like the aesthetic. The interplay between the blue and white and the jagged lines are cool in a retro ’90s way.
While the S-shield is virtually unrecognisable I like how it mimics the lines on the rest of the suit.
Godfall is probably one of the best Superman story arcs of all time, and certainly one of the best of the 21st century.
The story places an amnesiac Kal-El on (what we assume to be) Krypton, married with a dull administrative job and no memory of his life as Superman.
The story opens with Kal riding to work on a giant Akira-esque motorcycle wearing what has to be the coolest outfit ever worn by a petty bureaucrat.
The late, great Michael Turner designed this costume as well as the sumptuous Kryptonian environments and every single panel is a reminder of how much the comics industry lost with his passing in 2008.
The ornate costume uses a curious combination of red, black and silver and manages to look absolutely like a Superman costume while looking utterly different to anything that’s come before.
The Manga influence is clear, especially in the boot detail while the raised silver details on a red background hearken back to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy.
As cool as the suit was, it was even cooler to see Kal discard it to embrace his identity as Superman…