Jeffrey Taylor is a staff writer/moderator at The Superman Homepage, co-host of From Crisis to Crisis: A Superman Podcast, available at the Superman Homepage, iTunes and The Superman PodcastNetwork.You can find his new Man of Steel Countdown column here at Movies.com every other Tuesday.
If Metropolis phone booths could talk, they would tell you about the hundreds of different styles of costumes Superman has worn over the last 73 years. Some modern artists raise the “S” symbol on his chest to make it look 3 dimensional. The same symbol usually appears on the back of his cape, but sometimes it doesn’t.
Now that we have an actual image of Henry Cavill as Superman, the fanbase is torn with positive and negative opinions. Some have said the symbol looks wrong or the colors are too muted. And the big question is, will he wear the red briefs or not? The image is shaded so that Cavill’s pelvis is in darkness, and I predict the briefs will NOT be part of the costume. Odds are this was done to the picture on purpose so that it would be prejudged in a positive light before fans could have a chance to complain about it.
Why would filmmakers mess with the classic look of Superman? Well, the truth is they aren’t.
The first and most important thing to remember with any comic book character is that different artists always draw characters at least slightly differently. But other than that, Superman’s costume and symbol have changed over and over again through the years. Let’s start by looking back to his first appearance in Action Comics #1 from June 1938. The “S” symbol looks completely different from what is considered “classic.” First, the outer border is an upside down isosceles triangle in yellow with a simple red “S” in the center. The rest of the costume is very similar to what we’ve come to expect over the years, including the red briefs and yellow belt.
Only a few years later, the first animated film serials were released by Fleischer studios in 1941. This time, the yellow belt was turned red, the cape was shortened and the “S” was changed. Instead of a triangle, the border was the more familiar pentagonal shape outlined in yellow with a red “S” against a black background.
By 1942, Superman’s look was changed in the comics. This time, it was to the classic uniform that most people come to expect for Superman with a normal stylized symbol where the “S” has been melded into the crest in red against a yellow background. This would essentially be the standard for years to come and the same style of suit worn by the likes of George Reeves, Christopher Reeve and Dean Cain. Few permanent changes took place for years as the DC Universe grew and aged in the 1950’s and 60’s.
The one thing that could never happen in DC Comics was aging Superman. The world around him could change and grow with the times, but Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman were stuck in their late 20’s – early 30’s (which is why Dick Grayson, the original Robin, is now almost as old as Batman, even though they were at least 15 years apart in 1940). So a secondary universe was created called Earth 2, and it was perpetually stuck in World War II. To differentiate the regular Superman from his Earth 2 counterpart, he was eventually aged with graying temples and given a new stylized “S” symbol.
Beyond the sizing of the symbol and general artist differentiation, there were no permanent changes to Superman’s look until 1993 when he died and came back to life with long hair that he didn’t cut until his wedding in 1996. As Clark Kent he would pull it back into a pony tail. Just don’t call it a mullet.
By 1997, Superman had lost his abilities and married Lois Lane, but soon after his powers returned, they changed … drastically, and so did his appearance. Now he was entirely in blue and white with sharper edges on the symbol and lightning bolts on his legs, as well as a crackle of electricity around his body at all times. Instead of his classic powers, he could become intangible, teleport and create electromagnetic fields. Actually, his abilities were confusing because it seemed as though any time he needed to be able to do something else, he just could.
Although the change appeared to be an attempt at a permanent alteration, it lasted just over a year until his body and personality were split in two, leading to a red variation, then merging together again and returning to his classic powers and uniform. The lesson fans learned was that there’s always a return to the status quo. In spite of the unpopularity of the Electric Blue Superman, a lot of the stories were quite good.
Later in 2001, Superman suffered a failure and a family tragedy during the “Our World’s at War” crossover event, so to honor the fallen, he changed the “S” symbol again so that the normal yellow background was darkened to blackness. The black represented mourning and this lasted until early 2003 when again the status quo was restored and the symbol lightened back to the yellow background.
The theatrical return of Superman to the silver screen in the aptly titled Superman Returns in 2006 saw even more changes. The costumes colors were darkened and the “S” made smaller and raised out of the torso piece to create a 3D effect. The style of the symbol itself was sharpened as well, but was still easily distinguished as his crest. Oddly enough, the matching yellow symbol on the back of his cape was completely removed to look more like it did in the 1996-1999 Superman: The Animated Series. But the reason it was removed in the cartoon was simply because it was too much work to properly animate.
Flash forward to the present. Starting in September, 2011, Superman’s costume is changing again, and as always the attempt seems to be permanent, although only time will tell. This time, the “S” is sharpened once again and thickened while the border is thinned down and the red briefs with the yellow belt have been completely removed and replaced with a red belt. Plus, despite Superman’s invulnerability, he’s specifically wearing armor instead of simple tights.
That first image of Cavill looks great and the symbol is another new variation that looks surprisingly similar to the Superman from Earth 2. So even though some fans are crying foul because it’s not the classic look from most of the comics, TV shows and the Christopher Reeve films, it’s not at all an unprecedented change, especially considering the “S” is so much like one that we’ve already seen before.
Lois Lane: Redhead?
Finally, there’s been even more backlash this week with paparazzi shots of Amy Adams as Lois Lane on the set of Man of Steel. The expectation was that her hair would be darkened for the role for the classic Lois Lane look. But her natural red color still remains, which once again means that fans are calling foul for their beloved characters. I believe the picture above of Noel Neill, the first live-action Lois Lane ever, along with George Reeves from the Adventures of Superman TV series of the 1950’s, shows that there’s precedent for her hair color as well. Plus, don’t forget that in the recently completed series Smallville that Erica Durance had dirty blonde hair. So as long as it isn’t blue, there’s no need to worry.